Good Friday: A Kernel of Wheat (John 12:20-26)

I shared this message on Good Friday a couple of years ago at Davis Chinese Christian Church. On this Good Friday the message is still relevant: true life is ultimately borne from death.

I still marvel at what that might mean for me to bring life to others and this world through the process of dying to self during these challenging times. I desperately want to live, and not die, from Covid-19. But if I live, what will I live for?

I’m grappling with this question every day we are sheltering at home. When I can get back out in the world, even before from home, how I can I be a messenger of hope and renewal? How can I be like a kernel of wheat?

During spring time Lori likes to spend time in her garden. This year she is very proud of the pansies she planted from seeds.

Lori’s garden is blooming in springtime, an apt image for Easter weekend

I never wanted much of a yard—I did a lot of yard work as a teenager for my dad. But when I see those pansies I understand why my father received so much joy from his fruit trees, rose bushes, and vegetable garden.

It’s amazing what can grow out of the ground from such a small, humble beginning. Gardens and seeds tell us a lot about life—and about God’s Kingdom. This is a marvel of nature that Jesus used often in His teaching.

  • He talked about having faith as small as a mustard seed. (Matt 17:20)
  • He challenges the disciples to receive God’s Word with openness in a story about a farmer who went out to sow seed that fell on different types of soil and ground. (Mark 4:1-20)
  • He then told a parable about the hidden nature of how God’s Kingdom grows where a man scatters seed on the ground even though he doesn’t know how it grows (Mark 4:26-29).
  • In Mark 4, he teaches about a mustard seed to illustrate the Kingdom of God another way—how the smallest seed grows to be the largest of plants. (Mark 4:30-32)

And in John 12 he taught about another Kingdom principle: How Life comes from death.

Seeking Jesus (20-22)

Our passage starts in John 12:20-22, where Greeks wanted to talk to Jesus at the Passover Festival:

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 

These Greeks, foreigners who appreciated Israel’s God and Jewish culture, made a simple request to see Jesus. We might be able to relate to those Greeks—curious, seeking, open to spiritual truth. You might have a different religious background, or already believe in God.

You’ve heard about Jesus, and you want to see more of what He’s about. You want to benefit from what Jesus offers/teaches—to gain insight/guidance to life. Jesus just might be the one who has the answers you’ve been seeking in this world.

That’s possibly what the Greeks thought when they approached Jesus.

Life from Death: Jesus (23-24)

Jesus’ disciples Andrew and Philip do let Jesus know about the Greeks. What He says is unexpected in John 12:23-24: 

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

What is Jesus’ hour? 

It’s the time for Him accomplish what He came to do. It’s time to reveal how God will save the world through the death of Jesus. That’s what the kernel of wheat is all about.

A grain of wheat has wonderful potential. Inside is a tender germ waiting to be nourished and watered. But this potential is not realized until it is buried.  

Once in the ground the soil moisture decomposes the body of the grain. It becomes food for the next generation germ. The wheat grain gives life by dying in the ground. If it is not buried in the ground, the potential cannot be realized.

Jesus is clearly talking about himself in this parable.  

The time has come for him to die. Yet, those close to him did not want him to die. Those Jesus met entering Jerusalem w/ palm branches didn’t expect him to die. But the people did not understand that Jesus had come not to take political power.  

He had come to die. Why did He need to die? Wouldn’t his death be a waste of such an influential person?  

Jesus knew, that unless he died, there would be no life giving sacrifice for sins and no new life in resurrection. Unless He died on the Cross, He would remain only one grain of wheat. But in His death, He would bring forth a life-giving harvest. His was a life self-sacrificed to death for the sake of saving others.

That’s what the Greeks, and we today on Good Friday, see when they saw Jesus. Later in John 12 Jesus said: 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

They would see that Jesus is drawing everyone to Himself through His death. If you’ve been curious about Jesus and seeking more to this life, but you’ve never come to Jesus you can acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior.

He died on that Cross for people like you and me—those who cannot find true meaning, purpose, hope or a future in this world. Those who carry the heavy burden of failures, weaknesses, and regrets. Who need someone to save them from their guilt and shame.

We know His suffering and death on our behalf wasn’t easy. Death by crucifixion was a slow death of losing breath. Each time to get a breath Jesus would have had to push down against the nails in his legs. He died by his own weight collapsing his lungs.

Jesus endured the Cross and its shame for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, He went to the Cross knowing what joy it would bring. His death would bring others to God—a joyful purpose in the midst of pain. 

God suffered through Jesus—that’s the kind of Kingdom He shows us.

Life from Death: Followers (25-26)

The next verses in John 12:25-26 tell us this principle of life from death doesn’t end with Jesus: 

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 

Like that grain of wheat there is great potential in us to serve our Lord Jesus. But if we live for the things of this life and this world that potential will pass unfulfilled.

What does it mean to “hate this life?”

One commentator put it this way, “People whose priorities are right have an attitude of love for the things of God that all interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred.” (Morris, 517, NICNT).

To hate is a strong word, but Jesus knows how much you and I love our life. He knows how difficult it is to serve others on God’s agenda when we focus on ourselves most of the time. To die to ourselves is to place love, honor, and service to God above all else.

In this process, we can bring the life of Jesus to all those we meet. But first we must die to self like a kernel of wheat to the ground.

What do you need to die to so that you might bear greater fruit for God?

It might be the way you see your time/resources, ambition, or opportunities. Morris addressed attitude—this is one area we can all examine ourselves.

We have our preferencesbut are we willing to lay them down to do it God’s way and build up people?

We have our judgmentsbut are we willing to suspend them to allow God to guide and to be the judge?

We have our pridebut are we willing to lay down our pride and humble ourselves and submit to Him and one another?

We have our rightsbut are we willing to lay them aside for God’s Kingdom to move forward?

It’s Good Friday, which is good for Jesus’ believers in that He brings us eternal life through His death.

In our broken world today, will you take up the challenge to do the same–lay down your life like a kernel of wheat for the benefit of others?