Knowing Jesus: “The Season’s End” – John 16:5-33

season end1The hardest moment for one who has been in the spotlight of adulation, is when the lights go off. When the season ends, many stars of the field don’t know how to live OFF the field. They seem to survive, and even thrive on the roar of the crowds, and the hounding of the fans. I am sure it seems like a hassle, but the fame brings a rush to their soul – and they become addicted to the popularity.

Can you imagine being the losing candidate for the office of the President of the United States? What is getting up the morning after that loss like? For two solid years, you changed shirts in a moving bus, met countless people, flew across the country, were hounded night and day… your every word was a recorded statement. Your every expense was scrutinized. You couldn’t speak ad lib, nor could you get a nap when you were completely exhausted. You plowed endlessly, spoke powerfully, pondered aloud insightfully….and then suddenly… nobody, not anyone of importance… seemed to care what you thought. Who remembers the names of all the losers? They are left for obscure trivia games and memory buffs.

I mention this because it happened long ago to the followers of Jesus in the Gospel account we have been studying together. This “season end” was something recorded in the Gospel accounts that is incredibly instructive to our time. When the disciples reclined at the table of the Last Supper and then walked down the hill of Jerusalem on the night in which Jesus was betrayed they faced a huge change. They went from walking at the center of crowd’s affirmation and attention of the crowds to becoming an underground movement – struggling for their very existence. Fame is fleeting, and popular movements have a way of becoming a sword against the once lauded…

Why is this lesson so incredibly important? Beloved, we may well be living a “change of season” again. It may not last – another revival of truth may be rising again. We are working for it. We are praying for it. We are longing for it. At the same time – like the Cross itself – it may not be the Father’s will to turn our nation again to its knees. If it is not – we will need each lesson from the hours of instruction Jesus gave on the “night of the reversal of fortune for the disciples” all over again.

Key Principle: When our message goes from accepted to despised, we have a plan, a partner and a promise.

It was only hours before the nails, the lashes and the thorns. Jesus felt the end coming, and the weight of man’s sin was already pressing upon Him. The Spirit of God flooded John’s mind with the powerful memories – the sights, smells and the sound of the Master’s voice. The last night of Jesus’ teaching was recalled in great detail.

First, the seven important teachings were recorded in John 13 and 14 were from the “Upper Room” sayings of Jesus, earlier in the evening around the dinner table.

Cleaning was required to be a part of Jesus’ team: Jesus explained cleansing to His men as the basis of our relationship to God (John 13:4-20). This was the essential precursor to a relationship with God, and contained a necessary maintaining act to enable us to follow the marked path for life God provided.

The battle wasn’t on in the physical world: Jesus removed the cloak over the battle with His enemy (John 13:22-30). Jesus knew that for His people to follow God, they would need to be shown the markers of the spiritual struggle. They would stand against the powers of darkness – and they would need to learn to see what they were really fighting.

His departure was planned, and their work together was essential: Jesus explained His course – it began with a departure (John 13:31-38). Jesus wanted them to know that NO WILL POWER was sufficient to carry them through the days and hours ahead. They would NEED each other. They would need to care for one another in their wounds. They would need to be HUMBLE and not BOASTFUL, other person centered and not self-centered.

Jesus wasn’t done in His first trip here: He proclaimed another coming – but leaving served a vital purpose (John 14:1-6). He wasn’t abandoning them – He was working on their behalf in another place – preparing for their coming. He promised to rejoin them and bring them home to a wedding feast.

Jesus wasn’t just a well-intentioned teacher: He described His connection with the Father in Heaven (John 14:7-15). How could He make the bold claim that He will return? How can we elevate this builder from ancient Nazareth to the level of one that can surpass time and space, and even conquer death? Jesus unflinchingly claimed a relationship with God that was a direct reflection of the Father’s will, the Father’s power, and the Father’s access. A mere human Jesus, an ancient humble teacher, an honorable actor on humanity’s stage – leaves man LOST and UNFORGIVEN.

Help was on the way: Jesus explained the Comforter to come (John 14:16-25). He claimed that His departure would not leave the disciples alone, but the Spirit would be our constant companion until our Prince returns.

Jesus left simple instructions: Jesus outlined the call to follow Him (John 14:27-31): The call included walking in peace (14:27), rejoicing in Jesus’ work (14:28), recognizing the greatness of the Father (14:28b), trusting in His Word (14:29) and moving out from the protection of the huddle (14:31).

Out the door into the night air they walked. With each step He was saying a goodbye that was painful and accepting the harsh blows that would soon be His. The walk was filled with His words in John 15 and 16 – reminders of the journey from the Upper Room to Gethsemane where Jesus touched on six subjects (recalled by John):

The follower’s attachment to Jesus – Vine and Branches (John 15:1-11): Without constant drawing from the source of strength in Jesus – the followers would fail. No other source could replace their utter dependence on His work done for them, and His power flowing through them!

The follower’s relationship to other followers – Love one another (John 15:12-17): Jesus commanded followers to imitate His love – seen in His availability, His compassion, and His hunger to help the hurting.

The follower’s relationship to the lost world – expect trouble ahead (15:18-16:4). Jesus promised they would be increasingly unpopular, unloved, falsely accused, and badly treated – just as He was about to be. They were to stay the course and speak His Word regardless of its popularity or common acceptance.

All of these teachings we have seen in our journey – but the last three of these six teachings we want to focus on for a few minutes. These incredible words offer a PARTNER, a PLAN, and an important PROMISE to the believer who faces a change of the winds of popularity.

The Partner

The follower’s relationship to the coming Holy Spirit – you have a coming helper (John 16:5-14): Jesus came back to the theme from the Upper Room (cp. John 14:16-25) and added that this new helper would make the truth shine through them.

Before we get lost in the many words that have been spoken concerning God’s Spirit in the modern church, stop and examine what Jesus said about our partner…

First, Jesus made the point that His followers needn’t be saddened that He is not walking among us now, because the Spirit offers us something even greater than His physical presence with His disciples (16:5-7). He said:

John 16:5 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

Second, Jesus made it clear the Spirit was sent here on a three-part mission from Heaven:

John 16:8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear [them] now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose [it] to you.

Take that apart, and you will see that the Spirit has these three objectives:

First, He will work in the LOST to bring conviction that He spoke and lived the truth (16:8-9) and help them become convinced He is exactly Who He claimed to be (15:9). Look at what a comfort that truth is!

o We do not ARGUE people into the Kingdom of God.
o We don’t PROTEST them into the throne room of the King.
o We don’t SHAME them into following Jesus.

We teach His Word – and do it with love and grace. We accept their harsh words, as those who “know not what they are doing” but stand un-apologetically by the Word of the King.

How does that “weak” and “un-aggressive” method work in such a “dog eat dog” world? It works incredibly well – because the transformation isn’t dependent on our snappy methodology and our pointed arguments – it is underscored by the work of the Spirit of the Living God! It is by His power, His conviction, His permeation of the hardest heart – that lives are pulled from darkness to light. We carry the message; He brings the convicting power. We have the privilege of laboring beside the powerful partner of the Spirit of God.

Second, He will work in the HARDENED MEN to bring about the signs of judgment that are already planned for those who maintain a mutiny against God (16:11).

The Spirit will make it clear, even to the most casual observer, that apart from the Word of God and the work of God – things are heading the wrong way. An example? When the Boy Scouts last week looked squarely in the face of their LOGO bears the phrase ‘Timeless Values’ and then voted to change positions to openly accept homosexuality in its ranks – they established clearly the organization’s values are not timeless, but governed by changing tides of polls, politics and public opinion.

I like what John Stemberger said: “The BSA is teaching our kids that when your values become unpopular, just change them. …when your convictions are challenged, just cave to peer pressure…The BSA is teaching our kids that public opinion polls are more important than principles. Today, the BSA is teaching our kids that you should not stand up for what is right instead you should stand up for what is popular….The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law…BSA is teaching our kids through its new mission that we don’t make ethical and moral choices through the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law but we make them like a rank Washington DC politician, by putting your finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing or by looking at the latest polling results…What kind of a message are we sending to young people about being brave when its top adult leaders don’t even have the courage to stand up to the peer pressure of their own adult peers when the bullies in Washington DC, Hollywood or even some of their own renegade councils start pressuring and harassing them?

We didn’t want this change. We don’t believe that such a position will teach true masculinity – nor do we any longer believe those who promoted this change even understand the concept apart from the winds of culture. The Bible has definitive words about what a man and woman are, and what they were made to be for each other. The Bible has words about the behaviors this group now endorses. If you put your young boy in that place, expect to reap a whirlwind of trouble – because trouble is coming.

Churches will withdraw our support, and the government – ever ready to pick up the slack to promote a “new morality” will step in. What happened with daycare a decade ago will now happen with scouting – we will find increasing numbers accepting government help at the expense of being able to speak plain truth. Frankly, young boys might as well be lumped with young girls and camp together – if there is to be no moral distinction about sexuality. Make no mistake: this social experiment will end up devastating lives.

Is there a precedent? Sure there is. Under the guise of “fairness” our politicians thrust women into combat units. The aftermath is a raft of complaints of all kinds of sexual harassment. What do we do about it? More courts, more trials, more regulations, more laws – fewer safe places and even fewer consistent values. In the absence of a decimated morality –all we can do is continually sue each other.

Do we despair? No, because truth – though languishing – is not dead. The Spirit of God is at work convicting people in the world that their solutions just aren’t working. People keep chipping away at all vestiges of the Bible in our modern life – but they feel less safe. They see the uncertainty rising, and they feel something is wrong. We don’t have to get in their faces – they will see it when they sit beside the bed of a boy scout that suffers the effects of this ridiculous kowtowing to a minority of senseless bullies.

Finally, Jesus didn’t ONLY tell us what the Spirit would do in the UNBELIEVER. He also carefully told us that our Spirit partner in the work was going to do some incredible things in OUR LIVES.

• The Spirit will work in the BELIEVER to point out error – as Jesus did when He was walking with them (16:10).

• The Spirit will bring further revealed words (16:12) to add to the explanations the Savior offered us.

• The Spirit will remind the believer of God’s Word, guiding the believer in the meanings of the words (16:13a).

• The Spirit will lead us to more deeply worship and adore Jesus (16:13b).

• The Spirit will warn us of the turns in the road ahead in future events (16:13b).

• The Spirit was given to care for us (16:14).

Our partner is the HOLY SPIRIT, and that makes our message far more powerful and our lives far more sensitive to God’s leading. We have a partner, but we have more… we have a plan…

The Plan

The follower’s relationship to Jesus at a distance – with the departure of Jesus the time for tears was near (16:15-22). For the men that walked with Him, the transition to prayer was going to take some adjustment. Jesus told the men three things:

First, since all the Father’s knowledge and possessions are also His, and He knew the departure was about to happen (16:15-16). John 16:15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose [it] to you. 16 “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.

Second, He knew the hearts of men and what confused them (16:17-19). John 16:17 [Some] of His disciples then said to one another, “What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while? We do not know what He is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’?

