Easter Saturday is a dark day. It’s a day of questions and doubts. It sits in the silence, suspended between the despair of Good Friday and the hope of Easter Sunday. Just a few days before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke to the disciples about his impending death:
‘Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their 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 12:23-26)
All the way through John’s gospel, Jesus has spoke about ‘the hour’ as a time that lies in the future (2:4; 4:21, 23; 7:30; 8:20) but now he speaks about it as something that is here; it’s present, it’s about to take place. He is referring, of course, to his death on the cross. To anyone listening in, who was starting to get an inkling of what Jesus expected to happen to him, crucifixion would have seemed like the ultimate defeat – the Kingdom of Rome triumphing over the Kingdom of God. But Jesus sees it differently. Crucifixion was a deeply shameful thing to endure, and yet counter-intuitively Jesus calls it his ‘glorification’ (v23).
He explains this with a simple metaphor, which would have been quite obvious to the original hearers, living as they did in an agrarian society. New growth can only come if it is preceded by death. You can’t have a harvest, without a seed first of all dying and being planted into the ground.
What may look like death is actually the beginning of life.
The picture is powerful. You don’t sow a single seed and expect to reap less than you sowed! Sowing leads to growth on a larger scale. The death of one seed gives rise to the life of many.
In ways that must have been inconceivable to the disciples, but which we now recognise with hindsight, this is supremely true of Jesus’ own death. He gave himself as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). Today there are around 2.2 billion people worldwide who profess to be Christians, not to mention all those who have followed Jesus over the last 2 millennia. When John writes in Revelation of ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’ (Revelation 7:9) this is Jesus’ legacy. The death of one seed has produced a harvest of untold billions.
Easter Saturday may look like defeat; the seed slumbers in the ground. But death is necessary for life to spring forth.
Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 15. In talking about our future hope, he writes: ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined’ (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). Just as Christ had to pass through the pain of death and the silence of Easter Saturday in order to experience the resurrection, so too we will need to pass through the trials of this life and the pain of death, in order to achieve what God has in store for us: resurrection bodies, fit to spend eternity in the New Creation.
On a broader scale, this saying of Jesus gives us hope for any time we find ourselves experiencing pain. Whatever we are going through, we ought not to judge the outcome by how bleak the present situation looks. What might look like death at the moment may simply be the period preceding the arrival of spring. Who, looking at a seed buried in soil, can anticipate the beauty of the bud that’s soon to come?
Whatever you are facing right now, take heart in the teaching of Jesus and the message of Easter. Today may be Saturday, but Sunday’s coming…
Questions for Reflection
- Are there areas in your life that currently feel like a buried seed? How can you learn to take comfort from Jesus’ teaching in John 12?
- Jesus challenges us not to cling onto our lives, which will result in no growth, but to be willing to give up everything in order to gain eternal life. What are the things he might be asking you surrender for him?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you did not cling onto your life, preferring your own comfort, but that you gave yourself freely as a ransom for many. Thank you that you endured the cross and the grave, and through your death and resurrection have promised to make this world new, and give us resurrection bodies in the New Creation. Help me to be willing to surrender everything for you, and give me strength to follow you when areas of life feel dark and difficult. Amen.
For more on how to pray and think about God in difficult times, you may want to read God on Mute by Pete Greig, or How Long, O Lord by D.A. Carson. And if you missed it, check out the recent sermon from our Cross Roads series on Luke 14:25-33, about the challenge to give up everything to follow Jesus.
Image: Seed Head by Gillie Rhodes, used under CC