Monday, March 23, 2015

Love One Another (John 15:12-17)

In his best-selling book The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman says, “Love is the most important word in the English language—and the most confusing.”[1] The Greeks had at least four distinct words to describe the various aspects of that spectrum of actions and emotions that we lump under the heading of the single English word love. Most often, we think of love as a feeling we get. We talk about “falling in love,” and by that we refer to the state of euphoria that we feel when we are infatuated with another person. But love is not a feeling, it is an action. It is something we do.

The Bible commands us to love. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus went on to say that second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. He said there is no other commandment greater than these (Mk 12:28-31). Here in our text, Jesus begins and ends by stating that His commandment for His followers is that they love one another (Jn 15:12, 17). Now, we may find these commandments difficult to understand primarily because we associate love with a feeling. If I am commanded to love another person, I may object that I cannot make myself feel something for that person that I simply do not feel. But the issue in the commandment is not how we feel but how we act toward that person. Feelings aside, we are called to demonstrate loving actions toward one another. We may have loving feelings toward that person, or we may not. As we act lovingly toward them, our feelings may change, or they may not. We may have loving feelings for them, but they may not have loving feelings toward us. But this does not get us off the hook of obeying the command of the Lord Jesus to love one another. And while the Bible has much to say about love for one’s family, one’s friends, one’s neighbor (which the Bible defines very broadly to include anyone who is in need to whom we can do good), and even one’s enemies, the context here in this passage of John’s Gospel is the love that we are called to express to one another within the Church, the family of God. Jesus commands us to love our fellow Christians – our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Friends, there are a lot of things that we can do as a church, but there are only a few that we must do in obedience to the Lord’s commands. We must proclaim the Word of God. We must engage in the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations. We must continue in the observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And we must love one another. We are not talking about a feeling. We are talking about how we treat one another, how we serve one another, and how we act toward one another. This is the Lord’s command for His church – that we love one another.

The repeated command to love one another in verses 12 and 17 is like a set of bookends that hold up the verses in between. So these verses unpack how it is that we are to love one another in the Body of Christ. We find here what our love is to look like and how it is to be enacted. So, as a people of God, let us sit at the feet of Jesus and hear Him speak tenderly to us about how He has called us to love one another, and then let us commit ourselves to this kind of love.

I. We must love one another in imitation of Christ (v12-13)

When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to take up golf. I began watching it on television, and reading every book and magazine I could find about it. Then I went out on the golf course and I shot ten over par … on the first hole! Golf is an expensive hobby, and all the more if you aren’t any good at it, so my parents decided that I needed to take lessons from the PGA professional at a local golf course. I never became great, but I became good enough to enjoy it for a long time until my back started giving me problems. The point is that when we want to do something, the best way to learn is to have a good teacher, a good example, a good role model to emulate. And when it comes to loving others, we have the ultimate example in the Lord Jesus Christ.

His command in verse 12 is this, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” He calls us to love one another in imitation of His love for us. But Jesus’ love for us is not just a giddy feeling that makes Him tingle when He thinks of us. His love for us is exemplified in loving actions that He has taken on our behalf. He describes His love for us in verse 13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The Apostle Paul put it this way in Galatians 2:20: “The Son of God … loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This is, in the words of Jesus, the greatest measure of love that anyone could ever have – to put his or her own life aside for the benefit of another. And no one ever loved you like Jesus. He did this in the ultimate way. Our greatest need in life, whether we realize it or not, is our need to be rescued from the destructiveness of sin. Sin is destroying us from the moment we are conceived, and left unremedied, it will destroy us eternally in hell. But because Jesus loves us, He met that need. He took our sins upon Himself in His death on the cross, and died to bear the wrath that our sins deserve so that we could be forgiven by God, reconciled to Him, and granted His righteousness in exchange so we can live forever in God’s presence in heaven. No one else could do that for you, and you cannot do it for someone else. Only Jesus could love you in that way, and He has.

But Jesus says here that we can imitate the selfless, sacrificial love that He demonstrated in that ultimate way. We cannot die to atone for another’s sins, but we can give ourselves up, lay our lives aside, to meet the need of another person. John puts it this way in his First Epistle: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). In the context there, the laying down of our lives would include doing anything we can to meet the need of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In Acts 2, we read that the first generation of believers loved each other in this way. The believers were said to have “all things in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” This is the greatest love that we can have – to elevate the well-being of our friends above our own, and make whatever sacrifice is necessary to meet their needs.

Believe it or not, there are some who quibble about this verse and claim that there is an inconsistency or contradiction here in God’s Word. They base this on two other passages of Scripture. One is in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-48. There Jesus calls us to love our enemies, saying, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” The other passage is Romans 5:8, where Paul says that God demonstrated His love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, some say that the greatest measure of love is not actually to lay down one’s life for his or her friends, but even greater to lay it down for one’s enemies. Well friends, we do not have a contradiction or inconsistency here at all. As I mentioned earlier, there are several Greek words for love, and the one that is most commonly used of God’s love for us is the group of words related to the root agape. But another commonly used word for love is the word phileo, which we often associate with brotherly or friendly love. Here Jesus uses both: Greater agape has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his phileo. There are different nuances of the word, but frankly too much is often made of the distinction. In John’s Gospel, at least, the words seem to function almost as synonyms. Therefore, we could just as easily translate Jesus’ statement here as, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for the ones he loves.” In this case, it really doesn’t matter if that one is a friend or enemy, for we are called to love them both. Christ’s love is so magnificent and strong, that in laying down His life for those whom He loves He is able to make friends of His enemies. And He calls us to do the same: to lay down our lives for the ones we love, be they friends or enemies, and by that sacrificial love to make friends of our enemies.

Nevertheless, our context here is not dealing with enemies, but with friends. Jesus is talking to His friends, and He is talking about how we love our friends – those ones whom we love within the family of God. As Carson writes, “[G]enuine love for God ensures genuine love for His Son … ; that genuine love for the Son ensures obedience to … the command to love (13:34-35; 15:12). By an unbreakable chain, love for God is tied to and verified by love for other believers.”[2] As John writes in 1 John 4,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. …We love because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 Jn 4:11-21)

We have not merely been commanded to love, we have been given the ultimate example and role model in love. How could we ever love with the kind of sacrificial love that is commanded of us? By looking at our example, Jesus, and imitating Him. If we are to love one another as He has loved us, we must do so in imitation of Him. This brings us to the second aspect of the love to which Jesus has called us.

II. We must love one another in obedience to Christ (vv13-15).

Years ago, I heard a story about Dr. Graham Scroggie, a great English preacher of the last century. I hope it is true, but I haven’t found a source for it. As best I can recall the details of the story, it seems that after a service, Scroggie counseled with a woman who confessed that she struggled in an area of obedience in her life. Scroggie took out a pen and a piece of paper and wrote on it two words: “No Lord.” He explained to her that those two words cannot coexist side by side. If Jesus is our Lord, we cannot say no to Him. If we say no to Him, then we prove that He is not our Lord. He told the woman to take the paper home and pray about which one of those words she would mark out. If Jesus is Lord, then whatever He commands, the answer is “Yes!”

When one who is Lord speaks, it is incumbent on all who are His servants to obey Him. In our human nature, we like to ask, “Why?” We see it in children. We tell them, “Clean your room!” They respond, “Why?” And we say, “Because I said so.” Because we speak from a position of authority, we do not have to explain our reasons. But though Jesus can relate to us in this way as Lord, He has also chosen to relate to us in a more intimate way. He has called us His friends. He loved us as a friend when He laid down His life for us. And as His friends, He gives us insight into His word, His will, and His purpose for us and for the whole world. He says in verse 15, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

It is an astounding thing to be called a friend of the Lord of lords and King of kings. In the Old Testament, of all the men and women whose lives are recorded there, only two are called friends of God: Abraham and Moses. And both of those men are known for having extraordinary access to and revelation from God. God had graciously drawn these men into His secret counsel. Now that title of “friend of God” is placed upon all who call upon Jesus Christ. He has drawn us into the intimate circle of friendship and made known to us His truth. I love how Mounce puts this: “In times of difficulty, when we may be tempted to think that God has removed Himself from us and concealed His plans, it is good to remember that we are still friends of Jesus and as such have access to insights unavailable to the unbeliever.”[3] There will always be mysteries. Our minds are finite; God is infinite. But the Spirit of God who indwells us as believers discloses to us the truth of the Word of God so that, even when we do not know all that we may wish to know, we know all that we need to know about who the Lord is and how He works in our lives and in the world. This is a benefit exclusively restricted to His friends.