Third, He knew the tears they were about to shed would quickly give way to an unstoppable joy! (16:20-22). John 16:20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. 21 “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 “Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one [will] take your joy away from you.

Beloved, we have seen this all the way through Scripture. Despite the voices of those who try to drown out sound principle with popular pablum – God hasn’t directed our lives to always be easy. He walked the disciples through the pain and loss – so that He could lead them into JOY. Paul captured it so well in Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for [our] adoption as sons, the redemption of our body…”

The partner is the Spirit of God. The plan is to pass through the troubles and pain and continue in stubborn JOY, awaiting God’s promise to make all things new again! Yet, there is something more… there is the PROMISE of God.

The Promise

The follower’s relationship to Jesus’ promises – they would need to grow in trust of what He told them to get through the days ahead (John 16:23-33).

Jesus promised that God would supply any need we had in the mission, because we asked it in the name of our Master. John 16:23 “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 24 “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.

Jesus promised that the Word would get CLEARER – not fuzzier. He would be even MORE DIRECT than He was walking the hills of Galilee long ago. John 16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.

Jesus said that we would have access to the Father directly, and He would respond in LOVE, because we have followed the Son. John 16:26 “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.

Jesus promised that even though the disciples appeared to understand the Word of Jesus clearly, they would find following Him difficult in the days ahead – when the pressure was turned on them. John 16:28 “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” 29 His disciples said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. 30 “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 “Behold, an hour is coming, and has [already] come, for you to be scattered, each to his own [home], and to leave Me alone; and [yet] I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.

Jesus promised that in the final day – there would be no one to defeat Him. He will overcome all who attempt a final mutiny. No one, no one, no one …will stand before the power of His Word. John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Near the final words of the Bible are the fulfilling words in Revelation 19:11-18:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it [is] called Faithful and true, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes [are] a flame of fire, and on His head [are] many diadems; … 13 [He is] clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white [and] clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great. 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

The collected bodies of mutinous men lay strewn about the earth before the power of the Words of the Savior. Let them rage against the truth. Our day of popularity may have passed – but the truth will not die. It is far too stubborn to be bent by the polls of men who press forward in their own folly.

They will ignore God’s principles – and break down the family – only to quadruple the need for public mental health services because of their social experimentation.

They will call truth intolerance, and redefine lust as love. They will make the lie believable and proclaim the truth as bigotry.

Do not run! Do not withdraw. We have a partner at work where they cannot see. We have a plan to stand through the storms affixed to the Word of the Master. We have a promise that NOTHING set up against Him will stand at His coming. Take courage, follower. Smile, we aren’t done yet.

When our message goes from accepted to despised, we have a plan, a partner and a promise.

Knowing Jesus: “Dead Man Walking” – John 15:12-16:4

Dead-Man-Walking.2In the early 1990’s death penalty opponent and political activist Sister Helen Prejean published a book called “Dead Man Walking” after Prejean witnessed a total of five executions in the State of Louisiana. The Catholic Sister has become a national figure, a best-selling author, and her work was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. By 1996, the screen adaptation brought her work to a wide audience. That movie earned four Academy Award nominations. I did not see the movie, but her written work was filled with grief – a virtual essay in human suffering – for both prisoners and the families of their victims. The phrase “dead man walking” in the title comes from the announcement of the final walk through the hall toward the place of execution at death row facilities.

I mention the book and the title because it directly parallels a walk we are following in our study of Jesus and the Disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. He was, in effect, a “dead man walking”. The enemy had already planted within the hearts of men – both religious and political, the plot to do away with Jesus. The words recorded in John 13 and 14 were from the “Upper Room” sayings of Jesus, earlier in the evening around the dinner table. The words of John 15 and 16 were reminders of the walk from the Upper Room to Gethsemane where Jesus touched on six subjects (as recorded in John):

• The followers attachment to Jesus – Vine and Branches (15:1-10),
• The follower’s relationship to other followers – Love one another (15:12-17),
• The follower’s relationship to the lost world – expect trouble ahead (15:18-16:4).
• The Holy Spirit – you have a coming helper (16:5-14)
• The coming departure of Jesus – the time for tears is near (16:15-22).
• The power of Jesus’ Word – trust what I have told you (16:23-33).

By John 17, we are invited into the prayer life of Jesus, probably shortly after they arrived at Gethsemane. That is for a later study. For this lesson, we again open John 15, examining the three themes:

  • In John 15:1-11, Jesus used the analogy of a vine and its branches in a vineyard to remind His men of the necessity of connection to HIM.
  • In John 15:12-17, Jesus turned the attention to the interdependence of branches – how believers were to relate to ONE ANOTHER.
  • Finally in John 15:18-16:4, Jesus spoke of how His followers are to relate to the LOST WORLD.

Key Principle: We cannot count on the support of the world, but we must learn to be faithful in the support of one another!

Jesus taught of the follower’s attachment to Jesus Himself (15:1-11)

We have taken a fairly thorough look at the beginning of John 15 in our previous three studies on this chapter. That first part of the chapter detailed the intertwined relationship between God the Father’s tending, Jesus’ life flowing, and our fruit production….It was about a life attached, abundant and abiding. Next, Jesus turned the “branches” toward each other.

Jesus turned to the follower’s relation to the other followers – the other branches (15:12-17).

John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 “Greater love has no one than this; that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 “You are My friends if you do what I command you… 17 “This I command you, that you love one another.

Jesus didn’t end with the idea that we needed to be connected to HIM. He also deliberately followed up with the need to be connected to other believers. The simple fact is: Christians need one another. In a culture that teaches selfishness better than arithmetic, it is hard to grasp for some of us – but it is true. Let me offer three direct observations about Jesus’ instruction in these verses:

First, love for each other was a command – not an option. If you look carefully, you will see the word “commandment” in verse 12, along with the term “command” in verse 14 and again in verse 17. The term, from the word “entolai” is an injunction or an order. It leaves no “wiggle room” to the reader. Jesus said: “Just do it!”

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, though, let me add that in order to obey the command, we have to understand the command. We must define the terms and recognize what is and is not being commanded. What sounds obvious to one generation, may not be obvious to the next. No concept in our society has perhaps been so badly understood as that of LOVE. Love is not unlimited acceptance of bad behavior. Love is not a force that keeps me from discerning right and wrong actions. In other words, I can LOVE a person but insist that they BEHAVE – it is called parenting. Let’s define love Biblically. Love is “acting deliberately to meet a need, because there is a need, expecting nothing in return”. This love is not so much a feeling as an action. It is compassion in sneakers – assistance in gloves.

Jesus commanded: “Love each other as I have loved you.” Let me make a simple point about the command here: If you can’t see where you are loving others as Christ loved us – you probably aren’t. It isn’t hard to see when it is really being accomplished. Love isn’t complicated – it is just hard to do. Our modern world licenses self-esteem, self-awareness and self-protection in proportions beyond reason, but is slow to call us to care more about those around us more than we care for ourselves. Love is humility in action. It is doing what is needed for another, even if inconvenient to us. It is about sensing the need of another instead of being satisfied when my own need has been met. That was the love that drove Jesus from Heaven – and that is the love He called His followers to show one another.

Second, Jesus said that our love for each other was measured against a standard – His love. He noted the love was “as He loved His followers”. What did Jesus’ love look like? Where can we see it?

His love was seen in His coming. As Paul told the Philippians, He sat in the throne room of the Most High. He was clothed in splendor; His every word bringing immediate obedience and action. His every need met. His every thought holy. His every desire fulfilled. Yet, in obedience to His Father, He clothed Himself with the skin of a baby. He felt hunger, cold, a wet bottom and the pain of cuts and bruises. God adorned the skin of man – because of love.

His love was seen in His healing. There He walked among His creation –bent over with age, blinded by disease, broken by sin-sick deprivation. Lame sat and cried for His kind attention, and then rose from the power of His word. Blind sat in darkness until the spittle mixed with mud covered their eyes, and Siloam’s clear water opened them. He carried the weight of the broken upon Him – releasing them as He walked among them – because of love.

It was seen in His rescue of a sinful woman. Tossed to the ground by angry men who saw her as nothing, she cried and whimpered – a caught animal in a trap of her own foolishness. He spoke and the angry men peeled away, dropping one stone after another. Through tears she heard Him say, “Go and sin no more!” His caring voice made clear the absolute truth – because of love.

All these places – and many more – were the displays of His love. Yet, nowhere was it more graphically depicted than at the cross of Calvary. No painful device of man has ever surpassed this one. The nakedness, the nails, the searing pain of the lash, the sickening smell of death and excrement were all his partners in demise. Jesus endured the death of murderers and thieves. He hung there, beaten, bruised and broken – and He did this for love.

Don’t turn and walk by now. Stop and gaze. That is the love we are called to have one for another….the kind that sacrifices; the kind that bears pain for another. The kind that so considers another’s needs that we are a distant second. Brothers and sisters, can we not admit it? In these days, we simply do little to show that kind of love to one another.

Finally, our love for each other was a marker – submission to Jesus Himself. That is the point of 15:13. At the same time, the end point of the teaching was that we would emulate His work. What should mark the church, more than any other symbol or logo – is the fondness and caring we have for one another. We exhibit this when we use our gifts to their fullest and see other believers as our family. We do this when we invest in other lives, and bear another’s burden.

Consider for a moment three implied hindrances of the relationship between branches. Each of these are works of the flesh (according to Galatians 5), and each dry up the life blood of the church:

• Jealousy: some people speak of other believers with a personal animosity that is rooted in a burning jealousy of what God has put in their lives.
• Selfishness: some come into the assembly to be seen, to be affirmed, to feel loved. It never occurs to them that others in the room need from them. They talk, but they don’t listen.
• Rebellion: some make up their own rules. Scripture doesn’t move them – their desires do. Respect for others means little – self-gratification and self-rule mean everything.

Now stop and listen to what Jesus told the Disciples as they graduated to take the reins of leadership in the work of the church. They were about to begin BINDING and LOOSING regulation on the lives of others – Jesus was leaving.

John 15:15 “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. 16 “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and [that] your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.

Jesus told the men:

• Slaves follow orders – brothers know both purposes and principles.
• Slaves know only the next step – brothers have the Father’s revealed plan.
• Slaves make no requests of the Master – but sons anticipate the Father’s desire to show His love.

The words of Jesus have been clear. We must abide in Him. We must love one another. Let me ask you… How are you doing so far in the commands of Jesus? If you are like me, this is more fun to cast at others than apply to self.

Jesus finally remarked about the follower’s relationship to the lost world (15:18-16:4).

Now we turn our eyes out to the world. We don’t look longingly at what they are doing, wishing that we could live the dead end life of experiences and stuff to fill the God shaped hole in our hearts. We look out and ask this question…How should I relate to the world around me? Jesus offered…

Seven truths Jesus offered to His Followers:

1: Plan on being unpopular and unloved (18).

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before [it hated] you.

