Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
In our little niche on planet earth, this is a historic weekend for Bethlehem. We are praying that at least 750 of those who regularly go to the downtown campus on Saturday or Sunday will start next weekend attending the South Campus at Burnsville, Senior High School at 9 or 11 o’clock Sunday morning. Bethlehem will move from being one church on two campuses, North and Downtown, to being one church on three campuses, North, Downtown, and South.
And history at the institutional level always has micro-historic implications for real people and families that, for them, can seem even bigger. For some, it will mean leaving a worship location where God has met them for ten or twenty or forty years. For many who go, and for many who stay, it will mean farewell to a weekend connectedness that has been very precious. For some staff, it will mean a major shift in focus: Rick Melson and David Livingston in particular will be focusing South. For all of those North who count Bethlehem Baptist Church your home, it will mean a fresh challenge to embrace the vision of Treasuring Christ Together.
Treasuring Christ Together
Treasuring Christ Together is what we call the strategy underneath the church mission. The mission of this church is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And the overall strategy of the church to pursue that Goal is called Treasuring Christ Together (TCT). There are three prongs to the spreading strategy in TCT: (1) Multiplying Campuses, (2) Planting Churches, and (3) touching the poorest of the poor through the Global Diaconate—all defined doctrinally by the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith.
The campuses are all part of Bethlehem with a single vision, a single strategy, a single theological foundation, a single eldership, a single constitution, a single band of missionaries, and a single budget. The church plants are independent churches with no organizational tie to Bethlehem but the same theological foundation. And the Global Diaconate is a fund and a network of people in the church that aims to relieve the suffering of the poorest of the poor, especially eternal suffering.
So whenever we start a campus or a new church, or move toward global suffering, all of Bethlehem is involved. This historic weekend relates to all of us, not just those who will move South. My prayer is that every member of Bethlehem will understand and embrace the vision of Treasuring Christ Together. I pray that you will feel a part of something bigger than yourself and your family and your campus and your church. Treasuring Christ Together is an effort to be obedient to Jesus’ command that we never become self-satisfied. That we never think we have arrived. That we never cease to spread the gospel of Christ and a passion for his supremacy. Till Jesus comes, we must never settle into our present situation as though the goal has been reached.
I pray that thousands of you will count it part of your holy ambition to pray and work and give with joy to make TCT an ever greater blessing in these cities. I pray that when you look at line two on your giving envelopes and see the words Treasuring Christ Together, you see lost people; and risk-taking evangelism; and authentic, God-centered worship; and growing disciples, young and old, single and married, men and women, urban and suburban, red and yellow, black and white; and you give with joy and sacrifice to a vision you embrace for the glory of the Savior you love.
You have given about $800,000 so far this year to TCT. That’s twice what you gave at this time last year. Ten percent of every dollar has gone to church planting, and ten percent has gone to the Global Diaconate. Eighty percent has gone to pay for the purchase of the north campus and the varied start-up expenses of the south campus. We owe about $8 million dollars on the north campus. So I am praying for well over $2 million to come in this year for TCT. And, of course, I pray with you that the $7.4 million budget of the glorious steady-state ministry and missions of the church will amazingly come in by year’s end.
Two questions remain for this message: why and how for TCT? Why this strategy and not another? And, How can it be sustained?
Why This Strategy?
Very briefly, and in bullet form, here is the answer to “Why this strategy and not another?”
1) Why not cease to grow and just work on the inner life of the church? Answer: Passion for the glory of God, love for perishing people, and obedience to Jesus make that no option.
2) Why not grow by only planting churches, not campuses? Answer: We are committed to planting churches, but we don’t think we are able or called to steward growth by church planting alone.
3) Why not grow by building one large complex downtown or in the suburbs? Answer: There isn’t room downtown for the complex and the parking, we are called to be in the city—not just in the suburbs—and we see great advantages to 2,000 person campuses over a 6,000 to 10,000 person gathering downtown.
4. Why not grow by multiplying campuses with multiple preachers instead of just one with a video? Answer: For now, at least, we believe that church-wide unity across campuses is served best by a unified teaching on the weekend. We think that different notes being struck week after week on the different campuses, no matter how good, would lead the campuses apart rather than holding them together.
There are dozens more things to say about how God has led us to embrace the strategy of Treasuring Christ Together, but let’s move finally to the last question: How shall this vision and strategy be sustained?
How Can This Strategy Be Sustained?
Look with me at John 12:23-26 for the answer.
Each of these four verses has a destination or goal that is wonderful and happy. And each has a pathway toward that goal that is painful and involves self-denial and death to self. That doesn’t mean there is no joy on the path. It just means the joy of the destination is great enough to make you accept suffering to get there. So let’s notice the painful path and the happy destination in each verse.
Glory through the Cross
Verse 23: “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” The obvious thing in this verse is that Jesus, the Son of Man, was soon to experience great glory. He would be restored to the glory that he had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). What’s not as obvious is the pathway to that glory implied in the words, “The hour has come.” What hour? The closest answer is found in verse 27: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” The hour is the hour of his suffering and death. That’s why he came. And that is why his soul is troubled. He is about to die on the way to glory. Jesus’ path to glory was through suffering and death.
