Day 323: Acts 17-19; Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Today we continue the story of Paul’s second missionary journey throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia.  We read, though I didn’t necessarily talk about, Paul’s first journey yesterday and pick up on his second journey after the first Jerusalem Council in chapter 15.  Now we see Paul’s journeys throughout the region and how he is able to, with the Holy Spirit as his guide, raise up believers and start church in many of these different cities.  Paul, with his partner Silas, journey to Antioch, Tarsus, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus before returning back to Caesarea and finally Jerusalem.  This is a major journey for this day and age, spanning about 2,000 miles and probably taking roughly four years.  There are a lot of things that happen here, many of which you can read for yourself today.  What I think is important to point out is how Paul raises up churches and people to lead those churches.

We don’t necessarily see how Paul does his discipleship program in each of these cities.  He doesn’t record for us how exactly he raises up leaders, but one of the important things that we see here as we journey with Paul and Silas is that it becomes very clear that Paul isn’t sticking around in these places much longer than he has to before he moves on to the next city.  Sure, we read in most of the New Testament that he continues to keep correspondence with these churches, he even visits them once and a while, especially if there are some points of doctrine and belief that he feels need addressing, but really when it comes down to it, Paul and Silas are working to raise up Christian leaders in these cities so that the churches can continue to function and grow while they move on to another city to spread the Gospel there as well.

It is interesting also that there is really no cookie cutter type church that Paul sets up.  He doesn’t go in with exactly the same message that He preached in the last city because it worked.  Have you ever experienced that?  Every now and then we have a pastor visit the church that preaches a message that was probably great somewhere in a certain context, but when it enters into another pulpit/church context, it doesn’t make any sense.  It is clear that Paul knows this.  The most pointed example here is Paul’s address to the Greek’s in Athens.

When Paul was in Athens, we see that He is “provoked” in his spirit because of all the idols.  Athens as a place full of idols to the pantheon of gods that the Greeks worshiped.  More than this though, Athens was a place of philosophy, bringing forth Plato and Aristotle, some of the greatest thinkers of the day.  Philosophy and Logic became almost a culture, or probably more of a subculture within the Greek people, and Paul takes full advantage of this peaking the curiosity of many of the philosophers there.  When he comes before them in the Areopagus, which was probably an amphitheater of some sort where people spoke, he doesn’t bring to them a sermon directed at the Jews, or something that would only make sense in Rome, understanding their customs and history Paul brings before them a sermon that is based both on logic, drawing even from some of their own philosophers, but also on their own worship practices.  In this He both draws them in and draws them to Jesus in a way that they understand and relate to.

I think that we see in here some of the ‘tactics’ of Paul and Silas as well, as the go around on all their missionary journeys.  They bring the good news of the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they speak in the ‘language,’ within the cultural understanding of those that they are encountering.  There is no cookie-cutter church, no one way to worship God, except in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yet even this gives a very wide latitude to all that can take place, and I think that is the key.  As these new churches are springing up all across the Roman Empire, we are seeing that same freedom that we have found in Christ also being present in the worship of the believers and as such, these places can live and thrive within the different cultural contexts that they find themselves.



Day 322: Acts 13-16; Paul, Barnabas, and the Jerusalem Council

Today our focus shifts a little bit from the original Apostles like Peter and John and to the work of some of the “second generation” disciples, those that would have not necessarily followed Jesus, or not been close to Him during his earthly life, but have become believers and have been filled with the Holy Spirit during these first years of the Church after Jesus’ ascension.  Specifically we turn here to Paul and Barnabas, to key figures in the spread of the early church outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to the “ends of the earth” as they knew it.  As we said at the beginning of the book of Acts, this is really a historical account of the Holy Spirit’s work as the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem, the center, outward like the ripples on a calm pond that has just been disturbed by a rock.

We see also today the same pattern that has really taken place over the course of this book already.  By this point, we are already over a year past the time that Jesus has been taken up into heaven.  Remember, from Pentecost on, we see that in these events where the Apostles and believers speak, they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” and then open their mouths to speak the Word of God.  In some ways, they are not unlike the prophets of old that spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well.  The message has changed quite a bit though for those 400+ year old prophetic messages.  In these times we are hearing how those messages and all of Scripture have led us to this point and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had been spoken and written before Him.

Anyways, this pattern continues here in chapters 13, 14, and 16.  Each move, each message, each time of spreading the Gospel is not something that is done on its own, but happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and in those who do not yet believe either.  This really is the beginnings of the central theme and belief that the Holy Spirit is present in all that is done in the name of Jesus Christ.  From church meetings to worship services to outreach, the Holy Spirit is the one that is working within our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we encounter as believers.  I think too often we feel like it is up to us now to take care of things.  Even though the Spirit is with us (whether we acknowledge the Spirit or not), we are robbed of such confidence and comfort that it is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit that is really key in the spread of the Gospel.  He will never leave us or forsake us!

One other thing that I wanted to point out today was Acts 15 and the first church council that was held in Jerusalem.  In many ways, this was the first rumbling of what would later become a church governmental structure.  Throughout history, there have actually been a great number of council type meetings that have taken place.  Their subjects have ranged from creating creeds and confessions like the Nicene Creed from the two councils of Nicaea in 325 and 381, to dealing with issues of heresy and wrongful teaching within the church which have taken place throughout history.  Some of these councils have also focused on things like changing how we worship, the most recent of which was Vatican II, in which the Roman Catholic Church decided to change the Mass into the common tongue so that all could participate, something protestants denominations had done a few hundred years before.

In this case, there were some that were teaching that all converts to what was becoming known as Christianity had to be circumcised like the Jews.  For the Jewish people, circumcision was a part of their identity, part of what made them the people of God.  It was a sign that they were members of the covenant.  Yet it is all to clear that things like circumcision and land had become more important to the Jews than their identity as the people of God.  Peter once again stands up in front of the people and speaks to the heart of God in this matter.  Like all councils, the goal is to discern what is God’s will for the direction of the Church.  I think it just awe inspiring that they see here that the purpose of the Grace of Christ is not one that binds them further into the Law, and it is not because of any particular action or association of this world that we are saved, but only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Their letter, then, and the decision that they made here in this council has much to do with instruction and encouragement, urging the new Gentile believers toward a purely lived life in which they honor God in all that they do and say, but because they are required to in the law, but out of gratitude for the grace that they have received.  May the same be true for us yesterday, today, and always.



Day 321: Acts 9-12; Paul Converted, Gospel to the Gentiles

Today we read of two of the four “most important” events that take place in the New Testament after Jesus is taken into heaven.  The first important event, at least in my opinion, is that of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  It is only after that event that we see the Apostles and believers begin to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those around Jerusalem.  All the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and preach the Word of God boldly, heal the sick, and are even driving our demons in the name of Jesus.  We saw the second important event yesterday with the speech, stoning, and subsequent scattering of the believers from the city of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria.  As we said yesterday, it is because of the persecution that breaks out against the believers at the stoning of Stephen, that the Gospel moves outside of Jerusalem for the first time.

The person that we read is really in charge of this persecution, or at least the man who seems to be going after the believers is named Saul (who is better known as Paul later on).  With the permission of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, he heads to Damascus to find more believers and bring them back to put them in prison in Jerusalem.  This brings us to the third important event, Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and the conversion that takes place because of it.  It really is an irony to see God choose His greatest opponent and turn him into one of history’s greatest theologians.  There are so many echoes of this event to the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5.  Remember that he spoke of being sure that the religious leaders were careful and that if this movement wasn’t from God then is surely would fall away.  Clearly here we see that it IS from God and its not going anywhere.