Jesus went into the pool of the world’s hatred first. The water that was cold when He jumped in is still cold. That shouldn’t surprise us, but it often does. We are offended that our world doesn’t want a Creator in the classroom. They don’t want a Judge in the bedroom. They don’t want an Inspector on the shop floor. They want nothing of a god that watches in horror as His very richest gift – that of our children – are brushed aside into trash cans of inconvenience. The world doesn’t hate a toothless god that offers salvation, wealth, comfort and health – and asks for nothing but an occasional Easter and Christmas visit. At the same time, they want nothing of an owner, or a holy one to whom they should feel obligation or reverence.

America has shaped its own god, and He is nothing like the God of the Bible. He is a feel good God, a mushy and sentimental entity who applauds our liberty, blesses our troops and feels moved by our leaders standing on the steps of the Capitol calling on Him for blessing after the shock of 9/11. That god is our totem pole, our Baal. He is made with our hands, and limited to our desires. The problem is: he isn’t real. The bigger problem is: while we worship the unreal, we neglect the Real.

Brothers, you can tune in to TV church and hear a preacher tell you that you can “realize the dream within you”, or you can hear that as a siren song of a pagan priest of a powerless puppet God. His words will sell millions of books – to a generation that WANTS a God that will give them what they already desire. Why preach of Heaven, when I can live like I am already there. It is time for the church to stand up and tell the truth: those preachers are charlatans and their message comes from Hell. Too strong? I wonder what Paul would have said. I suspect I am being kind. Would you prefer popularity in this life, or praise in the next?

2: Count on feeling like you’re on the outside (19).

John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.

We all have a need to be loved, but we don’t all learn where we are supposed to look to get that need met. The right place is our Father above – not our world around. The issue is, simply put, we don’t belong here. We are more than we appear. Our bodies are not – but our bodies are not all we are. We are children of the Great King. We are chosen and adopted, taken from our cold and dark chambers to be placed in His magnificent banquet hall. We are not BETTER, we are CHOSEN. Our hearts are no longer chained to a world of flesh and its temporary lures. We have a taste of the eternal, and the things of earth no longer captivate us.

All that sounds fine, but it has startling implications. The world from which we have come has no place for us. We are not only called to lose interest in satisfaction here, we are warned that we will no longer be wanted here. In the best traditions of religious teachings of our day, we are told to love the comforts of this world, and to seek health and ease here. Here is the problem: Jesus said we won’t fit anymore. They won’t want us here, and we shouldn’t wish they did. Our hungers for Heaven should replace our needs on earth, and our brothers will be so deeply a part of us, they will be as family is to those who live only in the physical world, but remain dead in the spirit.

If we are to navigate the “foyer” of life – our time on earth – we need to accept two things. First, if I am walking with God, there will be a marked change in appetite from earth to Heaven. Second, if I am serving God, there will be a reaction by lost men around me.

3: Don’t seek to be treated better than Jesus (20).

John 15:20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

Better than instruction, let me offer this illustration:

A large group of European pastors came to one of D. L. Moody’s Northfield Bible Conferences in Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Following the European custom of the time, each guest put his shoes outside his room to be cleaned by the hall servants overnight. But of course this was America and there were no hall servants. Walking the dormitory halls that night, Moody saw the shoes and determined not to embarrass his brothers. He mentioned the need to some ministerial students who were there, but met with only silence or pious excuses. Moody returned to the dorm, gathered up the shoes, and, alone in his room, the world’s only famous evangelist began to clean and polish the shoes. Only the unexpected arrival of a friend in the midst of the work revealed the secret. When the foreign visitors opened their doors the next morning, their shoes were shined. They never knew by whom. Moody told no one, but his friend told a few people, and during the rest of the conference, different men volunteered to shine the shoes in secret. Perhaps the episode is a vital insight into why God used D. L. Moody as He did. He was a man with a servant’s heart and that was the basis of his true greatness.” -Gary Inrig, A Call to Excellence, (Victor Books, a division of SP Publishing, Wheaton, Ill; 1985), p. 98.

If we hunger for ease and health, we need to ask one simple question: “Why do we feel we are more deserving of these than our Master?” It is the echo of the words of the Lord when He said: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well.” Though we do not seek troubles, is it possible that by hungering to “fit” in this world and “taste” all of its delights, we betray our true inner desire? Could it be that we want satisfaction in this world and its goods more than we desire our coming life with Jesus and His words of praise?” Why do we think we are too good for the treatment Jesus got?

4: Don’t take rejection personally (21, 23).

John 15:21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me… 23 “He who hates Me hates My Father also.

Many of us are like the aged Samuel when people reject our message of life. When the people clamored for a king, he took it as a rejection of himself and his family (1 Samuel 8:7). The text is clear – they HATE our Father, and they HATE our Savior.

Someone in the room just bristled. “Hate is TOO STRONG A WORD,” they are thinking. The problem is, hate is the word in the text. If you haven’t been paying attention – that is what they are doing.

You can see it in the protests. You can hear it in the shouts. You can pick it out from the placards. You can recognize it on the broadcasts. Jesus kept us down. His people held back our freedom to love who we want how we want. His church kept us from doing things we feel will make our lives more full…

Don’t take it personally. They see your Father in you, and they don’t want to see Him… ever. Let me show you what you CAN DO by offering this story from 1990:

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, no person in all of East Germany was more despised than the former Communist dictator Erich Honecher. He had been stripped of all his offices. Even the Communist Party rejected him. Kicked out of his villa, the new government refused him and his wife new housing. The Honechers were homeless and destitute. Enter pastor Uwe Holmer, director of a Christian help center north of Berlin. Made aware of the Honechers’ straits, Pastor Holmer felt it would be wrong to give them a room meant for even needier people. So the pastor and his family decided to take the former dictator into their own home! Erich Honecher’s wife, Margot, had ruled the East German educational system for twenty-six years. Eight of Pastor Holmer’s ten children had been turned down for higher education due to Mrs. Honecher’s policies, which discriminated against Christians. Now the Holmers were caring for their personal enemy—the most hated man in Germany. This was so unnatural, so unconventional, so Christlike. By the grace of God, the Holmers loved their enemies, did them good, blessed them, and prayed for them. They turned the other cheek. They gave their enemies their coat (their own home). They did to the Honechers what they would have wished the Honechers would do to them. (Reported by George Cowan to Campus Crusade at the U.S. Division Meeting Devotions, Thursday, March 22, 1990.)

5: Recognize the Word has given them a choice (22).

John 15:22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin… 24 “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 “But [they have done this] to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.

Because many pulpits have gone soft, and critical thinking isn’t a norm in the modern church, it is possible that some will be sucked into wrong thinking. Notice what Jesus said, and then mark out these two truths:

Believers can get a misshapen view, out of compassion, that the lost are unjustly lost.

I have heard this more and more often. Rob Bell isn’t the only one that has gone soft of hell – many have. They cannot except it in their understanding of God, because they do not acknowledge the depth of darkness in the mutiny against God. They are skipping spiritual stones across the top of the pond. The deeper truth is that the enemy of God planted mutiny in the Garden of Eden – and that dark grasp despises God and all that He stands for. The lost are lost because of the mutiny of soul, not simply the daily actions of their lives. If it were not so, Jesus need not have come as the Lamb to substitute for us. Don’t be deceived. God didn’t send people to hell – they chose to look at Him and walk the other way. If that is not true, then the Bible isn’t true.

• Believers need to recognize that God is working the plan that includes His own people suffering.

Just like God chose to place Joseph in a prison to train him to be a prince, and just like He chose Naomi and Job to lost in order to gain – so God has written His plan to include times of pain for us as we follow Him. If you hear someone preaching otherwise, they are skipping the story of the book.

6: Rest in the Helper God is sending to you (26-27).

John 15:26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, [that is] the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you [will] testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

We aren’t reaching into the world alone – we have unseen help. The Spirit of God is working in the hearts of people even when THEY are unaware of it. The movement of the Gospel is not JUST in our hands. We carry the message, but God’s Spirit is there to work beside us. He is called beside to prop us up, push us forward, and empower our hands and feet. He stretches our resources, protects our weak, and energizes our yielded hearts. Smile, you have a lot of help doing this!

7: Recognize the religious spirit of rejection (16:1-4).

John 16:1 “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. 2 “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3 “These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. 4 “But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.

Jesus made it clear that a time would come that people would be RELIGIOUS about persecuting those who championed a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus. Their reason: they never knew Jesus – nor His Father.

How can that be? Why go into religious life without a personal and dynamic relationship with God? That’s a fair question. The truth is, many people do. In fact, more and more are pouring into “ministry” without a serious consideration of the truth of the Scriptures.

Dr. Albert Mohler wrote on Wednesday, August 29, 2012: “This past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine told the story of Jerry DeWitt, once a pastor in DeRidder, Louisiana and later the first “graduate” of the Clergy Project. He is now the executive director of a group known as Recovering from Religion, based in Kansas. DeWitt told the magazine of his struggle as an unbelieving pastor. “I remember thinking,” he said, “Who on this planet has any idea what I am going through?” As the story unfolds, DeWitt tells of being the pastor of a Pentecostal church. What readers will also discover, however, is that even by the time he assumed the pastorate, DeWitt “espoused a more liberal Christianity.” Though he never earned a college degree, he educated himself by reading authors such as Carl Sagan, an atheist astronomer, and Joseph Campbell, a proponent of the mythological. Later, he read Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, key figures in the New Atheism. By the time he had read Dawkins and Hitchens, “even weak-tea Christianity was becoming hard to follow.” When he found that he could no longer pray for his own parishioners or preach a coherent message, DeWitt resigned … The magazine also told of Teresa MacBain, once a Methodist preacher in Tallahassee, Florida [who]… “resigned from her pastor’s position in Tallahassee and went public as an atheist.” … On March 26, 2012, she stood before the American Atheists convention in Bethesda, Maryland and told the 1,500 attendees, “My name is Teresa. I’m a pastor currently serving a Methodist church — at least up to this point — and I am an atheist.” As NPR reported, the crowd hooted and clapped for more than a minute.

I don’t want to be unduly harsh on anyone, but it seems to me that preaching what you do not believe is simply public hypocrisy. The sad truth is that these dear folks will both hurt people in this life, and then face the Savior in the last day. Jesus said some very forward things about those who “deny Me before men.”

It is a sobering thing to lead people away from God…

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Victorian preacher, said it ever so well in a sermon entitled ‘Secret Sins’ preached in 1857: “…Tell God there is no God now; now laugh at the Bible, now scoff at the minister. Why, men, what is the matter with you? Why can’t you do it? Ah! There you are: you have fled to the hills and to the rocks. ‘Rocks hide us! Mountains fall on us! Hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne.’ ‘Ah! Where are now your boasts, your vaunting, and your glories? Alas! Alas! For you in that dread day of wonders!’ (C. H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit 1857, Pilgrim Publishers, 1975, p. 80. From a sermon by Matthew Kratz, The Signs of Divine Judgment, 7/24/2010)

We cannot count on the support of the world, but we must learn to be faithful in the support of one another!

