John 3 – Nicodemus

Read John 3

Whenever the Pharisees and Jesus engage in a conversation, it is pretty much expected that sparks are going to fly.  This conversation with Nicodemus though, seems rather anticlimactic; Nicodemus’ seems almost normal, at least for a Pharisee.

In many cases Jesus is always on the defensive when it comes to Pharisee interaction, but what we see here is Jesus interacting on a personal level, fielding questions from someone that doesn’t quite understand completely.  While at times Jesus seems disappointed in Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, that is because of his status as a religious leader, not because Jesus doesn’t welcome the questions.

One of the realities that we see here, actually, is that Jesus welcomes the questions from anyone, on any level, at any time.  He doesn’t run away from the questions, doesn’t reject the asker, and doesn’t sugar coat the answers either because reality of the answers, whether we like them or not, always come back to the over-abundance of grace and love that God has for everyone.  We see this in the words of Scripture’s most famous verse: John 3:16.

John’s Gospel is full of recurring thematic imagery that is good to be on the lookout for.  Back in John 1, the Apostle talks about Jesus as the “Light of the World.”  He also talks about Jesus as a light that the world does not recognize.  Here we get some of this imagery again as Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of night, but also comes to Him in the dark of who Jesus really is.

Verses 16-20 reflect this even more as John writes a bit of his own commentary on the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus leading to His conclusion about the state of the word’s love for darkness and also its hope for the true Light.



Introduction to John

The Gospel of John is the fourth and most unique of the four Canonical Gospels.  John the Apostle wrote this Gospel later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke and writes to a much wider audience as well.

John records the life of Jesus in an effort to prove Jesus’ identity as the divine Son of God who is one with the Father.  His writing is highly symbolic, a literary masterpiece.  One could read John on the surface and gain considerable knowledge and wisdom, or start to dig deep and find truths and wisdom that come alive in the text.  I have heard it likened to a swimming pool: you can splash around in the shallow end or dive into the deep end; in either case you will still get wet!

Because of the way John writes, this Gospel is not considered a “Synoptic” Gospel.  John records things in a way that brings out the truth that is being proclaimed here.  Some have argued that, because of John’s lack coherence with the other Gospels, it calls into question the truth of Jesus.  Yet it is important for us to know that “facts” and “truth” are not necessarily always the same thing.  While facts are always true (think: timelines, dates, weights, etc.), truths are boundless and timeless (think: parables, stories, proverbs, etc.).  The Gospel of John contains some of the deepest truths about Christ, even if its timeline is not the same as the other Gospels.

Things to look out for:

John’s Outline:

  • Prologue – 1:1-1:18
  • Book of Signs – 1:19-12:50
    • Sometimes considered the general revelation of Jesus.  Contains 7 miracles of Jesus during His public ministry.
  • Book of Glory – 13:1-20:31
    • Sometimes considered the special revelation of Jesus.  His public ministry finished, Jesus shares with His disciples and then goes to the cross.
  • Epilogue – 21:1-21:25

John records 7 statements made by Jesus, all pointing to who He is as God. Photo Credit: http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net/

John records 7 statements made by Jesus, all pointing to who He is as God.
Photo Credit: http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net/



Day 361: Revelation 4-7; Worship, Seals, and Horsemen

The first thing that we see after the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor is John’s description of what is going on in the throne room of heaven before the presence of God.  John is drawn up into heaven, or perhaps what we talked about in the prophets as being the spiritual realm that exists alongside of ours.  We often think of heaven as being this far away, very distant place in which we get to go when we die and escape from this world.  However, the prevailing vision of the prophetic literature as well as the Hebrew culture is that of an “alternate reality” of sorts that exists alongside of our own.  Things that happen in this world are but shadows of that which happen on the other side of the divine.  This is why we have seen things like the Temple, the house of God and the center of the universe for Hebrew culture, illuminated in visions and other theophanies where the barriers between the physical and the spiritual worlds “break down.”  As we continue to read through Revelation, remember that this is one of the things that John is likely thinking right now.  His experience is like that of Isaiah, Moses, and other people in Israel’s past that have experienced a direct encounter with God, and this would be the way in which he understands what he sees.