But make no mistake about it, His friendship with us does not exempt us from the expectation of obedience. Some years ago, I was pulled over for speeding in my hometown. I knew I was speeding, and I knew I deserved a ticket. I was so pleased to roll down my window and find that the deputy was an old friend I had known for my entire life. We had a chat, and he told me to slow down and go on my way. Whew! My friendship with him caused him to bend the rules for me! But Jesus does not work this way. He is our friend, but He is also our Lord, and obedience is necessary. He says in verse 14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Make no mistake about this, it is not our obedience that makes Him our friend. He befriended us in the depth of our disobedience to Him, not because we earned it or deserved it, but because He loved us and laid down His life for us. Our obedience does not make us His friend, but our obedience proves that we are His friends. If you call yourself a Christian, you are claiming to be a friend of Jesus. Does your obedience to Him prove that you are His friend?

In the context here, the obedience that we are referring to is obedience to the command to love one another. Let’s suppose you have two friends. You love them both and enjoy their company. But, let’s suppose that those two friends don’t really like each other. Whenever you are all together, those friends of yours are constantly bickering and fighting with each other and tearing each other down. At some point, do you not intervene and say, “Listen, I love you both, but if you are my friends, you need to get over this stuff and love one another”? Friends, this is how Jesus wants us to conduct ourselves. You say, “Jesus is my friend.” Another Christian can say the same thing. But when we fight with each other and treat each other unkindly, we are betraying our friendship with the Lord. We need to take up that old adage that any friend of his is a friend of mine! We prove our friendship with Jesus by how we relate to His other friends. If you are His friends, obey His command and love one another as He loves you. Lay down your life, your preferences, your differences of opinion, and embrace that one as your brother or sister! This is the proof that we really are friends of Jesus: our obedience to His command to love.

Now we come to the third and final aspect of this love …

III. We must love one another as ambassadors of Christ (v16)

When nations seek to establish diplomatic relations with one another, they commission ambassadors to live in the other country as an authorized representative of his or her home country. The Kingdom of Heaven has ambassadors of its own here among the nations of earth. Look around you. A group of those ambassadors has assembled here this morning. Do you recognize them? You are them. You are the emissaries of Christ who have been commissioned to speak and act on His behalf in the world and with one another in the church. And when you love one another in the body of Christ, you are the embodiment of the love of Jesus Christ to one another.

Notice that Jesus says here in verse 16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you.” You didn’t volunteer for this service. You were drafted. You say, “No, I made a choice to follow Jesus.” Indeed, you did. But your choice was merely a response to His. You did not choose Him prior to or apart from His sovereign choice of you. For reasons only of His glory and grace, He selected the likes of you and me to be His divinely appointed ambassadors in the world. Being chosen by Him for this task is a great encouragement for us. Imagine if Jesus had said, “I did not choose you, but you chose Me.” That would mean that when we come to Him in our time of need, He would be turning a cold shoulder to us, as if to say, “Don’t come crying to me. You are the one who picked this role. Didn’t you know what you were getting into?” But that is not what Jesus said. He said, “I chose you.” That means He takes full responsibility for you being in the role of His ambassador. Therefore, when we have a need – for instance, when we find it difficult to obey His command to love one another – we can come to Him and say, “Lord, you chose Me! You are all wise and all knowing. You do all things well and for good purpose. Here I am. I need help to do what you chose me to do.” Do you think for a moment that He can turn a deaf ear to such a cry? He cannot. He will not. He chose you. And He chose you for this very purpose.

Notice how He says next, “[I] appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” Let me remind you what we said last week about this fruit that Jesus speaks about here in John 15. What is it? I gave you a definition last week: “the fruit that is borne by a Christian in right relationship with Jesus is a combination of Christlike characteristics, produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, as a means to accomplishing God’s purposes in and through the believer.” Specifically, throughout Scripture, we find two overarching “varieties” (if you will) of this fruit. One is the characteristics of Christ that are being formed in us, described in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Notice the first one in the list: LOVE! The other is the fruit of evangelistic converts – people who are won to faith in Christ through our witness. These two things are inseparable. We cannot win others to faith in Christ apart from the demonstration of the transformed life that Christ is producing in us. We have no credibility with an unbeliever if Christ is not shaping us into His likeness.

The simple fact is that you cannot obey this command to love one another, or any other command of Christ, apart from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He must produce that kind of love in you. What we often fail to realize is the power of the testimony of Christian love for one another. Jesus said this very thing in John 13. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is willing to stake the integrity of His gospel on our ability to demonstrate His love toward one another within the church. Let me ask you something: do you think your non-Christian friends are impressed with how you can bicker about your church, complain about your pastor, or criticize another Christian? They are not! But when they see us love one another in a way that is humanly inexplicable, they are profoundly impacted by what they see. They will want what you have, because they have never encountered it before. I have told you many times that I was won to Christ primarily by the demonstration of Christian love that I began to see in the lives of the Christians God placed in my life. I don’t expect it to be any different for anyone else. Jesus said so Himself.

These two varieties of fruit go together. If you have the fruit of the Spirit which is love for one another, you will see the fruit of others coming to faith begin to blossom. But, you will not see the latter if you do not demonstrate the former. It is as simple as that. You may say, “But it is so hard to love one another!” Indeed. It is. I find it almost humorous how hard people will work to be unlovable! But we are unlovable before God in our sins, and Jesus loved us anyway and laid down His life for us. He calls us to do the same. It is a mission impossible in our own resources. But we do not operate in our own resources. We have all the resources of heaven available to us to help us love one another.

Notice the last part of verse 16. Jesus says “I chose you and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit … so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” Now, it would make more sense to us perhaps if it was reversed, if Jesus said, “I will answer any prayer you pray so that you can go and bear fruit.” But that is not what He said. He did not say, “I gave you prayer so you could have a fruitful mission.” He said, “I gave you a mission to be fruitful, so you would pray and I would answer.” Jesus gave you a difficult mission so that you would never forget how utterly dependent you are on your relationship with Him. If you find it difficult, maybe even impossible to love your brother or sister as Christ would have you love them, that is normal. But it is not designed to make you give up on them. It is designed to bring you to your knees and cry out to Him. He has promised to answer any thing you pray for in relation to your obedience to this command to bear the lasting fruit of love. Come to Him and call upon Him. “Lord, you have chosen me! You have appointed me to bear the fruit of love and to bring the lost to know you! You have even said that my love for these other Christians is how you want to win those unbelievers! But I cannot do it Lord! I cannot love them! I do not love them! O Lord, will You love them through me? Can I here and now lay down my life for them, that Your love will take on flesh in me?” Friends, that is a prayer that Jesus Christ has promised to answer for you. In fact, He gave you this otherwise impossible mission to make you see your need for daily dying to yourself, that He might live and love through you.

