Today, we return to one of the most foundational teachings of Jesus. As countercultural as this message is, we need a regular booster of this message:
I’m telling you the solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself. If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. It you hate your life in this world, you’ll keep it for the life of the coming age. If anyone serves me, they must follow me. Where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the father will honor them. (12:24-26)
Two summers ago, my family took an incredible trip to the western United States. We hit six national parks, the Rockies, and terrain unlike anything we had ever seen before. Beautiful! While in Yellowstone National Park, we learned much about the fires of 1988 that ravaged 36% percentage of that 2-million-plus-acre wilderness park. I was especially intrigued by the fact that the pine seeds in the cones of the lodgepole pines that are especially numerous in Yellowstone can only be released from the cones when subjected to intense heat, like the kind found in a forest fire. This is the very warp and woof of nature: as one tree is destroyed it is releasing the seeds of many others in its stead. Jesus — the creator of those trees — knew, taught and exemplified this truth as well.
Far too often we want the honor in verse 26 without the service and loss mentioned in the rest of this verse above. We want fruit, but don’t want the wheat to die. We want life in the coming age, but we also want to keep it right here and now too, instead of laying it down.
But here is Jesus reminding us that nothing of spiritual worth, nothing that brings life, nothing that lasts in the coming age will come without sacrifice and self-denial. In our relationships. In our careers. In our families and churches. In our souls. In our communities. Everywhere. This truth is tied into the very flow of nature.