Day 365: Revelation 20-22; The New Heaven and The New Earth

As we close this journey that we began a year ago, we come also to the final scenes of John’s vision in Revelation, and the final goal of what God has been working towards since the very beginning of this story.  This vision, this end purpose, the final will of God which we see in Revelation chapter 21, is that which we are told about in both our reading today and also that which we have heard about for for the past 364 days.  God’s ultimate goal, God’s overall will for creation has always been reconciliation… and that is what we see here today, reconciliation and restoration… a return to Eden, to paradise, to a time when all of creation lives in the presence of God for all time.

You see, what we read here today is the second high point of salvation history, the first being the salvation brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To think, though, that the scope of this salvation is limited simply to humans would be a gross understatement.  Sadly, however, this understanding of salvation is that which runs rampant in the church today and is perhaps a symptom some of the greatest misunderstandings of discussions about the end times and all that will take place.  For too often we’ve pared down Jesus’ salvation work to the saving of human souls so that they can go to heaven when they die.  Again, this is a sad understatement of God’s plan of salvation throughout the Bible.

This thinking, as I said, is held by many people and often leads to an “escapist” mentality of the end times.  Whether it be from natural death or the second coming of Christ, the prevailing opinion that seems to have taken mainstream Christianity by storm is that of the hope of “getting out of here” to be with Jesus.  Thinking like this has become rather prevalent in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Christian’s somehow get to be taken away from the earth in these last years so that they don’t have to endure the awful judgments and trials that are described in Revelation.  While one can understand the desire to not be around destruction of that magnitude, if indeed these are literal things that are going to happen on earth.

However, what is very clear here at the end of Revelation is that this escapist mentality is not what is described in the vision that is given to John.  In fact, it is not what has been shown for us throughout the whole of Scripture.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was affected, and the effect was systemic.  From that point on, God has been working His will through the people that He has called, to bring about the restoration of all creation, so that all things would be reconciled to Him.  How do we see this?  Because what is described to us in these final chapters is that of Heaven coming to a renewed and restored creation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

There are several characteristics of this New Heaven and New Earth that we see here.  We hear the voice from heaven saying that “The dwelling of God is with men.”  More than this, in the words that follow John describes the New Jerusalem as being without a Temple.  This is interesting because the Temple was THE center of Jerusalem and the center of all religious life for the Hebrew people.  However, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are present, and God is dwelling with people, there is no need for a center of Worship because God will be the center of worship.  Jesus is the light and there is no need for the sun.  In short, God is the source of everything, the sustaining force of all that will be present in this new Eden.  I think this is even more interesting because this has been the Hebrew view of reality all along.  God is the center, the source, the completion of all being.  As John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

From the beginning to the end, all things have been and continue to be through God.  He is the sustaining force of all creation and at the same time is working to redeem it, restore it, and reconcile it back to Himself.  This is the end of the story, the true end of all things… the conclusion of our journey both through Scripture and in life.  This is the fulfillment of the Covenant, the completion of the people being God’s people and He being their God.  This too is the truest and fullest realization of the Kingdom of Heaven as it comes to earth when the true King comes in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty on the day that only the Father knows.  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 330: Romans 14-16; Building Up the Body

Yesterday we began the final section of Romans which brings us from the reality in which we live, the forgiveness we have found in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, to the response which we should have towards that grace.  Remember that this response is one of gratitude, the third part of journey of “guilt, grace, gratitude” and has much to do with the living out of our faith and the freedom from sin that we find in Christ.  Because we are dying to our old selves and putting on the new self, that is Jesus Christ, there is a sort of inner transformation that takes place.  This doesn’t necessarily happen all at once, where as soon as we accept Christ we are perfect little angels, but rather over time.  This process is called “sanctification,” the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us and make us more like Jesus Christ each and every day.  Part of this is the living out of a life of gratitude towards God, emanating His love, grace, mercy, compassion, and so much more in every situation that we find ourselves in.

