EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 7


John 12:24

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

The Greeks were smart. They came up with the pithy saying:

Pulvis et umbra sumus.

Or, to put it in English:

We are but dust and shadow.

They were sure right about that. They loved to discuss all kinds of things and they really loved to ask questions and learn new things. One day, a group of Greeks wanted to approach Jesus, which resulted in our EXCPETional Bible verse. Let’s take a look at the very important teaching that came out that encounter.

1. The setting

Our Lord’s earthly ministry was coming to an end, He knew it and He wanted His disciples to know it. Jesus had performed one of His most powerful miracles – the raising of His friend Lazarus to life – and that caused a crisis. This miracle was undeniable. Lazarus was well known in his home town of Bethany. Everybody knew he had died, and everybody knew he had come back to life after Jesus’ arrival on the scene and subsequent command:

Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:42b TLB)

The crisis is seen in 11:45 –

And so at last many of the Jewish leaders who were with Mary and saw it happen, finally believed on him. (TLB)

Other Jewish religious leaders weren’t moved and they were worried. More and more of their people were now believing in this trouble maker, Jesus. They could feel their power and influence slipping away. What could they do with this carpenter? How could they silence Him? One of their number, Caiaphas by name, was the voice of reason:

You stupid idiots—let this one man die for the people—why should the whole nation perish?” (John 11:49b, 50 TLB)

This may have bought Jesus some time, but Caiaphas’ common sense didn’t stop other religious leaders from quietly scheming a way to bring Jesus down. For His part, our Lord knew what was going on and took steps to continue His work and to align Himself with Biblical prophecy.

Jesus now stopped his public ministry and left Jerusalem; he went to the edge of the desert, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. (John 11:54 TLB)

Passover was just around the corner and the Jewish tongues began to wag. Would this miracle worker show up? If He did, what would He do? How can He top raising somebody from the dead? Jesus was the talk of the town, and the chief priest and Pharisees had a plan: if you see something…say something!

Meanwhile the chief priests and Pharisees had publicly announced that anyone seeing Jesus must report him immediately so that they could arrest him. (John 11:57 TLB)

The closing paragraph of chapter 11 serves to set scene for the events surrounding the Passion, trial, and Crucifixion of Jesus. Time was short. Things would start happening in rapid succession.

Still, Jesus had work to do, and part of that work involved stopping in Bethany on the way to Jerusalem to check up on His good friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and to attend a dinner in His honor.

A banquet was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him. (John 12:2 TLB)

While He was there, Mary famously anointed Jesus’ feet with some very expensive perfume, which was truly the ultimate expression of love and devotion on her part. But Judas wasn’t at all impressed.

That perfume was worth a fortune. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” (John 12:5 TLB)

Of course, Judas wasn’t an altruist; he was in fact a thief and a liar.

Not that he cared for the poor, but he was in charge of the disciples’ funds and often dipped into them for his own use! (John 12:6 TLB)

At any rate, when the townsfolk found out that Jesus was visiting, the crowds massed around the house where He was dining.

When the ordinary people of Jerusalem heard of his arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus—the man who had come back to life again. (John 12:9 TLB)

Onto to Jerusalem, Jesus’ fame and popularity preceded Him. He was welcomed there with all the excitement and enthusiasm of a rock star. The people were filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation as Jesus rode into town. This man Jesus, whatever else He may have been and taught, after that stunning miracle in Bethany, fit the bill as the all-powerful, conquering Hero; the Anointed One; the God-sent Deliverer whom they were waiting for.

2. Here come the Greeks

There were in Jerusalem for Passover a group of Greeks. They were former idolaters who had accepted the essentials of the Jewish religion. They were converts and had heard about the miracle-working Jesus.

Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to attend the Passover paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida, and said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus. (John 12:19 – 21) TLB

Why these Greeks approached Philip is not known, but he did have a Greek name, so maybe they felt some kinship with him. Philip was a shy individual and he went to Andrew for help, and together they went to Jesus with the Greek’s request, and that gets us to our EXCEPTional Bible verse –

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24 KJV)

Unfortunately for those of us who like details, John never again mentions the Greeks! In verse 23, John wrote that Jesus “answered them.” Whom does that refer to? Some think Jesus was actually talking to the Greeks, others say Jesus was addressing His comments to the disciples. Probably Jesus was talking to both the Greeks, who would have been standing in close proximity to Him, and to His disciples. What He told them showed that Jesus knew His mission was reaching a climax.

