Friday, February 22, 2008

John 15:3-8

"3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to My Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples."

Jesus immediately comforts His disciples. At stake for them is not union with Christ (Remember He has already said to Peter, having refused the foot washing, “You are already clean.” He repeats it here in v3. “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”), but growth resulting from this already existing union. The burden of the chapter from here on out is to encourage the progress of this union with Christ. The whole passage assumes this reality of this union. Notice three primary points: first, we have no power of doing good except what comes from Jesus; second, we, having a root in Him, are dressed and pruned by the Father; and third, He removes unfruitful branches, that they may be thrown into the fire and burned.

V4 explains our role – to remain (other translations say “abide”) in Jesus; He will remain in us. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless the sap of the vine flows through it, so believers can do absolutely nothing of worth in God’s sight, unless Jesus Himself flows through believers with true life and sustenance – something which He does, as He has just made known, through His Spirit which He would send to indwell His people. V5 repeats the “I am” statement and declares followers of Christ to be the branches. V5 also helps to answer that first question we asked earlier. Can a branch attached to the vine wither? No! Remaining in Christ guarantees much fruitfulness. If it fails to bear fruit, it is not a genuine branch. But that doesn’t mean a warning to be on guard isn’t important. In fact, the conclusion of the illustration is at the end of v5, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” What does that mean to you? What does the word “nothing” mean? Calvin says, “So long as we are separate from Him, we bear no fruit that is good and acceptable to God, for we are unable to do anything good” (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6).

V6 should cause us to tremble. Nominal Christianity is dangerous. The punishment for failing to abide in Christ is scary; thus we are encouraged to persevere in Him as we are preserved in Him. There are many hypocrites who, in outward appearance, flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwards, when they ought to yield fruit, show the very opposite of that which the Lord expects and demands from His people. They wither, just as the plants that sprout up quickly but are choked out by the thorns or die lacking a root.

V7 is often mistreated, especially by health-and-wealth prosperity gospel preachers. Taken in context, we see that the expectation is for believers to ask for more nourishment from the Holy Spirit in order that their fruit-bearing might be enhanced for the glory of God. When we read, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you,” the expected result is not some genie-in-a-bottle mentality. Rather, our desires are to be conformed to the will of God. “Whatever you wish” becomes “whatever God’s will is.” It brings to mind Romans 12:1-2. Finally v8, reveals the truth about God’s glory stemming from enhanced Christian witness and fruit-bearing as the primary goal in this prayer-granting. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

John 15:1-2

1"I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

The message of this chapter is simple: Union with Christ is the foundation of every spiritual blessing. Every good thing (from an eternal perspective) is a result of union with Christ. In other words, since everything done outside apart from faith is sin and without faith it is impossible to please God, nothing good can result apart from union with Christ. As v5 says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

We begin chapter 15 with an illustration of the truth that Jesus has been emphasizing: believers will do greater things than had been done in all of history – but this is only possible through their relationship with Him. Jesus’ new and great commandment to love one another is possible only by His indwelling Spirit. The illustration begins with another “I am” statement. This one is the climactic one – Jesus is the vine, the source of nourishment. The word vine denotes the actual plant, the source of life, and not some stringy thing that might extend from a trunk. See Psalm 80:8-19, Isaiah 5:1-7, and Ezekiel 19:10-14, in which the people are deemed to be the vine. But here Jesus declares Himself to be the “true” vine. Under the Old Covenant, the people proved to be rotten and fruitless vines. But Jesus, ever-faithful, is a good and fruitful vine. Some commentators even suggest that whenever there is a promise made to Israel, it is made to Jesus alone, as He is the true Israel. All united to Him by faith then share in His reward, as co-heirs with Christ of all things.

Before He even gets to the point of explaining that we are the branches, Jesus announces that God the Father is the gardener. He's probably walking the the vineyards on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. And two things are emphasized in this chapter, one of which God does and the other of which we are to do. Our role, as branches, appears in v4. But we first see two aspects of God’s role here in v2: First, He cuts off fruitless branches, and second, He prunes or cleans those branches that are producing fruit.

Two questions arise from these two aspects of God’s role. First, can anyone who is engrafted into Christ (a branch attached to the vine) be without fruit? Many, by their outward profession and perhaps from our perspective, are thought to be in the vine, but by their barrenness reveal themselves to have no root in the vine. In the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel His vine, but only the remnant was saved. Thus the fathers of the protestant reformation declare that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the Scriptures alone for the glory of God alone. It’s by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Faith undoubtedly leads to fruitful works (Ephesians 2:1-10; James 2:14-26). So the answer to this first question is, “No.” We’ll elaborate in v5.

