Friday, June 29, 2012

John 16:12-15

In these next verse we will see what I believe is the most amazing aspect of the Holy Spirit’s role - to lead us into truth. Jesus is giving his last instructions before being arrested and crucified. They still don’t get everything. But as noted by Jon Courson in his commentary, Jesus is not frustrated or worried by that, because He is resting in the work of the Holy Spirit:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth - just like Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life. He is NOT a spirit of a truth but the Spirit of THE Truth. He is the one who leads us into truth, who draws us to Christ and reveals just who Jesus is in all of His glory.

Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)

This passage from John and the verse from 1 Corinthians should comfort us and help us rest in regards to those we love who have not yet committed their lives to Christ. It is NOT our clever persuasive arguments, or the mountains of academic evidence we quote, or the great tapes and books we share with our unbelieving family and friends that will convince them of Jesus’ identity. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to reveal Christ. It is His JOB - it is what He longs to do, because God so loved the WORLD (John 3:16) and He is not willing that ANY should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

You are not your husband’s or son’s personal Holy Spirit. Your job is to pray for them and to live out your life before them in such a way that they can see the difference in you. Then it is the Holy Spirit who closes the deal! He’s the One who seals us to God (Ephesians 1:13-14). He will pursue your loved one, because He loves your husband and your children more than you do!

Another aspect of this promise, as it specifically applied to the disciples, is that the Holy Spirit is the One who would remind them of all they had seen and heard. He would bring back to their minds the exact words Jesus spoke, so that they could record Jesus’ ministry in the New Testament for us. So we can trust their testimony. And while all of the Bible is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16-17), each book bears the personality of its author. Each gospel was written with a different audience in mind and with a specific focus. John tells us right at the beginning and then again at the end of his gospel that he has written his in order that we might BELIEVE. That’s why John’s gospel is such a great place to start for the beginner.

So, in this passage of John, Jesus, instead of wringing His hands worrying that they still did not “get it,” is releasing the disciples to the care of the Holy Spirit. Exactly what we need to do with those with love.

I’m heading to Washington, DC, tomorrow night, so I will be absent for a while. I will still be checking and sending out emails as necessary, so let me know if you have prayer requests.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

John 16:8-11 Revisited

"When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:  in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;  in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;  and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (John 16:8-11)

Last week we started to look at the role of the Holy Spirit, and we focused last time on the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of the sin of unbelief. Today I wanted to look at the other two areas of conviction: in regard to righteousness and judgment.

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to reveal to us the righteousness of Christ. We would like to think that we are fairly righteous, wouldn’t we? Before I came to Christ I hoped that God would grade on a curve. I figured I wasn’t too bad compared to others around me - I didn’t do anything blatantly wrong like murder (although I surely committed character assassination through gossip), and I didn’t commit adultery (although I loved to read romance novels and watch TV shows in which other people did). I wasn’t Mother Theresa, but I also wasn’t part of the Manson family! I was fairly certain God would take me!

But when I met Christ, the Holy Spirit showed me that all my righteousness was like filthy rags. The standard of holiness that God had set was HIS holiness. I didn’t even come close! My pastor once talked about how our trying to reach God on our own efforts would be like trying to swim to Hawaii from the California coast. Some of us would swim only a few feet out before drowning. Others could go out for maybe hundreds of feet. Some Olympic swimmers could maybe go for several miles before they drowned. However not one of us could make it all the way to Hawaii! It’s the same with our own futile attempts to reach the Father. There is NO way to reach Him in our own efforts. Only Christ met the standard of righteousness, so that when He died on the Cross in our place, His sacrifice was accepted, and God raised Him from the dead as proof. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, His righteousness coveing us.

Jon Courson points out that not one other figure in all of history has been resurrected and ascended to the Father: not Ghandi, not Buddha, not Mohammed - no one else - not even Mother Theresa! Jesus alone is the Righteous One. And only the Holy Spirit can reveal that to us (1 Cor 12:3).

Finally, in this passage, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit also convicts the world of the judgment of Satan, the prince of this world. Satan’s doom is sure! He was defeated at the Cross. He is still creating havoc and often appears to be winning, but the Holy Spirit reminds us that the truth is that Satan will soon be completely destroyed when Christ returns. Hallelujah! That IS good news! We sometimes think of Satan as the opposite of God, with equal power in a struggle against God. But Satan is just a created being. He is NOT omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. He is limited by God in his powers. But because he deals in the spiritual realm and has his demon helpers, he exerts his power over the earth - and particularly over unbelievers.