Knowing Jesus: “Five Laws of the Branch” – John 15:1-11 (Part Three)

The_One_Minute_ManagerWhen I was starting out in my career, I read many books about managing people. I was fascinated with the “One Minute Manager” – a book I have recommended over the years to countless people who manage the work of others. We have many books about LEADERSHIP, but far fewer books on FOLLOWING. I think it is because we believe it comes naturally. Someone leads, you follow them. Yet, clearly any study of people work will show that is NOT the case – there are principles of following that must be much more deliberately engaged to do it well. Today’s lesson is the story of Jesus uncovering principles of the follower.

Key Principle: Following Jesus is an intentional act of continual and deliberate surrender – with special attention to allowing Him to work through our lives to produce things that will honor His Father.

We are in the final study of three that was designed to look at John 15:1-11, the teaching on the Vine and Branches. The walk from the Upper Room to the place of Gethsemane was the setting. The Disciples of Jesus (minus Judas that was off getting the guards at the Temple ready to arrest Jesus) were walking along the roads from the southwest part of Jerusalem to the east side – where the grove of olives trees and public olive press stood on the edge of the Kidron Valley. Jesus said:

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples. 9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. 11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.

Imagine walking down the alleys of Roman period Jerusalem. Most every villa on the western hill had a trellis of wines, where grapes hung every autumn. This was spring, and the vines lay against the trellis with thin branches that were deeply pruned away now beginning to pop open with green buds – the beginning of leaves. Some of the branches followed the tops of the walls along the street. Maybe Jesus pointed as He spoke about the relationship they had to Him. With each step, He grew closer to the coming agony. What would begin as a prayer time would end in captivity and pain. He knew, and He kept walking…

The vine was so familiar to everyday life in the Bible, prophets of God frequently symbolized Israel with the image. Psalm 80:8 celebrated God’s favor to Israel: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it”. Jeremiah reminded them of the metaphor: “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2.21). Isaiah 5 and Ezekiel 19 both referred to Israel as a well-tended vineyard that was judged for treachery – particularly because of unfaithful rulers. When Jesus claimed He was the “True Vine,” he was speaking in very familiar terms.

Jesus told a story with three players: His Heavenly Father (the Vinedresser identified in verse 1), Jesus Himself (as the Vine identified in 15:1) and a disciple or follower (as the branches identified in 15:5).

When we looked at the same verses two times before – we sought to understand the works of our Heavenly Father as the Vinedresser, and then the Lord Jesus as the Vine. Now we look again one last time – to see ourselves as the Branches.

We have already observed that:

1. Our Heavenly Father is ACTIVE in our lives, fulfilling a work He long planned to do.
2. Jesus is ACTIVE at work on our behalf, flowing into our lives life that does not originate with us – but with Him, through a connection to Him.

Now we look again, and see a third truth:

3. We have are called to be ACTIVE – we have a DIRECT SET OF RESPONSIBILITIES as a follower in order to live a live woven into the braid.

Branches are NOT passive. They are not only acted upon – they are deliberate in a number of areas in order to bear fruit for the Master. Here is the truth again…

Key Principle: Walking with Jesus is an intentional act of continual and deliberate surrender – with special attention to allowing Him to work through our lives to produce things that will honor His Father.

Jesus described the work of the branch as a follower (15:5) in five ways, we will call them “laws”:

Law One: Branches must respond to the prompting and attention of the Vine dresser (Father) to help the branch bear maximum fruit (15:2).

John 15:2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

God IS at work in His vineyard. He supplies the Vine with nutritious soil, while the Vine supplies it to the branches. He pulls the weeds that steal from the Vine. He prunes, ties and repositions the branches to give them every advantage to bear fruit. At the same time, the Vinedresser does not bear fruit directly – but through the branches. There are four underlying truths that will help explain the BRANCHES’ RESPONSE TO THE VINEDRESSER:

• First, the response includes recognizing a primary purpose is to bear fruit.

In our self-focused age, it is possible that many were brought to faith in Christ without any other message but self-interest in view. A relationship with Christ is NOT just about Heaven when I die, nor just about a secure walk in life while I breath – it is about being seized with delight when my Father is honored, and being giddy with the prospect of bearing fruit fit for the King’s table. This was a major part of the reason I was lead to Christ, and His Spirit worked on my heart. In John 15:16, just a few verses after our section, Jesus said:” 16 You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you (ek-leg’-om-ahee: selected), and ordained (tith’-ay-mee: placed) you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain (meno): that whatever you shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you.” God stands ready to provide us the needed tools to reach into the lives of people. He is eager to have us bearing fruit. The Vine chose us with that clearly in mind.

Sadly, many believers today have forgotten that God WANTS SOMETHING TO BE PRODUCED THROUGH YOUR LIFE. This isn’t just about skating through and getting the prize – it is about gathering fruits to present the King. We need to KNOW that was His purpose from the beginning. Fulfilling our purpose will fill our lives with JOY! Let me ask you: Is this a primary concern of your life? Are you thoughtfully engaged in how to produce fruit in your life?

• Second, our response as a branch includes understanding what produce (i.e. what fruit) is intended.

You and I were created to do our Master’s bidding – and that is our fruit. We were created FOR Him. We were intentionally chosen and purposefully tended because God knows we can reach people and produce fruit both in our lives and through our lives. Yet, fruit isn’t limited to evangelism. Fruit may be produced by caring for one who is alone (a shut-in) or loving the unloved ones (a shelter). It may be discipling one who comes behind you in their walk – training them to be faithful. Is it your deliberate intention to produce for the Master this week? Grape vines that produce nothing take from the soil but all no particular value. In the end, the best vinedresser is measured, not by the intentions, but by the fruit.

• Third, our response includes identifying the prompting and positioning of the Vinedresser.

I will only produce fruit when I am able to understand what the vinedresser is doing to me. He prunes and repositions – and I dare not resist Him. My job is to reckon His work as RIGHT and trust that He knows what I do not. When He moves me from something that is comfortable and comforting to the something that is harsh and difficult – that repositioning may well be to produce fruit in my life in an area long neglected. When a dear friend is taken away, the comfort of their shade is gone – but light falls on areas that may have been unproductive in the past.

Has God been repositioning you? Are some of the former comforts gone, and the harsh sun now burns a bit? You have several things you can do, but I would ASK THE VINEDRESSER what He is doing. James reminded us that if there were trials in our lives, we could ask of God who would not upbraid you, but open up His intention to you. Comfort is only good when it is productive – don’t forget that.

• Finally, our response includes expending effort in planning our right response to the Vinedresser’s hands.

Don’t wince at God’s work. He knows what He is doing! If He cut it, it was for a purpose. No branch can decide its own position – it will be placed by the vinedresser. We must grow and mature to treasure the touch of God – even when it brings new challenges. Bearing fruit saps our energy. It isn’t easy – but it is valuable.

Planning to respond to God’s tending looks like this:

1. I study the ways of my Vinedresser, to recognize His touch when it comes.
2. I make it my most important mission to produce for Him – and not take up energy on pursuits that will only make me happy.
3. I put my heart into popping out fruit. I expend myself for His honor, for His happiness.

There are too many resistant branches today. Among these are the branch that has not been trained to KNOW that FRUIT is the objective – and they live for comfort and ease. Among these is the branch that resents the Vinedresser’s hand – and they live in bitterness over some pruning work or repositioning that God has done to them. They see themselves as the point – not the fruit, and not the honor of the farmer. They are wrong, and as such they are resistant. They bear little, and they take energy from the vine with no benefit to the farmer. The sad part is, after a time, they no longer seem to care about that!

Law Two: Branches must abide in the vine to be fruitful (15:4). This abiding includes:

John 15:4 “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…”

• Abiding requires getting connected by the cleaning found in His Word (15:3).

3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Without being redundant to our previous studies here, let’s just remember that you and I are only connected to the Vine because we have heard the Word and given our lives to Him. We recognized that we couldn’t grow fruit for Him without getting our life from Him. We couldn’t EARN a place on the Vine by religious performance or morally correct behavior. We needed to believe what He said – that we are lost without His love. We accepted the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE. We asked Jesus to save us – and that is how we were cleaned of the sin that kept us from being joined to Him.

• Abiding demands staying protective of the connection with the ever-renewed flow of life. (15:6a).

6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.…” The heat and dryness of life will wither us – apart keeping an open and unhindered attachment to the vine.

We must recognize that OUR CONNECTION TO THE VINE is vulnerable to Aphids and other life-sucking bugs that like to lodge there. Fungus will attack there. Parasites go to where the best of life is – and that is near the vine. Think with me about the connection of the branch to the vine. If a parasite can get connected there, part of the flow of life will be drawn off.

I see it all the time. A young man sat in worship beside me, his life shattered because his wife left him. He came to Christ – or at least appeared to. He fellowshipped, worshipped, and prayed with us – until SHE came into his life. His loneliness was filled, not by the flow of Christ into him – but by an unbelieving but beautiful woman at work. She pulled him from Christ and His people. His life went back to practices that were there from before his public commitment to Jesus. I haven’t seen him since. Did following Christ mean he couldn’t have a relationship with a woman? No. It meant that woman would be found IN CHRIST. It meant that he would not have a physical relationship that dishonored Jesus by intense sensuality outside of marriage. In the end, the man (if truly a believer) will produce little fruit before the Master.

Adjacent to the church property is a home that once belonged to a man who is now with Jesus. He was called to preach as a teen, and he walked away from God. He knew his call, but he wanted life to be about him. He came back to Christ when the alcoholism that dulled the pain of his life had destroyed his liver. I sat beside him as he died, lamenting that his life was a waste. It wasn’t – because God used it in this message to teach you and I about fruit bearing. Don’t forget, we must understand the alternative – be used continually or only a single and limited use (15:6b). His life is used as an illustration of what NOT to do – and the fire uses him only for one purpose. God purposed him for SO MUCH MORE.

• Abiding involves getting direction in obedience to His words (15:7)

7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you… 10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love;

Note the focus of Jesus on WORD and OBEDIENCE. It is easy to get distracted in the world in which we live. We can INTEND to know and follow His word, but as the ad says: “Life comes at you fast!” There are many believers who INTEND to listen to the Word, but they are distracted to their own hurt. SOME THINGS REQUIRE SINGULAR FOCUS:

(CNN REPORTED) – A helicopter runs out of fuel midair after its pilot was evidently flying with one hand and texting with another. The chopper crashes, killing everyone on board. It sounds incredible, but it’s true. We live in a multitasking society. That’s a reality. Now some experts wonder whether that reality is clashing with the safe operation of our nation’s aircraft. Distraction in the cockpit was a key element of testimony delivered Tuesday on a deadly 2011 medivac helicopter crash. The pilot was violating Federal Aviation Administration rules and company policy by using his phone in flight. … “You can’t multitask everything,” said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the nation’s top aviation investigation agency. “To think that you can text and fly, especially a helicopter, is ludicrous. Helicopters require concentration, even more so than many airplanes.” Medivac chopper pilots fall under the same rules for electronic communications devices as commercial airplanes. Goglia and other experts favor stricter FAA rules for all aircraft, including helicopter ambulances. Under a newly proposed FAA rule, commercial pilots would be banned at all times from using “a wireless communications device or laptop computer for personal use while at their duty station on the flight deck while the aircraft is being operated.”