Paul’s conversion, as an event, really isn’t something that changes the course of history all at once.  In fact, for a while, Paul kind of flies under the radar as it were.  However, it isn’t what he is at the time, but what he becomes that is important.  Saul, who will start going by Paul when we meet him again, becomes one of the most prolific writers and theologians in the early church.  All together, he writes basically all the books from Romans to 2 Timothy.  He also takes part in numerous church plants and an over abundance of discipleship and missionary journeys that shape the face of the church for years to come.  Though he may have never known Jesus while he was on earth, Paul becomes one of the most important figures in the New Testament, the source from which a large amount of our contemporary theology derives from.

After Saul/Paul returns to Jerusalem we turn back to the exploits of Peter as he continues to work and spread the Gospel throughout the land of the Jewish people, at least at first.  He ends up in a city called Joppa where the fourth important event takes place.  Peter, while staying at a house there has a vision in which God reveals to him that the Gentiles are not to be excluded from the Gospel of Grace, that they are no longer considered unclean as they had been in the past.  “Do not call unclean what God has made clean” He says to Peter in this vision.  Peter realizes that God is calling the Church to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles as well, that the people of God are no longer divided by race or even land, but by those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not.

While some may contend that this really isn’t that important of an event, I would like to point out that it is this event right here that we all, or at least probably 99% of all Christians can find to be a common link to us as we are all “Gentiles” by birth.  There are many points throughout Jesus’ life in which we read of Him being called specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel.”  However, as Israel was to be a light to the nations, representing them before God, so to was Jesus a representative of all humanity before God and through Him all people everywhere have been offered this gift of grace.  For most of us, though we can trace our spiritual ancestry back to the death of Jesus on the Cross, of course, find that it is here in which the “spiritual family tree” begins to split off… it is here that that the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves outward from Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth.



Day 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



Day 319: Acts 5-6; If This Is From God…

Today we continue in watching as the Holy Spirit continues to work in the lives of the Apostles and the disciples that are are joining the ranks of believers in the early church.  It seems like anytime someone opens their mouth in these chapters, hundreds and hundreds of people come to faith!  What an amazing time this must have been for the Apostles and all the people to be witnesses to these happenings!

As I was reading these chapters today, I honestly had the thought that all of what is happening here could be summed up by the short speech given by a man named Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the law.  He points out to an enraged group of religious leaders that what the believers were doing was from God, there was nothing they would be able to do to stop it and they would actually be opposing God.  Here’s what he says,

Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.  For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.  So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!

The man’s wisdom is insurmountable.  If there is something going on that is from God, it will lats and will be unstoppable.  The Spirit cannot be quenched.  I think this is a level of wisdom that we as believers often lack in our faith and in the ministries that we do.  We have this notion that all the ministries that take place in the church are contingent on our being a part of them.  We worry about funds, about volunteers, about new ministries that are coming in that might take people away.  Yet too often we don’t stop and take the time to talk to God about it or even consider if He is present in the ministry.  If we are to be about the Lord’s work in our lives and in the life of the Church and He is truly with us, nothing will be able to stop it.  Nothing is impossible with God.

While there are a couple narratives at the beginning of our reading that continue with the themes from yesterday and the general sense of wonder and awe of the things going on in these early days of the Church, I want to take a brief look at the narrative of the first deacons being chosen.  This happening marks the first rumblings of a formal church governmental structure, an hierarchy in which there are some that are in charge of particular tasks at hand.  The role of the Deacon in the RCA, the denomination that I come from, is laid out as being one who is concerned with the physical needs of those inside and outside of the church.  It lines up very nicely with what we see these men being selected for.  They bring food to the hungry, take care of the orphans and the widows, even take care of all the donations and dole them out as is necessary.

While what I am saying may seem self-evident, and perhaps it is, what we don’t often see in this part of Scripture is that it isn’t just these people in leadership that are doing the work.  In this day and age there were, of course, people that were new to the faith, people that had followed Jesus Himself, and everyone in between.  What we see here is that some of the more mature people that were filled with the Holy Spirit were chosen as leaders, to lead in the ministry of the Church.  This doesn’t mean that they were chosen to be the only doers of ministry, but that they would be the guides and the point people for doing ministry (in this case handing out food).  The church in North America has gotten into a bad and lazy habit of thinking that it is the church leaders that are responsible for doing the ministry and it is the congregation who are responsible for consuming a “religious product” if you will.  We seem to think that once we elect people to the different offices of the Church we are then exempt from doing any sort of work in it because they will do it for us.  We can just sit back and enjoy (or complain about) the worship services and the Sunday School classes.  This is simply not the way that things were set up.

The Christian life is one of active discipleship in which we participate in the life of the Church and the Body of Christ here on earth.  While there are some that are called to be leaders of this particular calling, it doesn’t exempt any congregant from opting out of the ministry.  Christianity, following Jesus as your Lord and Savior is not a sideline sport.  In fact, the only people sitting on the sidelines watching us should be those who have not yet joined the team… and those are the people that we should be serving, witnessing to, and showing the love of Christ Jesus to day in and day out as we live in faithful obedience and enormous gratitude for the Grace and blessings that we have received in Christ Jesus.



Day 318: Acts 3-4; What We Have Seen and Heard

So the Church has begun to grow and the Spirit of the Lord is alive, active, and moving throughout the believers and the Apostles as they preach the Gospel and heal.  The first narrative that we read today is so very interesting.  I have to wonder what Peter and John were thinking, or if they were even thinking when they encountered this lame man.  How did the Spirit work through them?  Or did it just come to them and they went for it, like calling an audible on offense or something.  When I read this I envision two men walking through the Temple gate with their eyes set on where they were going until they were distracted by the faint, distant voice of a man asking for money.  This voice is not distant because of any physical distance, but because of their focus on the task at hand, yet suddenly it is very near and very real.  They stop, turn, and look directly at the broken man.  Without missing a beat Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  He grabs the man by the hand a pulls him up.  I wonder if there was some interaction here, or if they just turned and went on their way like it was nothing.  I wonder if they invited the man to go with them or if he just followed them because he was so excited.  In any case, what we are seeing here is only the beginning of the Church’s continuation of bringing the wholeness, healing, forgiveness of Jesus, the very elements of the Kingdom of Heaven into reality here on earth.

From there, as they walk into the Temple, all the people see the beggar and are in aw of his ability to walk.  Peter is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as we get the second sermon preached by Peter in as many chapters:

Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Because of what happened the religious leaders arrested Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man, however we read that because of what had happened and the testimony of Peter almost 5,000 people became believers!  I think that this is so crazy to us, sometimes it doesn’t even compute!  Do we expect that when we hear the Word of God on a Sunday morning that people are going to become believers?  Somehow I think that we would claim to hope that this would happen, even though we don’t expect that it will…

In any case, the next day the religious leaders question Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man and Peter once again is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks to them in such a way that they cannot find any fault.  This whole scene has a lot of echoes back to the questioning of Jesus, except this time the people are all for Peter and John, not against them as they were against Jesus.  The religious leaders find themselves in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament.

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

When it comes down to it, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are both witnessing to what they have seen, heard, and experienced in their lives.  While they have the wonderful pleasure of seeing it unfold before them, it is the boldness for the faith and the work of the Holy Spirit that is speaking through them.  Friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been placed in our hearts as well.  I am speaking from a purely North American context, but we don’t speak with half the amount of conviction or faith that Peter and John speak and we have experienced the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus in very much the same way.  More than this though, we don’t have any fear of reprisal here… NONE whatsoever.  We are free to preach, to speak, to testify to the faith that has been given us!  We can tell people what we have seen, heard, and experienced as well and we do so with such timidity…  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us!  We have experienced Jesus’ saving grace!  We are given the opportunity to speak each and every day to those around us!  Brothers and Sisters testify to the grace of Christ!  Fear not for God is with you!