God, who is in us, is greater than Satan. We belong to God, and Satan cannot have us. He can try to oppress and defeat us, but he does not own us. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to reveal that truth to us and to make us aware of Satan’s attempts to lie to us. We are in a spiritual warfare and we have been given all of the tools we need to fight it. We need to rely on the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to recognize the enemy and to know when and how to use these weapons. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

There is still more to the Holy Spirit’s work, and we’ll look at that this week.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

John 16:5-11

Today is the last day of school for our district. It has been such a long year, filled with grief and many challenges for our staff. We will be saying goodbye to several beloved teachers/staff who are retiring. And I will be sending off to middle school thirty students, some of whom are not quite ready. It’s an exciting day, but it’s also mixed with sadness at the parting and a bit of regret that I could not do more for some of my students. How I wish I could give them the hope and encouragement that Jesus gives His disciples as He prepares them for His parting from them. We are going to spend some time in these next verses to try to grasp the importance of what Jesus is saying:

“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:  in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;  in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;  and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (John 16:5-11)

The bad news? Jesus was leaving them. The really good news? The Holy Spirit would be coming to live inside them! Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit’s job among the world will be to convict men - first of their guilt of the sin of unbelief. Jon Courson reminds us in his commentary that this is really the only sin that the Holy Spirit will work on in an unbeliever. He doesn’t convict them of their smoking, swearing, drinking, or sexual sin. No, the only sin that truly matters for an unbeliever is their unbelief! 

Now, as believers we DO get convicted of other sins in our lives that the Holy Spirit will help us to overcome, because He wants to complete the work begun in us and to transform us more and more into the image of God. However, He does this conviction gently, because His goal is always to draw us to the Father - not drive us away. And that’s the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of Satan. Satan wants to condemn us and make us feel so loaded down with guilt that we cannot lift our heads to look up to God. He wants us to stop praying and to stay out of God’s Word and the fellowship of other believers.

If you are feeling completely unworthy of God’s love or attention, to the point that you can no longer bring yourself to pray, you are NOT feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit. You are being oppressed by the condemnation of Satan. If the joy of your salvation is gone, it is not because God has moved away. You have allowed Satan, the liar, to whisper words of discouragement in your ear. Maybe he’s telling you that you are a mess - too big of a failure to ever change; or maybe he’s encouraging you with the lie that you are a victim of others and you have every right to hold onto your anger and unforgiveness. Those are NOT the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

Who has your ear today? Are you feeling drawn to God or are you wanting to run in the other direction? If you are an unbeliever, and have never committed your life to Christ, the Holy Spirit is going to come after you and will continue to convict you of your sin of unbelief, because He wants to bring you home to the Father. THEN He will begin the sometimes painful work of transforming you. If you are a believer who is feeling oppressed or depressed, sinking in a dark hole, listen to the Holy Spirit. He wants to draw you TO God. He is our hope, our comforter, and our encourager. We’ll look at some of His other roles tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m praising God for another year of teaching, and I’m committing my 30 students to His care, and praying that He will follow them to middle school and continue His work in their lives!  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

John 15:26-27; 16:1-4

Jesus is preparing the disciples for what lies ahead so they won’t be overcome by discouragement when they are persecuted. They have just heard from Him that, rather than be heroes to the world, as followers of the Messiah they will be hated. These men were not educated orators, so they would surely be intimidated about public speaking even if they thought they were going to be well-received. But now they learn that their ministry will be even more daunting. They might have been thinking, “There is no way we can do this!” But Jesus now assures them that He will not be leaving them alone and helpless:

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. 

“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.  They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you. (John 15:26-27; 16:1-4)

The Father would be sending the Holy Spirit to these men , and the Spirit would first testify to them and to the world about Jesus, then these disciples would also give their testimonies. In fact, Jesus says they must testify! And what kind of reception would their testimony receive? They would be cast out of the fellowship of the synagogue and hunted down! This is exactly what Paul did before he met Christ. He thought he was doing God’s work by tracking down and even killing Christians.

I don’t know about you, but being told I might die, would not make me want to sign up for this gig! But Jesus does not come to us with false promises or claims. He spells out the cost of discipleship so that these men (and we) would not be discouraged when the trials come.