Now I am going to be very pointed in asking something: Are you growing in your knowledge of God’s Word? Can you pick out specific things you have been learning recently? I am hoping some of you will be saying YES! For those, here is a follow-up question: Are you growing in OBEDIENCE to Jesus. Are there issues you are focused on yielding to Him? Abiding DEMANDS hearing, considering and obeying the direction of the Vine.

• Abiding also entails becoming constantly absorbed in experiencing His love (15:9).

9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.

You and I are not called to “gut out” our walk with Jesus. This isn’t supposed to be HARD ROAD of “suffering and ill, awaiting the breaking of the veil of death for eternal rest from our labors” as some in medieval Christianity described. We are pulled by the LOVE OF CHRIST and we move in desire to please Him. We wrap ourselves in His love. We pursue His desires. How do I do that? Well, perhaps we can start by watching another who did and see if it becomes clearer…

Paul was CONTROLLED by the Love of Christ. He said so plainly:

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

Abiding in Jesus is being controlled not by legal lists, but by His vast love. His death for men is the example – giving all of Himself for other’s to be blessed with life. In that same way, we give our all and no longer live for ourselves. Abiding is emptying myself of MY desire to produce fruit on my own, and allowing His life to flow through me. It is a focus not on ME.

The love taught in the world is not God’s love. Singers sound off about LOVE, but it is often confused with physical desire and lust, or selfish interests. It is NOT about the other. Love is acting to meet the needs of another – expecting the good of the other to be the joy of your only payment. Full abiding is selfless loving.

Law Three: Branches must rely solely on the Vine’s power (15:5)

John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

There is a temptation today to rely on the power of the world to do the Father’s fruit production. The modern church reaches to grasp the heart of contemporary man and struggles to get a hearing without changing their presentation. Subtly there is a pressure to change even more – the very essence of the foundational belief itself. Hell? That is so judgmental. Creation? That doesn’t all seem to line up with science. Sexual morality? How can one be rejected by God for simply fulfilling desires they were born with. On and on the reasoning goes to erode the reliance on God’s truth, honor God’s place, and wholly trust God’s Word.

Though methods of ministry can flex for the culture and time –the essential truths of our faith – palatable or not to modern mind – cannot and must not be altered to appease the modern appetite. If we do, we join the world, and they do not truly join Christ and His followers.

There is a far better preparation to powerfully re-launch the Gospel in our era than a survey of “how lost man would like church to be” when they visit. Rather, we could drop to our knees and plead before God’s Spirit for the souls of men. We could search the Scriptures for the patterns and principles of the past success of God’s outreach – and relentlessly apply love, grace and truth. We could, in short, work harder at our walk with Him than our intimate knowledge of each detail about what appeals to THEM – and the Lord would overcome our cultural weakness by His irresistible love and powerful magnetism.

It is possible that men will turn from God’s truth, and we will take it personally. We must become mature. Beloved, we must not fear times of unpopularity to face the days ahead. We cannot bow to modern pressure, for we bow only to our King who reigns above all. He knows the hearts of men – He made them. He knows what will reach them, and what will bear faithful witness to our generation. We serve Him, and not the affirmation of our apparent earthly successes.

Law Four: Branches produce solely for the Father’s honor (15:8).

John 15:8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples.

The fact is this: branches prove their healthy connection through their fruit (15:8b). No fruit, and we are in essence a useless waste of cells. The Vine nurtures, the Vinedresser attends – but in the end the branch must PRODUCE FRUIT. Don’t be fooled by fake Christianity that makes God sound like He sits in Heaven pining for the love of men. He is intrinsic and complete. His love is a gift to us, not a need He must satisfy. We are badly mistaken if we don’t recognize that in the exchange between the potter and the clay, the clay is the beneficiary and the potter the planner and designer. We are not God’s colleagues – we are His workmanship. We have the privilege to be His – but we must understand that we are made for a purpose, and the benefits come from living out that purpose.

Great are the benefits of working for Jesus – for having His life flow through mine… I have great friends. I have rich experiences. I have unbelievable moments of being pampered, loved and affirmed in my life. I serve among deep and rich brothers in the Lord. I serve with patient and kind fellow laborers. I have a full stomach, a home that is more than equipped and comfortable, and vehicles that are much more than what is needed. I have loving parents, healthy children, as well as a wise and beautiful wife. In finance, I have brothers and sisters that are constantly concerned with my needs and give generously to my family’s support. The truth is that I do not complain – not because I am so very holy – but because I am so very well cared for. Yet, in all this, there is one concern… that I would forget WHY I labor.

Our call is to labor for the Father’s honor, and not our own. It is to make HIM comfortable, and not ourselves. It is to press ourselves for His service – not press others for our benefit. We may be affirmed, but MUST NOT hunger for fame. We may be enriched, but we must resist the insatiable appetite for fortune. We serve the King, and Him alone. We cannot take the best for ourselves – for offering the best to Him as His portion is our call and our privilege.

Honestly brothers and sisters, I fear that it appears some have professionalized ministry to be little more than another way to “make a living”. There is no sin in accepting the perks and benefits of ministry as gifts from the Lord through the hands of His servants (Paul taught that to the Corinthians). The real issue is that these benefits may become the REASON some seek to work in the field of the Lord. We must constantly renew our commitment to produce fruit for His table – and remind ourselves that is our purpose. In that purpose, there is the joy of knowing that I am what I was created to be. Branches prove their healthy connection through their fruit. They see the relationships that are growing toward God. They experience the PEACE of God amid the storm.

They don’t seek to bear fruit to prove their relationship – they seek to build their relationship and then experience growing fruit.

Law Five: Branches flourish in the JOY of the connection! (15:8, 11).

John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.

Real branches celebrate connection. They aren’t weary of the demands of fruit bearing, they are renewed by the juices of connection. They JOY because they make Him happy. Consider our Vine. Jesus’ joy didn’t come from this world, or from His work – it came from bringing His Father HONOR AND GLORY. In The Applause of Heaven, Max Lucado said it very well. (Word Publishing, 1996, p. 6-8) He wrote a story of a certain King: “No man had more reason to be miserable than this one-yet no man was more joyful. His first home was a palace. Servants were at his finger­tips. The snap of his fingers changed the course of history. His name was known and loved. He had everything ­ wealth, power, respect. And then he had nothing. Students of the event still ponder it. Historians stumble as they attempt to explain it. How could a king lose everything in one instant? One moment he was royalty; the next he was in poverty. His bed became, at best, a borrowed pallet-and usually the hard earth. He never owned even the most basic mode of transportation and was dependent upon handouts for his income. He was sometimes so hungry he would eat raw grain or pick fruit off a tree. He knew what it was like to be rained on, to be cold. He knew what it meant to have no home. His palace grounds had been spotless; now he was exposed to filth. He had never known disease, but was now surrounded by illness. In his kingdom he had been revered; now he was ridiculed. His neighbors tried to lynch him. Some called him a lunatic. His family tried to confine him to their house. Those who didn’t ridicule him tried to use him. They wanted favors. They wanted tricks. He was a novelty. They wanted to be seen with him-that is, until being with him was out of fashion. Then they wanted to kill him. He was accused of a crime he never committed. Witnesses were hired to lie. The jury was rigged. No lawyer was assigned to his defense. A judge swayed by politics handed down the death penalty. They killed him. He left as he came-penniless. He was buried in a borrowed grave, his funeral financed by compassionate friends. Though he once had everything, he died with nothing. He should have been miserable. He should have been bitter. He had every right to be a pot of boiling anger. But he wasn’t. He was joyful. Sourpusses don’t attract a following. People followed him wherever he went. Children avoid soreheads. Children scampered after this man. Crowds don’t gather to listen to the woeful. Crowds clamored to hear him. Why? He was joyful. He was joyful when he was poor. He was joyful when he was abandoned. He was joyful when he was betrayed. He was even joyful as he hung on a tool of torture, his hands pierced with six-inch Roman spikes. Jesus embodied a stubborn joy. A joy that refused to bend in the wind of hard times. A joy that held its ground against pain. A joy whose roots extended deep into the bedrock of eternity. In John 15, Jesus said He wanted that joy to be OURS as well. The connection – with its purpose and filling – should produce full joy in us.

Walking with Jesus is an intentional act of continual and deliberate surrender – with special attention to allowing Him to work through our lives to produce things that will honor His Father.

Knowing Jesus: “Seven Works of the Vine” – John 15:1-11 (Part 2)

100_0101I love my children. I don’t think I am particularly unique in that. Many men could probably tell a tale like the one I am thinking about from our family’s past… I remember when my firstborn child was still snug inside her momma’s womb. I used to “talk” to her by putting my face up to my wife’s belly. I would even write my little baby girl notes in a journal that her mother and I kept for her. Each little journal entry ended with the hopeful and anxious words “Please come live with me soon! I couldn’t wait to see that beautiful little baby. Her smile still steals my heart, years later. In fact, I have to confess that all of my children grab my heart and weaken my resolve – even when I am upset with them.

I think back, and we were so young, my wife and I. We were very naïve about what raising children would be like. We made so many inner and quiet promises to ourselves about what the lives of our children would be like. I wanted each of them to have every opportunity to grow and become their own people. I ached over how best to provide the things we could – and now I sometimes “second-guess” many of those decisions that were made in blind love and endless hope. At first I was not sure that raising children would be so challenging. I didn’t realize that if I brought no plan to a toddler – they already had one – and it included noise and destruction and mess – with only the most resistant efforts to clean up at the end. From the time they learned the word “NO!” it was a battle (some more than others). Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was, but I made many promises – to God, to myself, to my wife and to my children – to try to be a man of God, a leader and a provider. The jury is still out on how well I did.

I mention that because there came a time in the Gospel story, during the last night before the betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane, when Jesus made some incredible promises to his beloved followers – His “spiritual children” if you will. He was walking to the place where He knew His arrest awaited. Lashes, thorns and nails were just hours ahead – and His hapless disciples were as naïve as children are to dangers. They had no clue. Yet, Jesus made promises. Maybe they couldn’t hear them well at the time – but we can hear them. We have the record. God kept it for us. Jesus promised to be THE VINE that all of us – each one of His followers of every age – could draw strength and endurance from. Here is the truth of His message that we want to look at today…

Key Principle: Mature believers both recognize and live in the promises of Jesus for us. If we forget them, we fumble around on our own. If we live counting on them – we are empowered and secure.

In our previous lesson, we talked about the “FIVE WORKS OF THE VINEDRESSER” stressing the work of the Father in Heaven in our lives. In this lesson, we move on to the work of the Vine – Jesus Himself. Let’s review exactly what He taught:

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples. 9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. 11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.

Jesus told a story wrapped with three intertwined players: His Heavenly Father (the Vinedresser identified in verse 1), Jesus Himself (as the Vine identified in 15:1) and a disciple or follower (as the branches identified in 15:5).

