Dying in order to Live
July 14, 2002 / No. 3106
Dear radio friends,
In John 12:24 we read, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” These words our Lord Jesus Christ spoke when the Greeks came from afar off asking that they might see Jesus. The Lord, in the immediate context, answers and says, “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified,” pointing, of course, to the cross, but then also to the resurrection and ascension and the salvation of the world – Jew and Greek. The hour is come when the Son of man must be lifted up to draw all men to Himself.
Then follows what we hope to see is an illustration of His own death and resurrection in the words of our text today.
Although the Lord is speaking of His own death and resurrection in this passage, it is clear that He also applies this to His disciples, because He goes on to exhort them by saying in verse 25, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal,” giving them, furthermore, the encouragement and incentive in verse 26, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”
We consider this Word of God as part of our series, “Preparing to Die Willingly.” Let it be clear that one can only be prepared to die, that is, the physical death, willingly if one is dying to the world and self already now. Many, also among Christians, are afraid to die. This text might be the reason. Others say they have no fear of death but yet love this present life and so deceive themselves.
The Word of God which I bring to you this day on the basis of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ found in John 12:24-26 shows us that there is such a thing as dying in order to live. What our Lord means in these verses is first illustrated through a figure of speech – “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die.” This, of course, is a concept from nature and a miracle which God has placed in this present creation. If a seed, a corn of wheat or any other, does not fall in the place of darkness and abide there alone for a season and die, then it will not bring forth fruit. If, for example, that seed falls by the wayside or on a rock and is not planted in the ground, it will dry up, it will wither, it will be alone, and that will be the end of that seed. But if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit. In and through that process there is life. It is an amazing truth, but it is a reality. Clearly Christ points to the principle of fruitfulness by the irony of death itself. Humanly speaking, we think that in order to live we must live, right? But the truth is, in order to live, we must die. Dying in order to live.
Are you prepared to face death? Why not? Do you love the world? You are not sure of heaven? Are you living it up now? Jesus not only warns, but He makes explicitly clear what He means by dying to live. It is stated clearly in our text. The Lord Jesus Christ gives the explanation, so there can be no doubt about it at all. He interprets it: “He that loveth his life shall lose it.… He who so treasures this present life above and beyond God shall be destroyed.” Jesus does not mean it absolutely, of course. We are to love this present life. “He that will love life and see good days” (I Pet. 3:10). There is a proper and healthy attitude of enjoying this present life. But Christ is teaching that if we love this present life more than we love God, we expose ourselves to destruction. If we love this life, not out of the love for God but simply for self, then we are in danger of losing it. That is why He emphasizes it with the opposite: “He that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” Again, there is a wrong way to hate life – a wrongful, depressed, banana-look in life, as if nothing in life is beautiful. Oh, no. The child of God sings ( Ps. 139) that he is fearfully and wonderfully made and that all that he is belongs to God.
But yet, there is a proper way to hate this life in comparison to our love for God and thus, really, to die to ourselves that we might live. There is a proper way that we really hate this life because of our love for God. Clearly, then, to be as a corn of wheat that falls into the ground means that we must hate this life, hate this life in the way that God has taught us in His Word. To die in order to live means: love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world (the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life) is not of the Father but is of the world (I John 2:15-17). To die in order to live means that we cry out: “Search me, O God. See what is contrary in my life and in my heart that must go, so that I will not dwell in the cesspool of sin, so that I will not walk in the way of disobedience.” To die in order to live means serving no longer sin and self and exposing ourselves in that way to the wrath of God and to His heavy hand of chastisement.
This truth is applied with force by our Lord in other places of Scripture. For example, in Matthew 10 our Lord Jesus Christ makes also this truth abundantly clear in the context of persecution in the world and our calling to confess Him before all men. There we read, in verses 37-39, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not this cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” The meaning is clear. We must not love man, even our loved ones, more than we love God. As a matter of fact, we must not even love our neighbor except it be out of the love of God. This is what it means that we must hate this present life. We must die to it. We must do all things out of the love of God. For the law of God is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
We must not say, “On the one hand we love God, but on the other hand we also love this life.” Or that we love God and then on the other hand we also love our neighbor. No. The second commandment is like unto the first, that is, it is rooted in the first: we must love God, and then we love our neighbor out of that love for God. And we love this present life out of the love for God, seeking His glory, being His servants. But if we love this life and we have this love for life such that it is not out of the love for God, then we are in danger of losing it.
