Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dying To Live

            Let me begin by thanking everyone who took the time to reach out to me with sincere concern, caring, and love after the announcement I made in my last lesson. Your words of encouragement were a great comfort and I am deeply thankful for the community of believers around the world who have taken the time to read and interact with my lessons that lifted me up in their prayers. It has made a difficult decision a little easier. It’s been almost a month now since my last lesson. One of the blessings that came with stepping back from preparing weekly lessons to preparing monthly lessons has been clarity of mind. I have been able to study the Scriptures more diligently and listen to God’s voice more intently. Letting go of one thing gave God room to replace it something better—one thing had to die in order for something else; something better to come to life.

            The part that most people, including me, struggle with is that before something new can come to life, something old has to die. We are all Dying To Live but we can’t come to terms with the dying part—we can’t let go of things that allow us to truly live. So we wind up just dying a little more and more every day instead of truly living. However, before we can enjoy something new, we have to let go of the old. It’s a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Abraham had to leave the old comforts of his family of origin and his native homeland in order to be made into a new nation and settle in a better place that God led him to. The Israelites had to leave the familiarity of their old lives as captives in Egypt in order to experience their new lives as God’s chosen people in the Promised Land. Jesus had to die so that eternal life would be possible for us. As followers of Christ, we are called to put our old lives to death in order to experience our new lives in Christ. The pattern is always the same—the death of one thing makes room to give life to something else. As I said, though, we struggle with they dying part. We want to live but we don’t want to experience the pain and loss of death. Instead, we kill ourselves daily chasing after life while clinging to the very things that suck the life out of us.
            We chase after material goods because we think they will give us life. We pursue constant sexual pleasures because they make us feel alive. We indulge in excesses of food, alcohol, or drugs because we think we can’t live without them. We hold on to the anger, bitterness, hatred, and resentment we feel toward the person who hurt us because forgiveness feels almost worse than death while unforgiveness fuels us even as it slowly poisons our soul and kills us and all our relationships. We are all Dying To Live in some way, we just have to learn that it is only by dying first to the things that are actually killing us so that we will finally have the chance to live in the way that honors God.

Subject Text

John 12:23-26

            23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.


            Our Subject Text takes place shortly after Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As Jesus rode into town, the people shouted out “Hosanna!” which is a roughly Hebrew equivalent meaning “Save.” Many of the people who witnessed His miracles went out to see Him as rode into the city on the back of a donkey praising him as the King of Israel. If you didn’t know the rest of the story, you’d think that Jesus had completed His mission. The people were praising Him as King and calling on Him to save them. That sounds like a successful mission doesn’t it? But we know the rest of the story. Don’t we? We know that the religious leaders, seeing they are losing their influence over the people, conspired to have Jesus arrested and killed and we know the majority of the people who were calling Him the King of Israel would abandoned Him. Jesus knew He wasn’t finish. He knew the people needed something beyond the Law and religious practices; they needed new life. People were Dying To Live and Jesus knew that it would only be by His death that they would have that chance at life.

Text Analysis

            23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

            People were constantly clamoring to get close to Jesus (Lk. 5:1); to meet with Him (Jn. 3:1-2); to share a meal with Him (Lk. 7:36); to question Him (Mk. 10:17), and in the verses immediately preceding our Subject Text, a group of Greeks who were in the city to be part of the worship festivities wanted to have an audience with Jesus. However, according to v. 23, Jesus is reaching the end of His earthly ministry and the time for entertaining curiosity seekers is over. When some of the disciples told Him that there were a group of Greeks who wanted to meet with Him, Jesus let’s them know, by seemingly ignoring the request, that He is done with that part of His earthly ministry and that it was time for Him to move on to the final phase of His earthly ministry—the cross and thereafter the resurrection and ultimately His ascension.

            “The Greeks whose pressing for an interview precipitated Jesus’ response disappear from view. Whether or not their request was granted is not recorded; theologically speaking, the point is irrelevant…because even if they met with Jesus at this point there is a sense in which they could not yet ‘see’ him, they could not yet belong to him, until the ‘hour is over and Jesus has been ‘lifted up from the earth’. That is what is necessary for the gospel to be fully operative, the gospel that encompasses Jew and Gentile alike and draws together a new covenant community whose locus is no longer constrained by the parameters of Sinai.”[1]

24Very 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.

