The Grain Must Fall and Die

Lent 5B

John 12: 20 33


A grain of wheat, though containing in itself the germ of life, remains alone, and does not really live unless it falls to the earth. Then the life germs burst forth, and the single grain in its own death, gives life to blade, stalk, and ear of corn.

Its death then was the true life, for it released the inner power which the husk before held captive; and this life power multiplying itself in successive grains clothes the whole field with a harvest of much fruit.

Bishop Charles John Ellicott 1819 1905

Some Notes On The Text

Verse 20

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.

This incident occurred early in the last week of Jesus' ministry. It is interesting that these people of Gentile origin want to meet Jesus, unlike the Jewish authorities who want to see the end of him.

Verse 21

They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus."

Perhaps they approached Phillip because of his Greek name. It is interesting to note this would have taken place in the Court of Gentiles which Jesus had "cleansed" at the beginning of his ministry (2 — 3 years earlier).

Verse 21

They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus."

The intention of the Greeks is obvious: they wanted to meet and talk with Jesus, who was not present.

Verse 23

Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."

The response of Jesus is a little strange and unexpected, but his mind is on the cross. When Jesus says, "The hour has come", he is referring to his death and exaltation. In other words, it will soon happen: the true glory of the Son of Man will be revealed. In other words, they will soon see more than they could have imagined.

Verse 24

I tell you the truth, 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.

Then follows the powerful analogy from nature. In a beautiful way, Jesus begins to explain the mystery of his atoning death. If it be thought strange that he must die in order to bring life, let it be remembered that this paradox already exists in nature. The grain of wheat left to itself produces nothing; only when it appears to have died and has been buried does it bring forth fruit, in far greater abundance than itself.

Verse 25

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Jesus goes on, in verse 25, to make what it seems a most difficult (even unreasonable) demand. This sentence can be a real challenge to us. First we should understand that the contrast between love and hate is a Semitic manner of speaking. Here, to "hate" means to consider something as less desirable than what is "loved". In other words, to "love it less". To love one's own life could be taken to mean: to live just for one's self. By way of contrast, to hate one's own life could be expressed: living for others. So Jesus is contrasting the person who keeps holding onto their own life with the one who lets go of it; who is not preoccupied with serving their own interests, or hanging onto their own way of life. Clearly Jesus warns that selfishness ends in self-destruction.

Verse 26

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

So the principle of sacrifice (which is the explanation of Jesus' own life) also holds for anyone who will count themselves a true follower of our Lord. Jesus is being clear and very open: he is on his way to death and the route his servant must follow is also that of death.

The honour that the Father shows to the believer is a reward for their faithful service to Jesus. At the same time it suggests that a mutual relationship exists between the Father and the believer in a way similar to that which exists between the Father and the Son.

Verse 27

"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

In Verse 27 we see Jesus quoting Psalm phrases. The words "my heart is troubled" come from Ps 42: 6 or Ps 6: 3. The phrase "save me" comes from Ps 6: 4.

Verse 28

Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."

When Jesus says "glorify your name" he might also have said, "reveal how glorious you are" or "show people how wonderful you are".

In reply, the Father means that he has already revealed himself in the works and signs of Jesus, also meaning that these all point to a greater glory to come.

Verse 29

The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Verse 29 shows there were three reactions to the heavenly voice. Some heard a noise like thunder, which shows they were not well attuned to receive a revelation. Others distinguished some kind of a communication but thought of nothing higher than the angels.

Verse 30

Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

Jesus alone recognised the voice as being for the sake of the hearers.

Our Lord brings the discourse to an end with a strong reference to a universal call to salvation, and another hint as to the way he was going to die.

Advice From A Great Preacher

(We must) begin with the cross of Christ, and in that cross we shall at first find sorrow, but in a while peace and comfort will rise out of sorrow. That cross will lead us to mourning, repentance, humiliation, prayer, fasting; we shall sorrow for our sins, we shall sorrow with Christ's sufferings; but all this sorrow will only issue, nay, will be undergone in a happiness far greater than the enjoyment which the world gives, though careless worldly minds indeed will not believe this, ridicule the notion of it, because they never have tasted it, and consider it a mere matter of words, which religious persons think it decent and proper to use, and try to believe themselves, and to get others to believe, but which no one really feels.

And so, too, as regards this world, with all his enjoyments, yet disappointments. Let us not trust it; let us not give our hearts to it; let us not begin with it. Let us begin with faith; let us begin with Christ; let us begin with his cross and the humiliation to which it leads. Let us first be drawn to him who is lifted up, that so he may, with himself, freely give us all things. Let us "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness", and then all the things of this world "will be added to us". They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen.

They alone enjoy it, who at first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come, relinquish it.

J. H. Newman. (19th Century England.)

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