One of the things I tell my fifth graders to prepare them for middle school is that they will ALL be going through a rough period during those years. There isn’t one kid, no matter how popular or good looking, who doesn’t have days of feeling awkward and ugly and alone. All students going through those years feel insecure about how they look, and they are sure no one could possibly like them. And the result is that they are sometimes sullen and mean! I don’t want these kids to think they are weird when they feel these emotions; these feelings are normal. I want them to be prepared ahead of time.

On a much larger scale, Jesus wants the disciples prepared for what they will be facing when they go out and testify. Their new “normal” won’t be easy! Proclaiming Christ requires boldness and strength that we just don’t have without the help of the Holy Spirit. Next, He will lay out in more detail just how the Holy Spirit will work through them. Let’s lean in and listen!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

John 15:22-25

It’s hard to imagine someone HATING Jesus. Hate is a pretty strong word. Yet, Jesus says this is what those who reject Him do. And when you think about it, what other name causes such discomfort and controversy? If you were at a dinner party and brought up the name of any other religious leader, you would probably find at least curiosity and a willingness to hear about that leader. But when you mention the name of Jesus, most people get very uncomfortable or even offended. Jesus tells the disciples that those who have heard of Him and rejected Him hate Him and the Father both - and those people are found guilty because of it:

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ ” (John 15:22-25)

Once someone has been introduced to the gospel, they have no excuse for rejecting Christ. In fact, Paul insists that anyone who sees all of the evidence of God in creation and still rejects God is guilty, regardless of whether or not he has heard of Jesus (this takes care of the argument, “But what about the native in Africa who has never heard about Christ?”):

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:20-23)

But the ones Jesus is talking about here in John’s gospel DID see His miracles. They saw Him feed the five thousand, heal lepers and the lame, and restore sight to the blind. They saw Him raise the dead! Yet they hated Jesus! Jesus wants His disciples to know that when they go out into all the world to preach the good news, many people will not think it’s so “good,” and will hate them and persecute them. He doesn’t want them to be surprised and, therefore, discouraged by rejection. Jesus is telling them to count the cost of following Him. There WILL be rejection and downright hostility.

This doesn’t sound like much of a pep talk! However, tomorrow we will begin the “upside” of this final lesson He’s teaching them on His way to the cross. So, don’t be discouraged if after you have committed your life to Christ that life doesn’t get easier, but even more difficult. When you align yourself with Christ you put yourself in the line of fire. The world, which currently is under the domain of the “prince of this world,” Satan, will hate you, because it hates Christ. The good news? You have the God of the universe on your side, and His Holy Spirit living within you! But that’s tomorrow’s lesson...

Monday, June 18, 2012

John 15:18-21

After a wonderful lesson about the need to love one another, Jesus delivers a warning about hate:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." (John 15:18-21)

Jesus is warning the disciples that they can expect the same treatment He receives from the world. Don’t be surprised when the world hates you and persecutes you; they hated and persecuted our LORD, as well. In fact, our identification with Christ assures that many will hate us. The key to this is that it is our relationship to Christ, not our own obnoxious behavior that is the cause of the persecution. Some people believe the conflict they are experiencing with others is due to their stand for righteousness, when in reality they are coming up against persecution just because of their judgmental attitude, their hypocritical behaviors, or their abrasive personalities. So we first need to check our own behaviors.

However, if you have truly asked the LORD to check your heart, and you are still suffering persecution for standing up for Christ, you can take courage from the fact that Jesus promised this would be the case. And that is because our battle is not with the people persecuting us - it is not personal - it is spiritual. There is a struggle going on all around us, as Paul confirmed:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

So when we find ourselves in the midst of it, what should our attitude be? Should we be whining, depressed, defeated? No, Jesus told us we should rejoice, for persecution is a blessing:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

As ambassadors for Christ, we are going to face the hatred of the world. We are not to answer in kind, but repay evil and insults with blessings, seek and pursue peace, and commit ourselves to God and continue to do good. (2 Peter 2:9,11; 2 Peter 4:19) Being persecuted hurts! Our natural response is to feel overwhelmed and to desire retribution. But Jesus has lovingly warned us beforehand that this will happen, and He commands us to act in faith, not react in defensiveness. This requires a supernatural response, which is only possible when we commit ourselves to our faithful Father, who remains in control at all times. He promises to bring good out of it - eternal good and glory to His name. Hallelujah!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

John 15:13-17

I am a very social creature! I love being around people, and I have always enjoyed having many friends. I have friends from my childhood whom I treasure, even though I rarely see them. I have cherished friends from the child-raising years, with whom I have shared glorious experiences as we have watched our children go from wearing diapers to changing their own children’s diapers. I have friends from my 20 years of teaching who are like family. And I have been blessed to call many of the parents in my classroom friends long after the students have left my classroom.