Day 317: Acts 1-2; Introduction to Acts

We turn a corner today, from the Gospels to the only book that is classified as a historical book in the New Testament; the book of Acts.  Sometimes called “The Acts of the Apostles” this book that is written by the same author as the book of Luke chronicles the early founding and expansion of the “Church,” or perhaps better stated the Church of Jesus Christ.  Many would contend that the Church has been present since the beginning of time in the people of God, however the Church in its current context includes both Jews and Gentiles in a new form that wasn’t necessarily present before the Incarnation of Christ Jesus.  As this book is a continuation of the book of Luke, written by the same author to the same person, we should remember at the end of Luke we left the disciples and followers of Jesus on the mount of Olives where Jesus “departed” from them.  He had promised to send the Holy Spirit, which is elaborated on in Acts 1:

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

It is from this point that we then being our journey of the first 30 or so years of the new movement that, for a long time, was called “The Way.”  We read a short narrative of what happened to Judas the betrayer and how they filled his position within the group of Apostles with Matthias who brings their numbers back to the full 12, but then is not heard from again.  I often wonder what role he played in the early church.

From there we come to what many people consider the “birthday” of the Church, the day of Pentecost.  There are a lot of interesting details about this day that we don’t often focus on.  In our contemporary context, the focus has been placed (and rightly so) on the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit onto all of the believers which, for all intents and purposes, ushered in the “church age” and began the movement of believers spreading the Gospel throughout the entire world.  This day, however, is actually also Jewish holiday when the Hebrew people celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It is certainly interesting and somewhat ironic that the Lord would chose this day as the one to pour out the Holy Spirit onto the believers of Christ Jesus and begin the Gospel movement.

As we talked about yesterday, the coming of the Spirit brought about a dramatic reversal of the happening of the tower of Babel.  For the first time (arguably) since the confusing of the languages, the Word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ was heard in every tongue, the Grace and Mercy of God was revealed to all people!  This was the first sermon, if you don’t count the teachings of Jesus, in the New Testament and it flowed directly from the Holy Spirit.  More over, on the day that the people celebrated the giving of the Law, something that had been used as a tool of condemnation and repression in the spiritual lives of the Jews, the Gospel of Grace through the blood of Jesus Christ!  The result?  About 3,000 people were brought to faith that day!  I’d say that is a good first day’s work for Peter’s first day preaching.

Finally, we start to get a glimpse of what the early church looked like in these first weeks and months as they gathered and grew in Jerusalem.  There are many people and churches that think that this is the model of how the Church should be operating even now in the 21st century.  While what they were doing was all well and good for that time, we have to understand that what we are reading here is coming out of a particular context and they were doing these things for a particular reason.  There are certain principles that have been carried throughout history and tradition as being a necessary part of what it means to “do church,” like being devoted to the Word and prayer, even breaking bread together in some instances, but there are other things that have changed throughout the years, and that is okay too.  The point and purpose of this writing has more to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit has been pours out and God is continuing His work with His people to be a light to the nations.  What we are seeing here and what we will continue to see is how the Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of believers to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth… a calling that is still at the very core of the Church today.



Day 316: John 20-21; The Purpose of This Book

The last two chapters of the book of John cover the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Apart from the narrative of the road to Emmaus and the accounts of Jesus’ ascension in the other Gospels, the Gospel of John records the most post-Resurrection appearance accounts of Jesus.  Nestled within these appearances is John’s overall conclusion to his Gospel writing, a section that we have labeled as “the Purpose of this Book.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

He also writes at the end of chapter 21:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

It is from these two statements that we can read through all of the rest of these two chapters.  John had been writing His account of Jesus’ life to show that He was indeed the divine Son of God.  Now this has been proven in Jesus’ resurrection, John’s focus is both on showing everyone that this is true by virtue of what Jesus had said about Himself and the witnesses of Jesus after His death.  More than this though, John is writing that those who are reading this account would believe the good news of Jesus and, as we have just read, that by believing you may have life in His name.

So in Matthew 28, we read the narrative of the two women going to the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning.  Here we pick up that story seeing Mary Magdalene at the tomb early in the morning and finding that the stone had been rolled away.  She runs and gets the other disciples and Peter and “the other disciple” who was likely John run to the tomb.  After going in and not being sure about what was going on, they head home and Mary remains in the garden.  She runs into Jesus but doesn’t recognize Him, thinking He is the gardener.  This is a huge point that John is trying to make, something that I don’t think we often pick up on.  Jesus had just recently called God the “vine dresser” or the “gardener,” so Mary’s saying this really isn’t that far off.  Here she is in a garden, talking to the creator of the world without even knowing it… it is a beautiful image that has major symbolic echoes of the Garden of Eden.  John is subtly communicating what Jesus has done here, and he is very carefully drawing us back to the very beginning… a return to Eden.

All of what has taken place has been to undo what has been done to the earth that He created.  Isaiah foresaw this as well in His vision in Isaiah 2.  From Eden, sin entered the world.  People had been cast out of God’s presence.  The relationship between God and humanity had been broken.  Later tools that were used for being productive were used to kill in the narrative of Cain and Abel.  From there evil increased until finally God scattered the nations of the earth, confusing their languages.  What we begin to see here as we look at the whole picture of the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost is a systematic undoing of all these things.  The languages of the world would be brought back together as the Holy Spirit is given (more on this tomorrow), Isaiah sees that all would once again flow into the presence of the Lord AND they would turn their weapons of war back into instruments of production, and now once again we see one standing in the garden, weeping at the loss of her Lord, at the broken relationship and Jesus (God) speaks directly to her and says her very name “Mary!”  At once this relationship is healed, the “Gardener” has been reunited with humanity once again!

Apart from this very moving scene, we see Jesus appearing to many people.  The emphasis here is on believing and sending.  When Jesus appears to the disciples they believed and were given the Holy Spirit, a bit of a precursor to Pentecost (again, more on this tomorrow), yet the one who was not there would not believe.  Jesus appears to Thomas later and points out his doubt, even though Thomas believes at that point, but also blesses those who have not seen Jesus and still believe.  That phrase is addressed specifically to John’s audience I think, being that they would be reading this towards the end of the 1st century.

The final thing that I want to talk about is the interaction between Peter and Jesus at the end of the book.  Remember that Peter denied Jesus three times just as Jesus had foretold.  Remember also that Peter deeply regretted this, the “mightiest” of the disciples was certainly humbled.  I can only imagine the awkwardness that Peter felt that morning at breakfast.  This narrative is commonly called the “reinstatement of Peter,” but really serves to show Jesus’ love and forgiveness to His disciple.  I think that we can draw from this interaction as well.  Peter messed up, most definitely, but Jesus doesn’t change His charge to Peter nor does He withhold love and forgiveness from him.  Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.”

These words are written that you may believe and that in believing you may have life in His name.  Do you love God?  Feed His sheep!



Day 315: John 18-19; The Glorification of Jesus

We come to it again, for the forth and final time in our journey through the Gospels: the Crucifixion of Jesus.  For John though, this is more than just a recount of Jesus awful suffering and death.  It is, as we have talked about, the glorification of Jesus, the pinnacle of all He came to do one earth!  If the first chapter of John was a Theological high point from which we look down on the rest of the book, as we said on that day, then this would be the other high point, perhaps equal too or second only to that first chapter.  It is at this point in John’s writing, like in Luke, where we see John appealing to the Scriptures in a more intentional way, showing how the actions of Jesus in this narrative of His death are fulfilling what had been said about Him throughout the Bible.  John also makes careful work of mentioning how Jesus is fulfilling the things that He said of Himself as well.

Because we have already read through the crucifixion narrative of Jesus, I don’t feel like there is as much to say today as there otherwise would be.  It is a lot easier to write about things that we haven’t talked about, like the I AM statements and the Farewell Discourse of Jesus, things that are unique to John.  So in light of that, I think that I just want to mention a few things that are unique to this narrative and then encourage you to take some time to reflect on the book of John, or perhaps the whole story of Jesus as it has been presented in the Gospels over this past month or so.

