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.



Day 309: John 6-7; I Am… The Bread of Life

While we didn’t do a great deal to connect yesterday’s reading to the prologue in John 1, today’s Scripture cannot be read outside of that text.  The implications of what Jesus says in John 6, and the subsequent “I AM” statements of the Gospel of John stem directly from John original assertion that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, the Divine taking on human flesh that has “tabernacled” or “dwelt” among us.  There are other narratives in today’s two chapters of reading, signs of Jesus power over creation and the abundant provision that He offers to so many people.  Jesus’ teaching in several different places and events are also very powerful and could even be called intrusive, at least intrusive to the societal norms of the day.  We see that they elicit two responses: questions about who He is and the teaching that He offers and that of the leaders who send soldiers to arrest Jesus.  All of this though, is linked inextricably to John 1.

I would like to spend a brief amount of time talking about Jesus’ “I AM” statement here in John 6.  To do this though, we need to think back a little bit, all the way to Exodus and the story of Moses’ first encounter with God at the burning bush.  Remember with me that when God first reveals Himself to Moses, calling Him to be the leader of Israel, Moses asks for God’s name in case “the elders of Israel” ask who sent him.  Do you remember God’s answer?

God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

This is The Name that is given to God for all time.  It was deemed so Holy that the people of God, out of reverence for God’s Name, chose other words as a substitute for it like “Adonai.”  In any case, the Tetragrammaton, which is another name for the name of God, was extremely Holy and to say it was to dishonor God… at least in that culture.  However, when Jesus is talking about the bread of like says, “I AM the bread of life.”  It is likely that Jesus was speaking in Aramaic here,  but when John translates this into the Greek he uses the words “ἐγώ εἰμί” (pronounced“egō eimi”).  Literally this means “I I am” or more appropriately, (I AM that I AM)… the Greek equivalent for the name of God.  Jesus is communicating here, as God did to Moses so many years prior, that He is the very essence of being… the ontological beginning if you will.  While people are always something (I am hungry, I am tall, I am Jon), Jesus is just I AM…  This phrase, to all who were listening, especially the religious leaders, would have linked and set on the same level Jesus and God.

Now, I understand that Jesus also says “I AM the bread of life.”  He places this caveat on Himself, perhaps linking Himself with Scripture.  Deuteronomy 8, which Jesus also quotes when He is being tempted by the devil, says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  He is linking Himself also with this Word, THE WORD.  Jesus is the Word of God, the Bread of Life, and it is only through Him that humanity can live at all… physically and spiritually.  Jesus Christ is the great I AM, the Word of God who was and is and is to come.



Day 308: John 4-5; The Woman at the Well

We continue along in the Gospel of John today and the first thing I think to write today is that it is such a shame that we didn’t talk about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus yesterday.  There is a whole lot of talk about the Spirit and all that goes along with being a believer in Christ and being born again.  What I realized though, as I was reading today is that much of what Jesus is talking about in His encounter with the Samaritan woman is an extension of this.  After a brief exchange, Jesus talks to her about receiving living water and about worshiping God “in Spirit and in Truth.”  These are all things that He had just talked about with Nicodemus.  Life in Christ, like worship isn’t about location, it isn’t about the things that you do, it isn’t even about how well you do them, it is TRULY about the inward change that takes place.  While there is certainly room for right worship and right works, they are not the main theme; they are simply a response to what God has done for us.  Really, in many ways, it is like the Shema!

We have talked about this passage in Deuteronomy so many times.  Deuteronomy 6 is one of the central themes that flows through all of the Bible and it too is about the inward change that happens, not simply about the outward actions.  The woman at the well is asking who is right about where the people worship, a mountain or the Temple.  I can only imagine Jesus head falling into his hands and thinking “you people just don’t get it!”  Fortunately, He is much more gracious than that.  He takes the time to explain to her why neither place is important as far as worship goes, but rather it is about the spirit in which you worship that is the important thing, in much the same way that it is the inward spiritual transformation (being born of the Spirit) that takes place when we become Christians.  There is nothing that we can do to put ourselves in right standing with God, but there is plenty that we can do in response to the grace that we have received!  God won’t like us more… He already counts us as righteous in Jesus Christ… which is the best place that we can be!  However, our actions after our salvation, in worship and service and life in general stand as a testimony to all that God has done for us!  Hallelujah!