Second, why must God prune or clean fruit-bearing branches? Calvin answers wisely, “Believers need incessant culture that they may be prevented from degenerating; …they produce nothing good, unless God continually applies His hand; for it will not be enough to have been once made partakers of adoption, if God does not continue the work of His grace in us.” God justifies us once; He sanctifies us continually. He sustains us, by granting us a new breath, another heartbeat. If for one minute, we think this is not true, beware! Our connection to the vine may not be as firm as we think!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

John 14:26-31

26"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 28You heard Me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on Me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what My Father has commanded Me. Come now; let us leave."

We also learn here in v26 that the Holy Spirit’s ministry involves teaching. What will He teach us? “All things.” Wow! Look back at v20: “On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.” When the Spirit indwells us, He teaches us these amazing truths. That’s everything right there. Jesus is in the Father, the Father is in Him; and believers are in Christ, and He is in us (perichoresis / circumincessio). Jesus is just beginning to teach this concept; He will elaborate in the next chapter with the vine and branches illustration.

Calvin says, “When Christ testifies that it is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit to teach the apostles what they had already learned from His mouth, it follows that the outward preaching will be vain and useless, if it be not accompanied by the teaching of the Spirit. God has therefore two ways of teaching; for, first, He sounds in our ears by the mouth of men; and, secondly, He addresses us inwardly by His Spirit; and He does this either at the same moment, or at different times, as He thinks fit.”

Perhaps the entire point of this heart-healing chapter is found in v27, where Jesus says, “My peace I give you.” This peace is not like the shallow and temporary peace the world wishes but cannot bestow. Jesus’ peace is a deep and permanent prosperity which He guarantees with the deposit of the Holy Spirit. Matthew Henry says, “When Christ was about to leave the world, He made His will. His soul He committed to the Father; His body He bequeathed to Joseph; His clothes fell to the soldiers; His mother He left to the care of John. But what should He leave to His poor disciples who had left all for Him? Silver and gold—He had none. But He left them that which was infinitely better—His peace.” It’s the best thing He can give as He prepares to depart. It comes in the understanding of this moment in the Covenant of Redemption – the Father, Son, and Spirit working in unity for our good and for Their glory. This great peace relieves our fear and serves as the cure for our troubled hearts.

Look at v28, “If you loved Me, you would be glad that I am going…” Can we say that about our loved ones? Are we ready to let them depart this world and go to be with Lord? Jesus tells the disciples in v29 that He’s about to go. His house is in order. He’s leaving His final instructions. We ought to have our houses in order. Our final instructions ought to be recorded.

Lastly, there’s a curious thing here at the end of the chapter. “Come now; let us leave.” The group doesn’t actually leave until the first verse of chapter 18. Jesus uses a military word here: “Arise!” It’s a word to His beleaguered soldiers that they need to get ready now. They need to be aroused from their reclining and prepare themselves now. They need to be assured that Jesus the mighty warrior is here; He’s going to disarm powers and authorities through the blood of His cross. He’s going to destroy him who has the power of death. The ruler of this dark world is coming, as v30 declares, and he has already aroused one of the disciples and will be at work with Peter soon (the triple denial). So, get ready. Finally, notice what Jesus says, “He has no hold on Me.” It is in consequence of the sin of Adam that Satan holds the dominion of death, and, therefore, he could not touch Christ, who is pure from all the pollution of sin, if He had not voluntarily subjected Himself. United to Christ, Satan has no hold on us either.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

John 14:22-25

22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do You intend to show Yourself to us and not to the world?" 23Jesus replied, "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24He who does not love Me will not obey My teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me. 25All this I have spoken while still with you."

What a great question we get in v22! Judas asks, “Why are you going to show Yourself to us but not to the world?” Do you ever wonder about that? I think it’s a question that has to do with election. This disciple is a quiet, intellectual type who soaks it all in and processes everything and only speaks when the timing is just right. And here we have it. Why us and not the world? Prior to our receiving Christ, we look like the world. Why pick us out of the world? And Jesus’ response is great. “If anyone loves Me, he will obey, and My Father and I will live in him. But if anyone doesn’t love Me, he won’t obey,” and thus, the Father and Son will not dwell in the unbeliever. How do we answer a question about election? By talking about man’s accountability to repent and believe. How do we answer a question about man’s accountability? By appealing to the sovereignty of God in election. Both stand firm and true; there is no contradiction.

Of course, the logical extension of this promise of the Spirit’s ministry is this: if the Spirit does not indwell and change a person, then that person is not a true believer. If the Spirit changes hearts and makes them desire to obey Jesus (and Jesus commands us to love one another as He loved us), then we will be changed and will desire to obey (more and more as we are sanctified) and will produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8). Let us ask ourselves with this truth in mind: If God’s Spirit is not at work in our hearts, producing faith, love for Christ, and love for those who belong to Christ, then how can we say that we belong to Him (Romans 8:1-11)?