Among these there is a smaller group of very close friends with whom I will cry and pray. There is an intimacy in these friendships that comes from a common commitment to Jesus Christ. We care about each other, we listen to each other, and we will both rejoice and mourn together. We hold each other accountable. We want the best for each other, and we are very careful how we advise each other. We try to encourage each other through God’s Word. Friends do that for each other. That’s why I marvel that Jesus would call me His friend! The Creator of the universe, the Almighty God, the Holy One calls me friend! Amazing!

In today’s passage, Jesus shows how much He cherishes His relationship with His disciples, but it also applies to us today:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit —fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:13-17)

Jesus is saying that we can be assured of this intimate relationship with Him, because He has shared with us all that He has learned from the Father. This sharing of God’s Word is the basis of our friendship. It is what sets us apart from mere acquaintances. We don’t just have a wave-from-across-the-street relationship with Christ. He sits with us and reveals the heart of the Father as He makes known to us God’s Truth.

And how extraordinary that He is the one who initiates this relationship. He chose us! Why did He choose us? To go and bear eternal fruit! He wants us to multiply what He’s done within our lives by sharing it with others. He wants us to reach out to a world that is dying and give out the same hope that we have found in Him. His intention is that we grow (bearing internal fruit of the Spirit), and that we reproduce that in others.

Doing that is risky! We risk rejection every time we try to share Him with someone. The world doesn’t want to hear the message. Next week we will see that Jesus also guaranteed that rejection would come with the fruit-bearing! Not everyone wants to be His friend.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

John 15:9-13

Having just explained the need for the disciples to remain in Him and in His Word, Jesus now gives them another command :

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John15:9-12)

We know that the Apostle John was greatly influenced by this teaching. His writings are full of the importance of loving one another. His first letter is filled with exhortations to love as God first loved us. Christ impressed on His disciples that to love is an action of obedience, not a feeling. Feelings come and go; they can be influenced by what we’ve eaten, how much sleep we’ve gotten, or by an offhanded remark. We cannot trust our emotions to be the barometer of what we need to do.

This is so very clear in a marriage. That rush of emotion and elation that you feel in the first days of your relationship and marriage (notice I said “days”), is quickly gone when you have your first fight. And in a marriage, over the years, there is so much to fight about: children (whether to have them, how to discipline them, who gets to do the homework with them...); finances; sex; sharing chores; whose family to visit on Christmas day; etc.

In a culture that is obsessed with external looks and material possessions, it is so easy to be lead by our feelings about our spouse. The looks go downhill pretty quickly and resentments build during times of financial stress. So, if we judge the security and rightness of our marriage by how we’re feeling, we’ll be tempted to jump ship over and over. That’s why Jesus makes it clear here that loving is a decision to obey His command, not an emotion. It’s a commitment to trust and obey Him.

And the reality is that when we obey, the feelings often follow. I love what Jon Courson says about how this decision to love will turn around our emotions in a marriage: “Guys, maybe you’ve lost your feelings for your wife. Treat her like a treasure, and your emotions will follow because Jesus taught that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” (Courson, P. 566)

Now your issue may not be with your spouse, but with the person sitting next to you at church or the coworker in the next cubby or classroom. Imagine how that relationship might change if we treated that person like a treasure! Jesus promised in these verses we’re looking at this morning that if we obey His command to love, God’s love will remain in us; it will overflow - and, the bonus: our joy will be complete! (vs.11) If we want an abundant, fruitful life, we must love one another as Jesus loved us. (vs.12)

 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (vs. 13)

This is the key to this commandment! Die! Jon Courson, in discussing this verse, refers to John Knox and how he lead revival in Scotland:

“An entire nation was revived when John Knox prayed, ‘Lord, give me Scotland, or I die.’ But what many people do not know is what Knox wrote concerning the answer to that prayer. The Lord responded in his heart, saying, ‘First die, then I’ll give you Scotland.’ ” (Courson, P.566)

