Sunday, May 31, 2015

Convicted (John 16:8-11)

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:8–11, ESV)

The role of the Spirit in the world is immense, but then again our God is infinite and there is nothing too big or even too small for Him. In speaking about the coming of the Spirit, Jesus said He would convict the world. Convict can be viewed in at least a couple of ways. One of them is in the judicial sense as in a courtroom when someone is found guilty he is convicted of violating the law and subsequently judged. There is another sense that we see in many of the verses used in speaking about the work of the Spirit in man which points more to the aspect of convincing someone of their guilt. One points to a decision by another party and the other to a change in the perception of an individual concerning him- or herself.

We know from Scripture that though Jesus is the final judge with the Father. He also did not come into the world to judge the world but that man might be saved (John 12:47). We also know from Scripture that those who reject Jesus remain in the judgment to which they are already subject and will eventually be sentenced. The only thing that removes this judgment is the salvation which Jesus came to give which is received by faith in Him and not by any works that man might do. Scripture builds a firm foundation of salvation by faith in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father.

In line with this, the convicting of the Spirit in the life of man is appropriately that of convincing man of the truth and His need to respond. Jesus said the Spirit would come to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. He then said that the Spirit would do this in relation to sin because men do not believe in Him. Everyone has sinned. There is no one who has not done so. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV) The Spirit was sent in order to reveal this to man, showing him his sin and his need for a Savior. The Spirit makes truth visible such that man is convicted of his sin and responds. We read of the word of God being spoken in this way in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:24–25, ESV)

Next Jesus said that the Spirit would convict people of righteousness because Jesus Himself would leave them and return to the Father. Having returned to the Father, His personal physical example of righteousness and instruction concerning it would no longer be visibly present. He would not be there to call people to righteous living, but the Spirit would. Jesus regularly confronted the religious leadership over their pretentious self-righteousness (hypocrisy), calling His hearers to a life of righteousness from the heart found in God and not themselves. This was something foreign to man, and it necessitated God revealing it to him. Paul wrote in Romans 3:10, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;” (Romans 3:10, ESV) The Holy Spirit in coming will show man what righteousness is and how the righteous man is to live by faith (Romans 1:17). Man does not become righteous in himself by believing, but by believing man has the righteousness of Christ credited to him and he grows in living that way as he walks by faith in Christ who made Him so. The Holy Spirit will reveal both man’s lack of righteousness and how the help him to live as a righteous man who walks by faith.

Jesus also said as the third work that the Holy Spirit would convict man concerning judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. “IS” might seem like a small and insignificant word, but it is so far from the truth. The ruler of this world is already judged and awaiting final enactment of his sentence. The verdict has been issued and he is guilty. One day (which God already has settled in eternity) he will be forever tossed away into the lake of fire created expressly for him and all how remain his. This is an already settled truth. But today he lives as if it weren’t, and so does man. Man ignores any consequence of his evil, and he lives as if there were no price to pay. The Holy Spirit reveals to man how lost he is and how much he needs Christ. The Holy Spirit opens eyes and brings to light the truth of who Jesus is and how much He is needed. Having shown these things to man, man then sees his own sin and responds to his own false-righteousness by calling on the righteous One who forgives sin.

Apart from Christ and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Him man remains hopelessly lost in his own sin, clothed in unrighteousness and judged with his father the devil. The Spirit was sent to reveal this to man and convince him of his need for change found by faith in Christ.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Knowing Joy in Sorrow (John 16:5-7)

“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:5–7, ESV)

Jesus had spoken of His leaving before. His disciples had even been told where He was going and His disciples had expressed their desire to go with Him. In response He told them that they could not at this time, but that later they would be together. The discussion must have been getting quite intense, and His disciples were likely quite shaken by what He was telling them, especially in telling them that there would even be those who would take their lives. Apparently they were so overwhelmed or self-focused on their own futures that they lost sight of what was about to happen to Jesus himself. They were so absorbed by their sorrow that they did not see the pain or even the glory that laid ahead for Jesus.