Again though, we find that this isn’t about simply about an individual’s inner transformation.  Too often in the American Church, which is plagued with individualism, we make things simply be about “me and Jesus.”  There is an element of this in the Christian faith to be certain.  Every one of us have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and each one of us will have to stand before the throne of heaven at the end of time.  Yet this emergence of “me and Jesus” thoughts is really a recent happening.  With the enlightenment, modernism, and now post-modernism leading the philosophical ideal, individualism and its associate relativism have marred the community of faith with its influence.  Yet Paul makes a point here at the end of his letter to the church in Rome that Christian faith is not simply to be an individual thing, it is to be something lived out in the community of faith, mutually building each other up as we continue to be transformed and made more and more like Christ.

This shows up in Paul’s writing to the Romans, and in other epistles as well with His addressing issues that have cropped up in the church.  We see Paul writing about the different things that people eat, about what is “clean” and what is “unclean,” and later we’ll even see what Paul has to say about spiritual gifts and how the impact the body of Christ.  Really though, what this has to do with is passing judgment on others within the body of the Church.  Paul is encouraging the believers in Rome not to sweat the small stuff as it were.  There are many things that people do differently and they are more than likely convinced that they are doing things right.  We see this all the time in church don’t we?  We judge how other people are worshipping, what other people are wearing, how they are controlling their kids, what they do for a living… the list goes on and on.

Yet Paul’s point here is that what people do they do before the Lord much more than they do before any person.  In this sense, individuality within the Christian community is something to be honored and understood.  If someone is singing with their hands in their pockets, their heart is still before the Lord.  If those pockets are bluejeans rather than dress pants their heart is still before the Lord.  If that person’s kids are running around church after the worship service is over, their heart is before the Lord (there are safety concerns of course which is a bit more of a public affair, but this is not a judgmental thing).  In all these things we are the Lord’s and we need to keep this in mind.  Paul’s command here is to not pass judgment on each other.  When judgment is passed it only serves to place a stumbling block in the community, not just in front of the one being judged.  It is a stumbling block that more than just the judged can fall over too.

So what then is the point of community?  Mutual edification… building each other up in Christ Jesus.  While there are things that we do that are between us and God, ways that we worship and live our lives that others might not necessarily agree with, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in a position where we could grow a little bit.  Even those with the deepest convictions about their lifestyle, their worship style, or any other style can learn from those of other styles and convictions.  And those that aren’t so sure about themselves should find the church a place in which they can come and grow in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit through the encouragement of the community of faith, not a judgmental group that only want you to do things the way you do them.  What does Paul say right off the bat today?  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him (or her), but not to quarrel over opinions.”  These opinion issues only serve to weaken the already weak and to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us use our faith and our gifts to build each other up, so that together we may all grow in the Spirit and knowledge of God and be formed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 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 300: Luke 10-11; Learning to Pray

Today’s reading encompasses a great deal parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.  I am planning on covering some of that tomorrow.  Our reading today also touches on the Lord’s prayer, or at least Luke’s version of it.  Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life, and therefore I think that our Lord’s teaching on prayer should be mentioned sometime in this blog.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is somewhat shorter than it’s Matthew counterpart though, so we will be drawing from both sections.

Both Matthew and Luke’s prayer begin with praise and acknowledgement of God’s holiness.  “Father, hallowed (or holy) is Your name.”  As we enter into prayer, I think that this is a good and appropriate way to orientate ourselves to the one we are praying to.  As creatures of the creator, redeemed sinners coming before a gracious and holy God, it is important for us to remember our true place in the world.  Though God invites us to pray and encourages us to bring our needs before Him, God is still God and we need to remember and acknowledge this as we enter into His presence.