If we want to have a good marriage or relationships with others, we MUST DIE to our own needs and desires first! Jesus is commanding us to lay down “self” if we want to experience complete joy! If your relationship with your spouse is going south, one of you needs to take that first step of obedience. Guess who that will need to be?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

John 15:5-8

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8)

Continuing with the analogy of the vine, Jesus presses home the point that, as disciples of Christ, we should be producing fruit. In fact, we should produce MUCH fruit, because it glorifies God. Jesus makes it clear that unless we are connected to Him, the Vine, and remaining in Him through the study of His Word, we will produce no fruit of eternal value. We all understand that if we cut off a branch from a lemon tree, that branch will quickly shrivel up and die. There will be no lemons growing on that branch. Apart from the lemon tree, it is dead and of no value for growing fruit. So, when we take ourselves away from God’s Word, we remove ourselves from the Vine that nurtures us. We, too, whither and “die” inwardly.

While driving to and from meetings yesterday, I happened to hear Pastor Skip Heitzig on the radio, teaching about the importance of God’s Word to our growth and relationship with Christ. He used an example from 2 Peter 1:16-19 in which Peter makes a defense for the truth of scripture. Peter reminds his audience that he was an eyewitness of Christ’s majesty, specifically at the Transfiguration, when Jesus shone in His glory as He talked with Moses and Elijah.

That had to be the highlight of Peter’s experiences with Jesus while Jesus walked the earth. Talk about a mountaintop experience! Peter saw Jesus shining like the sun, and he heard the Father’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17). Yet, as wonderful as that experience was, Peter is able to proclaim that “We have also [in addition to the testimony of eyewitnesses] a more sure word of prophecy.” In other words, as great as his experience was, experiences fade. However, God’s Word abides forever! Staying connected to Christ, the Vine, through the study of His Word, has more lasting value to us than any of our experiences. What we learn by abiding in His Word remains with us. It accomplishes what God intends for it to accomplish in our lives: fruit is produced.

What exactly is the fruit of God? Well, it’s certainly the harvesting of souls for Christ. But it is also the fruit of our character, as laid out by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Last night we attended the kindergarten graduation of my grandson, Colin. As his teacher presented each child, she honored them for the spiritual traits that they displayed, including these spiritual fruit Paul mentioned. As she “blessed” each child, she emphasized the eternal value of these traits. There wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary!

Surely when we read God’s Word, these traits become more and more a part of who we are, as we are transformed by His Word. Don’t we all want more eternal fruit displayed on our branches? There is only one way that will happen: we must abide in or remain in Christ. Keep meeting Him in the morning to feed on His Word. It is God’s will that we produce this fruit, so we know that when we pray for an abundance of fruit, God will surely answer!  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John 15:1-4

Jesus and His eleven disciples have left the Upper Room and as they walk toward the Mount of Olives, He continues to teach them. Here He makes His final “I Am” statement:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4)

This is such a well-known analogy that Jesus uses here. Just as He is the only true way to the Father, here He affirms that He is the only true vine. Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: New Testament, argues that Jesus uses the word “true” here to affirm to the disciples that it is NOT Judaism or any religion, it’s Him! He is the true vine. The disciples would soon be barred from the synagogue and persecuted by the Jewish leaders. They needed to know that being connected to Jesus, the true vine, was the only relationship they needed.

Jesus tells them that every branch that does not bear fruit will be “cut off” by the Father. I had heard this before, but I was glad to read it in Jon Courson’s commentary as well: the Greek word airo, translated “cut off,” has four meanings: lift up; pull up; raise up; take away. Courson says it is used in John 11:41, where Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven, and in Luke 17, where the people lift up their voices. The Greek word translated “prunes” is kathairo, which is usually translated as “cleanse.” Courson’s point in making these distinctions is that often branches that were so heavy with fruit that they would be laying in the mud. The vinedresser needed to lift these branches up, give them support, and cleanse them of the mud.

Courson writes: “In this analogy, in keeping with the flow logically, what Jesus is saying is, ‘I lift the downtrodden branch; I wash the contaminated fruit. How? Through the Word.’ You’re clean through the Word. Gang, how do you bear more fruit? ... How do w get our live cleaned up? How does more fruit come? Fruit comes by a commitment to the Word, and by staying in the Word.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P.563)

There are other references in the Bible to our being washed or cleansed by the Word (Psalm 119, Ephesians 5). The idea is that it is only by staying in God’s Word, Jesus that we are lifted up, cleansed, and bear more fruit. Many of you could testify to the fact that your life has been completely transformed through your study of God’s Word. This is really the point of this chapter!