I included here, for your reading pleasure, a paper that I wrote in my undergrad studies.  It is a paper about how worship is laid out in John chapter 4.  I hope that you find it worth the read!  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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“Music may seem to be a surface matter, mere decoration,[1]” but there is no issue or hot topic in the church that has polarized congregations across this country more than the topic of worship and worship styles.  Though seemingly a problem that the church has only faced in this current generation, it is clear in the reading of the forth chapter of John that our idea of “worship wars” is in fact not at all a new one at all but something that people of God have been facing for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Given the extensive history of this particular issue, it would seem that there is a plethora of information that is, or should be available for the church; information that could provide direction in this time of conflict.  When it comes to comes to a discussion such as worship, there is arguably no verse that has been quoted more on both sides than that of the verses in John four.  Suffice to say though that neither side is quite sure what it is that Jesus is actually saying to the Samaritan woman at the well and both sides are taking the verses out of context to serve their own arguments.  Especially true is this on the side of “contemporary worship” proponents.  In this post-modern age of overly spiritualized life, Jesus saying that ” a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”[2] has been the rally cry for those who seek music that they say touches them in a spiritual way.  Is this what Jesus really meant by this though?  Perhaps this phrase should be examined more closely if in fact worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth are ” the kind of worshipers the Father seeks”[3].  While it is true that God the Father is seeking worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth, this is not a statement of type or style of worship.  God is seeking worshipers that will worship Him authentically, in the Truth of His Word and by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

“God desires worship – in fact, He commands it.[4]”  Worship to God actually happening is a non-negotiable fact when it comes to the debates on worship.  “I am the Lord your God,” say God in to the Israelites at mount Sinai, “you shall have no other gods before me[5].”  Jesus echoes these words and words of the Moses in Deuteronomy 6 in his rebuke of Satan in the desert when he said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only[6].”  These words are spoken to the people of God to make sure that their worship wasn’t divided.  There is to be no other worship than that of the worship of God almighty.  The words that Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in John 4 don’t offer any question on this fact either.  “True worshipers,” Jesus says, “WILL worship God in spirit and in truth.[7]”  This is a redirection of the idea of worship from a place or a style to the nature of worship itself.[8]

Father God is actively seeking true, authentic worshipers to worship Himself and is no longer concerned with sacrifices, locations, or styles.  Foster points out that “it is God who seeks, draws, persuades[9]” us to worship.  “Worship is the Human response to the divine initiative[10]” that must be Christ centered and God focused.  When our concerns about worship change our focus from God to what type of music we are playing, where we are worshiping, or even those that we are worshiping with, we are no longer focusing our worship on God.  In effect, this is idolatry; the idolatry of self and it is in absolute contradiction with God’s command to us to worship Him only.  However, so much emphasis has been placed on the two words “spirit” and “truth” that it is difficult for people to not focus on them and what exactly they mean.

Spiritual life has taken on a very new meaning in the last 50 years.  Since the 1970’s, the general populous have become enamored with the spiritual nature of our existence.  Although this is something that Christians need to be especially aware of, secular culture’s attempt at defining what spirituality hardly reflects how the Church is, or should be looking at Spirituality.  Gary Burge points out that the “Spirit” that Jesus is referring has nothing to do with the so called “human spirit” but has to do with worship that is directed and “dynamically animated by God’s Holy Spirit.[11]”  The actual word “spirit” uses here comes from the Greek word pneuma.  When translated, this word refers largely to spirit, breath, or wind and is the word most often used to refer to the Holy Spirit[12].  In this particular context it would be best translated as “the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God.[13]”  Worshiping in spirit then would undoubtedly mean that the worshipers that God is seeking, those that worship in spirit and in truth, are worshipers that are responding to God alone and not focused on or distracted by other things.  God the Father is also pure spirit, and the worship which pleases Him is spiritual worship – “the sacrifice of a humble, contrite, grateful and adoring spirit.[14]”  Clearly, this is Jesus speaking of worship as being an inner transformation, the change and refocus of the inner self, feelings, the mind, and the will to God alone.[15]

Postmodernism and truth has and continues to be a largely debated and discussed topic.  Today’s truth, as it has been undefined by postmodernism, is no longer absolute and can be completely contextual.  However, the Truth that Jesus is speaking of here is hardly contextual and is absolutely absolute.  The world truth here, when translated from the Greek refers specifically to truthfulness that corresponds to reality.[16]  Reality is simply the words that Jesus speaks later in the book of John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[17]”  Simply put, worship in Truth means worship that is Christ centered.  Sin had separated us from communion and relationship with the Father and it is only though the redeeming blood of Christ that we can come before God and worship Him.  Paul also points to this when he writes that Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.[18]”  This is understood almost universally as Christ perfecting prayers and worship as it rises to God the Father which means that when Christians authentically worship God, they can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[19]” Worshipers that God is seeking are those that are in Christ because Christ is Truth just as He is the incarnate Word, which is also Truth.