Friends, all around us are hurting Christians. Some of their hurts, you know full well. Others are secret wounds of the heart known only to the Lord. In this room today are people whose hearts are broken and who wish for nothing more than to feel the embrace of Jesus Christ surrounding them. My friends, Jesus Christ wills to embrace them with your arms. He has called you to be His ambassador, to love others who are hurting and in need with His love. Will you ask Him to do it in and through you? Will you emulate His example? Will you obey His command? He has called you His friends. We will prove that friendship is real as we love one another.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield, 1995), 19.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 521.
[3] Robert Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed., Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 578.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The True Vine and the Fruitful Branch (John 15:1-11)

One of the unique features that distinguish the Gospel According to John from the other Gospels is Jesus’ seven “I am” statements. In these vivid metaphors, Jesus reveals truth about who He is and what He had come into the world to do. Over the course of our study of John, we have considered six of them. Today we come to the seventh. Here in John 15:1, Jesus says, “I am the True Vine,” and again in verse 5, “I am the Vine.” In this statement and the accompanying metaphors of the vinedresser and the branches, He is revealing something about the nature of our relationship with Him and the effect of this relationship on us. He is the source of our spiritual life – a life that flows through the vine and into us, the branches that are connected to Him by saving faith and trust. This imagery vividly portrays the reality of what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

The Bible uses a lot of different kinds of figurative language, and it is helpful for us to distinguish them from one another. This passage deals with metaphors – a simple means of comparison where one thing is described in terms of another. It is not a parable – a story in which a single primary point is being made by a small number of elements in the story. Nor is it an allegory – a complex story in which every detail of the story is representative of something else. Therefore, we cannot press every detail of the metaphors used here for some theological meaning. The basic meanings are simple to understand. The complex issues are not here dealt with but are left for other, clearer and more in-depth teaching. Three main subjects are identified in the metaphor. Christ is the Vine. His Father is the vinedresser, or “farmer” more literally. Those who are genuine followers of Christ are the branches. The point of the metaphor is how all three of these are related to one another in a way that produces fruit – the vital effect and evidence of genuine spiritual life.

We need to notice here that Jesus says He is the Vine, as if to say that there is no other vine that can produce this sort of spiritual vitality. He is not one of many vines, He is the Vine. He also says in verse 1 that He is the True Vine. There are other things that portend to be vines but are not. But the one pseudo-vine that Jesus is making a distinction from here is the Nation of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was likened to a vine that had been planted and tended by God. Ironically, however, whenever that imagery is used to describe Israel, it is a negative context of a vine that has failed to bear good fruit and is in imminent peril of judgment. One example of this is in Isaiah 5 where we find the “Song of the Vineyard.” There the prophet sings of all that the Lord did to prepare this vineyard for Himself, with the expectation that it would produce “good grapes.” Instead, it only produced “worthless ones,” a phrase that would most literally be translated as “stink-fruit.” Whereas the nation of Israel proved to be spiritually impotent before the Lord, Jesus has come into the world to be the True Vine, by whom all who are vitally connected to Him will enjoy the fullness of spiritual livelihood and produce abundant good fruit for the glory of the Lord.

The distinction between the worthless vine of Israel and the Lord Jesus as the True Vine was necessary for people in that day to understand. If they trusted in their “Jewishness” and their Hebrew ancestry to grant them spiritual security before God, they would be ultimately disappointed. It was not enough to be “born” in the right biological lineage. They had to be “born again,” as branches in the True Vine, the Lord Jesus. This distinction would be scandalous to most who heard it in that day. But it is also necessary, scandalous, and relevant to our own day. Particularly here in the Southern United States, Christianity has been the cultural norm for centuries, and there are many who assume that they are Christians by default. But the image of the vine and the branches reminds us that spiritual vitality only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not from our ancestors or our geographical setting. He is the True Vine. Are you a branch that is bearing fruit for Him? That is the question for us today – one that each individual must consider and answer before God for himself or herself. So, let us break down the metaphor here and consider what it means to be a fruitful branch that is vitally connected to the True Vine.

I. The branches are known by the fruit they bear (vv2-3, 6)

It has been said that in recent days, John 3:16 has been replaced as the most favorite and frequently quoted Bible verse, in exchange for Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Yet that statement occurs in the very context of a long discourse about the necessity of making judgments. We are to judge between a wide and a narrow gate, a solid and a shaky foundation, and even between true and false prophets. Jesus says there in Matthew 7 that we will know them by their fruits. Good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit, and we are expected to be able to tell the difference between them. The point of His statement to “not judge,” is to not judge others without first judging ourselves, or by a different standard than we judge ourselves. We must not judge the other person for having a speck in his or her eye, while not doing anything about the log that is in our own eye. Before we go looking at what kind of fruit our neighbor is bearing, we must look at ourselves and the fruit that we are bearing. It is a similar point to what is being made here in John 15.

The vitality of a branch, and its relationship to the Vine is determined by the fruit that it bears. Now, what kind of fruit are we talking about here? The text here does not define the fruit. We have to look to other passages for help here. In other passages, fruit is used to describe different aspects of the Christian life. In Romans 1:13, Paul uses the word “fruit” to refer to evangelistic converts. In Galatians 5, he uses the word “fruit” to describe the way that the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in the life of the believer, with qualities like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In many other passages, we read of “the fruit of righteousness,” and find “fruit” otherwise used to describe good deeds and those things which further God’s work in the world. The general sense in all of these contexts is that the “fruit” is evidence that God’s Spirit indwells a person and is making His presence known through these qualities and works. So, rather than choosing one of these examples of fruit to explain what Jesus means here in John 15, it seems better to consider all of them together. We can say something like this: the fruit that is borne by a Christian in right relationship with Jesus is a combination of Christlike characteristics, produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, as a means to accomplishing God’s purposes in and through the believer.

There is one who will judge all fruit and all branches and all those who portend to be branches. Jesus said that His Father is the Vinedresser. He is examining the vine and seeing where fruit is being borne and where it is absent. And Jesus says here that every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away. In verse 6, the fate of that one is made more clear. He is thrown away as a branch, and dries up, and these false branches are gathered together and cast into a fire to be burned. Some have concluded that this means that it is possible for one who is a Christian to somehow be severed from Christ and lose his or her salvation. However, we know that this is not what is being taught here. First, we must remember that in a metaphor like this, simple comparisons are being made to convey simple truths, and complex details cannot be pressed upon the metaphor. Second, if that is what is meant here, then it would plainly contradict what is clearly taught in other passages that are more straightforward and detailed. The entirety of Scripture testifies that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, and that no genuine believer can ever lose the salvation that has been given to him or her by the grace of the Lord Jesus.

If you have ever tended to vines, whether they are grapevines or wild vines that run like weeds through the woods, you can envision this situation. In our back yard, we have a lot of vines – all of them wild and invasive. When we are doing yard work, we try to trim the vines and cut them back and get them cut at the root. But sometimes it is hard to tell which branches are connected to which vines. But the Vinedresser, God the Father, is able to tell which branches are vitally connected to the vine and which ones are not. He can tell by examining the fruit. If there is no fruit, then there is no life going into the branch from the vine. Therefore, that branch is cut away from its entanglement in the vine and discarded to be burned. The image points us to a person who is not a genuine Christian, though by outward appearances, they may look like a Christian. They gather with Christians, they use Christian language, they are involved in Christian activity. It appears as if they are connected to the vine. But there is no fruit! If we could trace their branch down to where it connects to a vine, we would find that it is not connected to the True Vine of Christ. It might lay across the vine, wrap around and entangle it, but the life-giving sap of the True Vine does not run through that branch. Friends, the perilous reality for that fruitless branch is that it is spiritually lost and in danger of eternal hell.

On the other hand, the branch that is connected to the True Vine of Christ will bear fruit. Every person who is a genuinely born again Christian is vitally connected to the Vine, and the life of Christ pulses through that individual bearing spiritual fruit in his or her life. Not all of the branches bear the same quantity of fruit, but wherever the sap of the Vine runs into a branch, some good fruit will be borne. It may be small in size or number, but there will be fruit because the life-giving sap of the Vine is able to produce it in every branch that is vitally connected to Him. Now, in verse 8, Jesus says that what glorifies the Father is when the branches bear much fruit. So, the Vinedresser, the Sovereign Almighty God, prunes the fruit-bearing branches (v2) so that they will bear even more fruit for Him. Now, the word used here for “pruning” in the original Greek text of verse 2 is an unusual word. It could be translated literally as “trimmed clean.” And there is a little play on words here with verse 3, where Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you.” Those two words are very similar, varying by only a few letters and nearly identical in sound. So, what Jesus is saying is that His Word is how God prunes us so that we bear more fruit for Him.