Jesus is trying to prepare these disciples for what is ahead. He emphasizes the absolute necessity of staying connected to Him, the only true vine, by remaining in His Word. It is what feeds our spirit and changes us. When you are faced with challenges, where do you go to seek counsel? Do you get it from your coworkers or girlfriends who are not Christians? Do you seek advise from the latest self-help books or from Oprah or Dr. Oz? As disciples of Christ, our first place to seek counsel must be God’s Word itself. It is the only place where we are guaranteed to find Truth! Even well-meaning believers can offer us advise that is skewed (think of Peter trying to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem).

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the fruit that Jesus speaks of here. Don’t you want to be more fruitful? Me, too!  

Friday, June 8, 2012

John 14 Recap of the Promises

I just can’t leave this chapter without reviewing all that was promised here. Just as Jesus meant to encourage and prepare His eleven disciples with these words, they have surely encouraged us! So let’s look back at the highlights of this Upper Room discourse. Jesus started and ended this discourse with the command, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” How would that be possible?

First, because He was going to to prepare a place for them/us. Heaven is a PLACE. It is not a state of mind, nor a warm fuzziness within you. It is an actual place that is promised to Jesus’ followers. And even now Jesus is setting up our personal place and role within it.

He’s coming back! Jesus promised in this chapter that He would return to take us to heaven to be with Him. That may happen collectively at the Rapture of the Church, or it may happen individually at the moment of our death. Either way, He’s coming for us!

He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life - the ONLY way to the Father. He’s also the way where there seems no way. He is the answer to our marital problems, to our heartaches, to our financial burdens, to everything that so easily besets us! His words are Truth, because they come from the Father. We can trust His promises! Where we were dead in our sin, He has given us new life.  We are new creations in Christ.

Because He returned to the Father’s right hand, He has sent to us the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts, counsels, leads us into truth, convicts us of sin, brings God’s Word to life in our hearts, and brings it to mind when we need it. He empowers us to live the life of obedience that is the evidence of a true believer. He changes us from the inside out, showing us where we need to check our attitudes and enabling us to do so.

Jesus gives us a peace that passes all understanding in the midst of great turmoil and sorrow. It has nothing to do with our circumstances. In fact it is steady in spite of our circumstances, because it is supernatural. Oh, the riches that are ours in Christ! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

John 14:28-31

Jesus ends this Upper Room discourse much like a good coach would. You can almost see them all huddled in a circle while the coach gives His final inspiration and charge! Note His final words in this chapter:

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.  I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me,  but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. 

“Come now; let us leave.” (John 14:28-31)

Jesus assures the disciples that His leaving them is actually a good thing. He lets them know that His return to the Father is part of the plan, because the Father’s plan is much bigger than anything they could conceive. How gracious Jesus was to prepare these men for what was coming that very night. It would appear to many, including the dejected disciples, that Satan had won when Jesus hung on the cross. But Jesus declares here that his death was imperative to show the world His great love for the Father and His commitment to obedience in all things.

Paul writes of our need to imitate Christ’s attitude by emptying ourselves of our own desires and serving others with humility:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.   
And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    and became obedient to death

        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)

Jesus began this evening with the disciples by washing their feet - being the example of the humble servant-leader. He ended it with a charge, “Come now; let us leave.” This is where the coach and the team put their hands in the center of the circle in unity and raise them with a shout out. “Okay, now - let’s get out there and do this thing!”

I feel like Jesus has been telling me all week, “Get your eyes off of your circumstances. Keep them focused intently on me and just do what I ask of you.” Several of you have encouraged me with some great verses or messages of love this week! Yesterday, my dear friend Pammie (Royce’s grandmother), sent me an email urging me to read Psalm 37. I could not believe it! It is the perfect message just for me (read it!). Pammie did not know that I have always called Psalm 37:3 my “mental health” verse, because it states the very thing we need to do when we are discouraged or in a pit of depression: “Trust in the LORD and do good.” In other words, know and believe that God is still on the throne. He sees what is happening, so you can cast that burden on Him, then get out there and start serving others - because it’s NOT ABOUT YOU! :)

I’m pumped after this great encouragement from my LORD! Jesus is saying, “Come now; let us leave.” Leave the doubt; leave the anger; leave the hurt; leave the fear - whatever it is that is plaguing you - and get out there! I’m ready, are you? :)  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