The firs thing that is rather unique about this particular narrative is that of the questioning of the high priests.  It is mentioned here that they Annas, the father-in-law of the priest who ‘prophesied’ that one man would die for the whole nation of Israel.  I’m sure he didn’t know that he was talking about Jesus, but all the same, these things have taken place and we have seen the work that Jesus did for us on the cross.  I thought it was kind of interesting how Jesus, during His questioning, never seems to raise His voice or lose His temper.  Though struck unjustly, Jesus maintains His cool and lays out a simple question for why it happened.  I noticed that He didn’t get struck again… at least not in this narrative.

I think the conversation between Jesus and Pilate is also interesting:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

What a strange place to end the conversation!  Yet I think that John is trying to make a point here.  There is a much higher and greater purpose that is taking place in this whole narrative that only Jesus can see.  They all think that they are caught up in some earthly drama that is about to be ended with the killing of a mere man, yet Jesus is pointing out very clearly that there are things much greater and more significant that are going on here and Pilate simply doesn’t understand.  John signifies this by ending the conversation with Pilate’s question, “What is truth?

Finally, and I think this is of incredible importance because it shows once again, how the people of Israel have turned from God so much that they are blind to all that is going on.  All of what has taken place was foretold in Scripture and these religious leaders were in the right places at the right times to recognize this.  Yet they did not and we see this most clearly in Pilate’s final attempt to free Jesus:
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”  So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.  Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”  They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”  So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

We have no king but Caesar… wow… just wow… remember all the way back to the time when the Israelites cried out for a King to Samuel?  Moses had written to them in the law about how kings would lead them away from God and that they should be a people that have no king except God (the King of the Universe?)  It was then that they cried “give us a king!”  No the King of the Universe, God Himself sits before them (which they don’t see obviously) and they cry to His face “We have no king but Caesar!”  Fortunately for us there is a greater power at work in all of this, that even though there are those that don’t see or know Truth, God’s will is still alive and well…  This is true for us at all times as well.  Even in the darkest of hours, God is still alive and well!  And as the stone is rolled in front of the tomb once again today, we know that there is a bright hope for tomorrow!



Day 314: John 16-17; The Holy Spirit & Jesus' High Priestly Prayer

Today we continue to the conclusion of Jesus’ farewell discourse as it is recorded in John.  After the main thrust of Jesus’ message is made known, He begins to walk down off the other side of the stage, returning once again to talk of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has taught them so much, and yet He says that He has so much more to tell them, things that they couldn’t even bear at that time.  However, Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

He doesn’t just stop here, leaving the disciples to wonder about what it is that they can’t handle though… and yet I guess what Jesus says isn’t really giving them more than they can handle either.  Jesus has told them that He would be handed over to the authorities and that He would die, at least that has been recorded in the other Gospels.  Here Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  Obviously the disciples are a little confused.  So Jesus clarifies in a brilliant way, while still being a little cloudy on the details: “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

I love the metaphor of what Jesus is about to go through, the ultimate glorification that John sets up, as being like giving birth.  There is momentary (or perhaps extended) pain, suffering, and a lot of work that is to be done to bring life into the world, but when it is all over, there is abundant joy and happiness.  This is exactly like what is about to take place.  Jesus would suffer and die.  This would be traumatic not just for Him physically, but for all who follow Him.  Yet this is not the end.  He will be raised to life again to the Glory of the Father, and with that there will be much rejoicing and happiness… not to mention new life!

Finally, the last part of Jesus’ farewell discourse comes about in the form of a prayer.  There is so much that can be said about this prayer.  There are elements of Trinitarian theology, union with Christ, Atonement theology, Sanctification, and a simply a good demonstration of how to pray.  This prayer links Jesus to the prologue of John and creation, and even gives us a glimpse of the fact that God has been working toward this since the beginning.  Also in here you will see some of Jesus’ praying for the “abiding” of the disciples as we talked about yesterday.  I think, today, I am just going to post this prayer here and encourage you to read it again.  Pick out some of the elements that have been mentioned here and perhaps others that you notice as well!

The High Priestly Prayer

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”



Day 313: John 14-15; The Way, The True Vine

As we come to today’s reading, we are now in the midst of what is considered to be Jesus’ “farewell discourse.”  Starting with John chapter 13 and going all the way through John 17 tomorrow, we read about the discussions that Jesus had with His disciples during the Last Supper.  Much of what happens here and what is said here is unique to the book of John.  It offers us a glimpse into the final hours of Jesus “free” life as well as some of the deepest teachings He offers to His disciples, all in the shadow of the cross.  This particular section of John has a rather particular structure within it, called a chiasm.  It is a writing style that takes themes and subjects and places them around a central theme, something that is of great importance at the center, and then returns to those other themes on its way out.  Perhaps a better explanation is that of letters, like poetry: section A, then B, then C, then D (which is the central theme), followed by section C, then B, then A again to end.  Jesus’ farewell discourse is set up in this fashion, with the central theme coming in chapter 15, when He talks about the Vine and the Branches.  The central focus of this whole section has to do with “Abiding” in the vine.  Jesus impresses upon them the necessity of this abiding, or dwelling, in Him as being as important as a branch drawing nourishment from the vine.  For more on this, I have again included a paper in a separate post for today (posted 5 minutes before this) if you would like to read it.

Jesus also talks about the Holy Spirit in chapter 14.  It is interesting that around the central theme of these five chapters, John has included a great deal of talk about the Holy Spirit.  This is of a great deal of importance, and Jesus explains the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  We are not left as orphans, Jesus points out, but have the Helper in our lives, who was sent to us and helps us to remember all that is being said here.  This is a bold statement for Jesus, someone who is about to be taken away.  he knows that His disciples will despair over His death and much of what He tells them that night will probably go in one ear and out the other before the night is done, especially with what all is about to take place.  Jesus reassures them that He will not leave them to fend for themselves, but that the Spirit of God will be there and will work in them.

Just before this, though, Jesus makes one of the greatest and most comforting statements to all people about the true work that He is doing.  Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to be taken away, and now He tells them where and why.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  Not only are we told that God’s house has many rooms, but that one of these rooms is for us, those who believe in God and in Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord.  Even more than that though is communicated here.  Jesus is going to prepare a room for us and HE IS COMING BACK!

Interestingly, Jesus also tells them that they know the way to get to where He is going.  Thomas, ever the questioning doubter, points out that indeed they do not know the way as Jesus has said.  It is then that Jesus makes the statement that is, or should be known by all Christians, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Honestly, this is a restatement of what He had just said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”  Yet once again, Jesus uses the I AM (ἐγώ εἰμί) statement again pointing to the fact that not only is He the same as God, He is the only way to God as well.

This, however, is not simply left as is.  I think that we tend to do this in our Christian lives sometimes.  We say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and then we leave it at that.  While it is entirely true that we need Jesus for our salvation, we cannot simply have Him as fire insurance.  This past week, for the first time in my adult life, I purchased my own car insurance, renters insurance, and health insurance for my wife and I.  It feels good to know that I will be taken care of if something were to ever happen to either one of us or our possessions.  Yet this is not the end of what I do.  I do not simply purchase the insurance and then sit around with it until I die.  No, I have to live life, to work, to maintain our house, our car, and our health.  In the same way we need to work to maintain our relationship with Jesus Christ as well… we need to ABIDE in Him.  As the branch needs the Vine to survive, so too do we need Jesus Christ in our lives, as an integral part of our lives to survive (echos of the Shema anyone?).  We are not just those waiting to get to heaven, we are those working as the Body of Christ here on earth each and every day!



I AM the True Vine

This paper is something that I wrote as a final Exegetical paper for my Greek Interpretation class.  It goes into more detail about the Chiastic structure of John 13-17 with its central focus being on John 15:1-7.