The Lord impresses this truth upon us also with the phrase, “Verily, verily”: truly, truly, I say unto you. There is no doubt about the truth of this statement: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die.” You may disagree, you may find it to be a mystery. You may find it impossible. But I, the Son of God, say unto you, except one is prepared to die, he cannot really learn to live.
This is our experience, too, is it not? We deny ourselves and we find life, true life, joy, peace, comfort, hope, and courage. If we give in to sin, we treasure the world, we become confused, and afraid, and foolish, and fretful.
Do you die daily to yourself? Are you willing to give up this life for the sake of God? Do you cry, like the apostle Paul did, as we considered last week, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” It is possible, you know. It is possible by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Humanly speaking, I submit to you, this is an utter impossibility. Die in order to live? Our own sinful nature is so strong. We struggle daily just to control our lusts and our lies. Our sins are pointed out to us, our defenses go up. We refuse to deal with them. Our love for the present life is strong. Things of the world, comforts of the world, luxuries of the world – they are real even though we may not too often speak about them, especially when we are around God’s people.
And when we think of our love for God, compared to our love for this life, our love for God wanes often times. We are not consecrated to God as we should be with our time, our money, our energy, our ambitions, our desires, our plans. Oh, how is it possible that we should be as a corn of wheat that falls in the ground, dies, and bring forth fruit?
Our experience is not unlike the people of God throughout the world and as the experience of the apostle Paul. So we cry out, “O wretched man that I am.” And we ask, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And the answer is: “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
That is also in our text today! Yes, Christ has made this a real possibility for us. Christ is the corn of wheat, do not forget, that fell in the ground in order to bring forth fruit. Look at the context in John 12, in which Christ speaks these precious words. You find that the Lord is referring, really, first of all, to His own hour that has come. That is why He says in verses 27 and 28a, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” See also verses 31-33: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” Clearly, Christ is looking at the cross, looking to the cross. And His soul is troubled, for the hour is come. He, who Himself is the fount of life, the Son of God, is come in our flesh so that for our sins He might die the death of the cross.
It had to be this way. For except the corn of wheat fall, it cannot bring forth fruit. What fruit? Verse 32 tells us: The Son of God will have fruit. He will be lifted up from the earth and He will draw all kinds of men unto Himself – not only Jews but also Greeks who have come seeking Him. By His death, resurrection, and ascension Christ will command His church to go into all the nations and to reach all the nations with this gospel of grace. And He will draw all kinds of men – rich and poor, kings and servants – and all nations, tongues, and tribes will be represented one day in that great throng of worshipers who have been gathered by the Son of God.
That is the glorious fruit, the harvest that we await and that Christ purchased by His death on the cross. Why then, we must ask today, does He cry in verse 27, “Now is my soul troubled”? Does He not know and understand this principle? Of course He does. He is the One who is maintaining this principle: except the corn of wheat die it cannot bring forth fruit. But I will tell you why. It was for our sakes. That is what He tells us. There came a voice from heaven saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The people who stood by heard it. Some said it thundered; others said angels spoke to Him. Jesus said, “The voice came not because of me, but for your sakes” – to teach us that for this cause the Son of God hath come and that the Father will glorify Him. Hath glorified Him and will glorify Him – even if it means in the way of the cross.
And there is more. Not only did Christ die for us on the cross. The truth is, in Christ we are also crucified with Him. We are raised unto a new life. But first we are buried with Him ( Rom. 6). Therefore we have this daily struggle between the old and new man. Therefore we have to understand this reality when we consider preparing to die willingly. We have proof, we have a guarantee, the earnest of the Holy Spirit. We are passed from death unto life. Why? Romans 8, “Because now we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” The purpose of this struggle is that we might be sanctified, that we might be assured ourselves that this is indeed the work of almighty God. That that may be the life of Christ manifest in us more and more. (Gal. 2:20) “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” So that the life we now live is not in our own strength but out of the faith of the Son of God. We confess that as the apostle Paul did.