If you’ve ever trimmed crepe myrtles, you know about those little shoots of growth called “sucker roots” that spring out of the base of the tree. These shoots do nothing but take nourishment away from the maturing healthy branches of the tree. In time, they will weaken the tree, so they need to be cut off. Over the course of our entire lives, the Vinedresser is always laying the blade of the Word against us, cutting away the sucker roots of our lives – those besetting sins and holdouts of rebellion within us, so that we are able to bear even more fruit. This is a tribute to the faithfulness and patience of God, who never gives up on His own, but continues to work within us to produce the fruit that He desires through us for His own glory.

Pruning sounds like a painful process, doesn’t it? In fact it is. Whenever we read the Word of God and are indicted by it as it confronts our sinful attitudes and actions, it is not comfortable or pleasant. But through this painful process, God is shaping us to reflect the beauty of Christ, that the good fruit that the Vine is able to produce in its branches becomes more abundant. So, as the Bible says, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, and whenever it does, we should give thanks to God for it.

So we see here a very simple principle: branches are known by the fruit they bear. Where there is no fruit, there is no branch in vital connection with the True Vine of Christ. But where that vital connection exists between the branch and the Vine, there will be fruit, and increasingly so as the Father prunes us by the Word of God.

II. The key to bearing fruit is abiding in the Vine (vv4-5, 7, 9-10).

Since bearing fruit is such an important feature of the Christian life, we may wonder, “What must I do to produce this fruit?” That’s the typical American way – do something to fix it! It is human nature really. It goes back to Adam and Eve. When they sinned against the Lord, immediately they began to work with their hands to produce a covering for their shame. But it was not sufficient. Nor are our efforts to work from our own human ability and ingenuity to produce any lasting spiritual fruit in our lives. Go ahead and try it. See if you can muster your effort to make yourself more loving or more patient. You cannot. The key to bearing fruit is not found in our doing, but in our abiding. Jesus said in verse 4, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

To abide in Christ is to rest in the security and sufficiency of our personal relationship with Him. In verses 9-10, Jesus equates “abiding in Him” with “abiding in His love.”
It is to rest knowing that we do not have to earn His love, because He has already lavished it upon us. It is to know with confidence that our relationship with Him is not based on what we have done for Him but what He has done for us in loving us, living for us, dying for us, rising for us, saving and indwelling us. It is knowing that He has a hold on our lives and He will never let us go. When our lives are anchored in these truths and in the intimacy of a personal relationship with Jesus, there will be a marked difference between the way we live and the way everyone else in the world lives. There will be fruit manifested as the life of the Vine flows through the branches.

Now, in verse 4, Jesus said to abide in Him, and He in you. How does He abide in us? Obviously, this is a reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At the moment we are born again by faith in Jesus, God the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. He takes up permanent residence in our lives. This is an unchanging reality. What does change however is how much we yield control of our lives to Him. This is what the Bible calls being “Spirit-filled,” or we could call it “Spirit-controlled.” As we yield control of our lives to Him, He brings to bear the fruit of His presence and power within us – that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control that Galatians 5 calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” Now, what we often fail to realize is how closely connected being “Spirit-filled” is to being richly fed on the Word of God. Of course it is possible to be full of Bible knowledge and not even be born-again, much less Spirit-filled. But, I submit that it is impossible to be Spirit-filled unless we are saturated in the Holy Scriptures. Notice in verse 7 that Jesus equates Himself abiding in us with His words abiding in us. The same thing can be seen in comparing Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. In Ephesians 5, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. In an almost exactly parallel passage in Colossians 3, the command is to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you. So, we can conclude that as we feed on the Word of God, and meditate upon it in the context of abiding in the love of Christ, we are granting the Spirit of God more and more control over our lives.

The really wondrous and fascinating thing about all of this is how it all flows together to bring fruit to bear in our lives. We abide in the intimate personal relationship we have in the love of Christ, and we imbibe deeply of the Word of God and meditate upon it in the context of that relationship, and the Spirit of God takes control of our lives to produce the fruit of His presence and power, even empowering us to live in loving obedience to the commands of Christ. Notice in verse 10: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” The idea here is not that we earn His love by keeping His commandments, but the keeping of His commandments is the evidence that we abide in His love. Our obedience is not rendered in a fearful, begrudging spirit of slavery, but in the overflow of love that flows from the security of resting in His love. We do not obey in order to be loved, but because we are loved. And in love for Him, we feed on His Word, and the Spirit empowers us to live in obedience to that Word. And the transformed character and transformed conduct of our lives are fruit that is being produced in us, the branches as a result of abiding in the Vine.

Now we move finally to the third reality of abiding and bearing fruit …

III. There are spectacular promises for the fruit-bearing branches who abide in the Vine (vv7-8, 11)

Specifically four promises here are given to those branches who abide in the Vine and bear fruit for Him. I will review them quickly here as we conclude.

First, there is the promise of effectual prayer in verse 7. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” This is the second great prayer promise in a very short span of context, but again the notion here is not some kind of cosmic bribery whereby God promises to give you what you want if you behave yourself. The idea here is that abiding and fruitful branch lives in such harmony with the Vine and is so filled with His Spirit and His Word, that our desires are transformed to the place where we actually want, and ask for, the very things that God delights to give to us.

Then there is the promise of God’s glory in verse 8. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit.” It is really amazing how the God of infinite glory chooses to use us to bring glory to Himself! If you are a Christian, your life is not some mundane form of meaningless existence. Your life is being used to make the glory of God visible in the world. As people see how He is transforming your character and your conduct, they are seeing the Person and power of God at work in your life and they are impacted by the profound display of the glory of His grace. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.” As you abide in the Vine, others come to glorify the God who is working in and through you.

Then we have the promise of the assurance of our salvation. Notice in the latter part of verse 8, that as you bear much fruit, Jesus said you “so prove to be My disciples.” We rightly stress the importance of being assured of our salvation, but we often point to the wrong means of assurance. All too often when someone doubts whether or not they are saved, we take them back in time and say, “Do you remember a time when you prayed a prayer and asked the Lord to save you?” Some people do, some people don’t. But in neither case is the recollection of a prayer that was prayed at some point in the past real assurance of salvation. We are not saved by our past profession of faith, but by our present possession of saving faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We ought to be able to look at our lives and see that there is fruit – evidence of a changed life. We may not be what we want to be, and we are surely not yet what God ultimately wants us to be, but we ought to be able to see evidence that we are not what we used to be. If you are able to see the manifestation of the fruit of righteousness in your life, even if it is slow forming and perhaps still in the bud, then you can have confidence that the life of the Vine is flowing in and through you. But if that fruit is altogether absent, then you are right to question your salvation. You should examine whether or not you have that personal relationship with Jesus that is here likened to a branch vitally rooted in the Vine of Jesus Christ.

The final promise here is the fullness of the joy of Jesus in your life. In verse 11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Having already promised that His followers could know His peace and His love, He now promises that His joy is available to us. His joy is an unspeakable joy that comes from unhindered fellowship with God the Father. He promises that you too can have this kind of joy. It is not a promise of uninterrupted happiness, as if you will no longer be subject to the frailties of human life or the hardships of this fallen world. It is rather a promise of something far better – the joy of knowing that come what may, God is with you and nothing can separate you from Him. Life will not always be pleasant, fun, exciting, or happy for you as a Christian. But even when it is not, because the joy of Christ is within you, there is a fullness of joy that you can know that is completely foreign to the rest of the world. I personally believe that the demonstration of this unshakable joy in the midst of unspeakable difficulties is one of the most powerfully persuasive testimonies that a Christian has in the world. When everything that can be is shaken in our lives, we can say, “Nevertheless, it is well with my soul, because my life is hidden with Christ in God. I am a branch, He is my Vine, and nothing can separate me from Him.” This is something that the world has no way of comprehending. And it is only possible as we abide in Christ.