Here we find encouragement in three essential truths:

1. Our Heavenly Father is ACTIVE in our lives, fulfilling a work He long planned to do.
2. Jesus is ACTIVE at work on our behalf, flowing into our lives life that does not originate with us – but with Him, through a connection to Him.
3. We are called to be ACTIVE with a DIRECT SET OF RESPONSIBILITIES as a follower in order to live a live woven into the braid.

Let’s un-braid the strands and look only at one part of the story. Let’s focus on the PROMISES Jesus made to each of us as branches of the Vine. What did Jesus really promise to do for you and I if we follow Him?

The world has been clear about dangling tempting morsels in the face of a “would be” follower of Jesus– but I am not sure that we have made our case NEARLY SO WELL – what an incredible and powerful life we can have when surrendered to Jesus.

Frankly, many believers look like they have been sucking green persimmons. They aren’t such a fun bunch. They grouse about the obvious moral collapse going on around us – because they are worried. They have a defensive spirit on front of the rapid defection from the Bible our country is going through – because they are being pushed into a corner. They believe in the sovereignty of God, but can’t seem to figure out what to do when our issues are being systematically overturned at the ballot box – because they are shocked at how wrong is so quickly becoming right in our land. They know God can supply, but they fear coming persecution – and they are starting to see it moving near. They worry about why God doesn’t seem to be showing up more in Washington – and forget that He was dismissed from the classrooms that trained a generation of Americans. In short, Christians just aren’t that fun to hang out with these days. We look AGAINST everything – and for a good reason. But sadly – Christianity’s attractiveness is muted by fearful and sour faces.

Let me say it clearly… we aren’t done yet! Believers in Jesus aren’t going to withdraw from the public square until they move us out. When they do – we will know what to do next… Read our history. We have done in before. Rome didn’t stop the message of Jesus. Stalin didn’t eliminate the message of salvation. Beijing couldn’t snuff out the message of redemption – and neither will this new “mouth muzzling” politically correct – “tolerate any perversion but harass and frame any believer’s thinking as thoroughly bigoted” group that is now assaulting not only our values, but even our common sense.

Brothers and sisters, we have resources in Jesus. We have power in Him. We need to access it, nurture it, and thrive in it. Let’s take a look…

Seven Works of the Vine (Jesus) to care for His followers:

1. Cleaning – or making the follower a part of the life flow!

Jesus was leaving the men soon, and he turned as they walked to Gethsemane and said: 15:3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Though this line of all of 15:1-11 may seem out of place (not working within the vine analogy), it is important to recall that a primary work of Jesus in the life of a follower is the cleaning work. He stressed that in the teaching that He gave them at the washing of feet in John 13 earlier that same evening. Look at Jesus’ use of the word CLEAN earlier that night, to get the meaning in John 15:3. Go back a few pages in your Bible, and listen to His words as recorded by the same author – and see how “CLEAN” was used.

Jesus got up and began to wash the feet of His followers in the upper room. Then, John 13:6 records: “So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, [then wash] not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has BATHED needs only to WASH his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all [of you].” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

In the text, Peter objected to Jesus washing him – because he thought the exchange was about SERVANT-HOOD and VALUE – but it wasn’t. Jesus made it clear the boys wouldn’t really understand the whole symbolic value of the lesson that day – it would happen in the FUTURE. Here we sit in the future, and we can look at how Jesus made clear several things about the symbol that help us define His use of the word CLEAN:

• First, whatever He meant – the cleansing was required if Peter would be a part of the future ministry of Jesus. Clean meant IN the group and PART of the ministry of Jesus. One could not be a part of Jesus’ teaching and outreach ministry if they were not CLEAN – so CLEAN is JOINED, UNCLEAN is CUT OFF. John 13:8 makes that very clear.

• Second, Jesus made a distinction between two kinds of CLEAN – there is BIG CLEAN or the word BATH (Greek: lou-o) and there is LITTLE CLEAN – the word WASH (Greek: nipto). A BATH was a GRAND CLEANSING – while the FOOT WASH was a mere MAINTENANCE CLEANSING. The washing of feet symbolized cleansing on a smaller scale, but with some of the same effects.

Peter wanted to make sure if cleansing put him on the team – that he got the GRAND CLEANSING again. Jesus told him that was not necessary – for that had already occurred. The BIG CLEAN already happened and didn’t need to happen again. The GREAT CLEANSING of Jesus occurred when a FOLLOWER chose to make Jesus their MASTER. They became a part of His team, an extension of His family. In 13:11, the DISLOYALTY – THE REJECTION by Judas made him UNCLEAN. The cleanliness seems, then, to relate to LOYAL FOLLOWING, to true submission. Following that analogy, foot washing dealt with the “smaller disloyalties”, the “momentary rebellions” that needed to be washed away. Much later, the disciples would come to understand their need for Jesus’ ongoing cleaning work as their intercessor and advocate before the Father.

It is very important to recall that one could tell which were clean by the ACTIONS of the men, not their proximity to Jesus. Judas wasn’t clean, but he had spent a long time with Jesus. Judas wasn’t submitted to Jesus’ rule in Him, but He did lay right beside Him at the Last Supper. Being WHERE JESUS IS does not equal submitting to WHAT JESUS SAYS.

Go back to John 15:3. If they were CLEAN, how did they get that way? The text says clearly that it came “because of the Word Jesus spoke” to them.

There are two senses in which that statement is true. In that sense, He was saying, “Don’t be concerned about your loyalty – you are all loyal because I have said so.” This may be a response to the earlier shocking words: “One of you is going to betray Me.” He may have been simply saying: “Relax, it isn’t any of you who will betray Me.” If that is how we are to understand the words, Jesus was being particularly gracious, because in fleeing from Gethsemane, many of them would (in a sense) betray Jesus. Peter would do so verbally – but others would vote with their feet.

Another sense of CLEAN was this: they were SEPARATED from other men by the BINDING of His Word in John 15:3. Jesus commanded them, and they loyally followed. The action trusting and following the Words of Jesus made them CLEAN by Jesus’ definition.

Let me ask you: Did Jesus ever give to YOU a bath? Have you taken His claim to be the Savior, the Rescuer, and the Cleaner of the sin-sick man or woman – and asked Him to wash YOU? If Jesus entered this room today and looked for those who have given Him their lives, would YOU be one of the people He acknowledges because YOU have made that choice?

One more question: For those of you who can heartily say, “Yes! I have chosen Jesus, and He has cleansed me” my question is this: “How do your feet look? Are they dirty?” If your walk in the world this week has left stains, some time with Jesus and a basin is just the prescription you need. You may even need a friend to help you scrub. The Bible says we can confess our faults one to another, as we confess them to Jesus.

2. Instructing – He abides in those who choose to abide in Him through His Word!

15:4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. ….7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…”.

The word ABIDE is not one that we use in everyday speech, unless you are a formal writer. We don’t ask someone to marry us and say, “Come now, my love, abide with me.” That is for very old movies. The term MENO simply means, “Stick with, or remain.” The better term for us is found in the old song title: “Stand by me!”

In Luke 6, Jesus asked a very important question that measures ABIDING:

Luke 6:46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 “But the one who has heard and has not acted [accordingly], is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Let’s be clear: Christians aren’t the people who GO TO CHURCH. Christians are people who BECOME THE CHURCH wherever they go. They aren’t the ones who simply LISTEN to the WORDS of Jesus – they are the ones who LIVE the words of Jesus.

Both the wise man and the foolish man heard the words of the Master, and both were hit by the flood. Both faced peril and problems. One acted out the words of the Master, and that foundation withstood the testing of the flood waters and held him fast to the rock foundation. Hearers don’t honor Jesus – because hearing is passive. Doers honor Jesus – because they put His words into daily life. THEY truly believe that Jesus is Lord.

Are YOU standing by the Words of Jesus? If you are, He is standing by you! If you aren’t, you have a choice…either stop calling Him Master – and give up the notion of a salvation that lets you live any way you want, or start taking your stand by His Word! You will never be the believer you were meant to be while rebellious and self-absorbed, and self-directed. Calling Him LORD is not only a theological act, but a PRACTICAL ONE – He is in charge and I will stand by His Word.

3. Enabling – He enables the branch to bear fruit!

15:4b “….As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither [can] you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

DO you feel like reaching people for Jesus is TOO HARD? What about STANDING FIRM by His Word in a world that is quickly framing believers as intolerant and unloving because we won’t simply endorse whatever perversion of the month people in our society want to endorse? If you feel following Jesus is TOO HARD – you are PERFECT for the job!

Jesus knew that NONE of His disciples could accomplish things in the spiritual realm without remaining in communion with Him and His constant cleansing. We are rebels to the core, and even after many years of following His Word, we can quickly retreat back to the default of rebel. We need a CONSTANT flow of His life, His Word, His stability in us. When we walk close to Him, and attach our hopes, dreams, ideas and desires to Him – our life produces fruit honoring to Him. We are able to grow into places only the Great Vine can support and supply. The words of Jesus in the end of verse 5 should echo in our minds” “…apart from Me you can do NOTHING.”

Why are these words so essential? It is because few believers, if any at all, truly grow to believe them. We won’t admit it – but we think we can DO a great many things that are important apart from Jesus. After all, we had talents before we ever came to Christ, didn’t we? We believe we are capable, and that is part of our problem. A life with Jesus is a DEPENDENT LIFE, not a “stand on my own two feet and pull this off” self-measured life. Jesus WANTS a dependent relationship – where the weight of the PLAN and PROVISION are placed on Him. If you can do it- you don’t NEED Him. That is why He makes the point – “You cannot do it!”

Are you trusting in Jesus today to chart your course in life? Are you scanning His Word to get a handle on what the path looks like this week?

4. Enlivening – His connection supplies an ever new flow of life!

15: 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

Jesus didn’t come to fix your leaky plumbing in life – He came to tear out the whole system and replace it with HIM. He didn’t come to be added to our ways of coping – He came to replace all of them. Are we content with small and external forms of religious conformity, instead of staying VIBRANT with our daily connection to Him?

Andrew Murray wrote in The Believer’s School of Prayer, (p.130): “Is it not more and more clear to us that while we have been excusing our unanswered prayers and our impotence in prayer with an imagined submission to God’s wisdom and will, the real reason is that our own feeble life is the cause of our feeble prayers? The word of Christ – loved, lived in, abiding in us, becoming through obedience and action part of our being – makes us one with Christ and fits us spiritually for touching, for taking hold of God. Let us yield heart and life to the words of Christ, the words in which He ever gives himself, the personal living Savior.

In his commentary on Zechariah 13.9, John Calvin observed the spiritual danger of success and comfort and ease: “It is therefore necessary that we should be subject, from first to last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make the effort to pray.”

Are you growing dry in your walk? New connection comes from a heartfelt surrender and renewed search to please Him in your life!

5. Providing – Connection to Him (through His Word) grants us access through powerful prayer!

15:7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Jesus didn’t tell us: “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” to pose that we press Him to exalt US, exalt OUR FLESH or feed our WRONG VALUES. Jesus qualified “whatever you wish” – by making that claim of those abiding in His Word and drawing life from His Truth. Jesus IS able to overcome any issue that will hinder you from becoming able to tell His story with your life. Here’s the problem: Jesus didn’t promise to do WHAT WE WANT to make our lives more easy and comfortable. To some generations He sent trouble, persecution and pain – because that is what purified the people of that time and place to see Him.

