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!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Day 293: Mark 10-13; Jesus' Ministry in Jerusalem

Unlike the Gospel of Matthew, there is a great deal of action that happens all at the same time as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Much of this we have read in Matthew’s account, but Mark covers a whole lot in a very short amount of time, as is normal for his writing.  Quite often, when we talk about Jesus being in Jerusalem, we tend to mention the Triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the Last Supper before Jesus’ death.  What we often tend to skip over is all of the interactions that Jesus has with people while He is in the city during this last week of His life.  Of particular notice, I think, is Jesus’ interactions with the religion leaders and how He continually subverts what they have set up as being their belief system.

The way the religious leaders approach Jesus often reminds me of the way that we as “church-goers” approach new people in our churches.  When the Pharisees or the Sadducees approached Jesus with a question about faith, theology, or doctrine, it wasn’t really because they had a question, it was because they wanted to test Jesus and find out whether He believed the same way that they believed.  They were also looking for a way to trap Jesus and get Him to say something wrong so that they could prove that He wasn’t a good teacher or someone that the people should listen to of follow.  This isn’t that much different from how we often treat new comers to our churches.  We do our best to make it seem as though we are a warm community that welcomes all into our fellowship.  We have people posted to greet everyone at the door, and time after the worship service in which we provide refreshments and enjoyable fellowship and conversations.  We even have people “sign in” so that we can send them a nice note thanking them for joining us for worship.  Yet, there are those that also take the role of the religious leaders of Jesus day too.

These are the people that go up to new families and guests that are visiting with a great and wonderful smile, asking them about their kids and about what they do, all the while analyzing every word that they are saying looking for something that might hint that their true “difference” from the community that they are trying to join.  If small talk doesn’t reveal anything, we might turn to politics or even religious matters, all in the name of “getting to know” our new “friend.”  What are we looking for?  Something that would make them different than us.  Maybe they have a differing political view.  Perhaps its a questionable job.  It might even be (and heaven forbid it if it is) that they don’t believe quite the same way that we do, or maybe they have questions about their faith.  Things like this send us into red-alert and we start talking to others about “the new family.”

There are many things that spur us to act like this.  Many if not all of them were probably similar reasons that the religious leaders questioned Jesus as well.  Fear is probably the greatest motivator here; fear of change or that the community will be disrupted because of new thoughts or questions.  We don’t want the boat to be rocked, we just want to be comfortable.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t want change either.  They had things working pretty well in their favor and the pressure that Jesus was placing on them was palpable.  So they plotted and schemed in their dark corners.  I’m sure their conversations sounded similar to what ours do today; “did you hear about Carol-Anne?  We should pray for her and her family… I heard that she… [insert gossip].”  We try so hard to make ourselves look pious and upright, but in the end, we too are just trying to nail them up on a cross for sins that we made up for them… that they likely didn’t commit… that were none of our business… and that they have already been forgiven for.