So, here we have seen these truths, these realities, of Christ as the True Vine, and we Christians as the branches that are vitally connected to Him, bearing fruit for Him as His life flows in and through us. Do you have that personal relationship with Him? Are you a branch in the Vine? You say, “How do I know?” Simple – is there any fruit? Is there any evidence of a change in your character or conduct since that moment when you turned to Jesus and asked Him to save you? If there is not, or if you never have done that, then today, we would pray that you might turn from sin and self-effort and know the joy that comes from simply abiding in the finished work of Christ, who has died to save you from your sins, and who ever lives to produce the fruit of righteousness in your life, that the Father may be glorified through you.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Peace of Christ (John 14:27-31)

Peace. It is a word that is often used and seldom understood. Even more rarely is it experienced. Usually when we hear this word in our culture, it is in the context of something that is absent. In some cultures it is used as a way of saying “hello,” and “goodbye,” as if to wish one another peace as we come and go. That was the way it was used in ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew word “Shalom” had connotations that extend far beyond merely “the absence of conflict,” though it includes that. It means a state of completeness or satisfaction that is found when all is well. It speaks of one’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It speaks of being in right relationship with God, for only in that blessed state can it truly be said that all is well. Therefore, true peace comes only from God. The ancient Hebrews spoke the word as a prayer for one another that all things might be well under God for the other person. Early Christians adopted this word as a greeting and spoke of it, not as the wish for something as yet unattained, but as a reminder that this peace was available and had been secured for us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. That is why, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus could say to His followers, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”

Only Jesus could speak of “His peace” in the midst of circumstances like He was in at the time. One of His companions had already gone out to betray Him, and He knew that He was moments away from being arrested, tortured, and killed. But He could speak of His peace in the midst of such a raging storm. And He could speak of giving this peace to His followers, who were undergoing a raging storm of their own. Their Teacher, Master, Lord, and Friend was about to be taken away from them, and their own safety and security was in peril. Emotionally anguished, mentally tormented, with no sense of certainty about their physical well-being, Jesus says that He will give them His peace so that they may have it, even as He does. And He offers His peace to all of us who follow Him by faith. He does not guarantee us that we will escape all turmoil and tribulation, but He promises us that, come what may, we can live safeguarded by His peace. In the words that Jesus speaks to His disciples here in our text today, He describes this peace and how it effects us. So, let us look at these “principles of His peace” and ask the Lord to deepen our understanding and experience of the peace of Christ in our lives.

I. Jesus does not give His peace as the world gives (v27a)

There’s a lot that goes into the giving of a gift. There’s the gift itself, and then the giver of the gift, the motivation behind the gift, the occasion of the gift, and the manner in which it is given. We think that receiving a gift is always a good thing, but if we stop and think about it, sometimes it is not. Sometimes the gift or the occasion it is given makes us uncomfortable or embarrassed. Think of the time you received underwear for Christmas. Sometimes gifts are given with strings attached. Once someone offered me a “gift” of a very costly item that required an annual fee to be paid for it to be used. The annual fee was going to be my responsibility, and frankly it was more than I could afford. Awkwardly, I had to decline the gift. But the best gifts are those which are what we need or want, given out of the purest motives on the best of occasions, in the context of a genuine love relationship with the giver. All of the best and most perfect gifts ultimately come from God Himself, and are given this way. James says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas 1:17). This is how Jesus has given us the gift of His peace.

He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The world gives gifts a far different way than God gives them. Sometimes the world gives gifts insincerely, scantily, under compulsion, with selfish motives, with strings attached. Moreover, often the world gives a gift only to take it away again. And sometimes when the world offers a gift, it offers far more than it can deliver. So it is when the world offers us peace. When two parties sit down to negotiate peace on the world’s terms, often one or more parties is not genuinely interested in real and lasting peace. Often one or the other party is only interested in doing what is minimally required to attain peace, and at as little expense as possible. Typically, this kind of negotiation is never entered into willingly, but because some other entity is requiring or compelling it. Seldom is it a win-win arrangement, and more often it is lose-lose. And the kind of peace that the world affords is never permanent.

During the reign of Augustus Caesar most of the known world was experiencing a time that Augustus had inaugurated and named the Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome). During this time, vast regions of the world were allegiant to the Roman Empire and there was no conflict to speak of in any of these lands. It was perhaps the longest and most thoroughgoing time of peace in the history of the world. However, it must be remembered that this peace was effected by the militant conquest of these lands and the swift action of Rome to quell all uprisings with severe force. One conquered ruler remarked that in view of the plunder, butchery, and robbery that the Romans performed in his land, “they make a wasteland and call it peace.”[1] This is how the world gives peace … with a sword to the neck. Jesus said that He was not giving peace like this. Though many expected the Messiah to come wielding the sword, Jesus came to effect peace by receiving the blows of violence, not striking them. On the eve of His crucifixion, He can say that He gives His followers His peace, because this peace was secured for us in His death and resurrection. He does not compel us by force to enter into His peace, with strings and conditions attached. He does not offer us His peace with self-centered motives, or with escape clauses that may entail Him revoking this peace from us in the future. He gives us His peace by His grace and for His glory, in an act of unconditional, eternal, covenant love. We do not deserve it, we cannot earn it, and because of our sins, we should not have it. But Jesus has accomplished this peace for us in His suffering and death for our sins as our substitute under the wrath of God. He took the judgment we deserve, so we could have the peace that is rightly His in eternal fellowship with God the Father.

Jesus alone can offer us real and lasting peace. It is His peace. He has it, He can give it. It is peace with God, and it is the peace of God. In Romans 5, Paul says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith speaks of that act of God by which He removes our sin and imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Prior to coming to Christ by faith, we were enemies at war with God in our sins. We could not make peace with God on our own terms. But through Jesus Christ, we have peace with God. The war is over, and we have been rescued, redeemed, and reconciled to Him in peace.

Since we have peace with God, we can also experience the peace of God. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told to not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known to God, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God comes from knowing that He is sovereign and in control over all of our circumstances, and that ultimately our future is secure in His hands. But, this kind of peace cannot be manufactured by our self-effort. It is an element of the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul describes in Galatians 5. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power is manifested in our lives by these attributes, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This peace of God that Jesus has made available to us comes only as we yield ourselves to the Spirit’s control in our lives. The Holy Spirit has come to us because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and in Him, we can have this peace guarding our hearts and minds, even when the circumstances of our lives are far from peaceful.

This brings us to the second principle of Christ’s peace here in our text.

II. The peace of Christ replaces fear and trouble with love and joy (vv27b-28)

You will recall, perhaps, that the first words Jesus spoke in this extended discourse in the Upper Room were “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Here He says it again: “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” Let’s face it: there was plenty for them to be troubled and afraid about. Jesus has told them what is coming, from the betrayal, to the arrest, to the falling away of the disciples themselves, to the horrors of the Cross and His impending death. They were troubled and afraid! If they weren’t, something would be wrong with them! And if they weren’t, Jesus wouldn’t have to tell them to not let their hearts be in that state. Like them, we often have plenty of reasons to be troubled and afraid. Over the next several chapters, Jesus will promise His followers that they will be hated by the world (15:18), that they will have tribulation in the world (16:33), and He prays that the Father would not take them out of this world (17:15). This world is not a safe place to live, and yet it is where we have to live! Senseless acts of violence, tragic accidents, and sudden crises erupt all around us every day, not to mention the fact that we live in bodies that are constantly falling apart. I recall hearing John Piper talking about a day several years ago in which he distinctly remembered someone asking him, “How are you doing?”, and he said, “I’m fine.” Then he went to the doctor that afternoon and found out he had cancer. He said he learned a valuable lesson that day. “Now, when people ask me, ‘How’s your health?’ I say, ‘I feel fine. And the doctors are pleased.’ Which, being translated, means: ‘I don’t know how I am; only God knows.’”[2] If we ponder long on any of these circumstances that could arise with no forewarning, we are greatly troubled and afraid! But Jesus says that His peace can drive that fear and trouble out and replace it with something greater.

