The legend of the Phoenix has been around for thousands of years. The story of its fiery death and subsequent rebirth, rising from its own ashes, can be found in ancient Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, Russian, and Chinese cultures, to name just a few.
Although the image of the firebird is sometimes associated with royalty due to the expensive purple dye produced by the “Phoenicians,” it is most commonly recognized as a powerful symbol of rebirth and renewal. Its imagery of self-reincarnation has been claimed by many an individual facing a personal setback of one sort or another.
- Have you ever seen a sports team declare that they will “rise from their ashes” after losing a game?
- How about a politician saying something similar after losing an election?
- What are some other examples?
- Have you ever claimed that imagery after a personal defeat of some sort?
Interestingly, a phoenix always returns to its prior status⎯never more or less than it was.
However, when people use the imagery of rising from their own ashes, they more often than not are implying that they will come back better and stronger the next time. The lessons learned in defeat will actually empower them going forward. Even traditional concepts of reincarnation carry a similar idea of advancing in some way in the next life, if you are “good” in this one.
- When a sports team says they will “rise from their ashes,” do they mean, “We will wash out in the quarter finals next year, just like we did this year” or do they envision something better?
- What about the politician? Does he plan to spend a similar amount of time and money campaigning, only to narrowly lose again in the next election?
- How about yourself, don’t you usually hope for an increase?
Generally speaking, most of us are hoping for some sort of improvement in our status quo, especially if we have just suffered a loss. We aren’t asking for more of the same, but rather for a new and better version of whatever it is. Make it to the finals and maybe even win the championship this year. Take the election in a landslide. Get that raise plus a corner office.
In today’s lesson in John 12:20-36, Christ doesn’t use the imagery of the phoenix, although it was probably well known to Him and would seemingly fit well with the recent resurrection of Lazarus. Rather, He chooses the image of a seed, falling into the ground and dying.
When a seed is planted into the ground, it doesn’t just produce another seed. Rather, it produces an entire plant that produces a multitude of seeds, which give rise to even more plants and more seeds, in perpetuity.
- Since Christ chose this analogy, who is the original seed to literally be planted into the ground that He refers to?
- What is the “plant” that grows up as a result of that planting?
- Who are the new seeds that are modeled after the original seed?
- In what ways have these new seeds been planted and passed on generation after generation over the years?
The concept of “dying to oneself” takes on a whole new meaning in this context. It is no longer simply about being humble, or forgiving, or even self-sacrificing in the ordinary sense. It is bigger than that.
If you are a seed, your sole (soul) purpose in life is to be used up in the creation of more seeds and seed making machinery. You become, in essence, a link in a gigantic spiritual chain that stretches from the empty tomb on one end then off into eternity at the other end.
Sometimes, we fall into the trap of believing that Christianity is about God helping us become the very best version of ourselves possible. But, He doesn’t want a kinder, gentler version of us. He wants to radically transform us into true Christians or “little Christs.” And those little Christs will in similar fashion die to themselves, be buried, and then be resurrected into a new disciple-making life that produces even more little Christs.
God wants to radically transform us into true Christians or “little Christs.”
- We have all seen the “Celebrate Recovery” signs around town and we should celebrate, just as the angels do, but should we stop there? Is God satisfied with our sobriety or does He desire something more for us?
- Sobriety is just one area where God brings healing. What are some other areas? Personal sin? Interpersonal failings?
- Is the healing that God brings an end in itself or is it just the beginning of a transformed life lived for His glory?
- Is the modern Church primarily focused on fixing problems or on making disciples? Is it an “either/or” proposition or a “both/and” proposition? Can we make disciples while fixing problems or fix problems while making disciples?
- How about your own life? Is your faith primarily about what you can get or what you can give? Are both important and even interrelated?
God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives.
That plan and purpose begins with healing and forgiveness, but it does not stop there. God wants to transform us and use us in mighty ways. He is not trying to create better versions of us, but rather to remake us entirely in the image of His Son. He wants each of us to be a seed, not a phoenix.
NOTE: This post is adapted from my Life’s Big Questions Series, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture.
Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.