The next words that both Luke and Matthew record are that of asking God to bring His Kingdom.  We pray “Your Kingdom come…” and related to this in Matthew is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  While talk of the Kingdom of God differs in the idea of what this means, the reference to God’s work on earth throughout history towards the restoration of creation is certainly at or near the center.  Ultimately, this is the will of God too, to bring all of creation back to its original state, the perfection in which it was created.  God has been working for this throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ coming which hailed the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  Right now we are living in the time in between that and when we will see it in its fullness, the already but not yet period where we are waiting for God to bring all this to an end and reconcile all things to Himself.

It is at this point, when we have oriented ourselves before God and prayed for His will in the world that we then turn to our own needs.  We ask God for “our daily bread” knowing and trusting that God is going to give us all that we need for life.  Jesus talks about through throughout His ministry and teaching, telling us not to worry and showing us how God will provide as He always does.  I think what is important here, not that God’s provision isn’t important or anything because it most definitely is, would be the order in which these things come in the prayer.  Too often we come before God and just rattle off a list of things that we need as if God was some sort of a cosmic vending machine.  Jesus is showing us the appropriate way in which we should be praying to God, the appropriate orientation and therefore the appropriate order.

Jesus moves on from there to asking the Lord for forgiveness.  Again, I think that this is an appropriate place for this, and not just because this is where Jesus put it.  Coming from the Reformed Tradition, and being quite dutch in my heritage, I know what it is like to feel bad about the things that I have done or those things that I failed to do.  So very often we focus in on the fact that we are sinners and need forgiveness.  We are sinners…  we are sinners… Lord have mercy… forgive us… Apart from the things that we need, I would say that this section is the place at which we find ourselves praying so very often.  Yet we don’t need to be stuck in “guilt mode prayer.”  We are not people that have no hope, we live in the reality that grace has already been extended to us!  Jesus has died!  We have been forgiven!  Yes, we sin… but we are FORGIVEN!  This is our current reality and we need to live into it rather than just focusing in on our sins.

Finally we come to the last part of this prayer.  This can probably be the most confusing part of it as well.  Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  God doesn’t tempt.  He doesn’t even make bad things happen to us.  So why do we say this?  I think a more contemporary translation that we use at seminary maybe makes a bit more sense here: “Save Us from the time of Trial.”  Perhaps it just seems to fit more with the phrase in Matthew “deliver us from evil (or the evil one).”  I think it makes more sense with what we know about God as well.  God is not the source of evil, but He does allow us to go through difficult times.  Jesus knew this as He was teaching his Disciples this prayer.  He too would face evil in its greatest assault.  Though Jesus did not want to go through this time, and even prayed that God would take the cup from Him (save us from the time of trial?), yet He resigned to what the will of God the Father was and willingly went through it (deliver us from evil?).  I think that these fit seamlessly together here and round out the Lord’s prayer quite well.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory forever, Amen.



Day 299: Luke 8-9; The Sent Community

I feel like today I need to post an article that I wrote for my church’s monthly news letter publication for November (you’ll be seeing it before they do).  Over the course of this year we have been talking about the many different aspects of our corporate worship on Sunday mornings.  Everything from Gathering to sermon, and now to the sending time has been covered.  Today, in our reading, we encounter the text of Jesus sending out the disciples… and tomorrow when we read the narrative of Jesus sending out the 72… and it spurs in me the thoughts about the Church’s identity as a “sent community.”  There is much more in today’s reading besides this, I understand, and we have and will talk about some of these different things, but today I feel as though we need to remember “sent” identity.