What had the disciples troubled was the announcement that Jesus was going away. Clearly they understood that He was speaking of His death. So troubled and fearful were they, that they seem to have missed, or at least greatly misunderstood that He had also said that He would come to them again. But here Jesus is trying to redirect their hearts from fear and trouble to love and joy. He says, “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced.” Did they love Jesus? Surely in some sense they did, but Jesus seems to suggest here that in some other sense, their love for Him was lacking. “If you loved Me,” seems to imply that they don’t love Him, at least not in the sense that He is speaking of love. If they understood the peace that He was making possible for them through His impending suffering and death, then their love for Him would grow exponentially and qualitatively. But as it is, all they can think of is themselves and what they are losing – not of Christ, what He is gaining, and what He is accomplishing for them. If they could think of those things instead of themselves, in love for Christ, there would be joy in their hearts instead of fear and trouble.  

So, there is this subtle rebuke here. “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father.” Unless Jesus goes to the Father, His disciples (including us today) cannot have the peace that He promises. We cannot have peace with God or the peace of God that His indwelling Spirit produces unless He goes to the Father by way of His death and resurrection. Jesus is returning to His Father, and to the glory that He had with the Father before the world began, and before He came to dwell among us in the veiled glory of His flesh. This is a cause for rejoicing if we love Him. But not only do we rejoice for Him, we also rejoice for us. Because He is overcoming sin and death on our behalf, we know that we too have the promise of death not being the end. If we love the Lord Jesus and trust Him as our Lord and Savior, death is not a descent into the abyss of the unknown, a ceasing of existence, or a hopeless eternity apart from Him. We too have the promise that we will go to the Father. So, we do not have to fear or be troubled by the hardships and sufferings we face in this world. We can have joy in spite of our circumstances, through the love of Jesus Christ and the peace that He has given us. When we have His peace safeguarding our hearts and minds, every discomfort and disaster that we encounter in the world only causes our love for Him to deepen and our joy in Him to increase, because we know that He has overcome this world, and we share in His victory. Trouble and fear are replaced by love and joy as we rest in the peace of Christ.

Before we move on to the final principle of peace here in the text, we need to just give some explanation to the rather awkward phrase that Jesus says here: “For the Father is greater than I.” This verse has for centuries been latched onto by those who seek to teach that Jesus is somehow less than fully God. But, in many other passages, Jesus has unequivocally taught that He is one with the Father and of the same divine essence as the Father. One of the foundational rules of good biblical interpretation is that we use the clear passages to explain the difficult ones. If we do that here, we conclude that Jesus cannot mean that He is of an inferior nature to God the Father. So, what does it mean? There are at least two certain truths that relate to this statement. First has to do with the eternal role of Jesus as the Son of God, or God the Son. The mystery of the Trinity is complex, and we will never completely fathom all that it entails with our finite minds. What we know is that there is one God, who exists eternally in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And within the perfect unity of the Triune Godhead, there is an ordering of function, not nature. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all coeternal and coequal in glory and deity, but each has a unique functional role. The Father is ever and always the One who commands and sends. The Son is ever the One who is sent and who obeys the Father. And the Spirit is the One who is sent by both the Father and the Spirit, and who functions in obedience to the will of the Father and the Son. Ontologically, that is, in the nature of their being, One is not greater or more important than the other. But functionally, their roles differ. As the One who is sent, and the One who obeys, Jesus can say that the Father is greater in function than He is.

There is another reason Jesus can say that the Father is greater. The disciples have enjoyed the indescribable blessing of knowing Jesus in His flesh. But, the point was never for them to just have an earthly relationship with an earth-bound Jesus. Jesus is making it possible, by His return to the Father, for His followers to truly know God in all of His splendor and glory. It is greater for them that they have an eternal relationship with God through Him than for their experience to be limited to a temporal relationship with Jesus in His flesh on the earth. All that Jesus had done to this point, and all that He would do, had the aim and purpose of bringing them into a relationship with the Father. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” We may be tempted to think that it would have been better to live in the first century, and have the opportunity to meet Jesus as He walked and talked on the earth. But because of what Jesus has done in His life, death, and resurrection, we have something even better. We have a relationship with God through Him.

As we move back onto our primary theme of having Christ’s peace, we have seen that He alone can give us this peace – peace with God and the peace of God. It has not been given to us as the world gives. It has been secured for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent to indwell those who receive Him by faith as Lord and Savior. And this peace is able to replace the fear and troubles of our hearts in this fallen world with increased and greater love for Christ and joy in Him. But there is a final principle of His peace that we need to see here in the text.

III. The peace of Christ produces confidence in His word (vv29-31)

One of the ways Jesus continually produces peace in the hearts of His followers is through the promises of His word. And it works like a cycle. His promises produce peace, and His peace increases our confidence in His word. When we find ourselves in anxiety rather than resting in His peace, chances are we have forgotten or begun to doubt His promises. So the peace produces this confidence and this confidence reinforces the peace. It is kind of a chicken and egg kind of relationship – which comes first? Well, the two are so closely related that it is impossible to separate them. But as Jesus promises His peace to His disciples, He does so in the context of bolstering their confidence in His Word.

Thus far, Jesus has told them about the things which are going to transpire in both the immediate and distant future. He has told them what would happen over the next several days – He would die and rise again. He has told them what would happen over the next several weeks – the Holy Spirit would come to dwell within them. And He says here, “I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.” Of course, these men already believed, but Jesus is calling them to a deeper confidence in His word: a confidence that is produced by His peace. When these events begin to happen – His arrest, His trial, His torture, and His death, they can rest in the peace that He promised them, and grow in their confidence that His every word is truth.

Let’s face it … from a mere earthly perspective, the events that will transpire over the coming day will appear to be utter chaos and mayhem. If any circumstances could ever be described as “hell on earth,” then the crucifixion of Jesus and the events surrounding it certainly meet that description. Jesus says, “I will not speak much more with you.” But there would be no need for Him to. As the great hymn says, “What more can He say than to you He has said?” They will not suffer for lack of information. Their challenge will be to remain steadfast in confidence of what He has already said.

The reason He will speak no more with them is that “the ruler of the world is coming.” Who is the ruler of the world? Isn’t God the ruler of the world? Well, in the ultimate sense, yes, He is. But remember that when God created human beings in His image, He gave to mankind dominion over the whole earth. Man was to be God’s regent, ruling the world in His stead and on His behalf. But Adam squandered this trust that God had given him when he yielded his allegiance to Satan in the garden. In Adam’s sin, the dominion of the world passed into the hands of the devil. He continues to operate under God’s ultimate authority, but the operations of the world are under Satan’s domain. And in the events leading up to and including the cross, Satan was trying to accomplish his ultimate will and desire – to murder God and be freed from His sovereignty. He had been trying to accomplish this since the beginning, but now he pulls out all the stops and goes full force into the fray. The ruler of the world is coming, Jesus said, and with unprecedented evil to murder the Messiah.

But, Jesus says, “He has nothing in Me.” In other words, “He has no hold (or claim) on me.” This phrase was used in Jewish legal contexts when someone had a rightful charge to bring against another in a court of law. But Jesus says here that Satan has no rightful charge over Him. Jesus had not sinned, and had lived in complete and perfect obedience to His Father’s will. So, though the enemy believed that he would be the victor in this battle, Jesus says, “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” His death was not ultimately the result of a satanic plot; it was the result of a sovereign plan. The death of Jesus was the reason He came into the world in the first place. Satan believed his plan was advancing, but all that he was doing fell under the purpose and plan of God to reconcile the world to Himself through the suffering and death of this righteous substitute for sinners. What appeared to be a victory for Satan was ultimately his defeat, as Jesus, in love for His Father, obeyed His will all the way to the cross where sinners are saved from Satan’s dominion and power. Even in this, Jesus seeks that all the world would have increased confidence that His word is truth.

With the peace of Christ safeguarding their hearts, the disciples could rest in the confidence that Jesus was carrying out that which He had declared. He was saving the world in His death on the cross. But they could not ultimately rest in that peace until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. But after that moment, as they reflected on what had transpired in the cross of Jesus Christ, His peace gave them the confidence that all that Jesus had said was true. In speaking of the cross at Pentecost, Peter said, “This Man (Jesus), delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Ac 2:23).  And notice how this affected the peace that they had and the increased confidence that they had in God’s Word as circumstances began to grow worse for themselves. In Acts 4, they prayed, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence” (Ac 4:27-29).