            Remember that the primary industry in and around Jerusalem was farming and fishing so it’s not surprising that Jesus uses an agrarian illustration to make His point. We tend to read our knowledge of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection backwards and forget that the disciples had no idea what was about to happen. For all the disciples knew, Jesus was on the verge of spearheading the campaign to return Israel to national prominence. Based on their reaction, later when Jesus makes it explicit that He must be put to death, it is inconceivable to suggest that they had any idea what Jesus was trying to tell them in v. 24. However, they certainly understand crop germination and how one seed produces multiple seeds when it falls to the ground and dies or “germinates” using more precise agrarian language. Jesus was teaching them that in order for the trajectory of humanity’s redemption to continue along the path ordained by God, Jesus had to die to make that redemption possible. And once His earthly ministry was complete and He ascended to heaven, it would make room for the work of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send in His place.

            “Jesus knew and understood the mind-set of the common people who labored with their hands…they understood that the new harvest was the result of dying seeds. Thus…he directed their attention to the important fact that the phenomenon of seeds and harvest illustrated a reality far beyond the experience of farming and gardening. It was aptly related to the death of Jesus and the reality of their lives. Moreover, the statement that if the seed does not die but ‘remains alone’ or by itself as unplanted, such a condition implies the tragic notion that the harvest would be frustrated. The implication for Jesus was obvious: he had no choice but to accept his coming glorification (death-resurrection) even though it would be traumatic.”[2]

25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

            This is such a difficult teaching by Jesus. “The love/hate contrast reflects Semitic idiom, pointing to preference rather than hatred.”[3] So what, exactly, is Jesus trying to teach us in v. 25? Jesus is teaching us the difference between what is good and what is best. Let me give you an example from my own life. I have a loving wife that I’ve been married to for almost thirty-three years and two amazing grown daughters who I love with my whole heart. God has entrusted me with a ministry that fills me with joy. Even though I am not in the best health at the moment, God has strengthened me enough to continue to work and provide for the needs of my family and this ministry. It would be a lie to say that I am not thankful for my life or enjoy most of the aspects of my life. However, I will happily, and without any regrets, leave it behind when Jesus calls me home whenever that might be. Here’s what Jesus is trying to say: No matter how good this life is, it will never be able to compare with the life to come. More importantly, if you fall in love with this life along with all it’s attractions and distractions, you will soon lose interest in the life to come and what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

            Believers are resident aliens in this world. Our true citizenship is in heaven. If we decide that this life is the most important part of our eternal life and live with the attitude that there is nothing better than this life, then we will be in grave danger of forfeiting our heavenly citizenship. Jesus knew that we couldn’t love this life as the most important thing and at the same time be fully devoted to Him. It’s just not possible!

            “The movement of thought in this passage runs from Jesus’ uniquely fruitful death (the death of one seed producing many living seeds) to the mandated death of Jesus’ followers as the necessary condition of their own life. The person who loves his life will lose it: it could not be otherwise, for to love one’s life is a fundamental denial of God’s sovereignty, of God’s rights, and a brazen elevation of self to the apogee of one’s perception, and therefore an idolatrous focus on self, which is the heart of all sin. Such a person loses his life, i.e. causes his own perdition [a.k.a. eternal condemnation]. By contrast, the one who hates his life will keep it for eternal life. This person denies himself, or, to use another of Jesus’ metaphors, takes up his cross daily, i.e. he chooses not to pander to self-interest but at the deepest level of his being declines to make himself the focus of his interest and perception, thereby dying [to self].”[4]

26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

            How does someone who calls himself or herself a “follower” of Jesus avoid the danger of falling in love with the world as described in v. 25? By actually being a “follower” as described in v. 26. By being a servant to the world. By loving those who are unlovable. By caring for those who are lonely, lost, sick, and hurting. By forgiving when it is undeserved. By living at peace with those around you to the extent it is up to you. By giving more than you take. By using the gifts God has given you to bless others more than you have been blessed. By bringing glory and honor to God with the life He has given you. By demonstrating, with your words and your actions, that you follow Someone greater than yourself. You can be certain that if you reach the point where you have fallen in love with the world, you are no longer following anyone but your own personal desires and you’re not serving anyone but your own interests—you have become selfish and self-serving. You are one with a world steeped in selfish narcissism.

            “True disciples must be willing to suffer and experience rejection, even unto death if need be. To serve and follow Jesus means making radical lifestyle changes. To follow Jesus means going the way he went—not the way of earthly power and honor—but the way of humility and death. Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory. When we choose to follow him, we must live for God’s glory alone. This does not mean we have no fun, not joy, no security. Rather, it simply means we live to honor God and then the Father will honor us.