———–

We have spent the past 10 months discussing some of the reasons behind how we “do” worship on a given Sunday morning.  Conversations like this are very good in helping us to better understand what we do and how we worship.  One page each month hardly does this subject justice in my opinion, but if this writing has even prompted one conversation or a deeper inspection of worship in one’s own, I would say that it is worth it.  This is the last month of this series of writings, and we have come to what I think is the most important part of the worship service (with the exception of the Table, which we talked about last week), the time of being sent out.  Indeed this is the time in which the community that has gathered from to worship God accepts once again its identity as disciples in Christ and is sent out to be the Body of Christ in the world today.  It is the point at which we accept and assume our identity as Christians and take it beyond the walls of the Church where we are called to serve and to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Lately, it seems, that Christian church in North America has kind of gotten its identity a little mixed up.  As we have done over this past year, we put a lot of effort into talking about our Sunday morning worship services.  In fact, we have put more than our fair share of effort into talking about our corporate worship services.  We have had church spits about them, tried to blend them and style them, add things to them, and even use different cultural features to make them more attractive.  Churches across North America have placed an inordinate amount of effort into making themselves and their Corporate worship more attractive to the “un-churched.”  And what has been the result of this?  We have turned the focus of church and worship away from God and towards people creating a consumer mindset in which people have become more concerned with what they are getting out of it and whether it appeals to them.  More than this, as a church we have made it ok for people to jump from church to church based not on the message of that they are hearing or the way that they are being equipped, but based solely on their preference of music or style.  In short, we have made corporate worship about us, not God.

So in light of that, what is the identity that we are called to as the people of God?  It is that of the “sent community.”  I know that there are many that would push back about this being the church’s primary identity when we make it a point so often to say that we identity is in Christ.  This is true.  But to say that our primary identity as the Church is to be “sent out” is not in contrast with our identity in Christ, it is actually a response to it.  Jesus didn’t come into the world, immediately set up a Church, and then try to make it cool so people would come through the door.  No, Jesus was out on the streets of the cities, on the roads of the countryside, and meeting people in their homes and meeting places.  It was in those places that He was teaching and it was in those places that he did all his miracles.  From wedding celebrations to graveside mourning, Jesus was there demonstrating the love of God in all that he did and said.

Jesus modeled this with His disciples as well.  In each of the Gospels there are multiple references to Jesus sending them out, instructing them about being in the world, and even praying to God the Father for their protection as they are out in the world.  The great commission which we, like many other churches, have modeled our mission statement after actually tells us what we need to do:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This is the Biblical model for the church.  It doesn’t say “go if you feel called” or “put money in the plate for the missionaries” (though that does have its place too).  Jesus says to His followers, “GO!”  We don’t need theological training… we don’t need eloquent speeches… we don’t even need to do all the talking… Jesus’ command to so many of the people that He healed was “go and tell people what you have seen and heard.”

Friends we are a sent community.  When the blessing is given, we are sent out empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel wherever we go.  Sunday mornings should not be the majority of our Christian life.  We gather together to worship, to hear the Word of God, and to be empowered and equipped to be sent forth into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.



Day 287: Matthew 23-24; Teaching on the "End Times"

With the release of the “Left Behind Series” and other associated books, the craze of thoughts and speculation about the end of the world has been at an all time high.  Associated with this, the amount of theories about the end of the world has also been on the rise leading to a great deal of Christian bickering and generalized disagreements about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the second coming of Christ.   I would dare say that, though the fad that these books were is dissipating into the cultural abyss, the continual talk of war, the seeming increase in catastrophic natural disasters, and the decline of morality in culture have all spurred on these conversations as well.  Often times we see these discussions get heated and passionate as people try to defend their understanding of the end of time.  On the other hand, some people in churches have opted for a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.  I don’t necessarily think that this is a good idea either.  As we see in our reading today, this isn’t necessarily something that Jesus avoids due to its controversial nature, but rather tackles head on in His teaching before the Passover.

I really do not think that a single blog post that is meant to cover the reading of Scripture for a day is a good place to start a debate around the differences in millennial kingdom views or the reasoning behind why dispensationalism as theology is a very poor reading of the whole of Scripture.  However, as a person of the Reformed Denomination of Christianity, my views are colored by how I have been taught and what I (and a great many others) feel is a more dutiful and faithful reading and interpretation of the whole of Scripture, not just certain verses here and there.  As I have said before, this is not a code that we are to decipher with some hidden meaning that God only wants us to have if we look hard enough.  Scripture is God’s REVELATION of Himself and His work throughout history which means that He is revealing it to us; it is an open book and we need to make sure that we read Scripture within the context of itself.

