From the superiority of your arm chair, have you ever watched that game of cricket or football and said, "They've fumbled it again! Why can't those stupid idiots keep their hands on the ball?"?
It's the old saying, "No pain, no gain." We see the football team jogging along the road or in the sand on the beach to build up their energy. We watch the cricketers at the nets honing their batting and bowling skills. We coast past the driving range where the golfer is working on his stroke to get it just right. We hear the pianist playing endless scales and arpeggios - we are sure they could just as easily play us that sonata or song we would love to hear! But no pain, no gain!
How many hours can we put in to get our golfing stroke right? Are we prepared to keep on practising the game of darts or the skills of archery until we can get a bull's eye every time? How many times are we willing to suffer the pain of falling off our roller blades or ice skates? And you have watched curling at the Winter Olympics? I read that these circular handle-topped granite stones can have a maximum weight of 44 lb (20 kg), and maximum dimensions of 36 in. (91 cm) circumference and 4.5 in. (11.4 cm) high. It is sometimes described as "lawn bowling played on ice". I have a feeling that the similarity shouldn't be taken too far!
Our reading from John tells about some Greeks who came to Philip and Andrew wanting to see Jesus. Strangely, we are not told that Jesus had a conversation with them. What we are told is that for Jesus their coming marked an important turning-point in his ministry - "The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory" (v.23b).
These Greeks were probably God-fearing Gentiles who were attracted to the high morality and monotheism of Judaism. They had heard about Jesus. Perhaps they had seen him come into Jerusalem and witnessed the direct way in which he confronted corruption and hypocrisy. Their coming highlighted that Jesus was the Saviour for all people and that the climax of his mission was at hand.
We think back to the temptation at the beginning of Jesus' ministry - how the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. "All this I will give you," the Devil said, "if you kneel down and worship me." Then Jesus answered, "Go away, Satan! The scripture says, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!' " (Mt.4.8-10).
Is this the moment of glory promised - at a price - by Satan? Is he to be swept along by a world-wide wave of popularity - and gain all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness? Is this the time when his Kingdom will be established?
"The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me" (Jn.10.23b-26).
The grain of wheat must die. It must cease to exist as a grain of wheat, giving its life force so that there will be a great harvest of many grains of wheat. Jesus will soon be glorified - a mocking wreath of thorns his only earthly crown, an executioner's torturing cross his only earthly throne, his royal decrees "Father, forgive them... It is finished!"
Here he speaks of what will be - "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me" (v.33).
The principle of the grain of wheat dying applies to us all. Hear Jesus again, "Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me" (vv.25-26).
A woman was facing a dangerous foreign missions assignment. When asked if she was afraid to go, she replied, "I am afraid only of one thing - that I should become a grain of wheat unwilling to die."
A man came back from a weekend retreat experience. When a friend asked him how it was, he said, "I died!" The friend asked him what he meant. "You see," the man answered, "I went to this thing not knowing what to expect. But in the process of that long weekend, I discovered that I had spent my whole life hiding behind a lot of masks. I realized that I had never even let my wife see me as I really was. I'd been playing games with her, and playing games with my children, and playing games with others - never letting anybody know who I really am. The worst of it was to discover that even I didn't know myself. I was not in touch with my own honest feelings about myself. And, as all of this was being exposed over the weekend, I died over and over again." It is a painful thing for a middle-aged man to discover that he is not even in touch with his own feelings about himself. "I am convinced," he said, "that I had to go through this death experience in order to become the new person that I hope to be now." A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.
In Hebrews 12 we read, "Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right-hand side of God's throne. Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up" (Heb.12.2-3).
No pain, no gain. Jesus was prepared to give his all for me and for you. What are we prepared to give and to do in response to his redeeming love for the cause of his Kingdom in this world?
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