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Introduction

John 15:1-17

“I am the true vine, and the Father of me the farmer is.  Every branch in me that bears no fruit He removes it.  And every branch bearing he prunes is so more fruitful it will be.  Already you are clean through the word I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you.  Just as the branch is not able to bear fruit from itself unless it abides in the vine, this neither can you do unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you the branches.  One who abides in me and I in them bears much fruit, because apart from me not you are able to do anything.  If not anyone abides in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and they are gathered up and into the fire are they thrown and burned.  If you abide in me, and the words of me in you remain, whatever you wish you ask for, and it will be done for you.  In this he is glorified my Father, that much fruit you bear and to become my disciples.  As he has loved me the Father, and I have loved you; abide in the love of me.  If the commandments of me you obey, you abide in the love of me, just as the commands of the father of me I obey and abide in his love.  This I have said to you so that the joy of me in you and the joy of you may be complete.

“This is the command of me, so love one another as I have loved you.  Greater than this love no one has, that the life of him he lay down for the friend of him.  You friends of me are if you do what I command you.  I no longer call you servants, because the servant not he knows what he is doing the master; but you I have called friends, because everything I have heard from the Father of me I have made known to you.  Not me did you choose but I chose you and I appointed you so you go and fruit you bear and the fruit of you will remain, so whatever you ask the Father in the name of me he will give you.  This I command you so you love one another.

Amidst the gentle and seemingly simple words of Jesus’ farewell discourse found in John is the ever famous passage of the vine and the branches and equally famous words “abide in me.”[1]  After performing many signs and revealing His glory, Jesus has come to the point where He knows that He will be leaving His disciples soon, revealing His true glory and purpose in His death on the cross.  Before this can happen though, Jesus sits down with his closest companions to share the Passover with them, Jesus’ last supper.  During this time He shares a great deal with them about the present situation and their future actions and reactions to it.  For the disciples, some of this comes with great sorrow to them while other parts may give them fear about what is to come.  However, at the center of it all, Jesus speaks to them words of comfort and direction, explaining to them the pattern that should be their life as a believer in Him.  Recorded as John15:1-17, Jesus speaks not simply to his disciples, but to all believers, emphatically urging them to “μείνατε έν έμοί,” which is translated “abide in me,”[2] the form that Christian life should take as they live as believers and followers of Christ.[3]

Jesus’ farewell discourse is universally considered to be chapters 13 through 17 in the Gospel of John.  While some consider this to simply be a discussion at the table while Jesus and His disciples have their last meal together, others have found it to be of greater literary and theological significance.  Dr. Wayne Brouwer, a professor at HopeCollege has written on these particular chapters in his dissertation, citing them as being a “macro chiasm”[4] placing the particular section of John15:1-17 at the center.  A chiasm is a literary form that has the appearance of inverted parallelism or a concentric pattern where two or more points step toward a main point of significant meaning, and then work their way back in a parallel fashion to the original points of statements.  The word “chiasm” takes after the Greek letter Chi (X), symbolizing the steps to and away from the center point.[5]

Discourse in Johannine writing is unique unto itself as well, presenting significantly longer and more complete dialogues and theological themes.  In many ways, John provides a portrait of a Jesus that is aware of His own divinity and mission speaking to a group that is also aware of that fact, even if they don’t understand it completely.  Rather than the short, fragmented sayings of the three synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks quite clearly in full faith and Christological thematic elements which are likely aimed at the Johannine church communities.[6]  For instance, Jesus’ definitive use of the phrase “Έγώ εὶμι” is purposeful because both He and those with Him know and believe that He is equal to God the Father, the original owner of that Holy name.  Adding this point to the significance of the chiastic structure in which we find John 15, it is clear that a significant point is being made here.

While this particular pericope is complete in itself, containing both statements and explanation, reading it within the context of the greater macro chiasm points to the passage as having a greater significance than it would otherwise have on its own.  Literary forms within the passage and the structure to which the author, presumably John, the beloved disciple, uses here are deceptively simple whilst a deeper look reveals the same abundant complexity that is common to the whole of John’s gospel.  Throughout the entire book John employs a variety of different comparisons, playing on themes, words, and thematic language to make and remake points, often going deeper and developing a much fuller view of Christ as the incarnate Son of God.  The phrase “I am the true vine” found in the first verse is an example of John employing the deceptively simple while using the greater context of the book and section to make a greater point.  At face value, Jesus is simply referencing himself as being what Christians need for life much as a branch needs the trunk of a tree for its survival.  However, as was mentioned before, Jesus uses the “I Am” phrase; the name God gave himself followed by the word “vine” which is representative of the nation of Israel as a whole.[7]  The word “true” is also present representing Jesus’ fulfillment of what Israel should have represented to the world.  While uses of these phrases are significant standing alone, they find a greater significance within their context, from the multiple uses of Έγώ εὶμι to the placement of the phrase at the elbow of the chiasm, it would appear that most passages in the Gospel of John need be seen and often interpreted with ample consideration given to their greater context.

Keeping in mind the consideration for the greater context, exegesis of this passage on its own does provide significant benefits for understanding Jesus’ words here as well as their meaning for the contemporary church.  However, pinning down a structure for this particular pericope may not be the key that unlocks the wisdom found here.[8]  Jesus’ words, though profound and complete, seem to lack a cogent structure on the whole.  Unlike many parables that Jesus tells in which He tells the story and then later explains it, Jesus here speaks a few lines, interprets them, and then continues with the analogy.  When He has completed the analogy, Jesus then gives His disciples commands based on what He has said while concurrently giving an explanation of why and a probable redefinition of their relationship as a whole.  Though all of these parts together make up this emphasis of the disciples abiding in Him, it does not present the structure often found in other discourses or discussions that Jesus has in the Gospel of John.  Never the less, many points are made that center around the specific point that Jesus is making in this passage.

Commentary

                John, the writer of this passage is clearly an accomplished writer and master of the Greek language.  Though not as complex as the grammar and word usage of Luke or Acts, John uses his writing to both creatively and determinately make theological, Christological, and even homiletical points.  However, his writing is clear and straight forward and there are few textual criticism issues that would change the overall meaning.  There are only a few examples of potential changes in tenses or singular/plural complexes that were more than likely changed to match those of other words within the same lines or phrases.[9]  These may be grammatical issues; however they do not significantly change the meaning.  Therefore, a verse by verse translation and criticism is not exactly warranted here.  In this passage it is the significance of the repeated words, the tenses in which they are found, and then meaning to which they suggest that bring significant meaning to the passage.  Therefore, these words and their meanings are the issues that shall be focused on here.

Words such as ἀγάπη, which have very specific references to both meaning and the relationship to which the meaning belongs, are used as a way of driving home the overall theme of the passage.  Most of John 15:1-17 is written in the subjunctive tense, a tense that implies probability most of the time, but can also imply intention and expectation as well.[10]  The afore mentioned word μείνατε is an imperative, referencing more than an simple suggestion to abide, but speaking almost as a command that need be followed.  μένω, the verb meaning remain or abide, is used in several other tenses throughout this passage including the future, as a liquid verb μενεȋτε, and the present.[11]  It could be important to note here that this verb “abide” does not appear in any form of past tense such as the aorist or imperfect, and neither does it occur in the perfect tense or pluperfect tense.  This is likely symbolic of the fact that Jesus is speaking of what is to come now, somehow different from what has been, and that there is no completing this action, but rather the abiding in Him is an ongoing process.  The Strongest Concordance definition of this word would seem to support this as its main definition for the word points to an ongoing process that may or may not stop, but is never completed.[12]

On the other hand, a verb that appears in multiple tenses including the aorist, imperative, and subjunctive, but never the perfect tense, is the verb ἀγαπάω which means love.  Different than its Greek counterparts also translated “love,” agape love is significant of the self-sacrificial love that can only truly be found in God’s love for humanity[13] which is signified best for us by Christ’s death on the cross.  Again, the tenses in which this verb appears within this passage are significant to what Jesus is saying.  Love from the Father towards Jesus is past tense, but not completed, while the Jesus’ command to the disciples to love each other as He has loved them would indicate a new way of living starting now and continuing without end.