Anyway, enough of that soap box.  Perhaps we can take up that discussion some other time.  Jesus’ teaching today primarily covers the end of time when Jesus will return and the restoration and consummation of creation will be complete.  If I were to venture an opinion here, I would say that for as often as we talk about the end of time, we so often get the focus of Jesus’ teaching here and in other places wrong.  Jesus doesn’t necessarily talk about the exact events leading up to it.  Yes, he says that there will be natural disasters and wars, but all this, He says, is “the beginning of birth pains.”  To say that any one war or disaster is what Jesus was talking about would be foolish.  There have been hundreds of wars and even more natural disasters since the time that Jesus was taken to heaven.  We cannot be so egocentric, ethnocentric, geocentric, or even temporal-centric to think that our time, place, and people are more important somehow than any others.  We cannot assume that Jesus was talking about America or the Nuclear bomb.  What we have to understand here is that Jesus is saying that these things are the beginning of the end… and the end has been beginning since the beginning.

So what is Jesus’ main point here?  Perseverance.  Jesus says that His followers will be persecuted, even unto death.  He says that many will come claiming to be ‘the Christ’ but will not be.  Times will be hard, wickedness will increase, but those “who stand firm to the end will be saved.”  Jesus is saying to His followers, to all believers, “Keep the Faith!  Don’t turn from me just because its difficult.  By this you will be a testimony to me throughout the whole world.”  He goes on to quote from Daniel, referencing again a great evil that will destroy much.  Some say this was fulfilled by the son of Emperor Vespasian, Titus, who erected an idol over the destroyed Temple in 70 AD.  Some would say that Jesus was offering this reference to the Jewish people because they would recognize it as the event when Antiochus Epiphanes IV sacrificed a pig on the alter of God.  Yet there are many that would argue that this is something yet to be fulfilled.  I wonder if all three of these could be right.  These two events represent a great evil in our world, the unfettered, unhindered rebellion against God.  Perhaps there have been many more of these events?  Could Hitler be an abomination that causes desolation?  I think he certainly fits the bill.  But does that mean that Jesus is coming soon?  Well… Jesus has been coming soon since the book of Revelation was written, since He left this earth… so… yes, Jesus is coming soon.

The truth of the matter, however, is just as Jesus states it:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

 



Day 286: Matthew 21-22; Jesus Enters Jerusalem

We turn now our attention to what the Christian Faith considers “Holy Week,” the final week of Jesus’ life.  Matthew chronicles all of the teachings and events of Jesus during this week in particular detail.  Other Gospels place a great deal more emphasis on the last couple days of Jesus life, but Matthew continually covers the whole of the week.  I think there is a very specific reason for his doing this as well.  Remember that Matthew’s point in writing is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is indeed the Messiah that they had been waiting for.  For Him to do this, He needs to show Jesus as such, contrasting Him with the image that they had set up for themselves.  Matthew is making the point over and over and over again that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, even if He wasn’t exactly what the people expected.

In many ways this is seen more clearly in the paradox that surrounds Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As Jesus entered the city, going up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and ultimately His death, He did so in the manner that was foretold about the Messiah.  Matthew mentions this here:

Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,the foal of a beast of burden.’

Once again Jesus’ actions are so clearly and distinctly following Scripture.  Yet, as we have talked about the last couple of days, the religious leaders still just don’t get it.  These are people that would have memorized the Torah and would have been intimately familiar with the writings of the prophets, yet they still do not understand.  Jesus even points this out to them later when He is in the Temple:

Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?

I keep wondering about this.  How is it possible that these pharisees missed all of these blatant signs that were before them?  I guess it really does boil down to their hearts being dull so that they really did not see or hear any of what was happening before them.