Go to Heaven and ask them if they agree with what He did. You will find that Heaven lacks a complaint department. When we SEE Him, when we grasp His true vast knowledge and ability, when we reckon His holiness face to face – we will not question His wisdom, nor His goodness.

ASK….What a thought. Could it be that our hopes and vision for our churches are not too great, but that our prayers are too infrequent? Maybe God is willing for more conversions and more powerful and effective discipling in our town, but He has looked within us – and He KNOWS that we do not really wish it. We are not ready for what it will cost US in time and effort.

God will not grant the petty prayer to make me more important than He is in my life, because that request would both dishonor him and destroy me. The old hymn, “Beneath the cross of Jesus” makes the point: “I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place; I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face; Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss, My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.”

Do we really WANT life to be about HIM and HIS glory – or something else? In 1991, while sharing about his battle with cancer, Pastor Bob Thompson asked a group of Pastors, “If you got to heaven and the only thing there was God, would that be enough?” Would God actually be enough for eternity, or are we angling for something more? What do we think is MORE than Him?

6. Modeling – He is an example of obedience to the Father’s Word and loving connection to Him!

15:10b “…just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

A smart man once said: “I can either look like Jesus, or try to make Jesus look like me.” My call as a follower is to assembly my life to LOOK JUST LIKE THE PICTURE OF THE MODEL ON THE BOX.

Jesus was steady, not fickle. Jesus was happy, not overwhelmed. Jesus was in love, not in angst. He WALKED in obedience to His Father out of LOVE.

We are ROBBING ourselves if we miss this point. Jesus did not strive endlessly to figure out what would please His Father – He listened carefully to the words of His Father, did them – and all the while rested in the JOYFUL walk of delight – knowing that made His Father smile. He made it clear – He was the MODEL for us. Can it be clearer? We are to walk in His Word because of our love for His smile, not that we may earn a love that already envelops us. Delighting Him should become our strongest urge.

7. Securing – He offers us the truth that brings the assurance of full joy!

15:11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.” Believers MUST grasp the purpose of God’s Words to us. They are not to bridle, break and burden – they are to fill with JOY.

Sad believers IGNORE the dirty feet they are walking with, and keep going without Jesus’ gentle hands on them.

• Sad believers STOP THEIR EARS at the sound of the instruction of Jesus – struggling to figure out how to assemble life without pulling out the manual.

• Sad believers TOUGH IT OUT to work on their own without Jesus leading and guiding.

• Sad believers DRY OUT from long periods of disconnection from pleasing Jesus – and they look and sound dry in spirit.

• Sad believers TWIST PRAYER to try to manipulate God with words, rather than recognizing that God knows best, and my prayer should be to exalt Him.

• Sad believers don’t follow Jesus’ example – they do life their own way.

• Sad believers don’t have the ASSURANCE that they walk as God would want – so their JOY is muted, and uncertainty abounds.

When will we learn to listen? Jesus is ever faithful, and we can ABSOLUTELY RELY ON HIM: I read the story of two friends in World War I who were inseparable. They had enlisted together, trained together, were shipped overseas together, and fought side-by-side in the trenches. During an attack, one of the men was critically wounded in a field filled with barbed wire obstacles. He was unable to crawl back to his foxhole. The entire area was under enemy crossfire, and it was suicidal to try to reach him. Yet his friend decided to do just that. The sergeant told him, “It’s too late. You can’t do him any good, and you’ll only get yourself killed.” But the man went anyway. He returned a few minutes later, carrying his friend. But he himself had been mortally wounded. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved. He blurted out, “What a waste! He’s dead and you’re dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” With almost his last breath, the dying man replied, “Oh, yes it was, Sarge. When I got to him, the only thing he said was, ’I knew you’d come, Jim.’” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

Mature believers both recognize and live in the promises of Jesus for us. If we forget them, we fumble around on our own. If we live counting on them – we are empowered and secure.

Knowing Jesus: "Five Works of the Vinedresser" – John 15:1-11 (Part One)

repellingI hate heights. I don’t like to fly and I don’t think hanging off the side of a mountain by a string looks like fun – even when accompanied by impressive head and elbow gear. I have several friends and acquaintances that seem like otherwise perfectly normal individuals, but they insist that hanging on the side of some gargantuan cliff like a human yo-yo is a perfectly legitimate way to spend a vacation. I like them, but I think they are a few knots short of unraveling completely. I believe God made gravity, and gave us the sense not to challenge it any more than we absolutely must in order to live our lives. Flying in the modern age is necessary – hanging from cliffs for fun or sport just isn’t. I don’t think I am as much a chicken (though some would surely disagree) – I believe I just respect gravity more than some people I know. I mention this because I have one distinct memory of an experience with “sport cliff repelling” I attempted earlier in my life. We were on an adventure trip, and I remember the sick feeling of lowering myself off the side of a cliff that had a straight sixty story drop (about six hundred feet) to the bottom of a canyon. I remember terror, and attempting hopelessly to focus on the cliff in front of me in spite of the fact that there was no ground or floor immediately beneath me. I remember trying to figure out what to pray for – since I volunteered to do this and then thinking, “If I die doing this, I am really going to feel stupid entering Heaven looking like a pancake at about eight inches tall and explaining that I did this for FUN!”

When I was clinging to the cliff and thinking about how not to whimper like a baby or allow body fluids to mark my pants, I noticed something that gave me a small measure of comfort. The rope in front of me was a nylon-cotton cord that was braided together – an extremely strong bind of rope. I know it was extremely strong, not only because of my nearly superhero like perceptive abilities, and because the cord said in small letters stamped on it: “EXTREMELY STRONG”. That rope was a braided set of individual filaments. It was essentially a woven series of thin strands that has been braided together to produce extreme strength by distributing the tension over many strands equally. That thought somehow comforted me on the cliff and in a way – it still does. Braids are strong. Single strands fail, but woven into a cord – they become powerful.

That isn’t only true of ROPE, but also of PEOPLE. In a way, as a believer, I live in the strength of a braided life. What do I mean? I am not alone in facing the weight of life. I am a tiny strand, and I am weak. I fail, forget, get frustrated and can be unbelievably fickle. Alone, I am only one unremarkable and unreliable strand. Yet, the Bible says that I am not walking through life alone. I am connected, filled and woven together with the unstoppable power of my Heavenly Father Who tends carefully to my life to produce fruit. My life flows with the inner working of my Savior Who fills me inside and invites me to remain connected to that flow. He is feeding His life into me – and through me into others. Jesus flatly said so, but He used a different illustration than rope – He spoke of a VINE and BRANCHES in God’s carefully tended vineyard. He talked about how a weak little branch could experience the tending of a Loving Father, and the life-filling sap of a Gracious Lord. He had a point…

Key Principle: As a disciple of Jesus, I don’t live life on my own strength, or on my own terms. God tends, Jesus supplies, and I draw my strength from obediently following His directive word.

This passage is RICH. Because of that, I want to take each part of the braid and offer a message on it. Today, I want to talk about the FIVE WORKS OF VINEDRESSER in the life of the believer. In the next lessons, we will follow up with a look at the SEVEN WORKS OF THE VINE, and eventually we will share together the FIVE LAWS OF THE BRANCH. This is a three-part message.

Before we talk about the FIVE WORKS OF THE VINEDRESSER, let’s recall exactly what Jesus said:

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples. 9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. 11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.

Jesus told a story with three players:

His Heavenly Father (the Vinedresser identified in verse 1), Jesus Himself (as the Vine identified in 15:1) and a disciple or follower (as the branches identified in 15:5).

The passage is very familiar to Bible students, but in familiar passages there is always a danger – that we won’t see the important meaning of what we recite. You see, the exciting part of the story for us, if we look carefully at the tale of the vineyard is this: Jesus explains succinctly three essential truths:

1. Our Heavenly Father is ACTIVE in our lives, fulfilling a work He long planned to do.
2. Jesus is ACTIVE at work on our behalf, flowing into our lives life that does not originate with us – but with Him, through a connection to Him.
3. We are to be ACTIVE as followers in order to live a life “woven into the braid”.

Jesus braids our weak strand with the power of God. He explained the CONNECTION in this story that we have to and with God – and what that connection provides. He explained the importance of our connection to the true source of life that produces the highest prize – the honor for our Heavenly Father. Let me set up our exploration with a mental image:

A missionary in Africa several decades ago lived in a small hut which was electrically supplied by a quiet, small generator. The little gas powered wonder supplied current for both his home and the primitive church building beside it. Late one afternoon two African men from another much more remote village visited the Pastor in his hut, and were amazed when night fell, and he simply switched the room lights on. They were wide-eyed at the electric light bulb hanging from the ceiling of his living space. One of the visitors asked the Pastor if he could have one of the bulbs. Thinking perhaps he wanted it for a sort of trinket, the Pastor obliged and gave it to him. Months passed. On his next visit to the remote village of that same man, the Pastor stopped at the hut of the man who had previously asked for the bulb. Imagine his surprise when he saw the bulb hanging from an ordinary string. The man understood the general idea of connection, but he didn’t understand empowering. Lots of believers today are like that.

Some have come today, and truly WANT to be connected to Jesus, but there are some obstacles. Some don’t understand the GOAL as Jesus taught it. Others haven’t carefully considered how disobedience may be hindering the flow of the power in their lives. They have lived mostly disconnected from God, and disappointed that the light doesn’t seem to work on their terms…

Because some may be new to the faith, and others may be interacting with the Bible today, but not yet have a committed walk with God through Jesus – we need to stop and state that true Christians have exchanged a few important values that have become common assumptions in the world around us. Let me explain: we live in a world that has taught us a song – an anthem – to live for ourselves and accumulate affirmation, comfort and satisfaction for ourselves. We hear echoes that we “only go around once” and “should go for the gusto.” We are told we should “be all that we can be” and we should “have it our way”. We are fully convinced that life is FOR us – and we should bite the apple deeply and get as much as we can for ourselves. The problem is – that isn’t the Christian Life. That is the world’s version of the SELF LIFE. There are even some wayward Christians that teach blended philosophies of that with the teachings of Jesus – in various self-focused benefit plans of prosperity theology. Yet, if you really focus on knowing Jesus from His Word, you will see a potent conflict with that kind of thinking. It is not slight – it is a deep conflict.

The Bible says the followers of Jesus acknowledge they are not their own. Their lives are not their own. Their bodies are not their own. Even their very purpose is not wrapped up in themselves. They are created for the delight of Another. Their best day is when the please HIM, and not themselves.