Jesus responded to them by drawing their attention back to the fact that what was about to happen was a good thing. He had come from the Father and He was soon to return for the Father. But in their misery they did not see the joy that laid ahead for Him nor the blessing that would even result for themselves. They did not stop to inquire about where He was going, what was to happen, and how wonderful it was that God was completing in Jesus the very purpose for which He was sent. Rather, their focus was on their own loss and the potential threats that lie ahead.

At the heart of this is likely one of the greatest struggles that man knows, the struggle between seeing a loved one leave them for the presence of God against having them remain and benefiting from their presence, their love, their help, and so much more. It is the tension between carrying on without the individual even knowing that the individual has left for the greatest gift that man could know. In separation there is a hole left in our hearts as well as countless life adjustments that must be made. It may even mean increased hardship as a result, especially if the one leaving was the source of provision and protection or encouragement and stability. We rely on those we love and when they leave we no longer have them there to rely upon. It truly is a difficult time and oftentimes there is little that can be done to change the physical consequences.

Knowing their reliance on Him and the future of persecution that lie ahead for His disciples, Jesus pointed out to them that they had let their sorrow cloud their hope. Sure, He was going to leave, but He was going to leave to return to the presence of the Father who had sent Him. The work of salvation was to be completed and Jesus was to return with His mission accomplished. And in His returning He was going to enjoy the Father in a way that was limited in His taking on the form of man. Though He could have had this at any time, He knew that there was going to be a time—the right time, when this work was going to be completed and He would return. It was now that time. This was a very good thing. It was the perfect plan of God to redeem man from His sins and to draw him back into the relationship for which he was created.

And with His return the work of God was not to be completed. Jesus may have finished the work of salvation on the cross, but not everyone was yet saved nor was everyone safely ushered into the presence of God. The disciples were left for this work. It was them who were chosen, selected, and charged to remain after Jesus’ return to do even greater works which result in the salvation of countless (from our side) numbers of people. Sure, they would endure persecution and even death, but as a result of them being left people were going to be saved. Through them the good news of salvation in Christ was going to be spread. Through them the Word of God was going to be completed so that even today we can hold it in our hands and know its truth. And, through them God’s plan would continue to unfold until such time that He brings it to completion in the return of Christ and the final judgment of sin and Satan.

This was a huge task, and in order to accomplish it Jesus had to return to the Father and the Father was to send another Helper—the third person of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit comes, He told them, they would get what they needed to do this incredible work. And even for us today, knowing that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf and that the Spirit permanently indwells, enables, and empowers believers today, we are strengthened in difficult times to continue until we also are fully joyed to enter His presence. He makes us to stand and even to withstand.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Rejected, But Not Forsaken (John 16:1-4)

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 16:1–4, ESV)

Trails lead to question. This is the normal course of our thinking. When difficult things come our way we frequently begin to question the circumstances surrounding them. We can even question whether we had chosen the right course that led us there. If only we had gone another path, maybe this would not have happened. And sometimes this may be very true, especially when we chose those paths apart from any consideration of the will of God in our lives.

But there are those times when we are exactly where we are supposed to be and things seem very bleak. The monsters on the horizon are huge and imposing and we are tempted to falter in the face of their advancing. Jesus knew that His disciples were going to face difficult time, and He knew that there might be a temptation to turn and run. He knew that they would be rejected because of their association with Him. They would be rejected by the people of their faith. There would even be those who would be rejected by their families. And the crazy thing is that those doing the rejecting fully believe that they are doing the right thing. Jesus told them that the Jews who they counted themselves among would reject them because what they proclaimed did not line up with the system of belief that they had built. These “religious” individuals had become so committed to their system of religious practice that they lost sight of God who they were to worship. In that sense, their practice had become their idol, and they were going to reject anyone who called that practice into question. Jesus had come to set them free from the burden of the law, but they were to reject Him because they were committed to observing a law that they could not possibly satisfy. These people would remain hard hearted toward God and Christ, and they would reject anyone who came in His name.