Finally, in v23 we learn that the Father and Son will make Their home or their abode with the believer by Their Spirit. This Greek word for “home” is “mone” (mo-neigh`). It’s only used twice in all of Scripture (here and in v2 of this chapter, where it is translated “rooms,” or “mansions” in other versions). The word conveys an intimate and permanent abiding and staying. It’s something only the Holy Spirit can do. Notice in v2, He’s making a place for you to be near the Father and the Son; and in v23, He’s making a place for the Father and the Son to be near you. How does that make you feel? Ephesians 2:22

Monday, February 18, 2008

John 14:15-21

15"If you love Me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him."

If the first 13 or 14 verses are considered to be Jesus’ “Father Sermon,” then the rest of the chapter ought to be called His “Spirit Sermon.” Jesus’ instruction now turns naturally to the coming of the Spirit. And it’s not likely that the disciples understood Jesus’ teaching here and now. Ironically, the Holy Spirit about whom Jesus taught would only later teach the disciples to remember and discern this teaching about Himself. Jesus will not leave His disciples; rather He will come to them (and us) in the Holy Spirit making His presence known. The world won’t see Him; but believers will know Him intimately, because He will live with them and in them.

V15 is challenging. All true believers would claim to love Jesus; consider Peter in the final chapter of John’s Gospel – He gets annoyed that Jesus would ask him if he loves Him three times. Calvin says, “The love with which the disciples loved Christ was true and sincere, and yet there was some superstition mixed with it, as is frequently the case with ourselves; for it was very foolish in them to wish to keep Him in the world. To correct this fault, He bids them direct their love to another end; and that is, to employ themselves in keeping the commandments which He had given them. This is undoubtedly a useful doctrine, for of those who think that they love Christ, there are very few who honor Him as they ought to do; but, on the contrary, after having performed small and trivial services, they give themselves no farther concern. The true love of Christ, on the other hand, is regulated by the observation of his doctrine as the only rule. But we are likewise reminded how sinful our affections are, since even the love which we bear to Christ is not without fault, if it be not directed to a pure obedience.”

In v16, Jesus comforts His followers by telling them that He would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, whom He calls “another Counselor,” or Comforter, or Advocate, or Paraclete, which means “Helper.” V17 calls Him the Spirit of truth. He’ll be with us “forever.” Jesus will elaborate on this in chapter 16. In today’s culture, when we get into legal trouble, we hire a lawyer. In first century Palestine, a person in legal trouble would seek out their best friend as someone who knew their character and could vouch for their typical behavior. This Person for us is the Holy Spirit. He is our hedge of protection God gives to believers. He speaks for us when we don’t know the words to say. And at the same time, He is the prosecutor and convictor of the unbelieving world, who effectually and irresistibly leads some to become believers. If the Spirit does not reveal Himself to each person, then we can know nothing of Him – the world cannot receive or accept Him.

V18 accomplishes two things. First Jesus tells His followers that they are orphans. He reminds us of our weakness apart from Him, and He’ll say later, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Second, Jesus tells His followers that He will not leave them in this state of weakness. He will come to them by the power of His empowering Spirit. This statement alone proves His Divinity – or His lunacy if you don’t believe. He speaks of the unity He has with His followers, extending even to life and death. V20 causes some question with the words, “On that day.” Some suggest this to be the day of Pentecost. Others think Jesus is speaking of the entire day – as in long period of time – of His Spirit’s power between Pentecost and His bodily return. This thought speaks to the reality that we can not really know anything of the Spirit unless He dwells in us (1 Corinthians 2:14). Finally, v21 reminds us of v15, the challenge to obey Jesus as evidence of our love for Him. The means of this process is progress (sanctification) resulting in the end of this process: conformity to the image of Christ – glorification.

Throughout the entire history of redemption, all three Persons of the Trinity have constantly been at work together, in perfect unity; and yet, in the different eras, the work of one of these Persons has come more to the forefront. Before Christ came, the Father’s work was in the forefront, as He sovereignly worked all things out for the coming of the King. After Christ’s incarnation, His own work of purchasing redemption for us was obviously at the forefront. And after this marvelous redemption was indeed accomplished, the ministry of the Spirit, in teaching men of Christ and opening their hearts to the knowledge of Him – applying to the elect of the Father the redemption which the Son had already won – this new ministry moved, in a sense, to the forefront. And Jesus called this ministry “greater” than His own. The Holy Spirit would change the hearts of His people so that they would be able to follow His perfect commandment – just as had been prophesied before (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27)! We must be careful not to forget that God’s Spirit was at work in the hearts of true believers in the Old Testament, “circumcising their hearts” so that they might obey God (Deuteronomy 30:6) – but after Jesus’ ascension, He was about to work in mightier ways than ever before, within the new Covenant, which exceeds the old Mosaic Covenant, just as the substance exceeds the shadow.