When Jesus spoke those words he was foretelling his death. He was about to be lifted up on a cross and die for the sins of the whole world. He didn’t just say that for a Jewish audience; Greek Gentiles were present too. In fact, these Greeks had gone to Philip to ask if they could see Jesus. Evidently they were God-seekers and were worshipping at the local synagogue but without becoming Jewish converts.
When the request came to Jesus he oddly didn’t respond to it directly but launched off into something that seemed totally unrelated. He told them, “unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”(John 12:24) He said some other things too and then commented that, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me…” (Verse 26)
So maybe he was responding to them after all? Having a private audience with Jesus might be nice but the bigger issue on the table always is: are you willing to FOLLOW him? Follow him how? Death? Yes, I think that’s what he was talking about. Jesus didn’t care about fan clubs or popularity contests but he was—and still is—looking for disciples.
Following Jesus means death a thousand times over. Not necessarily physical death though that could happen too. No, rather, death to self! “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2)
Jesus prophesied that his death would draw all men to himself. Why was that? Well, an innocent party who had no sin paid for the sins of all. Relationship with the Father was reestablished for the first time since the Garden of Eden. The devil was defeated. But that wasn’t the real draw. The real draw was the motivation of Jesus: LOVE.
Love is a big magnet; people are always drawn to love. Whenever you die to yourself or lay down your own preferences in favor of another, love triumphs. It also does something else remarkable. When you do it in Jesus name and for his sake, you are drawing men to HIM. You are participating in the work of Calvary. No, you can’t pay for any sins—that’s already a done deal. But your act of obedience to the cross can still “bear much fruit.”
The fruit is drawing more men and women to be disciples of Jesus. It never fails. He is lifted up again and again when we emulate what he did on the cross: he died to his self so we could have abundance of life. He invites us to the same way of living.
I wonder what happened to the Greek Gentiles. Did they ever become disciples and not just fans? Were they in town when he was crucified and then did they finally understand what he was talking about when they pressed to meet with him?
What about you? You were somehow drawn to him for yourself. But are you willing to lift him up for others?