All that they had known growing up was soon to change, and they would be religious outcasts. In the face of this it could be real easy to question the truth and even to consider giving up. Jesus told them these things not to discourage them, but to encourage them in those dark days to remember that what was happening was just as He said. And in His saying this, He also told them that He was always going to be with them. They were chosen and sent with a purpose, and God would not abandon them in either.

It was not important for Jesus to have emphasized this earlier, as He said, because He had been with them. But with His leaving it was important for them to hear this and to know that what He had told them was indeed true. And because it was true, they were to be encourage to endure the hardship knowing this this was exactly as Jesus had said and God was going to remain faithful. God’s plan was not going awry, and they were to have no cause to question whether or not they understood correctly. Knowing that tough times were to come and that they would even lay down their lives for Him, Christ assured them that God was going to remain faithful to be with them and to bring them through to the other side—even with that other side being eternity in His presence. For this reason the disciples were willingly to face death—so that others might live.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–12, ESV)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Left, But Not Alone (John 15:26-27)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26–27, ESV)

These words may not have meant much to His disciples at the moment. They still did not even understand what was about to happen. But Jesus knew just how important they were and He said them. He knew He was leaving. He knew He was about to be put to death and that this in itself would be a big blow to them. But He also knew He was going to take His life back up again, appear to them, and they leave them again until they met in eternity. All of these things would soon come to pass, and Jesus knew that they needed to hear these words, but more than that they needed to know the truth that they would not be left alone.

They were not being sent alone out into the world to face persecution and rejection while presenting the love of God to men. This was not something that they were to do on their own in remembrance of Him who was once with them. Rather, through the coming of the Spirit they would continue to know Him alive and abiding in them. In the fullness of God’s plan when the Son returned to the Father, the Father sent the Spirit. And while Christ was with them in human form, the Spirit would be in them forever. And as we read in Scripture the Father, Son, and Spirit are fully in each other. They are One.

With Jesus leaving the disciples were promised that God would be fully present in them through the Spirit, and in the Spirit they would be fully helped—enabled and empowered. The disciples, who in a unique way only to themselves, were the ones who were with Jesus. They walked, slept, and ate with Him. They knew Him in a way that no one else did, and when He left they were the ones who could tell of Him to everyone else. They were the ones that God would empower to build His church, and through the power of the Spirit they would be given all that they needed in order to do so. Even the things that they had been told, but did not put the pieces together concerning, the Spirit would bring to their remembrance and shine the light of understanding on. These are the men who would be there at Pentecost when the Spirit came upon all believers. These were the men who would see the initial large numbers of people come to faith in Christ. These are the men who would be the foundation of the church in which Jesus is the chief cornerstone. And these are the men who would write for us the Scriptures that we hold in our hands, as the Spirit moved through them as the Spirit moved through the prophets before.

They personally knew and loved Jesus in a way that no one else could claim, and from them the good news of salvation in Christ alone was to be spread. This is a monumental task, and it is one that was made possible because the Father sent the Spirit to forward what had been accomplished in the Son. These men were truly to be the eyewitnesses that would change the world.

The incredible thing is that the work of the Spirit did not end with them. Every single person who believes and is saved is at that time permanently indwelt by the Spirit and gifted by God for His service. The Spirit continues to open eyes so that people might be saved, and the Spirit continues to grow believers once they are saved. We are vessels chosen by God for His service.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fragrant – Love it or Hate it (John 15:18-25)

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’” (John 15:18–25, ESV)

Have any of you ever used the phrase “this stinks?” As Christians are supposed to stink. In the verses before these Jesus spoke of those who would find us an attractive aroma of love attracting them to the truth of Christ. In these verses Jesus deals with the sobering reality that we won’t smell this way to everyone. In fact, as followers of Christ who are committed to letting His light shine through us and His truth flow from our tongues there will be those who see us as repugnant as the infamous dead skunk in the middle of the road. These people are the ones who not only have no love for God, but they are strongly opposed to Him and find anything remotely reminding them of His as totally and absolutely offensive. It is these people who would rather not have to smell our smell again. They are very comfortable with the aroma befitting their own views.