Fruit-Bearing through Death
Verse 24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Coming right after the death-followed-by-glory sequence in verse 23, this looks like Jesus’ interpretation of his death. When he dies, it is like a seed that seems to disappear in the ground and die, but in reality is preparing to bear fruit. And inside that fruit are more seeds that when they die bear more fruit and so on and on.
In view of the next verse, it’s very likely that Jesus is not thinking of himself alone in verse 24, but of his disciples as well. He must die to bear fruit in many saved sinners. And we must experience a kind of death to bear fruit—to see people saved and changed and become life-giving. So the destination in verse 24 is fruit-bearing and the pathway there is painful—a kind of death.
Saving through Losing
Verse 25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Here the destination is eternal life. And you can miss it by loving your life—that is, by making your goal in life to be safe and secure and comfortable and surrounded only by pleasant things. That is the pathway to perishing.
Or, Jesus says, you can take another path and arrive at eternal life. That path is called hating your life in this world. Notice that he adds “in this world.” Jesus knows that what he is really telling us is how to save our lives, not destroy them. But the path to saving them is losing them. But not ultimately losing it—only losing it “in this world.” Hating your life in this world means that you will choose to do things that look foolish to the world. You will deny yourself things, and take risks, and embrace the path of suffering for the sake of love. This, Jesus says, will lead to eternal life, not death. So you are not hating your life ultimately, only “in this world.” So the destination in verse 25 is eternal life and the pathway there is painful—hating your life in this world.
Honor through Service
Verse 26: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Here Jesus says that serving him involves following him—namely, on the Calvary road to the cross. There is no spectator service. Serving him involves following where he goes and being where he is—on the cross and then in heaven. If we serve him like this, Jesus says, the Father will honor us. So the destination in verse 26 is being where Jesus is with God’s commendation. Or to put it another way, the destination is God-honored fellowship with Jesus. God-commended closeness to Jesus. That’s the destination. And the pathway to get there is serving Jesus, that is, following him where he goes, namely to the cross and then to heaven.
So now let’s line up the four destinations and the four pathways and see how they relate to each other. In verse 23, the destination is Jesus’ glorification, and by implication ours, since we are to follow him and be with him where he is. In verse 24, it is fruit-bearing, others coming to love our Savior and share our joy in him. In verse 25, it is eternal life. And in verse 26, it is God-honored closeness to Jesus. So in summary the destination is glorious, God-honored closeness to Jesus, forever, with others who are there because of our lives.
And the pathway to this destination is, first, in verse 23, the suffering and death of Jesus. Verse 24: being like a seed that falls into the ground and dies. Verse 25: hating your life in this world. And verse 26: serving Jesus by following on the Calvary road to where he is in heaven. In sum, the pathway to the destination is a daily following Jesus by dying to self.
Close to Jesus, Forever, Together
Now let me relate this to Treasuring Christ Together. Think of Treasuring Christ Together now not as multiplying campuses, planting churches, and a global diaconate, but think of it as the act of the heart: treasuring, valuing, cherishing Jesus with other people who are doing the same. That, I think, is what the destination in these verses is. What’s happening most deeply in this closeness to Jesus (being where he is) is that he is being treasured. And he is being treasured with others who are doing the same. That’s what bearing fruit means. Treasuring Christ Together is our final and ultimate destination. That is what we will be doing forever. And we will not do it alone. We will do it together. The seed that falls into the ground and dies bears much fruit. O Lord, let our lives count to increase the number of people who treasure you!
This is the answer to our question: What will sustain the sacrifices and struggles and deaths we must die in order to multiply campuses, plant churches, and serve the poorest of the poor? Answer: The glorious, God-honored closeness to Jesus, forever, with others who are there because of our lives. That is, treasuring Christ together. This destination, this hope, will keep us going, keep us sacrificing to leave friends, and leave familiar places, and take new jobs, and give lavishly to the vision. The self-denial that Treasuring Christ Together on earth requires is sustained by the hope of treasuring Christ together in heaven.
The Sustaining Power: Jesus Died for Us
But there is one more most crucial thing to say about what sustains us in the path of sacrifice and self-denial. Namely this, and I end with it: Jesus took this path of suffering and death to this destination of glory so that he might become not only our example in dying, but, more importantly, our substitute in dying. Jesus suffered and died to give us both pattern and, more importantly, pardon. And the pardon precedes and enables the pattern. We cannot follow the pattern of Jesus’ suffering without being freed from God’s wrath and our guilt and fear and selfishness. And we are freed from these not by his pattern, but by his pardon. Not by his being our example, but by his being our substitute.
When Jesus died, he didn’t just die before us—to copy—but for us—to trust in. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep—in their place (John 10:11, 15). There must be salvation by Jesus before there can be imitation of Jesus. There must be justification on the basis of Jesus’ death, before there can be sanctification by means of Jesus’ power.
When all is said and done, this is the sustaining power of Treasuring Christ Together. In all our strategizing, let us never stray from this. Our hope, our strength is this: Jesus died for us.