What we see today, first and foremost, is the worship that is taking place around the throne of God.  John is drawn up into the heavenly realm in which he is able to witness the true nature of worship.  This too has been something that has been talked about through the Scriptures time and time again.  Isaiah witnesses this in the narrative of his calling in Isaiah 6, many of the prophets talk about the nature of true worship, and Jesus Himself, when talking to the woman at the well in the Gospel of John talks about the true worship of God being that of worship in Spirit and Truth.  While the worship at the Temple may have been representative of the worship of God, it was but a shadow of the true worship which is always taking place around the throne.

In this vision we encounter some strange images which are not the first that we will encounter.  We see four living creatures, like those in the visions of Ezekiel, and 24 elders, and so on and so forth.  We have talked about these a little bit in some of our discussions about prophetic literature, and there are different people who would say that they mean different things.  Perhaps they do represent all of creation, perhaps they are some sort of divine guardian.  In all honesty though, the interpretation of what they represent is really peripheral to the nature of what they are doing which is worshiping God with their whole being.  We also encounter a great deal of numbers within the visions of the prophets and here again in John.  We’ve talked about this since the beginning of our journey through the Bible as well.  Numbers are quite often important and very often are representative of things.  The number 3, for instance, represents the trinity, and along with 1 and 7 are representative of the Divine.  Seven is also the number of completion representing the whole of whatever it is referencing.  Some have said that the “seven letters” represent God’s message to the whole Church and the “seven spirits” of God represents the fullness of God’s nature.  Seeing the “24 elders” has often be representative of the fullness of the people of God, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles (representing the whole Church).  Again, while these numbers are important, they pale in comparison to the fullness of the meaning of what they are all doing, which is worshiping God with all of their being.    This is the image of worship that we are given, true worship in which we are called to participate as the people of God.  Notice that this worship is worship in Spirit and in Truth, it is fully about God, focused only on Him.  Every tribe, tongue, and nation is present, and there is, as has been stated so many times in the epistles, no differentiation between them except for the understanding that they are from different backgrounds.  All are worshiping God; no longer to petty inter-racial or stupid stylistic worship conflicts mean anything, because the only thing that matters is God.

There is really so much to write about in these chapters that books and books could be written, and have been written.  In our reading today we also encounter the narrative of the opening of the seven seals.  While there is much to talk about when it comes to this particular mini-vision I think what I am going to choose to talk about is not the individual seals, though I would be happy to engage that some other time, but rather the greater picture of what is happening and how we understand it in light of the whole narrative of Scripture.  First of all, we need to remember that once again we are seeing that number seven… in fact we see three sevens coming up with the different “judgments” that will take place: Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls.  What I think is important to remember here is what we learned about judgment and wrath from the prophets.  Again, this would be the main way that John would understand what he is seeing here.  God’s judgment and God’s wrath are poured out on the earth here, but all of this, remember, arises from God’s unquenchable love for His creation.  This is an interesting paradox because out of intense love God rises up to judge the earth… like a parent who so longs for their child to live in the right ways and will even punish them for not doing so, God also arises out of this intense love and moves against the sin, the injustice, the oppression that so plagues all of creation.

