“…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” (John 12:24)

picture1Among Christians today is called Good Friday, the day Christ was crucified.  I always thought “good” was such a strange way to describe the day.  That certainly wouldn’t have been how Jesus’ followers saw it at the time.

Their humble, loving, miracle-making teacher and potential king had been publicly humiliated, beaten, and was now dying a tortuous death on a cross.  What could possibly be good about that?  Surely they remembered Jesus’ saying “Truly, truly I tell you…” and the rest of His promise written down for us in John 12:24…after He had raised Lazarus’ rotting body from the grave.

Apparently not.

That’s what great sadness, fear, and suffering can do to us.  Even when we’ve seen God’s clear work in our lives, even when we’ve heard and believed His promises, even when we know that He’s walked with us intimately, our pain can overwhelm our memory of all the good He’s done so far.  Even though He warned and promised us that specific hardships were coming.

Jesus’ teaching around John 12:24 is one of many allusions to His certain and needful death that had to take place.  Thankfully, we now know what they did not yet:  three days later, He would rise from the dead.

The Lord also gave the same teaching for the fruitfulness of His followers:  if we are to bear the fruit of His image, we must also put to death the desires of our flesh. (Romans 8:13, 1 Peter 3:18, etc.)  That, too, is often not seen as a good thing.  After all, it necessarily hurts to say “no” to our body’s selfish wants.  As you’ve probably heard in different sayings and song lyrics, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Yet, the Lord has proven His promise of new life by His own resurrection.  And those of us who, by the work of His gracious Spirit in our lives, have turned from specific acts of selfishness know the power and blessing of His new and growing fruit in us.  We even see the truth of life from death all around us every year when spring follows winter.  So why are we so forgetful with such small faith?  And how are we to respond to our fear and grief when we face the pains of our suffering again and again?

Remember the hope to which the Lord pointed them in John 12:25ff.  First, Jesus never promised us paradise here in this life, although many false preachers imply that we can have exactly that.  In verse 25, the Lord warned us that bearing fruit would require death – His and ours.  And in verse 26, He encouraged us that He would not leave us here.  All the fruits of paradise are waiting for those who love Christ more than their own flesh.  But the greatest fruit is knowing Him intimately, and that does begin in this life.

In fact, many of the times we’re to put our flesh to death are the same times that we might experience His gracious love and transforming power in us most clearly.  And in verse 35-36, Jesus tells us how best to prepare for those times:  walk with Him now.

Daily get to know the nuances of His good character, plans, commands, and promises in His Word.  Memorize and meditate on passages that speak to your unique struggles.  Then, when you’re tempted you can recall His Word that you’ve planted in your heart, and it can bear fruit in those moments.

And remember that the physical process of fruit-bearing among plants is sometimes fast and sometimes slow.  The flower known as a morning glory blooms incredibly quickly, but it is gone almost as fast.  Enduring fruit comes more slowly, but it’s also sweeter and a greater blessing to others.  And, although it is more pain-staking to water, weed, prune, and wait for such fruit, when we know precisely what’s coming, we will do the work and wait.

 

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