And the fruit will and must be, not only in our own walk, but, in the context of the passage, I submit to you as a missionary of the gospel, the fruit is the salvation of God’s people. That is why Paul lived and died – in order that the elect might be saved. That is why Christ lived and died and, yea, is risen again and lives for ever – in order that the elect church might be saved. Is that why you live? Is that why I live?
We are willing to die, even to our own self and to our own sin and to our own lust, that we might live, and living we might bring forth fruit, fruit that will be to the glory of God and to the salvation of His people.
That is the Word of God here. There is a call issued. If any man serve me, let him follow Me, Jesus says. No, He did not say, “If you want to serve me,” as if Christ is giving the option to do so or not. Not at all! For all men are obligated to serve God by serving His Christ. Rather, the idea is that, since you say that you are My servant, then follow Me. For a true servant follows his master. If any man serve Me, well then, let him follow Me.
Follow You, O Son of God? You went to the cross to die for my sins. You were reviled. You took the penalty of my sin. You took my death on the cross. You, who owned the universe, were willing to give it up for my sake. Follow You? Oh, people of God, once and for all it is finished. The payment for our sins is accomplished, so that in that regard there is no need for us ever to pay the penalty of our sins because once and for all the Son of God has died and is drawing all men to Himself. Our salvation is accomplished in the Son of God. There is not one iota we can add to the righteousness which we have in Christ. But yes, Jesus says, “Serve Me. Follow Me.” “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” – did not the apostle Paul write this to the Philippians? Or as Jesus Himself said to His disciples in John 13 as He washed the disciples’ feet: “Ye are also to wash one another’s feet.” That is, you must be willing to have this mind of Christ, a mind whereby you are willing to lose yourself in order to find it; you are willing to die to the world in order to live unto God.
The Lord assures and encourages us who follow Him, that where He is, there also His servant will be. The familiar words of John 14 again come to mind: “I go to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house of many mansions.” In death the child of God goes to be with his Savior immediately.
On the other hand, if we serve self and world and sin, then death means eternal separation from God in hell. Jesus adds, “If any man serve Me, him will My Father honor.” You know what is the honor the Father gives to the servants of Jesus Christ? The honor that is given to those who now no longer serve sin but serve the Lord Christ? The honor is the honor that only His own have – to be in the presence of the Lord, who sits at the right hand of God. Honor and blessing of eternal life and holiness and peace and glory unimaginable, joy unspeakable in the heavens.
Ah, the day is coming, people of God, that we will be given such honor. Let us prepare to die willingly. After all, come to think about it, is that not what our pilgrimage here on this earth is all about? In this present valley of sin and death we are called to live but a few days – with all its afflictions and sorrows and struggles so that we may look for the return of Christ. Is that not why the Lord presses us? Is that not why the Lord causes us to walk the narrow way, so that, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and looking to Him as the author and finisher of our faith we may run the race? We may also realize that this world is not our home. We are just a-passing through. Really we should die in order to live. And we want to die in order to live, for this present life is but a valley of the shadow of death and death itself. Life will come. We have it in principle now. But someday, in all eternity, in perfection, we shall worship and serve God forever and ever.
May God, by His Spirit and by His Word, prepare us so that we are willing to face death cheerfully. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is possible only by dying now in order to live eternally. Look to Jesus Christ who died and rose and who lives forever. And believe. And believing, follow your Lord Jesus Christ by dying in order to live. And know that that honor that God has reserved for all the disciples of Christ will be yours also, in that great day when He will say to all His servants, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, into the everlasting joy prepared for you from before the foundation of the world.” Amen.
Heavenly Father, we make it our prayer this day that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may learn to die in order to live, so that all the glory may return unto Thee and the fruit may also be the salvation of Thy people. Amen.