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The Grain Must Die

March 25, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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The Grain Must Die
John 12:20-43

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for meditation this Palm Sunday weekend is from our Gospel text, especially where Jesus says, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

On Palm Sunday, we often hear how Jesus enters into Jerusalem, humble and riding on a donkey, yet being hailed as a conquering hero, triumphant and worthy of praise. We often hear how the people cry out, Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! as they lay their cloaks and palm branches before the King’s procession. What we usually see on Palm Sunday is how Jesus’s triumphal entry is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, with the people essentially proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, and certainly welcoming Him in a befitting way. It is a high point of Jesus’s ministry, to be sure! That’s what we normally hear … and since that’s not quite what we’ve seen in our lessons today, it’s understandable if you’re perplexed, if you think that our readings seem less Palm Sunday-esque and more like something you’d find later in Holy Week. However, from the way John describes it, this is, in fact, what happens on that original Palm Sunday.

By the time of our text, Jesus has entered Jerusalem with the acclaim of crowds, lauding Him after hearing of the miracle He performed by raising Lazarus from the dead. They literally cannot stop talking about it! It’s causing so much uproar, in fact, that even Greek-speaking Gentiles are amazed and desiring to see Him. They inquire of Philip, to see if it would be possible for these goyim to see the Rabbi. Instead of taking the time to indulge the request of these Greeks, Jesus doesn’t even dignify their desire when Philip and Andrew finally come around to talk with Him about it. To be frank, Jesus has more pressing issues that He needs to discuss with these two disciples: what lies before Him over the next few days.

The hour has come, Jesus says, for the Son of Man to be glorified. Undoubtedly from the perspective of Philip and Andrew, that time had already come! After those years of ministry, of teaching and healing, Jesus had finally arrived! The crowds of Jerusalem had CHEERED as they welcomed Him in! It was no accident that they had strewn their cloaks and palm branches in Jesus’s path. It was no coincidence that they cried, with the words of the psalmist, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! This was a joyous celebration, though the disciples at this point didn’t quite understand why! So what did Jesus mean when He said, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified?

It makes no sense from the perspective of the disciples, but Jesus knows of what He speaks. What lies before Him is, according to human standards, the impossibly difficult way in which He will save this world. Jesus continues to speak: [U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. On the heels of celebration – indeed, immediately after talking about the Son of Man being glorified, Jesus begins talking about death. Caught off-guard, the disciples are likely bewildered that Jesus is even talking about this, in light of the jovial atmosphere permeating Zion’s walls. Party-to-dirge in a few seconds, this is quite the turn!

But Jesus knows. He knows how, even as He was being hailed as the one coming in the Lord’s Name, the Pharisees’ hearts were being frustrated, moving ever closer to the infamous plot for His life. He knows that the true glory for which He was incarnated is at hand. He knows how the crowds – which this day indeed praised Him as the One coming in God’s Name – would only days later call for His death, shouting out to Pilate, Crucify Him! The very people who welcomed Him as a King this day would demand that He die like a criminal, with arguably the most excruciating method of execution ever conceived by man. He can see that, in spite of the brightness and joy of this day, ominous clouds are on the horizon, and they’re fast approaching.

Knowing all of this as He does, the incredible thing is that Jesus stays. He sticks around. When it would have been easy to lay low, to skip town and wait for things to cool off before continuing with His ministry, He stays. The reason He stays is simply beyond His hearers at this point. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Yes, this incredible holy, righteous grain of wheat must die. He must go into the ground, buried by the very earth He created. But through His death will come the deposition of the rulers of this world – namely, sin, death, and the devil. Through His death, the sins of Man will be killed – indeed, without His death, as Paul says in letter to the Ephesians, we would still be dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air… Without that righteous, holy, beautiful kernel of wheat falling into the earth and dying, we would have no hope whatsoever! There would be no fruit borne other than sin and death! Our eyes would have remained blind, our hearts would have remained hardened, and we would still be in the arrogance and ignorance of our transgressions, rightly meriting a fate worse than death!

That’s where we would be, but that’s not where we are. Jesus was, in fact, lifted up, and now draws all people to Himself. That kernel of wheat did, in fact, die, and was buried; what’s more, that blessed kernel DID bear fruit! He bore the fruit of forgiveness of sins!  The fruit of justification before God, in spite of our sin! The fruit of the resurrection from the dead, with Jesus as the firstfruit! The fruit of Word and Sacrament, which will always exist and will always deliver to God’s people those same fruits of forgiveness and life everlasting for the sake of Jesus! This is how the Son of Man is glorified – by giving Himself as the sacrifice, once for all, that sin may finally and at long last be fully and forever atoned for! And we are the inheritors of this incredible fruit, as His Church, as His people!

As we anticipate with Jesus the costly salvation and tragic beauty found up on Golgotha, we remember this is the reason why Jesus came in the first place. He IS the King. He IS, rightly, welcomed into Jerusalem as the hero about to conquer sin and the devil in His great salvific work. More than this, we eagerly anticipate His return. We anticipate the return of our King in a great and wondrous appearing that will shame the majesty and grandeur of that first Palm Sunday, when He comes to finally defeat death, the last enemy, and bear in the bountiful harvest cultivated in the death of that first holy Grain.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.