John 14:25-27

My heart has been very troubled this week, so I felt like I’d just been bathed in comfort when I read this morning’s verses:

“All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:25-27)

Having had three years living with and learning from Jesus in person, can you imagine how difficult it was for the disciples to hear Jesus tell them that He was leaving them? I can feel the panic and despair and inner turmoil. “What will we do now?” “I didn’t sign up for this - leaving everything and everyone behind just to be abandoned!” How scary that uncertainty would be for them. But Jesus was promising them in these verses that they would NEVER be abandoned! The Counselor, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit would be coming to live with them and IN them!

And the Holy Spirit would continue to teach them “all things,” and would bring back to their minds everything Jesus had said. He would confirm every promise of God over and over to them. Therefore, Jesus could assure them that He was NOT leaving them in turmoil. They would know peace! Specifically, His peace would be nothing like what the world parades as peace (financial security, marriage, lack of conflict, bliss). His peace would be steady and ever-present in the midst of trials and persecution that they had yet to experience.

I like the tie-in of peace to the promise that the Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of everything Jesus had said while with them. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to bring us peace in the midst of trials. It’s in the heart of trouble when we are reminded of and cling to God’s promises that have been tucked away in our hearts or that are given to us through others. I have been astonished this week by the verses that have been coming at me through posts on facebook or through devotional emails that I’ve received! Over and over God has confirmed in my heart that He is with me, that He is in control, and and that He loves me!

He has also made it very clear where I need to believe Him. I need to relax in the peace His promises give me.

I know that many of you are also in the midst of great turmoil. Everything around you is filled with conflict, uncertainty, or betrayal. Maybe your marriage seems like it’s dying a slow and painful death, and you are ready to give up. Believe what Jesus said. He is the resurrection and the life. He can give new life to your marriage. Maybe you have a child who has wandered from God, and you are filled with anxiety. Remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will leave the 99 to find the one! Reread the story of the prodigal son and trust God to have His way with your child.

I have been strengthened in my spirit this morning by Jesus’ command to me that comes with the promise: Do not let your heart be troubled, Sally. Do not be afraid.  Fear is the opposite of trust. My peace I give to you. It’s the peace that comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within you. I see what you are going through, and I am in control! Thank you, LORD!  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

John 14:21-24

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” 

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” 

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me."  (John 14:21-24)

Prior to these specific verses, Jesus had been speaking directly to His disciples. Remember that in verse 15, He said, “If you love me...” Here, in verse 21, however, He widened the scope with “Whoever.” Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who loves and obeys Jesus’ commands is the one who truly loves Him. Anyone who would truly love Jesus would be loved by the Father and the Son - and Jesus was promising here that He would reveal Himself to such people. This is done through the work of the Holy Spirit, as Paul wrote, “... no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) There’s the Trinity at work!

When Jesus said He would show Himself to those who obeyed Him, the “other” Judas wondered why Jesus was not planning on revealing Himself to the whole world at this time. Judas was hoping that Jesus would step forward as the conquering king, as he had envisioned the Messiah would do. But Jesus refocused Judas to the greater work that would be done to conquer the hearts of men: the indwelling of God. Jesus also told Judas that not everyone would obey Him. This revelation of Christ would be just for those whose hearts were open to loving and obeying Him.

Jesus has made it very plain in these passages that it is not just the study, even intense study of Him and His Word that makes us His disciples; it is our obedience to what we learn from our study that makes the difference. This is what demonstrates our love for Him - not only to Jesus Himself, but to the world that is watching us. And the promise is that God Himself will come to make Himself at home in our hearts when we commit to following Him.

I don’t know about you, but God is speaking very clearly to me this week, in the midst of terrific opposition, that I need to keep my eyes on Him and obey what He has taught me about praying for others, loving and forgiving others, and trusting in His sovereignty rather than my own strength or wisdom. I have had to force myself each morning for the past few weeks to open my Bible and dig in. I have not FELT like it! But I have also known each morning that I need it and that He commands me to obey. Each day I have found that I have also desperately needed to draw from the strength His promises have given me! I’m so grateful that, because He lives in me, He not only prompts me to do the right thing, but He also enables me to do it if I lean on Him!  