If these worshipers, those that worship in Spirit and in Truth, are the worshipers that God is actively seeking, why is it that we are so caught up in the so called “worship wars?”  Generally speaking, the term “worship war” is actually an incorrect term because no one is truly fighting about whether worship happens or not on a Sunday morning.  Everyone wants to worship God and it seems that everyone is comfortable with praying and hearing the Word preached as well.  Most people are comfortable with receiving the sacraments as well even if there is disagreements about the means and the frequency to which it happens.  No, the worship war in the church is actually a music war, one in which the focus of worship has been taken off of God and has set it on personal preference of style.  Why is this the case though?  John Frame points out that “Musical questions are foundational questions. These questions ask, in one way or another, ‘what is worship?’ If we can answer that, then we can decide better what sort of music is right.[20]”  Musical portions of worship is very important to people.  Many times it is the music that is remembered first in the church, that which we is remembered when we go home from church and throughout the week as well.  It stands to reason that if we are truly asking foundational questions when we question and debate musical styles, it is an important issue for the Church to not only address but handle in a Biblical manor as God directs.

However this revelation of what worship is, or should be, does not seem to have stifled the conflict and looking to scripture for help doesn’t seem to have helped as it should.  Christians seem to relate more closely to the woman at the well rather than the teachings of our Savior.  We counter Scriptural directions and Jesus’ teachings on worship with questions about the venue in which worship happens.  When worship is discussed, questions and discussion quickly digress to questions about the best church or denomination.[21]  It seems that we have to repeat again and again that worship is not about a place or a time, worship is about the heart!  Scripture, especially these verses, show that worship is deeper than outward actions, which aren’t bad in and of themselves, and is much deeper than a building, art, music, and/or design.  “God wants more than ritual.  God wants the worship of the inner person; an inner heartfelt response.[22]”  Moreover, the two Greek words most commonly used for worship, proskynein, which is used by John here in chapter, and latreuein actually suggest worship as an “all-pervasive and ongoing condition.[23]”  In and of itself, worship is more than just faithfully attended Sunday morning church services; it is more than a type of music or even a style.  Worship is life.  It is with this understanding that we as Christians can and should proceed in our discussions and debates about worship.

Echoes of Paul’s words in Romans 12 flow through this understanding of worship as being a lifestyle, not simply an event.  We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which he calls this offering our “spiritual act of worship.[24]”  This isn’t a onetime offering that Paul is speaking of though.  He speaks in the next verse about being transformed, a work that is done through and only by the Holy Spirit.  Work of the Holy Spirit in this light is just as much an ongoing thing as our worship should be.  Christians call this sanctification which is defined as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.[25]”  Like sanctification, worship is a state of being, a continuing action.  Harold Best uses the term “continuous outpouring” in his description of worship as relentless, lavish, generous giving of one’s life as a worship offering to God.[26]  The Church can no longer afford to support, or better stated not discourage the idea that worship is in a certain place and at a certain time.  Just like our lives our changed by the saving work of Jesus Christ and continually regenerated by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, so too must our worship be continually given to God the Father.  As Burge eloquently states it, the true authentic worship and worshipers that God seeks in “not tied to holy places but impacted by a Holy Person, who through His cross will inaugurate the era in which the Holy Spirit will change everything.[27]

What does this mean for the Church then and for individual Christians struggling to discover what authentic worship in spirit and truth really is?  Furthermore, how then do we go about doing it?  First of all, it is important to point out and understand that God is pointing here to a “big picture” look at worship.  To use this passage as a way of saying that one style or type of music is superior in worship to the others is a foolish, gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ words.  Jesus is pointing towards what would be the ends, the result of worship, not at all to the means by which we worship.  There are very few places in which God speaks negatively about the means of worship when it is directed to Him.  Why is this?  Because worship is about motivation and right focus.  Isaiah writes in the beginning of his book that God is upset with His people because of their wrongful worship.  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” God declares, “Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.  Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.[28]”  The worship of the Israel was wrongfully focused and wrongfully motivated.  They had lost the true meaning of what worship is supposed to be.  Christian worship is supposed to be centered on Christ and focused on God when we worship.  When we take the focus off of God and place it on what we want and desire, our ‘worship’ is a burden to God as well.

How is it then that we take the focus of worship off of God and what can we do to change this?  Our worship wars have done, in a different way, have accomplished that which the Israelites came to as Isaiah describes in his first chapter.  The focus of the Israelites was on the actions and the duty of what God commanded them to do in worship.  They didn’t look to God but to what it is that they were doing as a means of salvation and worship.  Duty and tradition was their so call worship war cry.  Sounding this call has happened again in our generation though it is not the only call that has gone out in regards to worship.  Contemporary worshipers have taken up their own rallying cry and sought to follow after what moves them and makes them feel good as well.  Notice then that in neither of these factions does God get mentioned as their source or their objective.

