Archive for August, 2021
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
We are not surprised that the One who is the true vine (v.1), the “Real Deal,” would remove that which is an unproductive pretender. What might shock us, however, is the pruning done upon that which is already bearing fruit. While it might seem unnecessary, or even counterproductive, the reality is that the trials, challenges, and hardships of this life have a transformational impact; lessening our reliance upon, and trust in, the things of this world; reshaping our perspective on what’s really important; trimming away the unproductive temporal things, that fruitful eternal things might abound all the more.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1).
In the Old Testament there are numerous references to Israel as a vine. Jesus, however, holds himself forth as the fulfillment of all things Israel; that he is the real deal. That he is the true vine becomes, in John’s gospel, the seventh and final “I am” declaration regarding himself. In each of the previous predicate associations offered by Jesus—bread, light, gate, good shepherd, resurrection and life, way, truth, and life—he is holding himself forth as the very one anticipated by the prophets of old. Only by embracing him as the real deal do we become real disciples.
“For as a man thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7).
The wisdom of God’s word predates the power of positive thinking or any such psychological offerings. The practical reality of the life of faith is that it’s actualized only as we make it the center of our thought processes. This is why Solomon would counsel us to guard our hearts, for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). The focal point of one’s life becomes, ultimately, the birthing place of one’s activity.
“If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:22)!
One of the struggles we face is allowing God to be God. Most often we presume upon God and impose upon him our own expectations, desires, and sense of justice. God’s ways, however, are not our ways and his ways are often mysterious and counterintuitive. As his purposes are unfolding the charge to us is a continuing obedience in following after him.
“But so that the world may know that I love Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let’s go from here” (Matthew 14:31).
As his trial and crucifixion looms near, and as his final teaching time with the disciples draws to a close, Jesus’ words reveal that the life of faith, and the missions ministry entrusted to us, cannot be accomplished in upper rooms, mountaintops, or sanctuaries. While such places might offer occasions of great inspiration for God’s people, these places do not offer a living witness for the world to see. For this to occur, our love for the Father, and the faith we espouse, must move from the inspiration of the sanctuary to the desperation of the streets.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful” (John 14:27).
Any sense of peace that the world might offer is an illusion. Since the sin of Adam, and the corruption of the created order, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a single day in human history when there was an absence of war. Through his abiding presence, what Jesus offers isn’t an absence of war, but a prevailing sense of peace, and well-being, regardless of the circumstances warring against you. Everything God is accomplishing is on the other side of your present circumstances. Upon that truth, you can find rest.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
The disciples have no context for the things Jesus has been telling them regarding his departure. On the basis of their belief that he was the Messiah, and having left everything to follow after him—homes, families, careers—his leaving is the most grievous and unsettling news they could have received. Though they can’t yet see it, Jesus going away gains them far more than does his staying. Only by his going can we experience the receiving of the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit would not only “connect the dots,” and make understandable all the things he had been trying to teach them, but his abiding presence enables all disciples to speak clearly of their relationship with him in ways that are timely and appropriate.
“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, what has happened that You are going to reveal Yourself to us and not the world’” (John 14:22).
His is a fair question: “Why aren’t you telling more people about all the things you’re making known to the eleven of us?” With the benefit of hindsight, we understand the strategic intent of Jesus in a way they could not. By his returning to the Father, and the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, these disciples, and all those coming after them, would bear exponential witness to the Gospel of Christ and the redemptive purposes of God, far beyond what he could have accomplished during his limited lifetime. Did it work? The eleven would become 120 at a pre-Pentecost prayer meeting, with 3000 added to the church after Pentecost, and within the first generation of the apostolic church, the entire Mediterranean world, geographically, had been reached with the gospel. It worked, and is still working. We are his revealers today.
“The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him” (John 14:21).
While admonitions to “keep” and “do” are pervasive throughout scripture, and capture the ethical implications of being an authentic follower of Christ and lover of God, we should not hear in such verses an undoing of the ones affirming God’s love for the world; that his love is conditional or performance-based. While God’s desire is that all might be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), the reality is, the majority will reject, ignore, or remain indifferent to his loving offer of eternal life. Surely, for such as these, his heart is broken. Even so, he rejoices when it is gladly received and, in these, he is able to offer so much more.
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22).
Knowing that the missional task of being the presence of Christ in the world cannot be accomplished by even the most determined of human efforts, Jesus breathed his living Spirit into the disciples. What God the Father did in his initial act of creation (Genesis 2:7), God the Son has done in making us a new creation.