Steve Brown on Crucifixion and Death [It’s Not As Bad As It Sounds!]
Steve Brown is a PCA minister and heads up Key Life. Once a month I receive a free audio sermon from one of his travels, and every quarter or so a very nice color magazine with great content. These materials are free for the asking—no charge. Plus his 15-minute daily broadcasts are heard on radio stations all over the US.
His latest letter was a helpful reminder to me; I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to “do fruitful” rather than be fruitful. Steve also has a fair degree of cynicism about pastors—heh—I suppose because he was one once!
It started with my devotional reading of John 12:23-26 where Jesus said: “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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
That sounds like a major downer. And it sounds like a marvelous text for a preacher wanting to motivate people in the church to be more missional—to serve, to give, to sacrifice, and to change the world. I get that, but it doesn’t work and, in fact, isn’t what Jesus said at all.
I once heard a chapel speaker at Reformed Theological Seminary talk about missions. I’m not going to tell you his name, but he used this text in a very harsh and condemning way. Among other things, he said to students worried about their cars needing repair, “Who promised you a car?” To students worried about health insurance, “Who said that God owed you health insurance?” To those with no money, working day and night just to get by and feed their families, “God didn’t promise you a rose garden. Who said that you would have money?”
It went on and on.
Once the students were “eating dirt” because they felt so guilty and ashamed, he asked them to stand before God and the student body, committing themselves to missions. A bunch of students stood.
Can you believe that? I wanted to jump up and yell, “You know something? You’re a twit!” and then walk out. Given that I needed the job, was a professor, and sat on the front row, I remained silent.
Jesus didn’t say those words in John to shame us—to make us feel so guilty that we would live in obedience, be nice, be sacrificial and finally be involved in missions. Instead, he gave his disciples some very good news. A seed doesn’t decide to die and to work hard at it. A seed is cast to the ground, dies, and then produces a harvest. When Paul said he was crucified with Christ, he wasn’t telling us something we needed to do; he was defining who we are.
Jesus said that we are seeds—insignificant, generally dirty and weak seeds—and in losing our lives, we would be free.
Crucified people are dangerous. They don’t have anything to prove and they never have to pretend. They just show. Because of Christ, they know what is important and what isn’t. They don’t have to look good, be famous, impress anybody or win races. Seeds are seeds and they grow. It’s their very nature. I don’t know about you, but that is a relief.
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