“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.” (John 12:24-26)
Late at night a jeep drove into the clearing. Four men with machine guns jumped out. Inside they handcuffed the schoolteacher and pastor of the local church. He and a friend were forced into the jeep. They rode along the rugged road until they reached the bridge. There they pushed the pastor out. Knowing what was going to happen he asked permission to write a few words in his diary. He noted the time, the date, and the events, which were transpiring. He simply wrote: ‘We are going to heaven.’ Then he was told to walk to the bridge. As Pastor Yona walked, he sang:
There is a happy land where saints in glory stand.
There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar:
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
His song ended with a burst of machine gun bullets and his body tumbled off the bridge into the river below and yet another chapter was written in the Book of Acts.
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On Sunday, April 8, 1945, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken from a worship service he had just conducted for prisoners. Hitler’s Gestapo took him to a concentration camp in Flossenburg, tried him for treason, and hanged him just a few days before the Allied Forces liberated the prison camp. A medical doctor at the scene described his final moments: “Through the half-open door in one of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so submissive to the will of God.”
‘Survival’ is a popular theme these days. We have a top rating TV show focused on a group of people in an isolated location competing, working together, scheming, negotiating, forming secret pacts and alliances, eliminating all threats, all with the goal of surviving and winning the game. The show is called ‘Survivor’ and various versions of it have swept across the world with unprecedented success. One of the top films many years ago was Castaway, the survival story of a postal service manager who spent years in isolation on a lonely tropical island with his only companion a volleyball he named ‘Wilson’.
Survival is the most natural thing that we do. It is our most base instinct, the preservation of our most precious possession – our life. But when it comes to following Jesus Christ and knowing the life that He has promised us, the quest for survival at all costs creates a real conflict. The desire for our survival and the quest to preserve our life can keep us at a mediocre level of living. It can eat away at our beliefs and convictions in such a way that we find it easy to compromise and almost impossible to confront. The result of this is spiritual stagnation. The quest for survival affects our decision-making, it robs us of our effectiveness, it saps our passion, freedom, and joy in the Lord, it hinders our wholehearted obedience, and finally, it robs us of the power and blessings of God. Survivors are insecure; they rely on things other than God. They won’t take risks. Survivors are unwilling to pay the price. They are more concerned with maintaining the things they have. They want to protect their rights.
In all this concern for survival, however, there is probably no instruction as strange and as powerful as that of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He says in this section of Scripture. We learn from Jesus, that the antidote to survival is revival.
A Great Principle of the Christian life: We are called to die.
In verse 24 of our text we read that if we are to bear fruit for God, like a seed, and like Christ, we must die. Now when I am dead, I will not care what they do with my body. It will make no difference to me. I’ve been to a morgue and I can assure you that dead people aren’t worried about money, possessions, pleasure, degree’s, popularity, fame, being understood, having their needs met, etc. Why? Because they’re dead! In Jesus’ name listen to this. Someday when you are dead, you will be home with Jesus and none of those things will matter – am I right? Well that’s the way it should be now – if you have died already with Christ, which all Christians have.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24).
Crucified means dead. So in a profound sense I am dead on the earth.
“[My life] is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
So it just doesn’t matter what happens to me here on earth. Paul was now a dead man walking. His life was no longer his to live as he pleased. If we are going to experience revival instead of survival, we must first come to terms with our death. When people lose a loved one, they not only hold a funeral service, but also they often go to the grave and leave flowers in memory of the dead person. Doing this is part of coming to grips with the death that has occurred. It is part of the grieving process – and grieving is just a process of letting go and dealing with the loss that has occurred. Maybe that’s what we should do as Christians. Let’s hold a funeral service – acknowledge the death that has taken place, visit the gravesite of our old selves and leave some flowers. Stand there for a few minutes and then leave and move on from that point. Do whatever helps us come to grips with the reality that the person we used to be has died – with Christ on the cross.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
So let’s soberly ask ourselves some probing questions: is my life a quest for survival or revival? Is there something that is hindering the fruitfulness of Christ in me – something that I need to die to? Is there something God is calling me to die to that I might experience more fully my position in Christ; that I might see Christ more clearly and show him more compellingly? Am I striving against my very nature as a Christian by trying to keep alive something God sentenced to death when I became a Christian? Are my weaknesses as a parent or a spouse or a disciple linked to something that needs to die in me – some old habit, some secret sin, some root of pride, some fear of looking silly, some desperate need for approval, some desire for wealth? Can I speak Christ’s and Paul’s words as my own? Can Do I even want to?
I leave you with these incredibly challenging words from one Pastor who knew what it meant to die to self and give everything for God. Is name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die’