Sermon 1695 John 12.20-24 March 25, 2020
“Lord, are there many who are going to be saved?”
“Fear not, little flock.”
When I get in front of an empty church to record the preschool chapels or see Pastor Kolander filming segments of the Sunday worship, it is easy to wonder that. Kind of lonely. We miss our brothers and sisters in the faith more than you can ever know.
But believers have always sort of had that feeling. Yes, it shows up in foolish jokes about being quiet when you pass the Lutheran/Catholic/Episcopalian room in heaven, “because they think they’re the only ones up here.” We look around our world and don’t see a lot of evidence that Jesus means much to people.
Well, here’s a Word of God for us today. There will be no social distancing in heaven. There can’t be, because
God’s Kingdom is Filled to Capacity
The seed must die.
The seed will grow.
It was the last week of Jesus’ life. He was in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover, a pilgrim festival in the Jewish calendar. Jews and converts to Judaism wanted to be in Jerusalem for it. Some of those converts to Judaism, ‘Greeks” John calls them, want to speak to Jesus. When Andrew and Philip told Jesus about their request, it sparked these words.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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 (23-24a).”
God’s Kingdom is filled to capacity because the seed dies.
Jesus was anticipating his death. He had told his disciples this was his final trip. He would be betrayed, arrested, condemned, crucified and would die. He had told them this clearly. He had told them this many times. The Son of Man must die. Even though they objected, even though they didn’t want to hear it, even though they willed themselves not to understand it, he kept telling them. The Son of Man must die. The seed.
The seed. That’s what a seed is for. A single seed is for dying. If you don’t put that single seed in the ground, it is wasted. I’m not talking about lots of seeds. We take lots of seeds and grind them into flour if it is wheat, roast them if it is cob of corn. But a single seed, you have to put that into the ground. We call it germination.
When that seed is put into the ground it gets wet. It gets moldy. The outer husk starts wrinkling up as the seed starts to shrivel. It dies. We call it germination, but at the start of it all, it is death at work.
Jesus is that seed. He has to die. If Jesus did not die on the cross, me standing in an empty church would look packed compared to what heaven would look like. There wouldn’t be a single human being there. “No one righteous, not even one (Romans 3.10),” the Bible says. If we had to be good enough or holy enough to get into heaven, not a single one of us would make it. Heaven would be the home of God and the angels and that would be it. Let me take the 2020 census of heaven. Here I go. Done! Zero!
But Jesus has to die. The seed must die. God said sin had to be punished. There were consequences for sin. Those consequences were death, separation from God on earth and separation from God forever in hell. God showed those consequences when his angel drove fallen Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. There would be no Paradise on earth any longer. God would no longer walk with man in the cool of the day and converse with him. Thorns and thistles would grow. Bodies would return to the dust from which they were taken.
The seed must die. If Adam and Eve were listening closely, they caught on that they would not have to pay the eternal consequences for their sin. The great seed of the woman would die in his victorious battle over evil. “He will crush your head, but you will strike his heel (Genesis 3.15).” But as time went on, people didn’t have to listen that closely at all for the revelation that God would cause the Savior to suffer and die. “He was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of my people he was stricken (Isaiah 53.8).” All they had to do was listen a little bit. “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one morns for an only child (Zechariah 12.10).” They didn’t even have to put two and two together. They could put one and one together and get the right answer every time they witnessed a sin sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. Even the unbelieving High Priest, Caiaphas, knew all about a substitutionary death. He said Jesus, the source of this civil unrest, must die, so that the Romans would not come and destroy the rebellious nation of Judah. Jesus must die for the sake of the people. He was saying more than he could imagine. Someone else will suffer for my sins, so I don’t have to. As those dumb, innocent animals were put to death because of my sin, so the Promised Savior will be put to death, not only because of my sin, but also to pay for my sin and take it all away. “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity (Zechariah 13.1).”
God’s Kingdom is filled to capcity. The seed must die. The seed will grow.
“But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12.24b).”
In the initial stages of germination, it looks like that lonely, little seed is a goner. It is going to rot away in the damp soil. Then something wonderful happens. It amazes the children in Mrs. Redmond’s preschool class every year. A pale green sprout emerges. It pushes out of the soil. It grows with amazing speed. First two leaves, then a bigger stalk, then more leaves. On it grows. Where I was raised that one little seed of corn produced a cornstalk seven feet high with dozens of ears of corn, each ear bearing hundreds of kernels of corn. Because that seed dies all over fields and farms in America, you and I never have to worry about running out of food. They may not have enough trucks or drivers to get it to us as quickly as we’d wish, but you and I never have to worry about running out of food. We’ve got mountains of it in storage. The seed will grow.