God is the source of our worship; He is the origin of it and the focus of it.  The Church and its churches must come back to that one truth about worship.  “In Christ alone my hope is found[29]” go the words of one song, and it has never needed to be more true than in this time of trial.  Christians everywhere must return to this truth.  As this worship war has gone on we have not only taken the focus off of God and Christ, we have made it about ourselves.  In essence, we want what we want and we are unwilling to move from our position.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone has their own things that move them, but this is not what worship is about and it is certainly not the type of worship nor the type of worshipers that God is seeking.  Worship isn’t about us, it is about God.  Whenever we place what we want and desire in front of God and make it more important than God we commit idolatry; the idolatry of self.  We have the audacity, knowing what we know about God, to place our own desires in front of Him.  This means we are not loving God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” nor are we “loving our neighbor as our self.[30]”  If we were to be truly loving each other as we loved ourselves we would be loving them enough to want to sing the songs they like just as they would love us enough to sing the music that reaches them as well.  Jesus himself has emphasized the loving of each other by equating loving each other with loving God in the book of Luke.  Do we do this?  No, we argue about whose music is better and what songs we should be singing.  People want what they want and are unwilling to change or even look to the needs and desires of others.  How are we to reach out to the non-churched and unsaved people of this world if we cannot even agree with our own brothers and sisters?

Christian worshipers need to pull away from this ‘me first’ mentality.  We need to come to the realization that Worship is about God and God alone.  If we don’t return to the Lord and Christ as the focus of our worship and of our life we cannot expect to be a witness to those lost people that we are called to reach.  “The Heart of worship” is what we must seek, worship that is all about God.[31]  It is notable that neither ‘contemporary’ nor ‘traditional’ worship is designated as part of that heart of worship.  These styles of worship can both be used and are both good ways to worship God because worship isn’t about musical style, it is about the heart!  Matt Redman writes, in his song “Come Let Us Return,” that worship is about the rending of the heart, the bowing of a knee, a prayer, and a fast.[32]  The essence of worship is that which is in the heart, the interaction that goes on between God and our true selves, our Spirit.  Our worship must be in Spirit and in Truth as Jesus said or it is wrongfully motivated and not what the Father seeks.  May this be true for us and for the Church as we seek to honor, glorify and praise God through the worship of our Sunday services and in our everyday life.


[1] Sibley, Laurence C.  “Worship in Spirit and Truth: a Refreshing study of the principles and practice of biblical worship,”  Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998): 170.

[2] John 4:23 (New International Version Bible).

[3] Ibid

[4] Boice, James M.  Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 587.

[5] Exodus 20:2-3

[6] Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8

[7] John 4:23 (emphasis added)

[8] Boice, 578

[9] Foster, Richard J.  Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), 158.

[10] Ibid., 158

[11] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 147.

[12] Lee, Dorothy A.  “In the Spirit of Truth: Worship and Prayer in the Gospel of John and the Early Fathers.”  Vigiliae christianae 58 (2004): 280.

[13] Goodrick, Howard W. & Kohlenberger III, J. R.  The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 1584.

[14] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 111.

[15] Collins, C. J.  “John 4:23-24, “In Spirit and Truth”: an idiomatic proposal.”  Presbyterion 21 (1995): 121.

[16] Ibid., 1526

[17] John 14:6

[18] Romans 8:34

[19] Hebrews 4:16

[20] Sibley, 170

[21] Bochert, Gerald L.  Worship in the New Testament.  (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008): 46.

[22] Webber, Robert E.  Worship Old & New.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 28.

[23] Best, Harold M.  Unceasing Worship.  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003): 35.

[24] Romans 12:1

[25] “Sanctification.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctification

[26] Best, 19.

[27] Burge, Gary M.  The NIV Application Commentary: John.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 147.

[28] Isaiah 1:13-14

[29] Townsend, Stewart & Keith Getty, In Christ Alone, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 3350395.

[30] Luke 10:27

[31] Redman, Matt, The Heart of Worship, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 2296522

[32] Redman, Matt, Come Let Us Return, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 4107633



Day 307: John 1-3; Introduction to and Prologue of John

Today we come to the Gospel of John, the fourth and final Gospel in the New Testament.  John’s Gospel was the last of the four that were written and is not considered to be one of the “synoptic Gospels.”  Much of what is written in John is unique from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t follow in the same order as them.  This is not to say that the Gospel of John is in some way, incorrect, but instead takes yet another perspective of Jesus life from presumably one of His closest disciples.  John is writing in an effort to prove once and for all that Jesus the Divine Son of God.  Not only that though, John sought to show His readers, which were likely some of the Church’s that are mentioned at the beginning of the book of Revelation, that Jesus was indeed God almighty as well, the creator of the world who took on human flesh and ultimately sacrificed Himself for the salvation of His beloved children, and ultimately all of creation.

