Have you ever thought of planting a seed as digging a grave? Aren’t both the tiny holes for the seeds and our graves dug in hope?
My daughter has a friend, Sara, who doesn’t say much, but who often says things in a way that grabs your attention. One of those sayings relates well to this morning’s Gospel lesson. I quote, “Sometimes planting a seed is like digging a tiny grave with hope.”
Such a grave, dug in hope, was in Jesus mind when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
When he said this, his death and burial were only days away. He would die in hope and confidence that God would raise him within three days just as the scriptures foretold. But those who buried him, did so with their hopes shattered, at most they would have hoped that they would see him on the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
You see, the seed Jesus was speaking of was himself. He had come to the earth in order to die. If he did not do so, no one would be saved, he would remain alone. There would be no other human beings worthy of eternal life. The crop that God was readying for the harvest would fail. Their hopes of resurrection and life with God would be dashed forever.
John comments that in this dialogue with the people around him, many of them his enemies, Jesus also indicated the kind of death he would die. He said, “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.”
The phrase “lifted up from the earth” refers to his crucifixion. He would be nailed to the cross and then hoisted into the air. There he would suffer the scorn of men and the wrath of God who was going to punish him for all the crimes, all the indiscretions, all the willfulness, all the disobedience of humankind.
But John’s phrase, “the kind of death he would die” refers to more than just the physical manner of Jesus’ death. By the things he said that day, Jesus was indicating that his death would accomplish God’s purpose of redemption.
By saying, “Now is the judgement of this world.” Jesus indicated that he would bear the judgement that God’s justice required because of the sins of its people.
By saying, “Now is the ruler of this world cast out.” He indicated that Satan would lose his power over the world’s people. God loved all the people of the world, but until his justice was satisfied they remained under the condemnation of the law and the power of the devil who had led them into their rebellion against him.
By saying, “if it dies it bears much fruit” and “I will draw all people to myself.” Jesus indicates that through his death many, many people would be delivered from their sins and reconciled to God. These are those who would hear and believe that he had died for them and that he had risen to serve as the mediator between them and God. By coming to him in faith they would find peace with God and would become part of the great throng that, having been redeemed, serve him in faithful obedience.
All of this would be done to fulfill God’s eternal plan and purpose. God had foreseen humankind’s fall into sin. But he was unwilling to see his creation delivered to his enemy and unwilling to condemn the people he had made in his own image. So, God in his wisdom had planned to send his Son into the world, to be the seed buried in hope, that would bring forth new life and bear much fruit.
“Father, glorify your name.” Jesus prayed. “I have glorified it and will glorify it!” God responded. The works being done before the eyes of the people who heard the voice were the works of God himself. The events of the coming week would demonstrate God’s glorious love for his creatures. They would silence the curse that had been placed upon them because of their sins. Those events would bring eternal blessings to all who believed and glorified God for the redemption wrought by Christ’s death and resurrection.
So, Christ, died, and rose, and every believer is part of the abundant fruit that proceeds from his death. Because he did not love his own life, but instead freely gave it for us, he rose and kept his life for all eternity. And whoever believes in him can do the same by dying and rising with him.
Therefore, Jesus said,
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.John 12:25-26
In your baptism you were buried with Christ. You were buried in that watery grave in hope that you would rise with him to eternal life. Since therefore you have died with Christ, you are dead to this world and the life it would have you live. You have been made alive to God and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Therefore, set your affections on the things of God rather than on the things of this world. Live in this world as one who is merely passing through it on the way to a better, more permanent home and do not fear those who would force you conform to the disobedience and immorality of those around you.
We are to follow Jesus in our life and, yes, in death that we may rise and be where he is. Whether we die of natural causes like John or die a martyr’s death, we have Jesus word and promise that he will call us from our graves when he comes again in glory.
For generations it has been said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Had they valued their lives more than the kingdom of God they often could have lived. All one had to do to escape condemnation under the Romans was to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar. But the Christians knew that by doing so they would be acknowledging the divinity that Caesar claimed for himself. Such an act would be a violation of the first commandment and disobedience to the one who had said,
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38
And so, they gave their lives preferring the hope of a glorious resurrection to a few more years of earthly existence. Their graves were dug in hope and that hope will not be disappointed, for they hoped in Christ who loved them and gave himself for them that they might rise and live forever. Some of the pagans who saw them die considered them deluded, but others, seeing how firmly they held to their faith and confidence in the power of God to raise the dead, began to share their faith and hope.
It is also true that you and I are not merely the fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are the seed of the next generation of believers. We are called to die to self and to live to Christ that others may see the reality of our faith and so come to share it. As of yet, we have not been called upon to seal our testimony with blood, but we are called to live openly and honestly in hope of our own resurrection.
Let us then live and die in faith, that those who come after us may dig our little graves in hope.