West Point Grey United Church
Mar 17, 2024

Dying Means Living

John 12:20-33

John 12:20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew, then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.



When I was small, I lived on a university campus in Beijing. At that time, there were not so many high-rises and not so many highways. Instead, there was vast farmland surrounding the university campus where wheat grew. Every year, I saw farmers scatter the grains of wheat in October and harvest them in June. A grain of wheat is the seed of the plant. The seed is a container that holds a tiny little plant. It has an outer protective shell, so when the seed is planted, it can remain dormant the whole winter until it gets what it needs: warmth, air, and especially water. When these three conditions occur, the little miracle happens in spring, and it germinates and sprouts into life and begins to grow.  With enough time, from October to June, one seed can produce enough plants to fill fields to bring in an abundant harvest of grain. 

During harvest time, I would like to pick up some ears of wheat left in the field with my friends and then rub the ears with both hands. Then, we counted how many grains there were to see who had the most and then ate them. Do you know how many grains can be produced by one seed? One wheat seed can produce five wheat ears; each ear could be 40 grains. So, let’s do the math: one seed could produce around 200 grains.  Because I was living in the northern part of China, wheat was the staple food on our dinner table.  So, I would say that wheat provided the main source of nutrition for my growth. I had a deep connection with wheat in different ways.

In today’s scripture, Jesus uses the analogy of the grain of wheat for his glorification – death on the cross and his resurrection. Most of Jesus’ audience were farmers; his rural audience could easily understand this metaphor: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” If we can understand the life cycle of wheat, we can better understand Jesus’ analogy and more fully appreciate what he has done for us. I want to invite you to watch a video about the cycle life of wheat.

Like a seed planted in the soil, Jesus was laid in the tomb.  He remained dormant for three days until he sprouted back to life like a seed, sprouted and grew up through the soil. In so doing, Jesus produced many seeds that really started at Pentecost.  Fifty days later, after Jesus’ resurrection, we get into the day of Pentecost. Pentecost is also the time of the wheat harvest in Israel.  When the ones who believed in Jesus were gathered in the upper room, what was happening, as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believer, was that they became the first fruits of Jesus giving up his life. Then Peter stood up and preached to the crowd of Jews that gathered there out of interest, and they were pierced to the heart. Acts 2:41 tells us that those who gladly received his word were baptized. That day, about three thousand souls were added. Later in Acts 4:4, we are told that there were about five thousand believers, and now it is clear that they are counting men only, so the number of people is likely greater.  Jesus’ death and resurrection allowed more people to live a new life.

In today’s text, another very meaningful passage that you could find is that some Greeks appeared at the very beginning of the story. They told Philip that they wished to see Jesus. Philip told Andrew, and then the two of them went to Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come.”  Why did Jesus say that when a couple of tourists from Greece showed up?  But these Greeks just disappeared from the story. What happened to the Greeks? In John’s gospel, there are always layers of meaning that invite us to explore.  The scholars tell us these Greeks represent the Gentiles, the rest of the world that is making loud demands to see Jesus. Jesus has been limited by geography and by history. He has been confined to a bit of land – Israel and a group of people. But now Jesus knows that his mission is to go all over the world. Philip and Andrew see these Greeks as only wanting to see Jesus. But Jesus hears a world crying out in need. Jesus said the hour has come, meaning that when these Gentiles arrive,  it is time for him to go, to take up his cross and die on the cross, and embrace the whole world with his arms on the cross — embracing Jews, Gentiles, you and me.  Although these Greeks disappeared later in the bible story, I believe the first 3000 people baptized at the first Pentecost included these Greeks.  

Many years later, when I returned to where I grew up, the outside of the university campus had changed. Tall buildings and paved roads covered the fields. The limited arable land gives scientists more urgency to find high-yield seeds to provide much-needed food. Who will care for our spiritual life when our spirit yearns for it?  It is Jesus who gave us a life-giving spirit.  Jesus used “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies” as a metaphor to tell us that he must die and be raised in a spiritual body.  Jesus gave up his life for the purpose of producing many grains of wheat; from the first Pentecost up until today, the abundant harvest has been kept going on and on. Today is the last Sunday of Lent, and next week we begin Holy Week. We will have three services: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  Before entering Holy Week, let us ponder these last questions:  What have you reflected on and repented for in the Lenten season? How well are you prepared to go into Holy Week?  Amen.