In this light, as those who abide in Christ and Him in us we are not to be surprised when we are rejected because in reality they have already rejected Him. We are no better, and we should expect no better treatment. It is His light shining into this sin into this sin infested world that exposes it for what it is, and those who belong to the father of this world don’t want any light to color them different from how they view themselves. They think they have it just right and they don’t need help, and any efforts to show them how lost and needy they are just raise their ire.

Jesus told His disciples that they rejected Him without any cause, and that they should not expect to be treated any different. Jesus had been out among the Pharisees and the religious leaders and He had demonstrated the power of God through incredible works, and they rejected Him, and because of that they were to remain in judgment. Their only hope was to have their sinuses changed through softened hearts and opened eyes. Then and only them would the fragrance of Christ prove itself pleasing, and then would those who bear His aroma be found acceptable.

Paul wrote about how our fragrance is perceived in 2 Corinthians chapter 2 where we read, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, ESV)

How we smell to people really is not intended to be up to us. We are not to go about as men-pleasers, but as people commissioned by God who in His sight speak IN Christ in who we abide. How we smell then really has to do more with their spiritual acceptance than our brand of cologne or aftershave. To some we will truly become a pleasant aroma as they see and hear Christ in us. To others we will remains a stench as they continue to reject the One who remains as their judge. We are not snake oil salesmen, but ambassadors of the King.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, ESV) 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No Rotten Bananas (John 15:12-17)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12–17, ESV)

When I read these verses I am drawn back to one of my favorite Keith Green songs from the early 80’s. It is titled simply “Scripture Song Medley,” and I think one of the reasons it comes back so easily is that this is exactly what it is—a medley of favorite Bible passages strung together in a song of rejoicing. In the second stanza Keith sang that our joy would be full as we live out Jesus’ command to love one another. In the verses just before these Jesus had said we would find joy by abiding in Him and knowing His love, and here we are commanded to love others with the love we have known from Him. Our love is an outflow of the joy in our hearts knowing that God’s love for us will never fail and that He is faithful to work in and through us to accomplish His incredible work.

Particularly in these verses the focus is on our friendship with Christ and others. Jesus said that the greatest display of love is laying down one’s life for his friends, which is exactly what He did for us. But in doing this He also took it back up again so that we might have life in Him. Jesus commands us to love others with the love that He has shown to us—His love flowing in us as we abide in Him. We learn not to love as the world loves, but to love with the love of God, and God’s love is immensely powerful to bring about salvation and life.

We are not called to do this out of servitude or repaying a debt which in reality we never could repay. We are to love one another because God loves us. This is something that friends do, and they do this even when the other person might be acting unfriendly or it might be inconvenient or hard. Speaking to His disciples Jesus reminded them again that they did not choose Him, but He chose them. And the same is true for us. We read in Scripture that God chose us from before the foundation of the world. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:3–4, ESV)

And in choosing us we were chosen with a purpose that we might go out into the world and tell others of the love which God has shown to us. As we grow in Christ people will see that we are different. As we demonstrate the love of God to others people will see that we are different. And, as we tell them of the love of God people will have seen the difference and be presented with the truth of what made that difference. Jesus said that His disciples, and us as we read elsewhere, were chosen to go and bear fruit and that the fruit would remain or abide. What remains forever are saved people, also abiding in Christ.

It is because of God’s love for us that He sent His Son for the forgiveness of our sins, to seek and to save us who were hopelessly lost. And it is in response to the love of God that we go and do likewise, knowing that as we abide in Christ and walk in His love that He indeed will bring about fruit and that fruit truly will remain.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Abiding with the Joy of Christ (John 15:7-11)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:7–11, ESV)

Abiding in Christ’s words results in a life directed in truth. It is a life given to learning, trusting, and obeying what Jesus had to say and then following it fully. This is the example that Jesus set for us. He was with the Father and sent by the Father. What He said was what the Father gave Him to say and what He did was what the Father gave Him to do, and in this Jesus glorified the Father and the Father accomplished perfectly in the Son what He was sent to do. Jesus, the Son, was perfectly aligned with the will of the father and the Father did exactly what He intended in Him. Jesus’ love for the Father was proven by His attention to the will of the Father.