John begins his writing with a beautiful prologue that we have the opportunity to read today.  It is one of the most theologically rich writings in all of Scripture if you ask me.  In some ways, it is a genius move on John’s part, starting with the main point of His writing, almost as a theological plateau or mountain top from which we can look down and survey the whole of the rest of the Gospel (and most of Scripture too actually).  To be honest, I think we could spend a month talking through the prologue of John, and then venture carefully into the rest of His writing, however we aren’t given that amount of time.  So instead we will indeed use this scripture as the point from which we look out over the whole of the next 9 day’s readings, always keeping in mind the dual nature of Jesus on earth.  He is both fully human and fully Divine!  Too often we tend to divide up God and we forget that though we have a Triune God with three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, God is also one and Jesus being God means that God came here to earth and took on human flesh.

The book of John is divided up into two different sections after this first chapter: the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  In the first half of the Gospel of John, we specifically see a focus on Jesus’ miracles, in (arguably) seven signs, which are Jesus’ miracles, that are performed as John establishes Jesus Divinity in human form.  We see clearly that Jesus, though a man, has divine abilities and powers over creation.  In some ways, Jesus is also “recreating” many things, showing the true nature of creation and the Kingdom of God in small but important ways.  The wedding of Cana, which is Jesus’ first sign is one of these miracles where Jesus both does something miraculous but also shows the nature of His love and the Kingdom of God in the abundance of what he creates and what it comes from.  These basins were wash basins for those that had to go and “relieve” themselves at the party.  The Jewish community would have considered that water to be completely dirty and unclean.  Yet Jesus takes the dirty and makes it clean.  You can definitely see some of clear foreshadowing to the Lord’s supper here, with the wine that Jesus creates and gives to all the people.  Again, taking the unclean and making it clean.

Notice too, in our reading today, the interplay that John sets up between darkness and light.  There are many of these types of interplay that happen in the book of John.  He is a masterful writer, blending many themes together throughout the whole of His writing, even carrying them on into His letters which we will read in about a month.  John works on making many distinctions between what was before Jesus and what was after.  The unclean and the clean at the wedding of Cana is just one example.  The darkness and the light that we see in chapter one as well.  In chapter three we also see a bit of the interplay between flesh (before) and spirit (after), and John lay this out very well without giving into some of the Gnostic teachings of the time that said that flesh was ultimately bad.  John does not say this, but points to a time when the Spirit will be in our flesh, in much the same way that he points to God incarnate in flesh through Jesus Christ.

As we begin our short journey through John, I think its important to know that John’s book is in many ways one of the most important theological books of the Bible.  I know that this is a difficult thing to say and I wouldn’t even discount the rest of Scripture, however John makes some very specific theological moves in His book that are very important for us as Christians.  While they are present in other places throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament, John does a great job of weaving them in deeply in His writing.  The whole book of John is worth reading over and over.  We many only have a little time to cover each days’ reading (and I’m sorry if my posts get long these next few days, but there is just so much to say), but it’s still completely worth the read.  John’s Gospel is like a swimming pool: you can play in the shallow end and still get pretty wet, or you can dive down deep into the deep and get soaked.  My prayer this week is that we get as soaked as we possibly can in the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the book of John!



Day 306: Luke 23-24; The Emmaus Road

As we again come to the narrative of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, like yesterday I would like to encourage you to not allow yourself to just brush over the familiar stories here.  Especially in Luke, there are a couple of things that happen here that aren’t recorded in the other three Gospels that are important to the story and to our understanding of Jesus and the nature of the salvation that He offers us in His blood.  One of these stories that we encounter today is that of the interaction between Jesus and the thieves on the cross.  Jesus was not crucified alone, but with two others that were being punished by execution.  We see here, at the end of Jesus life, yet another person who acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God.  We also see here the true nature of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.  There are always discussions in Christian circles about about the details of salvation, death-bed conversions, etc.  Here we see this thief, in the final moments of his life, acknowledging Jesus as the one who will usher in the Kingdom of God and humbly asked to be remembered in that Kingdom.  Without hesitation, Jesus assures the repentant sinner that he will be in paradise with Jesus that very day.  The thief could do nothing more than repent of His sins and ask for Jesus’ mercy, and that is all it took!

The other narrative that we encounter today that is not found in any other Gospels is that of the Emmaus Road.  After Jesus resurrection we join the story of two men, presumably followers of Jesus Christ in some fashion, on the road to a town called Emmaus which is about seven miles outside of Jerusalem.  Scripture says that, as they were walking, Jesus drew near to them and started to walk with them, yet they did not recognize Him.  Obviously the Spirit is keeping their eyes closed though, because if  you think about it, for Jesus to “draw near” to two people that are walking, it means that He would have had to be running to catch up.  That in and of itself would have been undignified for any Hebrew male, yet the two men don’t appear to notice.

