Pillar Journal

To Die

Jesus was born to die. It is hard for us to grasp that truth, for we were created to live, not to die. Death is an intruder and a great enemy to life.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal…. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.
— JOHN 12:24–25, 27

Jesus was born to die. It is hard for us to grasp that truth, for we were created to live, not to die. Death is an intruder and a great enemy to life.

Yet we may also find it comforting that Jesus came to die. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” We each have an appointed time to die. So did Jesus. He came to earth to die so that He, “for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour…by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). As the familiar Christmas hymn points out: “Mild He lays His glory by / Born that man no more may die.”

Jesus said, “For this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27). His appointed hour was so monumentally important in redemption that Christ referred to it as His hour. On two earlier occasions when Jesus was threatened with physical violence, we read that He was spared because “His hour was not yet come” (John 7:30; 8:20). In our text, Jesus announced that His hour, the hour of His suffering and death, had finally come.

Consider the various human emotions Jesus revealed in talking about His hour. At first He talks about death rather positively. He says, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Jesus uses a simple agricultural illustration here. A single seed could produce a crop a hundred times as great as itself (Luke 8:8). But this illustration also reveals a profound spiritual reality, for Jesus is the promised “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15), who is about to die to produce much fruit (Gal. 3:16).

Jesus then says that to secure eternal life in the world to come, a person must be willing to part with his present life in the world. He then issued a call to follow Him, reminding us, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, that “Jesus bids us come and die.” The invitation to die will result in great fruitfulness!

But Jesus’ tone changes. He says in verse 27, “Now is my soul troubled.” He knows that death is evil and unnatural. In the words of Calvin, death exercises a “violent tyranny.” Christ also knows that His death will be uniquely and unspeakably dreadful. He knows that in death He will bear in body and soul “the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 37). Death for Him will also plunge Him into the unspeakable horror of hell. In the hour of His death, Jesus will experience for the first time a terrifying alienation from His heavenly Father (Matt. 27:46).

His hour has been set from all eternity by the counsel of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to redeem a remnant of humans for the praise of God. The minute Jesus came to earth, the countdown to His hour began. His suffering began that very moment, not at the cross. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “He, all the time that He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind” (Q. 37). When you find out that you need a painful surgery, the news comes as a heavy blow. But when you come to the hospital and put on a hospital gown, the long-anticipated pain of surgery and the fear of death become even more real. Then an aide comes and wheels you down the hallway toward the operating room. I wonder how many patients have had anguished second thoughts about surgery at that moment.

In our text, Jesus gives us a precious glimpse into His humanity. He approaches death as a real man. He experiences the fear of death as we do. As you reflect on your own death, remember that Jesus knows what it means to fear death. Calvin goes so far as to say, “By shrinking from death [Jesus] confesses His cowardice. Yet there is nothing in this passage that is not in perfect harmony, as every believer knows by his own experience.”

Even so, Jesus does not falter in His determination to fulfill His mission on earth. John offers us two reasons that is so. First, Jesus came to die. He says, “For this cause came I unto this hour” (v. 27). He also reminds Himself of His mission. In the midst of a dark battle, military leaders often rally their troops by reminding them why they have come to the battlefield and the cause for which they are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. Likewise, Jesus rallies His own soul, reminding Himself that He came to die for the fallen but beloved objects of God’s electing grace.

Second, Jesus reminds Himself of His heart’s desire to glorify God. He says, “Father, glorify thy name” (v. 28). Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God by satisfying justice, repelling the curse against sin, defeating the devil, and securing a people zealous to praise His Father. So Jesus presses on.

Christ was born with a death sentence already hanging over him at the manger. That thought should bring us some gravity as we reflect on our Lord’s advent. But it should also help us see the utter resolve of Christ to redeem His people. That determination burned within Him from the cradle to the grave. In “Christians Awake, Salute the Happy Morn,” hymn writer John Byrom helps us connect the cradle with the cross: “Trace we the Babe, who hath retrieved our loss, / From His poor manger to His bitter cross.”

Excerpt from
Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation
By Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein