The Life of the World Springs
from the Death of Christ’s Body
© 2018 Philip A Matthews
“I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains [just one grain; it never becomes more but lives] by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces many others and yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24 Amplified)
In John 12:24, Jesus states plainly the major principle on which the salvation of the world is based: The world is given eternal life through the spilt blood and death of the Body of Christ. And He solemnizes it and guarantees its truthfulness by prefixing to it one of His famous “Verily verily’s,” that is, “I assure you, I most solemnly tell you, I can guarantee this truth.” In other words, it is impossible to get around this fact of Truth.
This principle of life emanating from death applies on several levels. It applied to Jesus' earthly body directly: Unless He died, the world could not be saved. He could bring life to others only by dying on the Cross. If He hadn’t given up His life, then He would have merely been one great solitary life, never bearing the fruit of giving eternal life to others. “This is My body which is given for you,” He told His disciples (Luke 22:19). His murderers mocked while He hung on the cross, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save” (Mark 15:31). And how true were their words: If He had saved Himself, He would not have been able to save others.
This principle also applies to the Body of Christ in the world since that time. The world can only be saved through the death of the collective Body of Christ. If we save ourselves, we will never save the world. If we remain preoccupied with our own prosperity and personal development, we will never be able to make the tremendous sacrifices required to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts and minds of the lost world. We will never be able to save our neighbors. This world will be converted only as rapidly as and to the degree in which the Body of Christ—the Church—dies to itself.
In fact, this is the only reason the world is not saved right now and evil seems to be exponentially increasing: The Church in general has grown rather self-satisfied and refuses to die. We want to live. So we do, largely for ourselves. But God is still calling for us to die.
Now because this principle applies to the Body of Christ as a whole, it also applies to the individual members who make up that Body of Christ in this world. “So we constantly experience the death of Jesus in our own bodies,” Paul wrote the Corinthian church, “but this is so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death, so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die. So death is working in us, but the result is that life is working in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12 ERV).
The journey to salvation for Paul himself began at the murder of Stephen, where Saul, who became Paul, stood holding the coats of those stoning Stephen, watching him die like Jesus died, crying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:59-60). From Stephen’s perfectly-timed, God-ordained death, the Christian faith spread like wildfire out into the Roman world as the disciples ran for their lives from Jerusalem, taking their new faith with them wherever they settled. And thus, the Christian faith, at first a little offshoot of Judaism limited to the small country of Palestine, became and continues to be, 2000 years later, an international phenomenon and force for life.
Paul’s life—and the lives of all the Apostles and early Christians—are very good examples of individuals giving up themselves so that others could have eternal life. They brought the Gospel down to our generation. These men and women actually rejoiced in their self-denial and suffering for Christ: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name” (Acts 5:41).
Later, Paul testified that, “Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by Him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience His resurrection power, be a partner in [i.e., fellowship] His suffering, and go all the way with Him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it” (Philippians 3:8-11 The Message).
I once saw a tribute to Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish man who led 192 Jewish orphans to the gas chamber in the infamous Treblinka extermination camp in 1942 during the Holocaust. The truth was, he had been given many opportunities to save himself, but he refused to abandon his children. Instead, he walked to the gas chamber with them, holding their hands, soothing their fears, and keeping up their spirits until the end. These were his words: “I exist not to be loved and admired, but to love and act. It is not the duty of those around me to love me. Rather, it is my duty to be concerned about the world, about man[kind].” How much Janusz Korczak sounded like Jesus Christ: “Do as I did: The Son of Man did not come for people to serve him. He came to serve others and to give his life to save many people" (Matthew 20:28 ERV).
And so today, God calls for His children to deny themselves, to live by a different, other-worldly value system, to bypass many of the prosperous opportunities the world has to offer, to suffer when necessary, to give copious amounts of time, money, and tireless effort, and to make incredible sacrifices—all for the salvation of the world around us. “You didn't choose Me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil, [but would last],” Jesus told His disciples (John 15:16 The Message).
Somebody must “Go!” (Matthew 28:19-20). But if we go for God, we won’t be able to keep living for ourselves. Somebody has got to avoid getting trapped by materialism, to forego big time careers, and to give up building their secure little nest eggs, so that people who need to know Him will truly get the chance to know Him. Somebody has got to radically concentrate on eternal matters—and put earthly matters on the back burner. Who’s going to do that? Somebody has got to pay the price for dying souls, and the price continues to be, as it was in the beginning, the life of the Body of Christ.
The old hymn by Thomas Shepherd says it all succinctly: “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” This includes you and me, brothers and sisters, everyone who calls Jesus their Lord!
Listen, you don’t have to “go across the sea” or die at the hands of cannibals in some far-off Third-World wilderness! All you need to do is go across the street! Or go to the “other side” of town. All you need to do is start changing your own neighborhood! All you must be willing to do is change your busy, self-focused, preprogrammed life to include more time, money, and physical strength for God and His work. All you need to do is to go out of your way and leave your comfort zone to love somebody who is dying to receive a touch from heaven. All you need to do is wake up and realize that you have been called to "die." Everybody in the Body doesn’t have to be some world-class missionary. But any of us and all of us can do the simple stuff.
Why does this sound so strange and unfamiliar and fanatical? So radical? It is because so much of Christianity, especially here in America, has bought into the misleading concept that the main purpose of salvation is for God to pour out lots of blessings on you, to keep bad things from happening to you, and to insure your perpetual comfort and ease. Most of us are extremely self-focused, wanting to insure that we and our families get what's due us, the best treatment, and the biggest opportunities to prosper and enjoy life—and we have a major conniption if things don't go the way we expect them to go. God has become the great, big “Blessing Machine in the Sky.”
This concept must be utterly renounced and rejected. But that can only be done by those who daily practice radical submission to God, offering themselves as “living sacrifices” to Jesus Christ, no strings attached. They are the ones who will help fulfill His prayer, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
May God bless you all.