Another possibility that could explain some of the different uses of the verb μένω is that John is making a series of word plays here, going back and forth between meanings.  While there can be no real substantiative proof of this, it could make sense that, as John is working to create a certain theme here, that of abiding in Christ as a new way of life for the people of God, he is going back and forth between the old and the new.  The old would be found here when the word is translated “remain.”  This would happen whenever things are in the present tense meaning the way things are now is that the Israelites remain in God.  However, as Christ describes the “true vine” and the idea of the changes that are, or rather will be taking place in the relationship between God’s people and God, He is telling His disciples that from now on they are to abide in Him.  Remaining would be considered a present static action or rather, inaction, whereas abiding connotes an active role, taking part in and dynamically working to abide in Christ.  More will be said on this later.

Perhaps another significant word that is used shows up in the first verse, but its translation and meaning echo through much of this passage.  The NRSV Bible translates the word γεωργός as “vine grower.”[14]  While the meaning of this particular translation relates it specifically to the vine, the greater meaning has to do more with a tender of agriculture[15], or as the NIV translates it, “the gardener.”[16]  Some might argue that this might be an argument of semantics, inferring that it makes little difference, the inference of God the Father as the farmer may indeed hold a greater significance for this particular statement.  A vine-grower, or vine dresser, is someone who likely specializes in the growing of grapes, where as a farmer has the much greater task, and knowledge, of tending multiple crops.  Vine-grower implies a great deal toward raising the plant, while there are mentions in later verses of pruning and tending the vine,[17] implications that could be missed when using the translation vine-grower, even though this is clearly part of the job.  Along with this comes the implication that God, being the God of all nations, does not simply take care of the vine, that which signifies the nation of Israel, but that the Father, who is the gardener, also tends all the nations in His garden.  He was the gardener in Eden, and John also makes reference to Jesus being that gardener on the same level as the Father later in the Gospel at Jesus’ resurrection.  Though this might simply be a difference in translational preference, the significance of “gardener” over and above “vine-grower” is prodigious enough that it bears a great deal of consideration.

As was suggested earlier, the style in which Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John is significantly different than that of its synoptic counterparts.  While it is safe to say that Jesus likely didn’t speak differently in front of the apostle John than he did in front of everyone else, it would make sense that as the author of John is writing to a different audience than those of the synoptics, specifically this audience would be a Johannine community[18] in the late 90’s or even possibly into the second century,[19] the reasoning for this dialogical change is significant.  Much of the differences are due to the fact that, unlike the synoptic gospels that introduce Jesus and work through his life, John seems to presuppose the audiences’ foreknowledge of Christ, as well as Christ’s full knowledge of His own divinity,[20] which would make sense based on the later date of writing. Christian theology would have had some time to develop as would the Church’s understanding of Christ.  Thus the author begins the Gospel not with a birth narrative, but rather a high Christological statement of who Christ is.

With this observation in mind, the author John uses several thematic elements that show up throughout the Gospel.  One of the most prominent and also unique to John is the use of the “I am” statements that Jesus makes.  This reference and usage again of the Greek phrase Έγώ εὶμι is not simply a happenstance, but rather a direct reference to the words of God when He called Moses to lead Israel.  The name of God is given to Moses there, “I AM who I AM,” and is instructed to tell the people of Israel that “I AM” has sent Moses to them.[21]  John is clearly making a point here that Jesus and “I AM” are one and the same, the God of Israel who is their Messiah.  The statement, “I am the true vine” or later “I am the vine” is in fact Jesus pointing to Himself as the true fulfillment of Israel’s purpose, as was mentioned before, but it is also the final statement of “I Am” in the book of John.  Its placement here at the center of this Chiasm that is referred to as Jesus’ farewell discourse is most assuredly not by accident.  Whether or not Jesus truly said these exact things or not as he was coming to the close of the last supper, the author, throughout the Gospel is clearly making the turn from Jesus being a messianic human figure, to being in line with God Himself, casting His true divinity in name of God “I AM.”

Interpretation

                The significance of this passage has been stated several times already, but in an effort to make sure that it is not understated, it need be mentioned once again that the point at which John has Jesus saying “I am the true vine,” brings all the previous book together into the light of the words “Abide in me.”  As was stated previously, this passage comes at the center of a Chiasm, making this statement jump off the page as being abundantly significant, drawing together the whole of this discourse.  Adding to this then is the point that this is the last of Jesus’ “I AM” statements that have been made throughout the Gospel.  Arguably, there are seven of these statements; all pointing to a different aspect of whom Jesus is as God.[22]  He says, “I AM…” the Bread of Life;[23] the Light of the world;[24] not of this world;[25] the Good Shepherd;[26] the Resurrection and the Life;[27] the Way, the Truth, and the Life;[28] and finally the True Vine.[29]  It is almost as if the author is saying that though these other things are good theological points, they truly do not amount to a hill of beans if Christians aren’t abiding in the True Vine, and that is the main theological point that is being made here: Christians need to abide in Jesus, the True Vine.

Cleverly, John plays with the words of this passage, the crux of everything being referenced in the Gospel, going back and forth between the words abide and remain.  A turn is made here in both thought and in relationship.  Christ followers are not just a people that God has chosen, remaining in a covenant without doing anything to take care of it.  This is furthered when Jesus speaks of those who used to be slaves no longer being called slaves.  Rather, instead of being slaves that don’t know the Father’s business, Jesus points to a new relationship in which His followers are called “friends.”  Here the fullest sense of the idea of abiding really takes root.  Christ invites us in as guests in the Father’s house.  No longer are we left outside, unaware of what is going on within.  Instead Jesus has invited us in, to abide in the house, and be a part of the family.  He even prescribes how it is that we can do this, how we can abide in him, and that is by loving each other and keeping his commands.  We don’t just remain in a static sense any longer, but rather have full participation within the Father’s house!  God almighty has asked us to take part in His work in the world; to abide in His house and therefore know what the Father is doing.  We know these things of the Father because Jesus has heard them, and has spoken them to us.[30]

It is here that Jesus’ statements have come full circle.  Jesus started by warning His disciples that the Lord would cut off any of those who did not bear fruit; yet he failed to mention how exactly they were to bear this fruit at the beginning.  He later says that abiding in Him is how they are to bear fruit.  But it is at the end of this section in which we see how this fully accomplished.  As Christians we are engrafted into the Vine that is Christ and, as Jesus points out, without this engrafting the disciples would be able to do nothing at all.  Calvin points out that without this engrafting into Christ we would be as a branch that has been removed from a tree, capable of nothing.[31]  Therefore we must take care, Calvin points out, to not disfigure ourselves, being that we are members of the Vine that is Christ.[32]

Though this is all good information, surely the disciples are wondering how exactly they are supposed to abide in Jesus.  Fortunately for us all, Jesus tells us this exact information.  We abide in Him by keeping His commandments, the primary example of which is also located here in His command to “love each other.”[33]  Abraham Kuyper points out that this Christian love is not simply the expression of love that seems to be so disfigured and diluted in today’s culture, but rather the idea of divine or eternal love, love that is represented best within the context of the trinity and given the Greek word ἀγάπη, which is found in this passage.[34]  This truly is the love of God; the selfless, self-sacrificial love that Christ would later live into, or rather die into on the cross.