Next in the story, we see that Jesus picks up the conversation and them runs with it, explaining to these two men all about Himself and the things that had happened through all of the Old Testament.  Now, again, I understand that the Spirit was keeping them oblivious to who Jesus really is here, but I have to imagine that the authority with which this mystery man was teaching would have to at least kind of clue them in to who He really was.  There were no other religious leaders at this time that were teaching about Jesus.  Clearly, as we have seen, there wasn’t anyone around that was teaching the things that Jesus was teaching… especially not about Him either.

Yet it isn’t until the end of the journey, when they are eating together that His identity is revealed to Him.  And what instance?  At the time that Jesus breaks the bread.  I think this is an important point for us to see because not only does it encourage us to be alert and listening and watching for God action and teaching in our lives (which is what this story’s message is often boiled down to), or that we need to recognize Jesus in our day to day life (another practical tidbit that overly summarizes this story), but that in all things it is Christ that comes to us first and reveals Himself.  We believe that we are saved by grace through faith, but it is God that first draws us to Himself.  These two men talk about how their hearts were burning inside of them as He spoke to them, yet they did not recognize Him until a particular moment.  It is that moment, when clarity breaks through the fog of sin in our lives and we can see God and believe in Him.  So often we talk about faith like it is something that we do, but even faith itself is a gift from God through which we accept Him and are reborn into true life.



Day 305: Luke 21-22; Scripture Must Be Fulfilled

One of the beauties of the three Synoptic Gospels is that you read a lot of the same material over and over again, each time from a bit of a different perspective.  As we have mentioned before, the Gospel of Luke is much more like a movie documentary that is concerned with getting all the facts and details in the right order.  Unlike Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, showing them all the different ways that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, Luke doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus’ actions to scripture.  So, when I was reading through today’s reading I was surprised to find, nestled in between a couple of sections, a small part about how Jesus was to fulfill Scripture in His death.  In fact, all of Jesus life death and resurrection were a direct fulfillment of Scripture.  There were over 350 distinct prophecies that had to do with the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled every one of them!

It is important that we remember this.  Today we begin going through the narrative of the death of Jesus for the third time in less than a month.  While these scenes are often taken as horrific and sad, they are also part of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is important that, while we are and should be very familiar with them, we don’t box them into their own little category.  We need to hear this narrative, and all of Jesus life while keeping in mind the greater context of Scripture.  It helps  us to better know who Jesus is, why He came, and what exactly His death accomplishes for us!

As Christians, it is important for us to be familiar with these Scriptures.  It is also important for us to be familiar with the Scriptures that Jesus fulfills.  These prophecies and narratives, as well as the many things written about them in the New Testament are at the very core of what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is also important for us to know what they mean for us.  If someone asks you, “what does Jesus’ death on the cross mean?”  We need to be able to answer them effectively.  Interestingly enough, my typical answer for this would have been somewhat vague and perhaps very simply put, because I hadn’t thought about it much.  This semester though, I’ve had the opportunity to take a class on the creeds and confessions of the Church, of which we looked primarily at the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.  These are great tools for Christians (and non-Christians) to look at as the stand as a witness and summary of what the Church believes supported fully by Scripture.  Not only are they good summary statements of our beliefs, they are also great teaching (and learning) tools for us as we grow deeper in our faith.

While I would never elevate these documents above or even to the same level as Scripture, they are definitely important and good as seek to continue to grow in our faith!  I would encourage you to take a look at them.  Belgic Confession Article 21 is a great place to start when talking about atonement through Jesus Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism has a great deal to say about Jesus Christ as well, starting at Question & Answer 29 and continuing all the way through 52.  May they be a guide and a companion for you today and tomorrow as we once again encounter the narrative of Christ’s death and Resurrection.



Day 304: Luke 19-20; Questions… Questions…

We talked a while back about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and about His ministry in Jerusalem throughout the last days of His life on earth.  So today, I would like to focus on the questions that Jesus fields from the religious leaders.  While today I am referring to a very particular section of of Luke 20 in which the religious leaders are challenging the authority of Jesus, I think that most of the questions from the religious leaders towards Jesus would fit into this category save those from Nicodemus in the book of John.

So Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem in a rather humbly triumphant manner and has gone into the Temple and cleansed it, driving out all of the people that were in there buying and selling, cheating many for the sake of religion.  The religious leaders did not like this so they devised a way to trap Jesus by “asking” Him a question.  Their motive?  To try and trap Jesus publicly so that they could “de-frock” Him and thus remove Him from prominence.  There is an even deeper goal here I think, and its one that we often share with these religious leaders.  This goal is also one that is shared by those that are not believers, in order to trick Christians into saying specific things.  What is this goal?  They want to be right… or at the very least for Jesus to be wrong.  They want to catch Jesus to prove that the way they believe is correct.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t do that at all.”  But I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we do this with God all the time.  Whether we read our Bibles or just go to worship on Sunday mornings, we want to know that what we are doing is good (or at the very least okay).  If we read in the Bible or hear the pastor say that we should not hate our brother because it is just like murdering our brother, do we not often say, “well its not exactly like murder” or “I don’t really hate them, I just strongly dislike them.”  We justify our actions as a way of making ourselves feel okay about the way we are living.  We don’t want to feel guilty and we certainly don’t want to change, so we justify ourselves in our own minds.

We often do this with pastors as well.  In come classes that I have taken at seminary, I have witnessed some of my peers try to justify their own beliefs in front of pastors and professors by twisting their words or tweaking their statements so that they will be okay with what is being said.  In the same way, I have seen people go to their pastor and even had people come to be that try to justify their sinful actions by talking about how the context of a particular passage clearly means that what they did in the present is not what the Bible meant.  What they want to hear is that their sinful actions, their way of believing is good enough… what they want is cheap discipleship… cheap faith.

I think the greater world does this a lot too, posing questions like the ones Jesus is asked to the Church in an effort to somehow get a religious pass for immoral or unjust action.  To be honest, I think that the Church has long been silent about a lot of things, refusing to answer and thus affirming the direction that culture is going.  Sure we speak up every now and then on hot-button issues, but do we really care about the deep day-to-day living of those around us?  Do we really want to stand idly by while our friends and neighbors plunge deeper into darkness?  We need to have an answer for these questions… we need to have an answer for the culture.

What is Jesus’ answer here?  Well, He turns the question on its head and throws it back at the religious leaders.  He is well aware of their intent and traps them in their trap.  However, earlier and later in His ministry, even in our reading today, Jesus references time and again the words of Scripture in His answers.  Jesus doesn’t need to come up with a new and creative answer for the time because He has the Word of God inside of Him.  It is close to His heart and deep in His mind and at any time He can pull it out at any time.  Not just His favorite verses that have little meaning, but all of Scripture at all times.  Are we familiar with the Word of God in this way?  Do we have answers for the questions that the world poses to us?  Do we have answers to the simple questions?  Can we back them up with Scripture?  Are these words truly our life, as Moses says to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy, or are they just idle words that pass in and out of our ears.  We need to recover the Word of God in our hearts and on our minds that we may answer the questions for ourselves and for others!



Day 303: Luke 17-18; The Cost of Discipleship

As we come to the Word of God today, I would like you to take a moment to reread this section from yesterday’s reading in Luke 14:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

In the midst of all the healing and teaching that is taking place, Jesus takes time to talk about what it means to follow Him.  The passage we just read from yesterday, Luke 14:25-33, we see Jesus is addressing the crowds that come to hear Him teach.  Word has spread around the countryside that Jesus was a great speaker and healed people.  Everyone was flocking to hear and see Him; much like some of the celebrity pastors and speakers that we have in our own Christian faith (but without the God being man factor).  Today we see Him address a rich man, an individual who seems to have all the right motivations and wants to sign on to this discipleship thing:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”  And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here Jesus is addressing much the same thing.  First we had a whole lot of people who were “following” Jesus, wanting to hear His speak and be inspired by His teaching.  Now we have a wealthy young man who has says that He has lived a good life, keeping to all of the laws that were laid out for the people of Israel.  In both cases, Jesus lays out what it means to truly follow Him and, at least in the case of the rich young rule, that cost seems a bit too high for him.

So what is the cost of discipleship?  Well, too often we talk about how Jesus tells the man that he has to sell everything and give it all away in order to follow him.  While I don’t think that this is a call for us to live without a house, job or means of providing for ourselves, for indeed these things are a gift of God as His way of providing for our needs, Jesus is talking about the priority that these things need to take in our lives for us to be followers of Him.  At other times Jesus has said that someone “cannot serve two masters,” yet another example of priority and orientation in our lives.  What Jesus is truly saying here is that the cost of discipleship is our very lives.

What metaphor does Jesus use to talk about discipleship in Luke 14?  The cross.  We need to take up our cross.  Later on in the New Testament Paul picks up this idea talking about how we need to die to ourselves (the desires of our flesh) so that we may rise again in Christ.  We see this theme come up in baptism, salvation, and the Christian life over and over again in Scripture.  The cost of discipleship is our lives.  Not physically giving up our lives, but as Paul writes in Romans 12,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.”  I think this is a very apt description that goes well with what Jesus has to say here.  In our current cultural context, with the mega church movement in full swing, we see people flocking to these large churches to hear really good speakers.  Now, I believe that good ministry takes place in churches like Mars Hill and Willow Creek just as they do in many small churches.  I also think bad ministry takes place in these places (as it does in smaller churches too).  People come to hear the newest, the latest and greatest… or perhaps the go because they have always gone and just need to check their Sunday worship of their “spiritual checklist.”  This can happen in either church.  The problem and the fact of the matter however, is that this is not the discipleship that He had described here.  Going in and out of Sunday morning worship is not what Christ has called us to, it is not the whole of our Spiritual lives.  If it is… we aren’t doing it right.  We are called to something greater, to take up our cross, to a long obedience in the same direction… and to help bring others along with us as well!



