The Harvest of Calvary

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” (John 12:24)

One of the hardest things for modern man to accept is the Christian claim that once, and once for all, at a definite time in the distant past, there emerged the ultimate criterion by which all history and all human achievement must evermore be judged. Yet Christianity makes no less a claim than this for the historical person of Jesus Christ.

Modern man’s aversion to accepting this claim arises from the fact that he possesses a vast body of knowledge which was unknown to the ancients. He assumes—and it is a fatal assumption—that salvation is to be found in present knowledge, not in past history. The fallacy here lies in the modern way of thinking of history as a long line of evolutionary progress. We are regarded as standing at the pinnacle of history, and from our eminence we are qualified to pronounce judgments on the past. The idea that a criterion could have emerged in that distant past by which we—we today!—are to be judged is repugnant and humiliating.

Modern man has deceived himself by his obsession with a linear image of progressive historical ascent. He needs a radical revision of his ideas here. He needs to know that the historical process has a center and that the character of a civilization is to be measured by its distance from that center. Far away means injustice, suffering, chaos; close to center means order, justice, happiness. What, then, is the center of the historical process? Christianity answers unequivocally that it is God revealed in Christ. “In him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). Lightfoot translates it “cohere.” It reminds us of William Temple’s translation of John 1:1—he gives it a double rendering—“In the beginning of history,” and “At the root of the universe.”

There can be no true understanding of history nor can there be a true evaluation of the historical process without that tremendous “I” at the center—I am the light, I am the bread, I am the door, I am the way! This is the “I” that speaks the double “Verily” in the text of this meditation, making a great claim for Himself and for the efficacy of His death—“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.”

Certain Greeks had requested an interview with Jesus. Their desire appears to have been prompted by something more than mere curiosity. They were interested in our Lord’s ministry and they may even have entertained the idea of trying to induce Him to go back with them into their country, that He might do His mighty works there.

Jesus seems to have been pleased with this request. For one thing the desire of these Greeks was in sharp contrast to the attitude of many of the Jews. Moreover, the request was a prophecy of the time when the Gentiles in large numbers would come into the fold and be saved. Jesus saw the fruit of His redeeming work extending beyond the confines of Israel to take in the whole world; and, in the joy of this prospect, He said, “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified” (vs. 23). But something must first be accomplished before all nations would flow unto him (cf. Isaiah 2:2). He must die a most humiliating death. Low as He had already stooped to accomplish the purpose for which he had come to earth, he must stoop still lower. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die!

In a grain of wheat there is lodged a mysterious cell of vitality in virtue of which it can be multiplied a thousandfold. But before this can happen that grain of wheat must go into the ground, to a place that seems to threaten it with destruction. Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth, be buried out of Sight, apparently lost and useless, it abideth alone.

The parallel Jesus sets up with His own sufferings and death is perfectly obvious. In virtue of His mysteriously constituted Person, the Lord Jesus Christ was fitted and qualified to procure and to communicate eternal life to myriads. But if upon the cross He had not bowed His head and given up His spirit, had He not gone into the grave and disappeared from this world apparently forever, He would have remained destitute of even one blade of harvest to illustrate His fullness and redeeming grace.

Jesus had received the promise of a great and flourishing harvest. He was to say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back, to bring His sons from afar, and His daughters from the ends of the earth, but all this was on the condition that He submit not only to the assumption of our nature, but to death itself (cf. Isaiah 43:6). He was promised a people who should offer themselves willingly in the day of His power (cf. Psalm 110:3), but that day of power could not come until He first had made his soul an offering for sin.

Jesus’ death was a necessity. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. Had there been no atonement by the sacrifice of His life, mercy could have triumphed only at the expense of justice which is unthinkable in a world over which a righteous God is sovereign. Had there been no atonement, there never could have been the fulfillment of the promise, “Unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be” (Genesis 49:10). Therefore, to the cross He must go. He had descended low, He had taken the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men. He was reproached of men. “Reproach,” says He, “has broken my heart” (Psalm 69:20). This was not enough. He must go to the cross and give His life a ransom for many. “This command received I from the Father” (John 10:18). The grain of wheat must die!

And if it die, “it beareth much fruit.” Is there much fruit? Has Calvary produced a great harvest? Is the ancient prediction being fulfilled, “There shall be abundance of grain in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon” (Psalm 72:16)? Indeed, the harvest may be seen waving in many lands. The little Rock of the Lord has gone on increasing, and shall increase until at last the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of God and of His Christ. “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).

And do you now ask just how all this occurs? Do you ask how this principle of vitality in Christ is transformed and transmitted into such an abundant harvest? The answer lies with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. It is He who effectuates in us the blessings of Christ’s death on the cross. It is He who quickens us, engenders in us that faith by which we take hold of the Savior, and being thus united to Him we are released from the dominion of sin, having passed from death unto life.

Moreover, it is by this same energy and operation of the Holy Spirit that we are gradually assimilated to the image of Christ. The fruit that springs from the grain which was cast into the ground and became dead is fruit that corresponds to the nature of the grain. Every grain produces its own kind. Barley does not produce corn; oats do not spring from rye. Between the seed that is sown and the harvest that springs forth there is and must be a precise resemblance as to nature.

So it is with the harvest of Calvary. God’s redeemed people shall be perfectly conformed to the image of God’s Son. The precious seed that was entombed in Joseph’s garden shall bring forth of its own spiritual kind. His mind shall be in us. We shall be partakers of his nature. In the Great Presentation we shall be, like the Great Original, holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners!

What a redeeming work this is! What an accomplishment of grace! Here, indeed, is a philanthropy that excels the noblest labor of human charity. To give oneself to relieve the needy, the suffering, the dying, is a noble office of human charity. But to purge unnumbered sinners from sin and guilt, to lift them to holiness and happiness, and to usher them into heaven by first taking his own passage through the fiery furnace of Divine wrath—this is an achievement that shall forever crown the Savior with honors, call forth the rapturous praises of angels, and inspire the unabating gratitude and everlasting homage of a redeemed and glorified church.

Leonard Greenway is pastor of the Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.