Homiletic themes and practical application for this passage would seem almost to be endless.  Sermons could be written for months on the implications of this passage alone.  Clearly the themes of identity and membership in Christ run strongly through this passage.  This passage is referenced often in relationship to Calvin’s fifth point of TULIP, the perseverance of the saints.[35]  As we have seen, the point of loving each other comes through rather strongly as well.  Christ’s command to love one another and to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters as being the greatest expression of love, especially Christian love, points us to what is often an entirely different mindset for Christians.  Through this love, we who have been engrafted into Christ bear fruit.  More than this though is that, through our engrafting into the One True Vine, we are, as the medieval theologian Peter Abelard stated, “we are thus joined through his grace to him and our neighbor by an unbreakable bond of love…”[36]  Calvin calls this an allure to cultivate brotherly love.[37]  In a roundabout way, Jesus has given us a picture of Christian community that is unified in both source and expression.  That too would be a picture of unity through love in the Holy Spirit, to which Kuyper would speak to.  Even Bonheoffer references theme, encouraging the church to “love as he loved.”[38]  While this is a personal charge, its ripple effects would be felt throughout the whole church.

                An additional major theme that often finds its way out of this passage is that of Union, or lack thereof, with Christ.  This theme runs along the previous idea of identity and membership in Christ, but takes us deeper bringing our whole being into the picture. “The allegory of the vine,” says the Interpreter’s Bible, “is the most complete expression of the mystical union between Christ and the Christian in this Gospel.  It combines the thought which Paul expressed in the figure of the body and its members with the peculiar emphasis which John lays on love as the chief mark of this inward fellowship.”[39]  Inward fellowship is not the pedantic small talk that we call fellowship, it is an engrafting that becomes so deep, so utterly dependent on the vine that their separation would mean death to the branch.

Connected with the idea of union with Christ is the notion of bearing fruit.  Jesus makes a significant statement to show that this isn’t just a living around the vine, but rather living because of the connection to the vine.  Evidence of this connection comes from the bearing of fruit.  He makes it very clear that through no strength of our own can we bear fruit.  It isn’t just a matter of living in a particular way, but to “walk by the Spirit,”[40] as Paul says, which is our link to the vine.[41]  Calvin speaks to this pointing out that it is the nation of man to be unfruitful and destitute of everything good because “no man has the nature of a vine, till he be implanted in him [the Vine].”[42]  Thus, the only way that we can bear fruit is if we abide in the vine, if we are engrafted into it, drawing our life from it.  This is more than just a passive way of life; it is the purpose of it. Our purpose is to bear fruit so that we might be of use to God in His world.[43]

Closely following this is the negative side of this argument.  The question of what happens when those who are seemingly abiding in the vine don’t bear fruit.  This raises questions of authenticity in Christian life and a myriad of other rabbit trails off of that particular point.  However, Jesus specifically states “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,”[44] which would imply that the reverse is true as well.  Those who do not abide in Jesus do not bear fruit.  However, Jesus calls those particular people branches as well implying that they, in one way or another, look as though they are part of the vine.  Jesus makes the obvious statement that a branch cannot bear fruit by itself,[45] and that those branches that do not bear fruit are pruned, removed so that the other fruit bearing branches can bear even more fruit.[46]  John implies here that there will be some that are connected to Jesus in some way, but they are not abiding in Him.  They would give the outward appearance of being branches that are part of the vine, but their true state is revealed in their lack of fruit.[47]  Jesus’ statement about these people is clear, they will be pruned.

Conclusion

Finally, we return to the main theme and thrust of this paper, the statement of Jesus to “abide in me.”  Truly this is the crux of the entire passage, the whole chiasm, and possibly the entire book.  It could even be argued that the themes that statements of this passage represent a summary statement of the whole narrative of God’s redemptive history.  A people chosen by God to remain in Him, not always sure of what they were up to, not truly given more than a shadow of the things to come.  They remain in God because of the covenant; God loves them all the time while they love Him some of the time.  A people called to show God to the world, to bring God’s love and be a light to the nations, but failing to live up to that purpose because of lack of knowledge, lack of desire, and lack of ability.  But Jesus comes to change all that.  No longer are God’s people slaves, they are now called friends because servants do not know what the master is doing.[48]  We do know however, because we have seen it and heard it.  The love of God and His redemptive purpose has been exhibited in Christ Jesus.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the Father, the Gardner, through His Son, the True Vine, the Word made flesh that lived among us.[49]

There is no question now of God’s actions, for we have witnessed the true Love of God, the ἀγάπη love demonstrated through Jesus.  Our call then is to abide in Him and to show it not by static inaction, but obeying Jesus’ commandments, through love that bears fruit. We no longer dwell on the outside, but have been invited into the house of God, walking through the torn veil to into true relationship and our call is to abide!  “Take advantage of my hospitality,” God says, “for I chose you and I want for you to abide in me, and so I will abide in you.  In doing this our joy will be made complete.”  These statements not only invite us in, but they give us assurance.  We ourselves cannot bear fruit and through no power of our own can we change this.  But in Christ, we can and do bear fruit.  Jesus’ promise to us is that if we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit.  No conditions or stipulations are given; all we need do is abide in Him.  May it be so in our lives to through the Son, the True Vine, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to and for the glory of the Father, both now and forever more.  Amen.


[1] John 15:4.  All Biblical citations will be made from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bible unless otherwise noted.

[2] John 15:4.

[3] Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 3d ed.  (New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2001), 173 of the New Testament.

[4] Wayne Brower, “The literary development of John 13–17: A chiastic reading” (Open Access Dissertations and Theses, Paper 1901, 1999), 1. http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/opendissertations/1901.

[5] James L. Bailey and Lyle D. Vander Broek, Literary Forms in the New Testament: A Handbook (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992) 178.

[6] Ibid., 172-173.

[7] George W. Knight and Rayburn W. Ray, ed. The Layman’s Bible Dictionary (Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 1998), 336.

[8] Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 3d ed. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002), 138-139.

[9] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (Germany: Deutshe Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 209.

[10] N. Clayton Croy, A Primer of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 137.

[11] Ibid., 71.

[12] Howard W. Goodrick and John R. Kohlenberger III, The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 1570.

[13] David H. Kelsey, Eccentric Existence: A theological Anthropology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009), 694.

[14] John 15:1.

[15] Goodrick, 1537.

[16] John 15:1 (New International Version).

[17] Gary M. Burge, John: The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 418.

[18] Bailey, 176.

[19] Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2005), 110.

[20] Robert E. Van Voorst, Reading the New Testament Today, (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2005), 269-270.

[21] Exodus 3:14.

[22] Elwell, 112.

[23] John 6:35.

[24] John 8:12.

[25] John 8:23.

[26] John 10:11.

[27] John11:25.

[28] John 14:6.

[29] John 15:1.

[30] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. 5. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 909.

[31] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006), 302.

[32] Ibid., 687.

[33] John 5:12.

[34] Kuyper, Abraham (The Work of the Holy Spirit), Translated by Rev. Henri De Vries. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1900), 508.

[35] Steele, David N and others, The Five Points of Calvinism; Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2d ed.  (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2004), 149-150.

[36] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5d ed. (Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2011), 332.

[37] John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 116.

[38] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), 304.

[39] Nolan B. Harmon, ed. The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 717-718.

[40] Galatians 5:16.

[41] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 386.

[42] Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 107.

[43] Ibid., 394.

[44] John 15:5.

[45] John 15:4.

[46] John 15:2.

[47] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 796.

[48] John 15:15.

[49] John 1:14.



Day 312: John 12-13; The Book of Glory

We enter today into the second half of the Gospel of John, walking from the book of signs into the book of glory.  As we talked about before, John writes the first half of his book with a focus on seven miracles that are weaved into the narrative of Jesus’ life.  Each of these, in a different setting, are placed as a way of showing the reader Jesus’ power over everything and many of the different characteristics of the kingdom of God which He heralds.  We step away from this, without leaving it behind of course, and move into the book of glory which focuses in on Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem and what John ultimately sets up as the “glorification of Jesus Christ,” the Cross.

