Here is a great video by Citizen Way, “Should’ve Been Me.”
Ms. Manning writes:
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself, alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”(1)
His hour had come. He had walked among them, taught them, performed miraculous signs, and he had loved and cared for them. But now, his hour had come and the cross lay ahead of him. The “hour” he faced would be filled with trial and suffering: “Now, my soul has become troubled and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?'”
Jesus would walk the long, lonely road to the cross. Rather than taking the way of self-preservation, he would offer his life, like a grain of wheat. He would die; he would be buried in the darkness of the earth, but as a result he would bear much fruit. Despite what lay ahead of him, and despite the trouble in his soul, he affirms, “For this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Of what was transacted there on that cross, there are many theories.(2) In formal theology, these “theories” attempt to get at the very nature and the very essence of what Jesus accomplished through his death. For theologians, atonement studies are a fertile field of inquiry because the meaning and impact of the atonement are rich, complex, and paradoxical. One theory, for example, suggests that the atonement stands as the preeminent example of a sacrificial life. Other theories argue that the cross is the ultimate symbol of divine love, or that the cross demonstrates God’s divine justice against sin as the violation of his perfect law. Still other theories suggest the cross overcame the forces of sin and evil, restored God’s honor in relation to God’s holiness and righteousness, or served as a substitution for the death we all deserved because of sin.
While the nature of the atonement may include a portion of all of these theories, Jesus’s statements as recorded in John’s gospel indicate that his death would be a path to abundant life resulting in the production of much fruit. And in this case, Jesus doesn’t construct a theory of the atonement, but instead chooses an agrarian image to indicate what would be accomplished in the cross. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24). Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century theologian and preacher, wrote that this passage of Scripture is rich with paradoxical statements describing the nature of atonement:
“[P]aradox is this—that his glory was to come to him through shame…[that] the greatest fulness of our Lord’s glory arises out of his emptying himself, and becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross. It is his highest reputation that he made himself of no reputation. His crown derives new luster from his cross….We must never forget this, and if ever we are tempted to merge the crucified Saviour in the coming King we should feel rebuked by the fact that thus we should rob our Lord of his highest honour.”(3)
Spurgeon expands on the paradoxical nature of death-bringing forth life. It is only through the cross, just as a kernel of wheat must die in order to produce a harvest, that new life in Christ and reconciliation with God are accomplished. Most powerfully, Spurgeon notes that “this teaches us where the vital point of Christianity lies, Christ’s death is the life of his teaching. See here: if Christ’s preaching had been the essential point, or if his example had been the vital point, he could have brought forth fruit and multiplied Christians by his preaching, and by his example. But he declares that, except he shall die, he shall not bring forth fruit.”(4)
We see this paradox borne out every spring. Dead bulbs ugly, brown, and buried in dark soil all winter burst from their earthen tomb green with life and bright with color. Their glory disguised in ugly packaging, and one bulb producing green leaves and flowers in abundance. So it is with Jesus’s passion and death: glory and abundance come out of sorrow, shame, death and suffering. Encased in the cross of Golgotha is a beautiful, life-giving seed.
Long before the beauty of Easter morning, a tiny kernel of wheat dies; it lays buried seemingly dead underground. This is a great paradox, but one in which we can come to glory, one in which we can find our lives.
See from his head, his hands, his feet Sorrow and love flow mingled down Did ere such love and sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown?(5)
Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) John 12:24. (2) The following theories of the atonement are based upon Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983), 781-823. (3) “The Corn of Wheat Dying to Bring Forth Fruit: John 12:23-25,” Charles H. Spurgeon, Farm Sermons (c 1875), from http://textweek.com, accessed April 2, 2009. (4) Ibid. (5) “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” written by Isaac Watts, 1707.
In late 1776, the Colonial army had lost battle after battle to the British forces. Soldiers began to doubt their ability to win the war and were not as quick to reenlist. Because of the people’s dwindling faith in Washington’s leadership, new enlistments had dropped off. Less than one year into the revolution, hope for victory was bleak at best. Truly the thirteen colonies were facing a debilitating crisis.
Author and Patriot Thomas Paine had been instrumental in rallying the citizenry to take up arms and fight for freedom. During the cold, dark days of war, he once again took up his pen and wrote:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated”(Crisis).
Just as before the war, his challenge set in ink spread across the colonies, reigniting the fires of freedom which had grown cold in the face of strong opposition, defeat, and the harshness of winter. The people rallied and the war for freedom continued until its victorious end in 1783.
Today, Christianity faces a major crisis. Belief in Christ has been watered down to a faith with no requirements. People are asking, “What is the least I can do to be a Christian and still get to heaven?” Others are stripping away verses of the Bible to make it more palatable for those who just want to squeak their way into heaven. Truly, we are facing a crisis in Christianity.
We need true Christians to rally together even though “these are times that try men’s souls.” We must remember that sin “is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” If the sacrifice of Christ was for our forgiveness and victory over sin, death, and hell, we cannot continue in this conflict in the power of our sinful flesh. This conflict is difficult. Many have spent years feeding the lusts of the flesh, pursuing their every desire, and enjoying that which God sees as sin. Our human desires do not give us the freedom to change, deny, or re-write the Word of God.
My friends, our salvation came by the shedding of Christ’s blood. It was not just a prick of the finger, nor was it simple act. Our salvation came through the loss of Jesus’ life. He willingly hung on the cross in our place that we might have victory over sin. If we water down the gospel, if we allow respectable sins, if we remove that which offends others, then we cheapen the loving sacrifice of Christ Jesus!
Thomas Paine’s quote is perfect for the crisis we face today: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” Do we as individual Christians esteem too lightly what Jesus has done? Has salvation been obtained so cheaply that its cost means nothing? I would ask you today to take up your Bible and read Luke 22:39-24:53. Think about what it cost Jesus for your freedom—freedom—not tolerance. FREEDOM! Freedom from the tyranny of sin, guilt, lust, envy, lying, stealing, and the like. Freedom to live the life God intended from the beginning of time. Freedom for a life of faith, hope, and love. Remember, sin “like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
All quotes from Thomas Paine “Crisis”