Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 3-17-24  “By Dying We Live”

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John 12:20-33.

          It is quite common to find in the Bible stories that surprise us with the end, because it is not what we have anticipated. For instance, a young shepherd with one slingshot and five stones is standing before a giant who has every kind of defense and attack weapons, they are ready to fight. Not knowing the end, who do you think will win? Who will you put your money on if you have? Another story, a young man is sold by his brothers as slave, taken to Egypt, and later put in jail. Again, not knowing the end, what kind of fate do you think is waiting for him? Will he remain in jail and slave, or will he be the second in power in Egypt?

            Today’s gospel is another example of those stories with unexpected ending where God’s presence and involvement working together with obedience and faith, changes everything. Our text this morning precedes Juda’s betrayal and Jesus’ crucifixion. These are the final days of Jesus; the religious leaders are ready to crucify Him. Both, the religious leaders, and Jesus’ followers will conclude that after Jesus’s death, his ministry will come to an end. By the evidence we have in the gospels, they thought everything was finished. But as with many stories this one will also have an unexpected ending.

            Jesus is concluding his public ministry, and he announces that his hour has come. To explain why he must die, Jesus uses a beautiful story, a paradox of death giving life. “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. With this irony Jesus announces his death as part of God’s greater plan. Jesus does not want to remain a single seed; he wants to produce fruit. The fruit of his death was conquering evil and death and giving salvation to the world.

            The paradox continues: The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18, to teach his disciples to love themselves. Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” And now he is asking them to hate their lives because if they love it, they will lose it. Even when this may sound like a contradiction, it is not, we can love ourselves -who we are- and hate our life, what we do. Jesus hated the life Satan offered him in the wilderness because he loved being the Son of God. Jesus loves who he is and hated to give in to self-satisfaction, personal desire, or his own goals.

            What can we learn from this amazing paradox of dying to live, and hating our life, to keep it eternally? With this parable of the kernel of wheat falling to the ground Jesus is teaching us more than an agricultural lesson. Jesus wants to imprint in the minds and hearts of all His followers that it is only by dying, dying as he did, to our own personal desires and goals and by totally surrendering our lives to Christ that we can gain eternal life. It is only by dying to our personal desires and ambitions that we begin to be of real use to God and He will be able to use us to produce fruits. Paul knew this in a personal way, in Galatians 2:20 he says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Dying, or being crucified with Christ does notmean we will become spiritual zombie; does not mean we will lose our personality; it means we are not the center of our lives anymore; Jesus is. It means as John the Baptist said, “He must become more important while I become less important.” When our old self dies, also die our personal desires and ambition and that makes Jesus able to live in us; only when we died to ourselves, we can become servant of God and not to exist for us, but for Him.

             My sisters and brothers, it is only by surrendering our own ways to God’s way, that we become fruitful and effective for God. Remember what our Lord said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” We cannot love God and serve ourselves or love ourselves and serve God.

            Those great men and women we read about in Christian History, those who gave their physical lives for Jesus; they first died to themselves; they crucified their lives with Christ. The willingness to give their physical life came after they surrendered all to Jesus. After they understood that they do not belong to themselves, but to Christ.  

When Jesus talks about love and hate our lives, he had in mind, I believe persons who love life like the rich young man described in Matthew 19:16-29, who loved all he had more that eternal life. And people like Daniel and his friends who hated a life with comfort but away from God’s will and purpose.

Jesus insisted that a man or a woman who tries to save his or her life, at the end will lose it, and the man or woman who loses his or her life for Him at the end, will gain it. 

            We usually choose personal safety and avoid risk, but this morning Jesus is inviting us to take risk to gain eternal life. To take risk of being called Christian; to take risk of being ridiculed or even persecuted because of our faith; to take risk of being like Jesus; to take risk of doing His will; to take risk of practicing God’s word; to take risk of living according to God’s kingdom and go against what this world does and worship Him in spirit and truth.   

            Jesus comes to us this morning with a new view of life. Die to live, surrender all to me to be free, serve to be honor. Remember, Jesus did not just find glory in being the Son of God; He found glory on the cross, He found glory before His father, by serving others and in being humble. He taught men and women that only by death, comes life; that only when we spend our life serving others, we gain it, and only through service comes greatness. All this is only possible with God’s presence and involvement working together with obedience and faith.

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