What we need to understand here too is that John is not necessarily laying out a perfect sequence of events, each of which must happen before the next so that the end of time can come.  This notion of a timeline that is hidden within the books of the Bible and needs to be pieced together has been popularized by those holding to the notion of “Pre-Millennial Dispensationalism” and also the wildly popular “Left Behind” series.  While these folks hold very true to the doctrine that they have pieced together using segments of Scripture from all over the Bible, a method we call ‘proof texting,’ their reading of the book of Revelation and the theology that they come up with does not jive with the union of the whole of the Bible.  John is interpreting what he is seeing here, a vision that is “out of this world” in a way.  Yet it is important to understand, as this is part of the greater narrative of God’s Word, that we understand that God is not suddenly acting different here, doing something completely off the wall at the end of His book as if there is supposed to be some sort of crazy plot twist to thrill the reader.  God has always been working towards this end, an end that sees all of creation brought back to perfection when He again dwells with us here on earth.  God has always been working against evil, working to restore creation and reconcile humanity.  As we read, let us remember what we have already learned, what we have encountered in Scripture, what we have talked about for the past year, and let us look into these words and some of these strange images using that lens, the lens of Scripture, not our own desire to see what we want to see.

(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 360: Revelation 1-3; Introduction to Revelation

At last, after a long journey through the Bible, through the story of God’s redemptive work throughout history, we have come to the final book, the conclusion of it all: the book or Revelation.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is the conclusion of the this epic journey that we’ve been on, focusing on the what Jesus reveals as the final chapters of this story.  John, who is often considered to be the Apostle John, who wrote the Gospel of John and possibly the three letters attributed to John, is also considered to be this writer here as well.  The Apocalypse of John, as this book is commonly called, happened on the Island of Patmos, an island off the coast of what is now Turkey.  John was here, exiled probably from the city of Ephesus, and on this Island Jesus reveals Himself, all that He will do, and (spoiler alert) how He will bring all things to the perfect ending that has been foretold since the beginning.

Revelation is one of the hardest books in the Bible to read, and even harder to interpret and truly understand.  Some of the greatest theologians in the world have decided not to write commentaries on the book of Revelation because of its difficult nature.  Other’s have taken it as a code, a mystery that needs to be dug through and uncovered to find out the true meanings, dates, times, and even characters that this book will show them.  Discussions around the end times have only intensified in the last 15 to 20 years with the writing of the Left Behind series and what seems to be the increase in the idea of the Rapture and other various means of escape from this world before it all goes south.  However, this book needs to be read just as the rest of the Bible, not as a code some mystery to be revealed, but as part and parcel of God’s self-revelation to His people.  The book is written in apocalyptic style, meaning that it is different than that of a “prophetic style” in that John is writing down this vision, this revelation about things that are to come.  Like the book of Daniel, and sections within the prophets, John is not writing in a way that he would name certain people, events, or even nations that hadn’t necessarily happened (or existed) yet.  What we are seeing here are broad brush strokes about the trajectory of what is to come, the cosmic battle between good and evil, and the ultimate outcome when things come to their final conclusion.  This is the reading that we will take as we walk through this final book in these final days of our journey through Scriptures.

Our reading today starts with the prologue of revelation, truly an introduction to all that we are about to encounter.  The true introduction to this, is that of the revelation of Jesus, the center of all that we are about to encounter.  Like the Gospel of John, what we get at the beginning of this book is a prologue, a prelude for all that we will encounter, and a model of how we are to understand what we read.  As with the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus Christ is at the center of all things from which all things before and after radiate outward.  John writes:

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty…’
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength…
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’

John then goes into writing the letters that Jesus tells Him to the seven churches in Asia minor, what is now modern day Turkey.  Each of these Churches have an individual letter written that addresses various issues and needs that they had been dealing with.  Though they may have been struggling with different things, and may even have wavered from the right path and even struggled in the midst of persecution, Jesus’ words are to encourage them to keep the faith and to keep on faithfully following Him lest they completely fall away.  Times were rough for the Church, there was a great deal of struggling that was taking place, yet in all of this, Jesus was present and remained faithful to them.  These letters, as we read them, also have encouragement for our churches as well.  We too face a number of struggles and issues that seek to sway us from the path that Christ calls us to walk.  The words of our Lord encourage us to remain faithful to all that He has called us to in the midst of struggles, persecution, and trials even if it may not be easy.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.  And I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.



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

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

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

He also writes at the end of chapter 21:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Day 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 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