Soil texture

Death and Dirt

Scripture | John 12:23-26

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me. (1)


Our scripture this morning is part of the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem where the events will unfold that lead to his death (and ultimately, his resurrection). There were a group of people who had witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead a short time earlier. The pharisees see the crowd and become frustrated that this Jesus Movement is getting traction. Some Greeks, who have come to Jerusalem, want an audience with Jesus and so they go to Phillip to get him to set it up. I believe Jesus’ response to the request, as odd as it seems, indicates the way that they will ultimately get access to what they seek. NT Wright puts it this way:

They wouldn’t just ‘see’ him, as they’d asked; they would ‘come to’ him, in the sense of being drawn by the powerful love of God, drawn into fellowship and new life. (2)

Jesus uses a metaphor to explain how this will happen. A seed must die, be taken in by the earth, and then it will ultimately bear fruit. This, of course, is a cryptic way of predicting his own death and resurrection. That’s how it will all happen.

But then Jesus directs this same principle toward his listeners. The fullness of life he promises will only come when they embrace death. Is Jesus promoting some sort of death cult? Not at all. Though, for some of his followers this would mean actually losing their life. But the idea is much bigger. Following Jesus always involves some sort of death. Fruitful lives always involve death.

The apostle Paul will put it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (3)

So, let’s get to the dirt. The earth, in this story, is the tomb. It’s the place of death. It is where what was is no more. It is also where what is to come finds its beginning. You may remember this quote by Wendell Berry that I used Sunday:

The most exemplary nature is that of the topsoil. It is very Christ-like … It keeps the past, not as history or as memory, but as richness, new possibility. Its fertility is always building up out of death into promise. Death is the bridge or the tunnel by which its past enters its future. (4)

It’s fascinating to me to think of dirt as Christ-like. But this imagery is profound. “Building up out death into promise.”

Jesus is inviting us into a life where we can truly thrive. But the journey to that life is putting to death all the other promises of life that have taken us in the wrong direction. But we are invited to put it all in the dirt.

My friend, Jonathan Martin, talks about his own experience in the dirt. He writes:

Letting the storm and the night have their way with you, letting the Spirit come in with the wind to make you into something new, is much easier said than done. There are so many reasons not to be reborn. There are so many reasons to choose resuscitation over resurrection. There is nothing quite so scary as the Holy Ghost, because we intuitively know that to make room for this Spirit is to make room for our own upending. Rather than give ourselves over to the whims of that Ghost, it seems at first easier to choose to live as ghosts ourselves. After my own shipwreck, I tried my hand at this for a while. (5)


  • Take the dirt that you’ve set aside for this devotional (see instructions at Take some of the dirt and hold it in your hands.
  • Are there pursuits in your life that need to go in the dirt … to be buried?
  • Invite the Holy Spirt into this moment to help show you what these may be.
  • Pour the dirt back in your container as a sign of burial.


Holy Spirit, I surrender these things to you. I have looked to the wrong things to give me life and so in this moment, I bury them with you. I pray for your resurrection life … for the fruit that you promised. I don’t want resuscitation. I want resurrection.



(1) Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Jn 12:23–26.

(2) Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 29.

(3) Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Ga 2:20.

(4) Berry, W. (2012). The long-legged house: essays. Counterpoint. 

(5) Martin, Jonathan. How to Survive a Shipwreck (p. 25). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Reagan Waggoner - February 21, 2021

Jesus and Dirt

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