Jesus continues His ministry and teaching throughout this week in the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding towns.  Every time the pharisees come before Jesus, He quotes Scripture to them and sends them on their way looking foolish.  This is the strange paradox of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the whole of this last week of His life.  If there was ever a time that we can clearly see His true nature out in the open, it is here.  He has even directed those who would challenge Him back to the very Scriptures that speak of His coming, and yet they still do not believe.

Interestingly enough, Jesus brings His teaching full circle, all the way back around in all that He has talked about and shown the people and the religious leaders.  He does so at the end of our reading today when asked about the “greatest commandment.”  What does Jesus reference?  The Shema.  I encourage you to look at this again because it really brings to light what Jesus is talking about in all of the Gospels, and in our reading today.  All these things that have happened, all the challenging of the religious leaders takes place because at the end of the day they have not lived into this commandment.  The goal, the point and purpose was to love God in a way that would transform the whole life, keeping it in the front of one’s mind all the time and everywhere.  I wonder if we miss this point from time to time in the Church as well?  Do we see Jesus for who He is, or are we too busy looking for what we think He looks like?



Day 285: Matthew 18-20; Jesus Continues Teaching

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, which we will continue to read about and see in the next three Gospels, Jesus is continually teaching his disciples and the myriad of crowds that are following Him.  The subject of these teachings ranges across the spectrum of the human experience.  However, Jesus was not simply a man of many words, talking a good talk, but He is also one who walks the walk as well.  As we have continued to talk about the life and ministry of Jesus we have continued to talk about this in different ways as well.  Jesus’ teaching has a lot to do with actions and interactions, the way we are with those that are around us.  We, along with Jesus, have criticized the pharisees for their “works based righteousness” mentality, and we have seen very clearly what Jesus says about them and how that is related to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Sometimes I think that it seems like, and we interpret the teachings of Jesus in a very similar fashion to that of the pharisees.  Quite often in the contemporary church we hear sermons about how we need to try hard to be good so that God will be happy with us and bless us.  We are told that if we give enough money or if we do enough good deeds we will meet a certain quota of goodness and we will get rewarded.  Perhaps we even make it sound a bit more spiritual than this too.  We use words like “servant” and “humility” because they are words that we hear Jesus using in the Bible.  We are told that we need to follow Jesus’ example even unto death to do good things which will help God to be happy with us.  However, we are careful to avoid the phrase “righteousness” because we wouldn’t want people to think that they can make themselves righteous, we just basically insinuate it and push people to live up to an impossible ideal.

Sadly, this is so completely contrary to the teachings and actions of Jesus in His life, and this infringes on and violates so many doctrines that if it were closely examined, the Christian faith would fall apart.  We, like the disciples and the people of Israel, are called by God not of our own merit, elected by Him and predestined to be believers in Jesus Christ (which is where we are different than the Jews).  We believe that we are sinners, sinful by nature and that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves to redemption.  Yet we live as though we have to do everything right to earn our salvation for ourselves.  We teach others as if this is the reality of our life and faith too.  Friends, these things are mutually exclusive.  What is the difference?  The place that our heart is in.

As believers we are indeed called to “life a life worthy of the calling we have received.”  However, the purpose of living this life is not out of necessity for righteousness or out of some quest to make ourselves perfect, but out of gratitude for the grace that is shown us.  This is the true calling of Israel and it is the true calling of the people of God.  We were chosen when we deserved not to be!  We have been redeemed through no work of our own!  We have been shown abundant grace and mercy, redemption in the face of sin and condemnation!  We have been blessed to be a blessing; given light for a dark world!  Knowing what we know, seeing what we’ve seen, how can we not live a life of love and gratitude?  What’s the difference?  Where our heart is!  When our hearts are focused on God, all the things that Jesus teaches about here like forgiveness, having a servant’s heart, loving one another, mercy, grace, and even healing all flow out of us naturally.  Ultimately though it is about the heart, it flows out of our hearts and lives not as an attempt at righteousness, but because we have already been made righteous.