Let’s keep that comparison going. Jesus did. Jesus might die that others may live. Now this is not a case of someone saving the life of another person by pulling them from a fire or dragging them out of a lake before they drown. Every person rescued by the fire department will die one day. Every patient who receives life-saving surgery will be buried one day. Not today, but one day, later. Jesus’ sacrificial death makes us live forever. We shall not perish, “but have eternal life.” This sacrificial death wasn’t only for the Jewish people, as Caiaphas was thinking, but “also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one (John 11.52).” Jesus’ death would bring eternal life to all. Jesus’ death would result in “justification that brings life for all men (Romans 5.18).” Because of Jesus, God would declare the entire human race not guilty of sin. They would be forgiven. Believe it.
If we think that’s just a few, I learned this trick a few years ago. If you want a rough estimate of how many people have ever lived, just take the current population and multiply it by two. Half the human race is alive right now. So that means there have been 15 billion people up to this point from the creation of Adam and Eve. How many stadiums do you know hold 15 billion people? That’s a lot. Yes, many do not believe. Many throw away Jesus’ sacrifice and reject his forgiveness. They will stand before God’s Judgment purely on the basis of their own works, since they reject Jesus’ works for them. Condemnation can be the only outcome for them.
But so many believe. Already during Holy Week, when Greek converts to Judaism want to see Jesus, it is showing. The news is getting out. People beyond Capernaum and Jerusalem are catching on. The seed will grow. Today, Jerusalem, tomorrow Judea, then Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Earlier in the month (it seems like a lifetime ago), the desert flowers were in bloom. Photos in the paper seemed to show a landscaped painted yellow and red. I went out to see the desert bloom one year. Not very impressive, even though they said it was a good year. I didn’t have the right angle. If I had laid on my belly and looked over the desert from about six, ok, fourteen inches off the ground, it would have looked like it was filled with flowers. But from seventy-two inches off the ground, eh.
We are looking at things from the wrong perspective when we think God’s flock is little, that there are few believers. I know we are not counting all the saints who have gone before us. My professors would teach us about the Church Militant, the believers who currently are alive now on earth as they fight against the devil and all his allies, and the Church Triumphant, all the believers whose souls are now at rest and glory in heaven. Yes, I know we aren’t counting them. But we should not forget about them. Your husband, your mother, your little baby taken from you after only a few short and difficult days, they are in heaven. We will see them again.
We are looking at things only from the local level. Our sample is too small. Sixty percent of my family has blue eyes, forty percent have green eyes. So there are only green and blue-eyed people in the world. You can’t make good decisions based on only one or two observations. There are believers all over the world, including Antarctica! It seems like we only take them into account when we hear how they are persecuted. We shouldn’t overlook them. They are fighting the same battle against the devil as we are.
We are looking at things for too short a time. Some of the most powerful research into human health has come from longitudinal studies, taking a group of people and studying them over a period of time. An American study, the Framingham Heart Study, is now in its fourth generation. Looking at a person right now means nothing. Thirty years from now they may be a Christian. Maybe God knows out of sheer spite they will never listen to you telling them about Jesus, but they will listen to another Christian down the road. Our God is not a car salesman. His plan of salvation is not available only through the end of the month.
Every person who was meant to be in heaven will be there. Heaven was built for you and me, for all believers. A wise builder does not build a retirement community of three story houses. He builds what will fit his target audience. God has built heaven to fit all believers.
God’s Kingdom is Filled to Capacity
The seed must die.
The seed will grow.
That is good to know, especially now. You are not alone. Yes, many Americans are going through the same isolation, the same boredom when divorced from on-site work, the same financial fears. But you are not alone in that your brothers and sisters in Christ are going through the same things you are, experiencing the same things you are, fearing the same things you are. And they are praying for you, every time they pray, “your kingdom come.” If God listens to the prayers of one righteous person, how much more will he hear the prayers of the Church on earth, the prayers of multitudes upon believing multitudes? Of course he will hear. And he will answer before we even get to the “Amen.”