Having set this example and praying that we might be one in Him as He is one with the Father, Jesus again told His disciples that if they sought after Him and listened to His words, then the Father would do in them as He had done for the Son. As the Father works in incredible ways in them the Father is then glorified and they become living proof that He is real.

Jesus told His disciples that He loved them with the same love that the Father loved Him, and then He called them to live in that same love—to rest in it knowing that the love of God would never fail and that they would never be separated from it. Again coming back to the issue of actions resulting from abiding Jesus told them that their obedience to His direction was an outward proof of their inward treasure. This is how He responded to the Father, and how He called them to respond to Him.

All of this was told to them so that they would know His joy and that their joy might be full. This was not to say that being a Christian was a trial free life full of prosperity and amazing miracles, but one knowing that we are securely held by Him, and that as we seek after Him and listen to Him we will indeed be fruitful in what He has given us to do. As we lift our prayers to Him we know that He hears us because of the love of Christ in us, knowing that as God works in us He indeed will be glorified. Jesus found joy in doing the will of the Father, and in Him the Father was well pleased. Likewise, knowing the love of Christ for us it is to be our joy to give ourselves fully back to Him.

As simply as I can think to put it, because of the love of the Father for man and the Son’s love of the Father, the Son willingly and without reservation gave His life to pay the penalty for man’s sin and then took His life back up again to give us new life and a restored relationship with the Father. Because of the Son’s love for us and an our love for Him in response we hide His word in our hearts and follow Him fully with the joyful assurance of knowing that God will be glorified in us as well.

Knowing that man was not going to be able to do this on His own, Jesus also told His disciples that after He left the Father would send another (the Holy Spirit) to permanently indwell all who believe. In Galatians 5:22-25 we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22–25, ESV) Love, joy, and peace. All of these are things that God has shown us and things which the Spirit of God works in us. Walking this way is not something we muscle through, but the fruit of our abiding in Christ and giving ourselves fully to Him. Just as this passage says, we are to walk in step with the Spirit, setting aside the ways of the world, and resting in what the Spirit does in us. Paul wrote in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17, ESV)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Two Types of Branches (John 15:2-6)

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:2–6, ESV)

In verse 1 Jesus had said that He was the vine and His Father was the vinedresser. In verse 2 He adds to the picture that branches attached to the vine. In doing this He points to two different types of branches. The first group are those that do not bear fruit. These are the ones that do not have the life of the vine in them and consequently they remain dead despite any claims that they might make to the contrary. These are the ones that prove by their lack of fruit that they never really were a part of the vine. They never were in Christ who is that vine and they never garnered the nurturing attention of the vinedresser. In simple terms they never were saved and they never had a place, and their lack of fruit will be the proof, and the ultimate end is that they will be pruned and cast away.

The second group, however, represents those who have believed in Christ and are saved. These are the ones who place in Him (in the vine) is eternally secure and they will bear fruit. Their fruit-bearing is the outflow of who they are and who they belong to. The Spirit of God in them enlivens them and they will bear fruit.

Having fruit trees in my backyard is a constant reminder that they need attention. Abundant fruit does not happen automatically. It happens as a result of being tended to properly at all stages. It requires pruning out the suckers which take nutrients and energy away from the fruit bearing branches, and these branches require the constant flow of nourishment coming up through the trunk. In the believer this means that God takes away those things that get in the way, those things that are not reflective of who we are to be in Christ, and those things that hinder our growth. Anything that drains from our spiritual life is a branch that needs to be pruned. But the one thing we can be assured of is that there is a big difference between being a branch that is cut off and thrown away and a branch that is properly pruned so that it might bear more fruit. Both are uncomfortable, but one is permanent and the other brings growth.

