Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reflections from the book of John #12: Death Leads to Life

John 12:23-28

23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Mant to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!28 Father, bring glory to your name.”

Sometimes I pray with people at the altar after church.  You never know what you'll get to pray with people about.  Migraines.  Marriage problems.  A son or daughter who has stopped going to church.

A few years back I prayed with a woman who had lung cancer.  Of course we prayed for healing, but a greater concern at that moment was how to tell her husband that she didn't want to receive prayer and supernatural treatments from a Native-American healer.  And her greatest concern was that her husband and her sons would choose to follow Christ.  I prayed with her, for wisdom, for God's intervention in their family, and for healing.  I continued to pray for her as God brought her to mind and as I saw her name on the prayer list.

Over the years, as her battle with cancer continued, and as it appeared that she would lose this battle unless God intervened, her primary concern was her husband and boys.

At the funeral, her husband and her three boys stood arm in arm and worshiped God.  Two neighborhood girls who needed a family stood next to them and worshiped with them.  They are now part of the family.

A friend of mine reflected over this story on Saturday.  She has only known the husband since his wife's death.  I only knew the wife, and only because of that chance prayer encounter.

I shared my end of the story and rejoiced that the wife's most cherished prayer request had been answered, and I said, "It's kind of like the wife gave her life for her husband and for her boys."  My friend agreed.  "It's exactly like that," she said.

She gave up her life, which was temporary anyway, and in exchange, her family experiences the joy of knowing Jesus, now and for eternity.

And while I know she wanted to live, to spend more time with her husband, to watch her boys become men, I know she wanted her husband and sons to know God even more.

And I think most of us don't always get it.  Or at least I don't always get it.

Some years ago, and I think I've shared this story before so forgive me if you've already heard it, I fasted and prayed for my son Jason.  This was the beginning of our desperate cry for God to intervene in his life.  And I heard a little voice in the back of my head, asking, "Would you give your life for him?"  It was such a bizarre thought that I set it aside, not even thinking this was God asking me to think about something new.  Honestly, I didn't even want to consider an answer.

Several times, in the next few days, that thought popped back in my head. "Would you give your life for Jason?"

Finally I answered, speaking directly to God.

"That's not even a fair question.  And the answer is no.  Not unless I have a guarantee that it will make a difference.  Not unless I know he will turn his life over to you."

I knew I was reluctant to even make that concession.  Honestly, I want to live.

And this is when I knew it really was God speaking to me all along.  The voice said, "I gave my life for Jason. I love him more than you do."

The thing is, Jesus gave his life for all of us.  Without any guarantees.  He knew that some of us would receive his gift of life through his death, and some of us would reject it.

But he did it joyfully because "unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone.  But its death will produce many new kernels--a plentiful harvest of new lives."

When Jesus dies, his death produces new life.  When we choose to receive the gift of life through his death, we become part of that plentiful harvest of new lives.

I'm so used to this concept that it's easy to read this and move on.  Remember, I had a hard time saying I would die for my son.  This choice to die isn't easy for Jesus either, and he confesses that his "soul is deeply troubled."  Still he doesn't ask his Father to change the plan, to rescue him.  No, he says, "This is the reason I came.  I came to die so that you can have life."

He asks us to follow him.  "Those who love their life in this world will lose it.  Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am."

In case there's any question about what Jesus means in this passage, we read something similar in Philippians 3:.  Speaking of the importance of knowing Christ, Paul says, "I want to know Christ.  I want to know the power of his resurrection and I want to share in his suffering.  I want to become like him in his death."

We follow Jesus into death.  Sometimes figuratively, dying to our own desires and our own choices, and sometimes literally, like the woman at the beginning of this blog post.  And as we follow Jesus, God is glorified.  As we follow Jesus, new life is born. 

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