Day 302: Luke 14-16; The Lost are Found

As we read today we continue to see Jesus teaching in parables to the people that are around Him.  Today’s reading contains probably one of the most famous parables of all time, the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  However, before we talk about that particular parable, we need to pay attention to the context in which that particular passage is found.  Jesus, as He continues His journey and gets close and closer to Jerusalem, is continually responding to questions from the religious leaders and the pharisees about different elements of the law, ever challenging their way of life and in many cases rebuking them to the point of speechlessness over what they thought was the “right way” to life vs. what God was calling the people to do.  We have also seen many times throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew, that Jesus says that He is called to the lost sheep of Israel and that He was called as a physician to the sick, not to take care of the healthy.

This, in my opinion, kind of turns on its head the religious practices of the time and also some of the Church’s religious practices of today as well.  Most specifically I see this in the three parables that comprise Luke chapter 15.  As I am thinking about this I am worried that I am going to go on a rant again, which is something I would like to stay away from.  That being said, with all the talk of the Church hemorrhaging people and being in decline, I wonder if these parables shouldn’t speak, at least in some way, into our current situation.  What do I mean by this?  Well…

Jesus tells a parable of the lost sheep.  A shepherd that is out with his flock notices that there is one missing.  Rather than saying, “that’s alright, I still have the 99 sheep so I’m still good,” he leaves the sheep out in the open country and goes out looking for the one lost sheep.  Mind you, the idea of the open country is that of a dangerous area where the shepherd is both leading and defending the sheep.  Chances are the sheep would follow him in his search, because that is what sheep do, but the point is that the shepherd is more preoccupied with looking for the lost sheep than caring for the other 99 sheep.

In the same way, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin.  Rather than being okay with the nine coins that she does have, this lady literally seems to turn her house upside down looking for that coin.  I think that I am only this thorough in looking for something if I lost my wallet, keys, or phone.  But the nine she has is just not enough, and the 99 sheep are just not enough.  Both of these characters are saying that is one gets away, it is 100% worth it to go after them and find them back.  I wonder what would happen if we went after our young people, those that are leaving the church, to try and find them back.  First of all, I suppose, we would need to be willing to commit to looking for them and to discipling them (something we’ll talk about more tomorrow), but I actually wonder if this is something that we would consider a worthwhile endeavor in the church today.  Or are we just okay with the 99 that we still have?

Now, Jesus goes on to tell the story of the prodigal son.  This man takes everything that he can from his father and his family and goes off without regard to their needs, love, care, or life.  He utterly scorns them with his request and completely abandons them.  We might not think this so bad if he left and invested his money and made a successful life for himself (being that we too believe heavily in the American dream and want to see our children do that for themselves), but He doesn’t.  Everything that was given to him is squandered, wasted on the trappings of a seducing culture.  The interesting thing in this story, in my opinion, is that this young man realizes the error of his ways and understands what he needs to do.  In an act of sheer humility, being as humbled now as he was scornful earlier, he returns to his father to ask to be a servant, just so that he can eat.  What does the son’s father do?  Does he hesitantly welcome him back, offering him a trial period before he can become a “son” again?  Does he turn him away because of his actions, refusing to forgive?  NO!  Absolutely not!  He pulls up his robe and goes running out to meet him (a very dishonoring action for a man of wealth in those days).  The Father throws his arms around the lost son, weeps for joy at his return and even has a huge celebration for the return of the son despite his other son’s protest!

So… what is the real question here?  I hate to boil this down to some sort of pithy moral statement because I think that these parables present a HUGE challenge for the Church today.  So many churches are losing people left and right.  More churches are closing in the country than ever before.  But I wonder, are we going out to find those lost sheep?  Are we pursuing our children, friends, neighbors and seem to be falling away from their faith?  Are we really rejoicing when they are found?  What about when a prodigal child returns home?  Do we run out to meet them with arms open despite the lifestyle that they may have been or are possible still involved in/recovering from (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, homosexuality, etc.)?  Or do we treat them more like the father’s son, questioning why it is that we have allowed them back within our walls?

These are tough questions… questions that churches need to think deeply about… Jesus is pretty clear on what the answers are.  I think the question for us is whether we are in line with those answers… or not…