On our deck there sits a small pot. It has been sitting in much the same spot for over a year. My youngest son is a budding gardener, and in the pot that sits on that spot, he dropped an apple seed. Yes, one of his middle names is John.
For a year that seed did nothing. In fact, we were ready to dump the ground and start again when, to little Johnny Appleseed’s delight, a sprout emerged. His patience paid off. “Why did it take so long?” he asked.
A seed must lie dormant if there is to be new life. Jesus picked up on this regarding his own death. “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” (John 12:24-25).
Thanks to my son, the subversive spiritual principle of the Gospel sits in parable on my deck railing. The principle is this: there is no life without a dying. Sometimes, like germination, awakening to this truth can take a long time. It is so counter-intuitive and we are stubborn people after all. We seek to prove that our knowledge, politics, religiosity, or ethical superiority will bring life. It won’t. That’s only painting the pot. Or, as Jesus described it to the Pharisees, that’s just washing the outside of the dish while the inside is a grimy mess (Matthew 23:25).
How much of your faith is simply about paying attention to the outside of the pot? What is done to impress others, or even God? What is done to not be perceived as offensive? What is done to rebelliously be offensive? What’s common in all this posturing is that it tragically misses the Gospel.
What is the Good News of the Kingdom Jesus brings? It is seen in every dying seed that brings new life.
The revelation of the Kingdom of God was most fully seen in the seed dying. Jesus Christ lays down his life. Only by this is new life in a painted-pot world possible.
But, Jesus doesn’t stop with a word about his own dying. He says if we love our life (i.e. fight to keep from dying), we’ll actually lose it, and that if we hate our life (i.e. are ready to lay it down), we’ll actually keep it. We must follow him with our own cross (John 12:25-26).
There’s that spiritual principle again: there is no life without dying. For the Apostle Paul this dying is more than a ticket into future eternal bliss but the ushering in of the present-tense aliveness of the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom grows when a person chooses to be crucified with Christ, laying down every self-justifying strategy (Galatians 2:20). Only in this surrender to the victory of Christ is new life possible.
But how do you identify spiritual death and new life? Humility. He doesn’t have to, yet Jesus, God with us, humbles himself, seeks the good of others, and becomes obedient to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). God obeys death? The spiritual principle is embodied in Jesus. The kernel falls. The Christ dies in fully surrendered humility and resurrection, new life, and the glories of the highest heaven resound. Only in this same humility is the fruit of heaven evidenced through us. The miracle of heaven is seen as others are honoured above ourselves. Every act of humility is a retelling of the Gospel.
Friends, in all our ways forward as the Church of Jesus Christ, humility must lead the way. Everything else is just painting the pot. You and I must die.
Phil Wagler is now waiting for the next pot, where a peach pit was planted to come to life. That one may take some prayer (firstname.lastname@example.org).