“Jesus replied, ‘Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives’” (John 12.23-24 NLT) (emphasis added).
As I headed to the department store, I saw a seagull sitting in the middle of the parking lot. I walked by him, and he barely moved. He rested in the center of traffic. “He’s going to get hurt,” I thought. But the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ words that God protects the little birds (Matthew 6.26), so I quickly bought what I needed from the store and went back to my car. I scanned for the seagull, and my eyes widen when I saw him. He was crushed. A car ran over the lower half of his body, and pieces of his yellow legs and wings were scattered around him. I didn’t understand what God was trying to teach me, but I kept my heart open.
Later, I was driving to my sister’s house, and I saw a several black birds huddled together on the street. They surrounded a comrade that had just gotten run over. Again, I thought about the Scripture of God’s protection, and I told myself that if I saw one more bird, I would know that the Holy Spirit was definitely showing me something. That evening as I was leaving the gym, I saw a beautiful cormorant duck sitting by the curb. He looked confused and lost. I drove by him hoping he would take flight, but he slowly waddled closer to the edge. He was dying and could no longer fly away.
If God loved these beautiful creatures, how could they die so miserably? I found my answer in the Gospels. During this time my mood was especially somber. I was coming up to Jesus’ death on the cross in my yearly Bible reading, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I knew what was about to happen. Jesus would be crushed for the freedom of His beautiful creation designed in His image – humanity. My mood worsened with the Christmas holiday because we celebrate the birth of Jesus: the perfect baby born to save us. But the flip side to His divine birth is the inevitability of His horrific death.
I started to notice a theme, however, as Jesus’ time to die came closer. When Jesus prophesied about His death, He would simultaneously prophesy about His glory. It seemed that the ugliness of death was a precursor for supernatural glory. And a thought struck me: When that seagull lie dismembered on the ground, did God’s unseen glory shine through? Was the bird’s essence tucked away as a seed for the New Earth (Isaiah 65.17 & Revelation 21.1)? Is there a beautiful aspect to death that can only be realized by faith?
Then I thought about all life. Parents across the globe welcome their beautiful babies into this world with the knowledge that their bundles of joy will be crushed one day. A car, an illness, an accident or old age will eventually destroy their lives. No one is exempt from the gruesome hand of death. We all will be crushed; and if our hearts are not set on God and eternity, this existence can seem like a cruel joke instead of the gateway to our real lives.
Even Mary’s excitement over Jesus’ birth must have been dampened by the prophets words of the sorrow she’d feel when He would be crucified: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Luke 2.34-35 NIV) (emphasis added). All life ends in death, but Jesus’ life gives us so much hope because He chose to die alongside us. And His death is a seed that births our future glory – a glory that begins once our physical bodies are crushed. However, we must have faith to believe it and trust to claim it.
Jesus gave a simple promise to the man hanging on his own cross of death next to Him: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23.43 NIV). Life ends bleakly on this earth. We will all be like those birds – we will disappear from existence and people years from now will walk over our graves. We will die in pain, crushed and forgotten. And although there is no proof or evidence to the glory Jesus claimed and the paradise He professed, I choose to whole heartily believe. I base my life on Jesus’ promises, and I trust there is more to this existence than birth, death and a little in between. My spirit longs to live forever, and I know God has planted eternity in my heart (Ecclesiastes 3.11).
Now when I see the baby Jesus in the manager, I’m reminded that my Creator chose to experience the excruciating sting of death with me. I’m not alone, and I don’t have to be scared. As I draw closer to Jesus and stay my gaze on Him, I begin to see that this earth is not my true home. This life is only a shadow of the beautiful New Earth that God is preparing for us – an earth where sin can no longer cause us pain, sorrow and fear (Hebrews 11.14-16). We will never be separated from the presence of God and the awesome attributes of His glory, and He will gather His blood-soaked creation in His arms and see only the righteousness of His Son.
I desire to confidently reiterate the Apostle Paul’s words: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1.21 NIV). To die IS GAIN! I will remind myself that only when a seed dies, will the full harvest of life be realized. As I mourn seeds of death around me, I will profess the crop of unseen Glory that’s produced in the paradise of our real lives.