The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. (John 12:23 TLB)

What did Jesus mean by this? Some think He was referring to His returning to glory, that is, returning to Heaven. Ken Taylor in his Living Bible seems to take this view. But it seems more likely that Jesus is referring to all the events surrounding His Passion; that is, His persecution, Crucifixion, death and Resurrection. To those that may have overheard what Jesus said,  He meant something entirely different. Remember, this crowd thought Jesus was the promised Deliverer, and the Greeks were part of this crowd. They cheered when He came into town:

…a huge crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him, shouting, “The Savior! God bless the King of Israel! Hail to God’s Ambassador!” (John 12:12b, 13 TLB)

It’s not that they saw Jesus as the Son of God; their interest was in His delivering them from Roman oppression. Of course, Jesus knew this; He knew what was in their hearts, and that’s why He spoke the way He did in our EXCEPTional verse. He was illustrating what He meant by His glorification by telling a sort of parable about corn or grain. Jesus knew His audience. To Nicodemus, Jesus spoke of a serpent being lifted up in the wilderness, but to these Greeks He used a farming metaphor, something they, and regular Jews, would have understood completely. This was a perfect illustration of His death, burial, and resurrection.

What Jesus said in verse 24 was all about Him. He alone would die a substitutionary death and in doing so bear much fruit. But, there is a principle – an application – for all would want to follow Jesus.

If you love your life down here—you will lose it. If you despise your life down here—you will exchange it for eternal glory. (John 12:25 TLB)

Verse 25 was all about the Greeks and the Jews – anybody – who would be interested in following Jesus. These two verses really form a great paradox. Only through death comes life, and only by spending life do we retain life. The idea is clear. If anybody wants to follow Jesus, they can’t cling desperately to the things of this life. In fact, they can’t cling to life, either! The very act of trying to hold on to life or the things of life will result in losing those things. Following Jesus demands single-minded devotion. Jesus taught much the same thing in Luke:

Anyone who wants to be my follower must love me far more than he does his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters—yes, more than his own life—otherwise he cannot be my disciple. And no one can be my disciple who does not carry his own cross and follow me. (Luke 14:26, 27 TLB)

According to Jesus, if you love anything or anybody more than Him, it’s game over as far as your life is concerned. What you cherish the most will always elude you. The love and devotion you want from your spouse or children, for example, will never be enough. The satisfaction you want from your work or hobby will never materialize. As far as Jesus is concerned, it is sinful to place people or things ahead of your relationship with Him. Lightfoot wrote,

Selfishness is always the death of the true life of man.

Jesus wants from you the same kind of love and devotion He has shown you. And it’s not a surprise; it’s not a case of “bait and switch.” Jesus warned all those who expressed an interest in following Him that they must first “count the cost.”

Here in Jerusalem during this Passover, Jesus’ popularity was at an all-time high. He was like a hero to the working classes; a deliverer; a Savior who would do for them what no political leader could do. They clamored to get close to Him. They worshiped Him. But they were in no way devoted to Him. To this day, Jesus is an attractive figure. People are still being drawn to Him; to what He can do for them. Do you know how many lonely, depressed, unfulfilled people have come to Christ because of what they see in churches? They see the kind of love and camaraderie between believers and desperately want that. And it’s theirs, but they must want Jesus most of all. This is why churches all over are so full of Christians who are just as lonely, just as depressed, just as unfulfilled as they were before: because they want what Jesus can give them, not what they should be giving Him.

If these Greeks want to be my disciples, tell them to come and follow me, for my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them. (John 12:26 TLB)

The apostle Paul considered service to be what a follower of Jesus should be rendering their Lord:

I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? (Romans 12:1 TLB)

This is what you owe Christ. From service comes what you are looking for. As you do for Christ, He will honor you. Casual followers of Jesus – Sunday Christians – have no clue what real living is; what real life is. They have experienced the minimal blessings that could be theirs. Come to Jesus, yes. Confess Jesus, yes. But be devoted to Him; be consecrated to Him; serve Him.

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