There are some debates about when exactly this particular section of the John’s Gospel starts.  Some would say that it is here at the beginning of chapter 12,  others would say that it begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  As I was reading through today’s Scripture, I couldn’t disconnect in my mind the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary.  While neither Jesus nor John mention it, my mind was drawn to the anointing of Saul, David, and many of the other kings and rulers of Israel and other lands as well.  There was a certain symbolism to the anointing process, a sort of divine significance and proclamation of the authority given to the anointed one.  While in some ways this happened at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, this fits perfectly as the transitional point from Jesus’ ministry to Jesus’ passion.

In our reading today we see some of Jesus’ talk about light as well.  He says, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”  Remember back to Jesus’ statement, “I AM the light of the world“?  There are some definite connections here to that, and to all of Jesus’ ministry.  John is showing us that there is congruence between Jesus’ ministry and the coming death that will take place.  We are also introduced to some new language, mostly centered around the word “glory” or “glorification.”  Jesus talks about this when He also mentioned the need for the Son of man to be “lifted up.”  As we said earlier, John is equating the “raising up” of Jesus on the cross as Jesus’ ultimate glorification.

Finally today, we read of the Last supper narrative from the perspective of John.  This particular passage is unique to John and isn’t included in any of the other Gospels.  Part of me wonders why this is; if their perspectives and writings avoided this because of the humbling that took place in the act of foot washing?  The true reason, I guess, is not known, but John makes it a point to record this act in its fullness.  In it, we see something very true about the nature of Jesus as well.  In many ways, this reflects what Matthew and Mark write about Jesus, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ actions is priceless.  His reaction to what Jesus says to Him is even more priceless.  How little the seem to understand at this point… yet so eager to do all that Jesus says.

I think we shall end with Jesus’ words after He has returned to the Table with them.  They are quite meaningful and really sum up both the action that He has taken in washing the disciples feet and the action that He will take to wash them of their sins as well:

Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’  I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.



Day 311: John 10-11; I AM The Resurrection and the Life

As we continue on the journey of Jesus in the Gospel of John, we come today to the end of the “book of signs” that we talked about a couple days ago at the beginning of John.  The first half of this book ends at the climax of Jesus’ miracles, raising Lazarus from the dead in an awesome and unbelievable miracle!  This is also the point at which the religious leaders decide that they are going to kill Jesus somehow… some way… they need to get rid of Jesus if they are to maintain their role as leaders.  But lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

In chapter 10 we see yet another exclamation of Jesus’ “I AM” or “ἐγώ εἰμί status.  Jesus is talking about the people of Israel as being sheep; an apt description of a people that have proven themselves to both be idle followers of whoever is willing to lead them and remarkably dense when it comes to the quality of their leadership.  In this discussion, Jesus is also talking about the leadership of the people over the past years.  Sheep always need a shepherd, someone to lead and protect them lest they wander freely.  The problem in the past has been that too often the leadership that they have had, other nations and gods have indeed led them into the wilderness and really just left them there.  What Jesus is saying is that HE is the GOOD Shepherd.  Remember back to Luke 18 or Mark 10, someone calls Jesus a “good teacher” and Jesus responds saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Now, Jesus is calling Himself the GOOD Shepherd, making the point in both the I AM statement and the used of the word GOOD, that He is God and He is their leader; that God that has always been their head.  Not only He their leader, He is also their “Gate.”  Not only is He their leader and their protection, He is also the way in which they enter into that status.  No one can climb over the wall, there is no back door into being one of the people of God; as Jesus will point out later, He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.  John also makes some clear connections here to the parable of the lost sheep and the deep truths of Psalm 23.

We then see Jesus in a discourse about His unity with the Father.  It is ironic, I think, that this comes at the end of the book of signs.  Jesus has done amazing miracles to the wonder and astonishment of many, and yet the people still ask Him to tell them plainly whether or not He is the Christ.  He responds to their request as says, “I have told you but you did not believe me.”  It’s interesting isn’t it?  How often we are like these people as well.  So much has happened in our lives, things that have taken place that are undeniably acts of God, and yet we still want to just be told plainly whether or not God is real or present.  Jesus then lays it out for them again… and they still don’t believe Him.  He really cannot be anymore clear about who He is and His relationship to God the Father, and they still try to kill Him for it.  How often do we do this as well?  The evidence is so clearly laid out before us, and yet we still choose to do things our own way…

Finally, the climax of the book of signs: the resurrection of Lazarus.  One of the clear signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God has to do with the resurrection of the dead.  This was something that had never been done before and it was something that could only be attributed to God for it was God who created life and therefore only God who could bring back to life.  For Jesus to do this was to indeed claim the place of God, showing that He indeed had power over death itself.  Not only this though, Jesus makes this wild claim that HE is the Resurrection and the Life.  Again, using the “I AM” or “ἐγώ εἰμί statement, Jesus places Himself as God.  He is the “I AM” the very center of being… This claim is abundantly amazing really… Jesus does not simply claim to be the “resurrection,” bringing people back from the dead, He also claims to be the source of life from the beginning.  Think back to John 1, Jesus is living into and claiming this status as being “The Word” that was in the beginning.  Only after this audacious claim does Jesus then show everyone the Truth of it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  It is this that sets events in motion that lead to Jesus eventual arrest, death and ultimately the reality that The Resurrection and The Life is indeed resurrected.



Day 310: John 8-9; Darkness and Light

As we talked about a couple days ago when we began the book of John, one of the things that John masterfully weaves into his writing is the interplay between darkness and light as it pertains to Jesus’ and His incarnation in the world.  John writes in the first chapter:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John is also, no doubt, drawing from some of the prophecies that come from Isaiah as well.  There is one in particular, from Isaiah chapter 9, that I can think of right away that contains the theme of darkness and light, one that we is often looked to during the Christmas season, a passage that Matthew also picks up in Chapter 4:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Jesus bears witness to Himself in our reading for today, saying that He is the “Light of the world” and that all who believe in Him will have “Light of life.”  In this small discourse, Jesus relates what He says to His status as the Son, pointing to the fact that it is through Him, and only through Him that we can know the Father.  He also uses the same wording here as yesterday, the I AM “ἐγώ εἰμί statement.  Jesus is the Light, the Truth that sets us free!

Reading these two chapters more carefully, we see that John is relating darkness, the slavery to sin, and even physical ailments as being part of the darkness that we are seeing here.  In contrast, Jesus says that He is the light, He is the truth that sets us free from slavery, and He is the one who heals the blind man.  I love the narrative of chapter 9 here, when Jesus heals the blind man and he is hauled before the religious leaders.  They ask him all sorts of questions about his blindness and the man that healed him.  They simply cannot put it together that Jesus could possibly be someone sent from God.  The man’s response?  “Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… I was blind but now I see.  Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Remember that in the past we have talked about God’s dwelling being in darkness.  From the very beginning, when the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and darkness was over the face of the deep.  Even in the Tabernacle and the Temple we noted that the place that God dwells is in complete darkness.  While this is true, I think that we can see this darkness in a couple of different ways.  First and foremost, darkness is the natural habitat of God and most definitely not for humans.  In the darkness we stumble, we cannot see, we are compelled to sleep, and we are vulnerable.  For us darkness separates, alienates… it is even dangerous.  We are light dwellers.  John’s Jewish readers would have picked up on this almost immediately… the Gentile readers wouldn’t have been far behind.

Yet, in Jesus Christ, those walking in darkness have seen a great light.  Though God has been with us in this dark world, the world that God created but that has been marred with sin.  We are not able to effectively be in relationship with God because of our sin.  It is only in Jesus Christ that our world has been illuminated, that in the presence of God we can now see!  We were blind, lost in darkness, and now we can see.