Jesus continued to explain in the verses that followed just what this meant. He assured His disciples in verse 3 that they would remain just as He had already told them that they were clean. Sure they would have some pruning, but in their pruning they would continue to grow, flourish, and bear more and more fruit. The end of the rest that do not believe is that they are cut off and thrown into the heap to be burned with all of the rest. Looking to the end of the story as revealed in Revelation this truly is what will happen to them. Both groups of branches are real people making real choices. One choose to believe in the Son and are saved. The other refuse to believe and are cut off. God is not content letting dead branches slide into His presence, nor is He content letting live ones go unpruned. Some might find the pruning more difficult than others. As believers we are called not to live as if we are apart from the vine, as if we had our own source of nutrients, but as ones who constantly abide in Christ. In the verses that follow Jesus will talk more about the benefits of abiding in Him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

He Truly Is (John 15:1)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1, ESV)

John recorded for us seven claims to deity that Jesus made of Himself. The first of them was in John 6:35 where Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35, ESV) This statement was made the day after He divided the loaves and fish to feed five thousand men and an unnumbered amount of women and children. The religious leaders confronted Him demanding more to prove Him being sent by the Father. After all, He only fed them one times and God through Moses did it day after day, year after year for their entire time in the wilderness. They saw the works but they weren’t enough for some.

Later at the Feast of Booths on the last day while Jesus was likely standing at the foot of four seventy-five foot tall candelabras we read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12, ESV) The Jews had celebrated year after year the Feast of Booths and central to their celebration were those four ornate light stands towering above Jerusalem testifying to the God who made both day and night creating the sun, moon, and the stars and the God who led the people of Israel in the desert by a pillar of fire by night. They knew the many prophecies of God as light in whom there was no darkness, and even the words of Isaiah who said, No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. “Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane; for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be over.” (Isaiah 60:19–20, NASB95)

Later in John chapter 10, “So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7, ESV) … “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9, ESV) Jesus declared Himself the entrance by which sheep would enter their shelter. It is only through Him that anyone would receive salvation and a place to rest.

He went on in the next verses to also declare that not only was He the gate through which we gain entrance to God, but that He is also the good shepherd who was to lay down His life for His sheep. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, ESV) … “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,” (John 10:14, ESV)

In John chapter 11 after declaring that as the good shepherd that He would lay down His life, that He was also the resurrection. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25, ESV). Everyone who believes in Him, though physically they would die, like Him they would also live.

And then in chapter 14 Jesus declared that He is the only way, the full truth, the fullness of life, and the only way to come to the Father. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV)

Here in John chapter 15 Jesus makes another declaration about who He is. He is the true vine. There is none other, and the Father is the One who dresses it. In the next few verses Jesus went on to explain what this meant in more detail, but clearly (for now) anyone who believes Jesus to be a mere man who was a good prophets has quite a conundrum to solve. Having said all of these things about Himself if any of them were wrong then He was hardly a prophet. At best He was greatly deceived as a fool or an incredible liar. As crazy as it might seem to some, He was neither of the last two. Everything He said came to pass just as the Scriptures declared and was proven by His resurrection.

Jesus did not say “I might be.” He said “I am,” and it is up to each individual to accept Him as truth or suffer the eternal consequence of rejecting Him as something else. This was the problem with the religious leaders. It did not matter what He said or did, they would not believe Him and Jesus told them in very clear words that they were to remain in judgment as a result. There is no other option.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

“My Peace I Give” (John 14:27-31)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” (John 14:27–31, ESV)

John 14:27 is an amazing verse. It is one of incredible encouragement to us reading it on this side of the resurrection of Christ knowing that He is at the right hand of the Father and that the Father has sent the Spirit to indwell every individual believer forever and to be with His church. But for the disciples this same verse was quickly followed by the words, “Rise, let us go from here.” 

Jesus had told His disciples that He was leaving and that He was not going to leave them as orphans, but that after He left the Father would send the Spirit and that they would do even greater things. He had told them that though He was leaving it would not be the last time He would see them. He would come again, and He was also going to prepare a place for them where they would be with Him forever. I can only imagine the tenderness with which He spoke to these men whom He loved, and how He tried to assure them in every way that what was about to happen was not going to be the end, but really in many ways just the beginning.

