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Today we are going to talk about a paradox that we find in the Gospel of John, chapter 12, verses 20-26. The word – Paradox – is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well-founded or true.

READ John 12:20-26

Hardly any passage in the New Testament would come with such a shock to those who heard it for the first time as this passage.

It begins a series of statements that must have left the crowds bewildered because of the incredibility of those statements. These words actually speak of the coming death of Jesus and the glorification which was to come. If the people believed that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, they would expect Jesus to speak words of conquest and victory, not in terms of sacrifice and death.

We may never fully understand Jesus nor the attitude of the Jews toward Him, until we understand how He turned their ideas upside down, replacing a dream of victory with a vision of a cross. It is no mystery as to why they did not understand Jesus. And, the tragedy is that they simply refused to try to understand Him and His purpose.

So, what was this amazing paradox which Jesus was teaching? Remember, a paradox is a seemingly unbelievable statement that is found to be true. Here is what Jesus was saying: He was saying three things which are all variations of one central truth and all at the heart of the Christian faith and life.

1. First, Jesus was saying that it is only through death that life can begin. In verse 24, we see Jesus using the work of the farmer to illustrate His teaching. Let’s look at that verse again:

Very truly I tell you, 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. NIV

Grain is ineffective and unproductive when it is left stored in the grain bin. But when it is sown in the ground and buried it becomes effective and bears fruit. It was by the death of the martyrs that the church was born and began to grow. It is said of those early martyrs: “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.”

It has always been because people have been prepared to die for the Gospel that great things may live and flourish. We can think of the missionaries who have accepted God’s call on their lives to go to places around the world, knowing that the people they would take the Gospel to, might kill them rather than accept the Good News. They buried their personal ambitions to proclaim the cause of Christ. By setting aside (that is, putting them to death) their own personal desire they became servants of God.

2. Secondly, by presenting this paradox, Jesus was saying that only by consuming life can we keep it.

The person who loves his life is motivated by two purposes or aims: selfishness, and the desire for security.

Jesus often taught that the man who treasured his life would lose it in the end. And, in the same way, the man who spent his life would in the end gain it.

Back in the late 1700s and early 1800s, there was an evangelist named Christmas Evans. He was always on the move preaching for Christ. His friends urged him to slow down and take life a bit easier. But his answer to them was: “It is better to burn out than to rust out.”

You have probably read or heard of Joan of Arc. When she knew that her enemies were strong against her she prayed to God: "I shall only last a year. Use me as you can.”

And, of course, there have been countless numbers of prayer warriors, missionaries, evangelists, and people in the pew, who were prepared to forget themselves and their own security, and safety, and worldly gain and, in doing so, brought the Gospel to others.

It may be so that if we take things easy, we will avoid all strain and all pain. But, we will never live as well as if we had kept planting the seed, letting it die so that others may live.

3.The third thing Jesus was saying in this passage is that it is only by service that greatness occurs.

Many people are remembered for various accomplishments and efforts to make the world around them a better place to live. But those who do that with the mindset of service to others are the ones who will be remembered with the greatest amount of gratitude.

A Mrs. Berwick had been very active in Salvation Army work in Liverpool, England. She retired after years of service and moved to London. World War II came, and somehow people began to think that Mrs. Berwick’s house would be a place of safety during air raids. She was an elderly lady, but she felt that she should do something. She got supplies together and put a sign in her window which read, “If you need help, knock here.” She had the attitude that said: If you need help, I am here to help.

In today’s world, the idea of service is in danger of being lost. We have, though, during this pandemic, seen a glimpse of people willing to sacrifice so that others may be provided with their needs. But, much of the time, a multitude of people are not in the business of sacrificial service to others. That is where we, as Christians, must live as those who are ready to serve, setting aside our desires to be Christ to others.

Jesus came to the Jews with a new view of life. They, however, looked on glory as conquest, the acquiring of power, the right to rule. But Jesus looked upon glory as a cross. He taught us that it is only by death that life will come; that only by spending life can we keep it; that only by service comes greatness.

Gary K Fair

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