Monday, June 4, 2012

John 14:15-20

Friday we looked at the one verse in which Jesus tells His disciples that loving Him means obedience to His commands. Love and obedience must go together. Because we love God, we want to obey Him. But it is so hard! In fact, sometimes, it is downright impossible! When we’ve been told to forgive seventy times seven (in other words, we need to keep on forgiving), but someone has betrayed us yet again, how can we do it?? We can’t! But God can. With Him nothing is impossible. So what is the secret? Jesus tells His disciples in today’s passage:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:15-20)

In the King James Version, the word used for Counselor is Comforter. The Greek word is parakletos, which means “someone who comes alongside.” The Holy Spirit, promised here by Jesus, is the One who comes alongside us to comfort, to counsel, to lead us into truth. He is the One who reveals to us who Jesus is (“...I am in the Father...”) and He is the One who assures our hearts that Jesus is in us and we are in Him. (vs. 20)

When we receive Christ as our Savior, we also receive the Holy Spirit. He comes to live with and in us - FOREVER. We are not helpless in this world. We are enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to obey what God has asked us to do. What seems impossible to us, is possible through the Holy Spirit. When someone has hurt us, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to forgive. It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to us and reminds us to let go of all pride and be reconciled.

Where do you need to see the power of the Holy Spirit in your life? In your marriage? At your job? As a parent? Where do things seem absolutely impossible with no hope? Take heart! You have the power of the Holy Spirit living in you. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is within you and will enable you to overcome. He comes alongside you to strengthen and encourage you. I experienced that help on Friday, which began horrifically, but ended in victory and with glory to God.  The Holy Spirit was with me and enabled me. Ask Him to do that for you today!  

Friday, June 1, 2012

John 14:15

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

This morning I am only going to look at this one verse. I went back and reread this chapter and highlighted the “ifs” in this chapter. “...if it were not so...” (vs. 2); “if I go...” (vs.3); “If you really knew me...” (vs. 7); “If you love me...” (today’s verse); “If anyone loves me...” (vs. 23); and “If you loved me...” (vs. 28). These are all conditional statements that speak to important truths Jesus is trying to get across to His disciples. In particular, “if you love me...” indicates that there is a definite way to prove our love for Him. In this morning’s verse He tells the disciples that loving Christ means obedience to His Word.

This indicates to me that what Jesus is looking for in His relationship with us is not warm, fuzzy feelings from us. We have to remember that Jesus is the initiator of this relationship. We love Him because He first loved us! (I John 4:19) “Love” is a verb of action. What Jesus is looking for from His own is action that springs from our belief in Him. If we are truly His disciples, we will be sitting at His feet, learning from Him, then DOING what He asks of us.

And He’s not asking us to obey Him to lay a burden on us. He already loves us beyond anything we can imagine. Our obedience doesn’t make Him love us more. He asks us to obey Him, because He knows that disobedience wreaks havoc in our lives and stumbles others. As a teacher I set certain standards of behavior in my classroom. It isn’t because I love to control 5th graders or because I want to lay as many rules as I can on them. It is because I want to establish the best learning environment for them. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not they “love” me - I want them to learn as much as possible. The highest form of respect they can pay me is to obey the class rules. In the same way, we show our love for Christ when we carefully listen to His teachings and set our minds and hearts to obey.

For instance, one of Jesus’ commands is that we love our enemies and do good to them (that’s love in action). When Jesus asks us to do this, He’s not asking us to “feel” anything; He’s asking us to obey through our actions. So, when someone has betrayed me, even though my first instinct is to become defensive and gather my little gang of support through gossip, Jesus tells me to love that person instead. This would be impossible for me to do in my own strength!

I fight this battle a lot, and frequently have an initial fleshly response to attacks. Yes, I gather my little group of supporters and drag them into the battle with me!!! If left to my own power, there is NO way I could act in a loving manner toward someone who hurts me. How could I “do good” - respond with patience and kindness and respect? It’s NOT possible!

So is Jesus asking the impossible? Yes! But He has just told His disciples that where there is NO way, HE is the WAY! And He has provided the help we need to obey His commands. In our next passage we will see how He has made that way for us to obey when everything in us wants to go in the opposite direction.

Are you facing an impossible situation which requires you to just believe and obey? I am this very morning! I’ve been betrayed yet again by someone, and I want so badly to just march up and down with a poster screaming out to the world what was done. But that is NOT what Jesus wants me to do. So instead, I’m praying for a way to deal with the situation in kindness... LORD, help me!