In today’s passage Jesus tells His disciples that while it might be hard for them, think of the joy that He would regain by returning to the presence of the Father. The task for which He was sent would be completed and He would return to where He eternally belongs. In their sorrow, think of His joy, but also think of what greater things might be accomplished. 

All of this He told them so that when it does happen they would know that it was all true, even the things which they would have yet to see. It all happened just as He said. It all happened just as the prophets had spoken. Everything that they learned was true, and they could go forward with great confidence. This was going to be of particular importance to them because the times to come were going to become increasingly more difficult. With Jesus leaving there was going to come another who would seek to tear down everything He came to accomplish. Jesus referred to him here as the “ruler of this world.” He would work with great tenacity to destroy the church and to silence every follower of Christ. He was and is none other than Satan who is still at work today.

Jesus also told them that Satan had no claim on Him. He was far and above him, and in fact we know from Scripture that he has to answer to Him and will even be eternally cast away by Him. But there was going to be a season where he would rule and those who followed after Christ were going to have to suffer many of the same things that He suffered. For this reason it was critically important for them to know that what Jesus had told them was true—every single word. When things got tough they were being made ready to stand knowing that they were on solid ground in Him.

The same is true for Christians today where the persecution they suffer is the rejection of family, the chastisement of co-workers, the judgment of governments, and even their own physical suffering and death. All of these are the result of an enemy who is currently ruling the earth. God is not the author of evil, but He is sovereign over the evil one. He will bring his reign to an end in His time when He accomplishes all that He intends through it—which is the salvation of man.

The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:10–13, ESV)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

True Spiritual Insight (John 14:25-26)

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25–26, ESV)

Jesus had not yet gone to the cross. He had not yet been resurrected and left His disciples, and they did not really understand what was to lie ahead. Nor did they understand many of the things that He had said about things that had not yet happened. But Jesus knew that once He left them to return to the Father that they were going to need some answers and some help putting all of the pieces together in relation to what they had seen. Knowing this He told His disciples that the Holy Spirit was going to come sent by the Father in the name of Jesus to help them with all of these things.

In particular with the disciples this was going to be critical because they were the ones chosen by Jesus to get things going after He left. They were the ones who spent time with Jesus and who would be relied upon to communicate what they had seen and heard. And they were the ones even who were going to be used to record even for us today the very word of God.

This function of the Spirit is particularly noticeable in the study of John’s gospel as he regularly inserted commentary about things that were going to happen but had not yet happened when he wrote of what Jesus said and did. Later in the same evening Jesus told His disciples, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26–27, ESV) And then He said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7, ESV)

Being with Him they were seeking to understand, but there was going to be a time when they would see things much more clearly through the work of the Holy Spirit. They would truly know why Jesus came and would be charged with sharing that message with others. They were to be the primary witnesses to whom many would listen and be saved. They would be the foundation upon which His church is built.

Paul wrote in Ephesians, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)

The Spirit would work through Jesus’ chosen disciples to build His church and to record His Word. Peter tells us, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21, ESV) and Paul wrote to Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed. The Greek word used is theopneustos. When I first saw this word I didn’t need to open a Greek dictionary. I immediately thought of tools I had used which were powered by air—pneumatic tools, and I saw the prefix “theo” and I knew that the word of God was literally God breathed or breathed out by God. Just as Peter had said, these men were carried along by the Spirit. And in order for all of this to happen the Spirit had to come.

While we subsequently are not those use by God to write His word because we weren’t there from the beginning like His disciples or even Paul who was personally confronted by Christ, we do have the same Spirit in us and the Spirit brings the word of God to life for us. The write of Hebrews wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)

The ministry of the Spirit is vast and this is only a small glimpse, but this glimpse sets the foundation for what we know. It was through the work of the Spirit that these chosen men of God built upon the work of Christ and laid for us the foundation of our faith and it is the Spirit who gives us understanding such that we believe also.

“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:16–17, ESV)