            “The honor from God that Jesus promises may, in fact, be partly experienced in this life, but never entirely. And for many believers, what God has planned by way of honor we can only guess. Meanwhile, we can derive real comfort and security from knowing that God observes and remembers each and every act of service we do in his name. None will be forgotten.”[5]


I want to repeat something from earlier: “To serve and follow Jesus means making radical lifestyle changes. To follow Jesus means going the way he went—not the way of earthly power and honor—but the way of humility and death.” The principle was true for Jesus, and is true for us as well. In order for something new to take root and grow, something old must first pass away. And many times, that can feel like we are dying. Making dramatic lifestyle changes so that our words and actions will bring honor to God in all we do is a process of dying to the way we want to do things so that the Holy Spirit can begin to lead us to do things in a new way that leads to a new life. But I can promise you that it will not be easy. For example, if you want to lose weight and be healthy, stop eating junk food that makes you feel good but is actually killing you and get off the couch and get some exercise which can feel like dying but is actually giving you new life. If you hate your job, then go out and find a new one. If you don’t have the skills for new job then go and get whatever new skills you might need. If your marriage is failing, maybe it’s time you stopped doing marriage your way and started doing marriage God’s way. If you are struggling with addiction, break the cycle of whatever you happen to be addicted to—drugs, alcohol, work, or pornography, and get whatever help you need to change the life circumstances and/or habits that hold you prisoner to your addiction. If your relationship with God has grown cold, make sure you haven’t made something else more important into your life to take His place.

In order for the Holy Spirit to come and live within each believer, Jesus had to die, be raised to life, and ascend to heaven. The principle is essentially the same for His followers. We have to die to all the things in our lives that do not conform to the way Jesus lived and the way the Bible otherwise teaches and directs us. That can be really hard and feel like we are dying. Especially when it requires radical changes in our lifestyle and attitudes that force us out of our comfort zones and put us at odds with the acceptable lifestyles and attitudes of the world around us. If you don’t think that being at odds with the world feels like dying then you might want to examine your life and see if your lifestyle and attitudes are actually at odds with the world.

When it comes to your money and possessions, can you honestly say that you would be content if you had less or none of it? Is your life preoccupied with enjoying all the trappings of the world and/or acquiring more stuff—more money, nicer cars, bigger houses, elaborate vacations? Or is your life preoccupied with leveraging all you have already acquired and continue to acquire to serve others? Are you killing yourself chasing after more or nicer things or are you putting to death the relentless pull of the world’s attractions? If you want to know what it feels like to die to the world’s call to keep racing after more stuff try saying “enough” when the world is trying to convince you that you deserve more and more and more.

If you want to know what dying to your own personal desires feels like, try remaining celibate until you are married. Try standing up to the world for the biblical truth that marriage is between one man and one woman and that there are actually only two sexes—male and female—and that sex outside of the context of marriage between one man and one woman is not God’s design. Try making the assertion that every other form of marriage and sexual indulgence is a lie and a manifestation of the world’s selfish narcissism and rejection of God’s truth.

When you begin to serve more than being served, it will feel like you’re dying. When you love those who are unlovable or those who can’t or won’t return your love, it will feel like you’re dying. When you give more to people than you take from them, it will feel like you’re dying. When you forgive the person who has hurt you repeatedly, especially when they are unrepentant or refuse to ask for forgiveness, it will feel like you’re dying. When you stand up to the world’s unbelief or false beliefs with the assertion that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one gets to heaven unless they go through Him, it will feel like you’re dying. And for some of you, that assertion could literally cost you your life.

All people are Dying To Live in some way or another. But Dying To Live can be interpreted in two different ways. Some people, believers and unbelievers alike, are killing themselves a little every day chasing after the things of this world because they think that pursuing all the world has to offer will bring them life when the exact opposite is true. However, many Christians; faithful Christians, understand that Dying To Live means taking up their cross every day and following Jesus no matter the cost. They understand that “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 Jn. 2:15b-17).” Faithful followers of Christ are constantly examining their lives to determine what attitudes and behaviors still conform to the world and need to be put to death so that new life can take root and grow. Faithful followers of Christ aren’t focused on killing themselves chasing after worldly desires in order to find life. Instead, faithful followers of Christ are very intentional about putting their selfish, worldly desires to death. Every day, in their words and in their actions, faithful followers of Christ are Dying To Live.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 438.
[2] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2002), 51.
[3] Andreas J. Kรถstenberger, John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 379.
[4] Carson, John, 438-439.
[5] Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 428-429.

(Audio version; Music: "Heaven Knows" and "I Surrender" by: Hillsong UNITED)