So, like them, we ourselves can rest in the peace that Christ has given to us, and in confidence in His word when our circumstances are threatening and unpleasant. Knowing that nothing ever happened to Jesus apart from the Father’s perfect purpose assures us that the same is true for us. His Spirit gives us peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations, and in His peace, we find confidence in the truth of His Word, which deepens the peace all the more.

Jesus has given you His peace. But you cannot experience the peace of God until you have peace with God. And Jesus offers you this also. Because He took your sins, your death, and your condemnation upon Himself in the cross, you can be reconciled to God and saved from the powers of sin and Satan. And having peace with God, you can enjoy the peace of God in Christ which is ours because of the Holy Spirit who indwells all who trust in Him. He has not given His peace to us as the world would give. He has given it unconditionally, graciously, and eternally. As you rest in His peace, the troubles and fears of your heart give way to renewed and increased love for Him and joy in the salvation that He has accomplished for you. And as you rest in this peace, your confidence in His word grows, further settling that peace in your heart that all is well, regardless of how things look or feel. If you are in Christ, there is peace – peace that passes all understanding; peace that only Christ can provide; peace that guards us from anxiety; and peace that rests in knowing that all is well. Isaiah the prophet said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa 26:3, KJV).

[1] Calgacus of Caledonia, from Tacitus, Agricola, 30; Cited in Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (4th ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 11.
[2] John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Cancer (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 3. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Spirit and the Word (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15)

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” After explaining the meaning he chooses for one word, Alice says, “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.” One word that Christians and non-Christians alike toss around a lot is the word inspiration. Often times, we are making that one word mean a great deal. You may hear someone say, “I was inspired as I did this or that,” or something like, “Handel’s Messiah is an inspired (or inspirational, or inspiring) piece of music.” I don’t think most of us would have trouble understanding what someone means when he or she says those things. But there is another sense, a more important one, in which we use the word inspiration of the Bible, and we mean something altogether different.

When we speak of the inspiration of the Scriptures, we are making a statement about the source, or origin, of the Bible. We are saying that it has come to us from God Himself. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, ““All Scripture is inspired by God (or God-breathed).” In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter explains how inspiration works as He says that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). This is the very same idea that Jesus Himself has about the Bible. An example of this is found in Mark 12:36, when Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 and prefaces it by saying, “David himself said in (or by) the Holy Spirit.” Again in Matthew 24:15, Jesus speaks of words which came, not from, but through Daniel the prophet. Jesus rightly understood and proclaimed that what was written in the Scriptures did not originate in the minds of the human authors, but it was the Word of God coming to mankind through these inspired writings. This is what we mean when we use the word inspiration in reference to the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired, or breathed out, the words that the human writers recorded as a means of God revealing Himself to the world.

Now, in our text today from John 14 and John 16, we have very specific promises that relate to the Holy Spirit’s work in the inspiration of Scripture. While many of the promises of Jesus apply equally to all Christians, these do not. There are indicators in the context of these passages that tell us that He is speaking directly to His apostles, and that these promises are for them in a special way. He says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you” (14:25); “He will … bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (14:26); “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12). Many Christians would protest this notion because these passages are often misapplied in various ways by Christians who believe that they were intended as general promises for all believers. I have known many Christians who espoused some unusual idea, and blamed it on these verses by saying that the Holy Spirit had guided them into the truth beyond what was recorded in the Word of God. This simply cannot be, because these promises refer explicitly to the Spirit’s inspiration of the revelation that is recorded for us in the Word of God. It would be contrary to God’s nature for Him to lead someone into some notion that opposed this inspired Word. You need to understand that a good many cults have been founded on a misunderstanding and misapplication of these promises. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and to some degree even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, just to name a few, tried to convince their followers that the Holy Spirit had given them new and improved information over what was recorded in Scripture on the basis of this promise. We must not follow in their example. Instead, we must understand these passages as the Lord Jesus intended when He spoke it, and as the Spirit of God intended as He inspired it. Because this is, after all, the whole point of the passages.

While there is application for all Christians to be found in these promises, we need to understand that they relate specifically to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the writings of the New Testament. Through these apostles and their close associates, God would complete His Written Word to man. And because He has done that, we have the confidence that these writings are infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for all matters of Christian faith and practice. In the inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments, we have what the Baptist Faith and Message calls “a perfect treasure of divine instruction,” having “God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” So, let us consider what these promises entail concerning the Spirit and the Word, and how those truths apply to us today.

I. The Spirit has inspired a trustworthy account of Jesus’ words and works (14:25-26)

If past trends are any indicator, I imagine that in soon coming weeks as we approach Easter, we will see magazine covers and television programs touting the recent discovery of some new, lost Gospels that uncover hidden mysteries about the person of Jesus Christ. The problem with these claims is evident in almost every word of their description. In most cases, the discoveries are not recent, but date back decades. The documents are not new, they were not lost, and they are not Gospels. In almost every case, what has been found was an old writing that circulated briefly and in somewhat limited circles. When Christians first laid their eyes on them, they recognized that the things written in them were not true, because they did not bear the marks of apostolic authenticity, and they contradicted or denied truths that were written in the apostolic writings. These books were not “lost,” but rather, they simply disappeared from use and circulation almost immediately as their errors was exposed. The Church already had trustworthy writings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and penned by the Apostles of Jesus Christ and their associates. They did not need man-made fabrications to fill in the gaps or supply further information.

In verse 25 of John 14, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” During the time that Jesus was with His apostles, He said and did many things. It would be their responsibility to record those things to be passed on to future generations of Christians. But, surely they would not have a perfect recollection of everything He said and did, nor does it seem that they even understood everything He said and did in the moment. So how can we trust that these ordinary, forgetful, and sometimes dense men could record an inerrant and infallible history of the things Jesus said and did? On their own, they likely could not. But they would not do this on their own. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would enable them to do this.

In verse 26, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” In teaching them all things, He was helping them understand the meaning and significance of the things that they witnessed. For example, in John 12, we read of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey, and heralded by the praises of the people. The apostles saw these things happen, but they did not realize how significant the moment was and how these things were actually fulfilling divinely inspired Old Testament prophecies. So, John says, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” The Spirit was teaching them all things and bringing to their remembrance what they had witnessed Jesus saying and doing, just as Jesus promises them here in our text.

So, we have this collection of four authentic and authoritative writings which the Spirit inspired through the apostles and their associates: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were apostles. They were present in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke this promise, and the Gospels which bear their names are the product of this promise. But what of Mark and Luke? These men were not apostles, so why do we give their writings equal credence with Matthew and John? Well, it is a well established fact that Mark was recording the accounts of Jesus Christ which he had heard and learned from the apostle Peter. It would be just as fitting to call the Gospel of Mark, “The Gospel of Peter.” Similarly, Luke was writing the account of the life of Christ in his Gospel which he had gathered as he accompanied the apostle Paul on his travels. Luke’s Gospel is essentially “The Gospel According to Paul.” Paul is unique in his standing as an apostle, for he was not an original apostle, but was chosen singularly by the Risen Lord Jesus to be an apostle. Therefore Paul was as much a party to these same promises as those in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke them. And this mark of apostolic authenticity extends to their close companions who were recording, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what they had seen and heard through the apostles.

So, when you read the Gospels, you are not reading the haphazard and unreliable journals of men; these writings are the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the promise we read here in John 14. Because they are inspired by God, that means that they are completely true and trustworthy, and contain no error or contradiction. Sometimes people say there are contradictions between accounts found in, say, John and Luke or Matthew or Mark. However, not a single one of these alleged contradictions is without explanation. Usually the accounts either refer to different incidents, or else they are complementary accounts, with one providing details that the other has omitted. The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness to the veracity of the accounts of the words and works of Jesus Christ found in the four Gospels in our New Testament. This promise assures us of that.

II. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy guidance for Christian doctrine and practice (16:12-13a)

Jesus says in John 16:12, “I have many more things to say to you.” He had said plenty to them, but there was more to be said. But Jesus says, “you cannot bear them now.” In part, they could not bear the further information because they were overcome with sorrow. When we are in “crisis mode,” we have a hard time processing an overload of information, and Jesus knows that about us. But also, there would be no way that the disciples could possibly comprehend at this moment all the implications that the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ have on the Christian life. But when the Spirit comes, because He is the Spirit of truth, He will guide them into all the truth. What He will reveal to the apostles is a continuation, as it were, of the very teachings of Jesus. He says, “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.” He will speak to them of the matters of Christian doctrine and practice that are set forth throughout the New Testament, especially the epistles, or letters. So, we have a true and trustworthy collection of information and instruction on what we believe and how we are to live as Christians, and how we are to function as a church. These are things that Jesus did not specifically teach during His earthly life, but which He has taught through the Holy Spirit as the New Testament writings were inspired.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul is giving instructions on marriage and divorce, and he says in verse 10, “To the married I give instructions, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.” Here, he is restating what Jesus Himself said in several instances in the Gospels about the permanence of marriage (Matt 5:32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 6:18). But then in verse 12, Paul says, “To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.” Again later in verse 25, he says, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.” Some would point to passages like these and say that we have opposing teachings between Jesus and Paul, and therefore they choose to reject Paul’s teachings. But Paul is not saying that his words here bear less weight than those of the Lord Jesus, he is merely saying that Jesus did not teach this in the Gospels, but is teaching it through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the inspired writings. “By the mercy of the Lord,” he says, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he is able to give authoritative direction for the Christian life in these inspired writings. So he concludes that chapter by saying, almost with a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”

We see how we are to view the New Testament writings when we consider how the apostles view one another’s writings. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes, “the Scripture says, … ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” This statement is not found anywhere in Scripture except in the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:10. So, Paul uses the word “Scripture,” which would be understood by his original audience to mean the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, to refer to the writings of Luke. Again, in 2 Peter 3:15, Peter says of “all” of Paul’s letters that in them, “some things are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So here, Peter considers the entire collection of Paul’s writings to be “Scripture,” the Word of God. Therefore, he warns us to not distort these things, even though there may be difficult sayings found in them, because these writings have their origin in God Himself. Now, if you take the writings of Paul and the writings of Luke as Scripture, you have around 60% of the New Testament. And, by extension, we could say the same of the rest of the New Testament because those writings also bear the same mark of apostolic, Spirit-inspired, authenticity.

So, friends, when we come to the Scriptures, including the New and Old Testament, we come to a collection of Spirit-inspired, infallible and inerrant writings which are authoritative and sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We draw our doctrines, our ethics, and our practices from the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

III. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy information about the things to come (16:13c)

CNN has at times used the slogan “Tomorrow’s Headlines Today.” But it is not as though they are telling you anything about the future. They are reporting past events, they are just reporting them sooner than the printed paper is able to. No one can report with accuracy about the future – no one, that is, except God. In Isaiah 46:9-10, He says, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done.” If we are to know anything trustworthy about the future, God would have to reveal it to us. He has done this by His Holy Spirit through the writings of Scripture. Jesus said to His apostles that the Holy Spirit would “disclose to you what is to come.” In saying this, Jesus was pointing them forward to the things that would take place in the distant future concerning His return and the consummation of His kingdom at the end of the age.

Throughout the New Testament, we find many promises and prophecies about the things to come. Some of them were stated by Jesus Himself in the Gospels. The Spirit gave the writers recall to record them accurately. Some are stated in the letters, as the Spirit was guiding the apostles into the truth. And then we find that great concentration of New Testament prophecy in the book of Revelation, which God made known to John (the writer of this Gospel and three New Testament epistles) while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Some people have told me over the years that they are afraid of studying the book of Revelation. But you don’t have to be afraid of it. If you are a believer in Christ, then this book promises you that Christ will triumph in the end, and you will be with Him! I suppose if you are not a believer then there is much there to fear, but not if you are saved! We are actually promised a blessing in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” It is not all easy to understand, for sure. If it was, there wouldn’t so many competing views on end times among Christian scholars. But the things which are most important for us to know are plainly revealed.

So if you want to know what the future holds, you need to turn to the Bible, for only God can tell the future with any degree of accuracy. And what God says about the future is recorded for us in Scripture, and because it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is true and trustworthy.

Now finally, notice the last part of this promise:

IV. All that the Spirit has inspired brings glory to Jesus Christ (v14).

When we read the Bible, we are all reading the same truths. The words may vary from one translation to another, and that is another subject for another day, but the basic data that we are analyzing is the same for us all. So, why do we not all agree with one another on what the Bible teaches? We have different interpretations of what we read there. Every word of the Bible is completely true and trustworthy, because every word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But our interpretations of the Bible are not inspired and therefore our interpretations are not always true and trustworthy.

There are some important keys to interpretation that we have to keep in mind as we study the Bible. And one of those keys is stated right here in verse 14. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will glorify Me” in the inspiration of the written Word of God. So, one of the keys to our right interpretation of the Bible is that we must see how each and every passage points us to the glory of God in Christ. It all does. Jesus said this Himself in Luke 24:44 among other places. There He said, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms are the three sections of the Hebrew Old Testament, and Jesus said that all of it pointed to Him. The same is true of the New Testament writings. It all points to Him. So if our interpretations do not center on the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, we need to ask if we have truly grasped the intended meaning of the text.

I heard someone say once that the closer we stand to the trunk of the tree, the less likely we will get out on a limb. There are some interpretations of Scripture that are truly out on a limb. That’s because they have not stayed close to the root of the tree, and the root of the tree is Jesus Christ. All Scripture points us to Jesus, and in it the Holy Spirit is bringing glory to Jesus. That should be our aim as we interpret the Bible as well. And of course, Christ will be most glorified in our reading and studying of Scripture if we do not merely come to the Bible as scholars on a fact-finding mission, but as worshipers and servants who are committed to trusting and obeying what the Spirit has inspired for our edification there. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as much how much Scripture you know as it does how much you obey of what you do know.

I want to make a few quick points of application here as we close:
  • First, friends, I want to assure you today, according to the promise that Jesus made concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit through His apostles, that you can trust your Bible. The Holy Spirit has inspired these writings so they are inerrant, infallible, true and trustworthy, and they have authority over every area of our lives. And not only is it true, it is sufficient. It is enough. The Bible tells us everything that God desired to reveal about who He is, how we can know Him, and how we can live for Him. Nothing is left out. We do not need more information. We do not need the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas, the Book of Mormon or the Quran. We have a Holy Spirit-inspired Bible! So as we build our lives and our church, we build on the Word of God, for His Word is the only solid rock we have. All other ground is sinking sand. Everything we believe, everything we do, as Christians and as a church must be rooted in this book, and this book is what we must return to time and time again to measure all that is done and all that we believe. 
  • Second, because the Bible is the inspired revelation of God, then we must insist that it be the basis of all that is said here in this pulpit – whether by me, Jack, any guest speaker, or any future pastor you may have. Not only this, but the Bible must be the basis of all that is taught in our Sunday School classes and every other kind of gathering that takes place. And the Bible must be the basis of our witness as we interact with nonbelievers. Because the Spirit has inspired these words, these are the words that God has promised to bless and use to accomplish His work in the lives of people and in the world.
  • Third, if you are a Christian, then the same Holy Spirit who inspired this revelation in the Word of God lives within you. The divine author is available to guide you as you read and study the Bible. I have a lot of friends who have written some good books. When I read those books and I have questions, I can call or email them and ask them and they tell me what they meant when they said those things. Friends, we can do the same with the Bible because the Holy Spirit who inspired these writings is able to illuminate our understanding as we read them.

God has gone to great lengths to give us His Word in written form. He has inspired it, so that it stands as a written revelation of who He is, what He does, and how we can know and live for Him. We neglect, ignore, or distort this Book only to our own peril. We affirm what our Confession of Faith sets forth:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.