The Bible says that we are born disconnected from God, since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, and that we live, more or less, for our own pleasure, and our own good – until we come to Christ. We struggle to make it alone, disconnected from the power and purpose God made Adam, because of his rebellion. We lie, cheat and steal naturally – because we are fallen beings. Yet, encountering Jesus through His Word changes us. Following Jesus, and surrendering to Him hits a reset button on old assumed lifestyles. As believers, as disciples of Jesus, we come to new understandings about life. Our views change on our PURPOSE and the POWER to live daily life. We learn from the Word that our choice to walk in connective obedience to Jesus is the true source of both JOY and POWER in this life. That becomes obvious to any believer who strays from the Word of God – life dries up and joy fleets away. Since joy and power both have personal benefits – that part of the change in our thinking is not as difficult another alteration we make. Perhaps the harder part of the equation is this: our lives have changed their PURPOSE.

Before I came to Jesus, life was about ME. In the Words of Jesus, I learn that it is NOT my happiness, my pleasure, or my desires that are to be the object of my life – but the pleasing of my Heavenly Father. Jesus lived that way, and I am told to live that way. Christianity’s most fundamental purpose is bringing our Heavenly Father, our Creator and our God, the honor and glory due to Him. This is the true purpose of our lives – and that truth underlines the offense of the Gospel to the world. We cannot live for God fully and still maintain our old commitment to self-love, self-advancement and self-pleasure. Attempts to do so will frustrate us and end in a failed mission. Our purpose is a foundational truth, and the purpose is fundamentally at odds with the anthem of self we learned from the choir of voices on every side of us in the lost world.

In the few moments we have together, let’s carefully unpack the three elements of the story, and then apply the truths found in it.


Jesus made clear there are five specific works of our Heavenly Father as the Vine dresser, because God has a JOB in our lives as disciples of Jesus:

Work #1: First, God repositions connected but under-producing branches to help them bear fruit (15:2a).

Verse two begins: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away…” The term “takes away” is a translation of a Greek verb “airo” (pronounced a-hee-ro). The word CAN mean to take away, but can equally be interpreted as LIFT UP. If you were to ask a vinedresser in Israel which was the meaning, it would be obvious. When a vine is wet on the bottom because it has grown downward to the earth, it requires a PROP to keep air flowing underneath. Since the rest of the verse is about productivity, it makes very good sense that the verse should be translated in that way – and NOT “takes away”. Taking away the branch ends it from productivity. Propping it up assists productivity. Let’s say it clearly, GOD HAS THE RIGHT TO ADJUST YOUR POSITION IN LIFE TO GET YOU TO PRODUCE WELL. In my experience, it may be moving you from a position of comfort and self-assurance, to one of uncertainty but greater trust in Him, and greater fruit than you planned! Let me explain in an illustration:

Mr. Holland’s Opus is a movie about a frustrated composer in Portland, Oregon, who takes a job as a high school band teacher in the 1960s. Although diverted from his lifelong goal of achieving critical fame as a classical musician, Glenn Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss) believes his school job is only temporary. At first he maintains his determination to write an opus or a concerto by composing at his piano after putting in a full day with his students. But, as family demands increase (including discovery that his infant son is deaf) and the pressures of his job multiply, Mr. Holland recognizes that his dream of leaving a lasting musical legacy is merely a dream. At the end of the movie we find the now aged Mr. Holland fighting in vain to keep his job. The board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama program. No longer a reluctant band teacher, Mr. Holland now believes deeply in what he does and passionately defends the role of the arts in public education. What began as a career detour became a 35-year mission, pouring his heart into the lives of young people. Mr. Holland returned to his classroom to retrieve his belongings a few days after school let out for summer vacation. He had taught his final class. With regret and sorrow, he filled a box with artifacts that represented the tools of his trade and memories of many meaningful classes. His wife and son arrived to give him a hand. As they left the room and walked down the hall, Mr. Holland heard some noise in the auditorium. Because school was out, he opened the door to see what the commotion was. To his amazement he found a capacity crowd of former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that read “Goodbye, Mr. Holland.” Those in attendance greeted Mr. Holland with a standing ovation while a band (consisting of past and present members) played songs they learned at his hand. His wife, who was in on the surprise reception, approached the podium and made small talk until the master of ceremonies, the governor of Oregon, arrived. The governor was none other than a student who Mr. Holland helped to believe in herself during his first year of teaching. As she addressed the room of well-wishers, she spoke for the hundreds who filled the auditorium: “Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both). But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he’d be wrong. Because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.” Looking at her former teacher the governor gestured with a sweeping hand and continued, “Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.” [“Mr. Holland’s Opus”: Leaving a Legacy, Citation: Mr. Holland’s Opus, (Hollywood Pictures, 1995), rated PG, written by Patrick Sheane Duncan, directed by Stephen Herek; submitted by Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois] (*Taken from Sermon central illustrations, author unknown.)

Holland wanted to make a difference in the world – and he did. It just didn’t happen when and where he dreamed it would. As a believer, we have to be open to that reality – God may move us and reposition us for the best fruit bearing. Don’t run to the bigger venue too quickly – you might find that God has put you in the room you are in for His purposes.

Work #2: Second, God prunes fruit bearing branches (15:2b).

Verse two finished: “…and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” Beyond repositioning, God may need to take OUT OF OUR LIVES someone, something or some situation that is hindering our productivity from reaching the potential. This is different than just moving us or repositioning – this is painful pruning. Pruning is removal, and it isn’t DONE BY US. Grape vines, when left untended, will sprawl out and produce leafy canopies but will not yield much fruit. Pruning may seem counter-intuitive activity, but it will produce very healthy vine. The healthiest vine is not the one with the brightest green leaves for show, but the one that bears fruit. Many are the branches filled with leafy activity, growing that which will shade them and make them more comfortable. Few are those who are truly open to God’s cutting of their frenetic activity – that they would produce greater fruit. It may be the loss of a dearly loved friend that you cannot see is holding you back from truly giving all to the Lord. It may be the death of a spouse or the death of a business or even a dream. It is REMOVAL for the purpose of REPLACEMENT, and it isn’t done by US rejecting others or getting disillusioned. Here is the problem: Branches that are convinced that comfort is the objective, resent the pain of the Vinedresser’s pruning. Branches that know that fruit bearing is the POINT, see the pruning as an act of help and assistance. GOD HAS THE RIGHT TO TAKE PEOPLE AND SITUATIONS OUT OF MY LIFE TO SUIT HIS PLAN. If that isn’t true, someone will need to offer a better explanation to me of the Book of Ruth – because that is EXACTLY what God did to Naomi so long ago.

Because God loves us, He “prunes” us. It is not discipline – it is loving HELP. Pruning truly hurts; but God is not angry, He is at work in His vineyard. Remember it is God at work! You will never see a branch pruning another branch! Just remember, when your Father is doing this, He is very close to you, and you are in His eyes.

Work #3: Third, God removes detached and dried up branches (15:6).

John 15:6 can sound very stern if you do not look carefully at the third work of God. Jesus said: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” The work of the Father also includes organizing the removal of those branches that have dried up due to the disconnection of pruning. This image has many dimensions – and many of them are not as negative as you may at first conclude. The text offers no REASON why the branch did not abide in the Vine. In fact, there are two kinds of DISCONNECTED BRANCHES in the text – those who refuse to remain connected, and those that are pruned to allow others to bear more fruit. Let me suggest the words of Jesus can be read in either way – negative or positive.

The negative way to read the text can be illustrated by the events that happened to a teen that was a part of a church that I cared deeply for. That teen was raised in a Christian home and had parents that I knew well. They LOVED their children and worked to rear them well. Their oldest son made a profession of faith to Jesus in grade school, but by High School was not walking with God at all. He may well have known Jesus, but he wasn’t living Jesus. One Saturday night, in his Senior year, he got drunk, drove into a tree and was killed on impact, with several other teens. At the funeral held in the local school gymnasium, God used his life to touch thousands of teens with the Gospel. Sadly, the testimony that could have produced fruit was used up in one instance – and the fire that burned warmed the room, but only one time. How very sad! The branch removed itself from the flow of God’s empowering, and its life withered. In that decimated state, God used his life for a purpose – but not in a continual use of fruit bearing. The fire place was a distant cry from the fruit bowl.

There is another way – a positive way – to see the story that is an equally valid observation, however. What if the vine is disconnected by the attentive pruning of God and not due to self-disconnection? God may pull them from the Vine because they are blocking other branches from flourishing. I have seen this many times. As time passes, the great preachers of yesteryear AGE OUT. If the Lord tarries, so will I someday. Our lives are brief. While these men, some of them great, remain in their ministries, those outreaches cannot flex and change. New, younger men cannot truly shine, because they are serving UNDER the older man. As we age, we get set in our ways, but God wants to reach each generation, and it may not be done the exact same way as our fathers have done it. Each generation needs to be approached with timeless truth but ever-flexing methodology to persuade them of God’s love and their need for surrender. Branches need to be PRUNED that are connected to the Vine without hindrance, because it is time for another branch to bear fruit, and it needs the direct light of the sun. Sometimes men cast a shadow, and God ages them out and removes them to allow for the next generation. At the same time, the warmth in the fire of the farmhouse is the memory of their value – the final use of the Vine dresser for the now used up branch. Some branches don’t fall away – God moves them off the vine to bring the light on others.

Work #4: Fourth, God delights in accepting honor from the abundance of fruit (15:8).

Jesus said in John 15:8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples.”

God is glorified by our fruit bearing. The more fruit, the more glory to God. The Heavenly choir increases in strength with each new soul brought to Jesus. The richness of our voices is enhanced with each point of surrender in our lives. The sweetness of the aroma of the Spirit’s work wafts Heaven when we are acting in obedience with a right heart, and searching for ways to be used of God.

One of my favorite passages of the Bible is found in the pivotal passage of Romans 12:1-2. I particularly love the second part of verse 2. Think about the passage for a moment:

“1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

If you examine the end of verse two, Paul says this:

(My loose paraphrase) “Be transformed with you mind being made new, and begin the journey of searching out what you can do each day to bring delight to God, and fulfill His desires in you.” The text pushes us to thing in a new way – the way that brings delight and honor to God – and not necessarily upon us. Our focus is to be upon HIS DELIGHT.

Are you going about your week thinking NOT about how to STOP OFFENDING GOD, but how to START DELIGHTING GOD? More believers need to start the journey, and more mature believers need to get intentional about doing it! GO AHEAD, MAKE HIS DAY!

Work #5: Fifth, God loves His Vine (15:9, 10b).

I don’t want to leave the five works of the Vine dresser without noting the last one carefully, found in John 15:9. The work was announced in the teaching of Jesus on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was walking from the Upper Room and He said to His disciples: “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love….”

Jesus didn’t tell the men that they should seek to “tough out” a life for God out of duty. That won’t honor Him. In fact, what He truly is looking for is this: that we will move our deeply rooted love of SELF and replace it with an ever deeper love for HIM.

Look again at verse nine. God LOVED His vine, and God worked His vineyard out of LOVE. There is no love like His. He knows what is best. Stop striving, and start loving. You will find that you never out-give or out-love the endless God.

Pastor Chris Jordan used an illustration to help us understand this: “Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liza who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save Liza.’ “As the transfusion progressed, he lay in a bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die right away?’ “Being young, the boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give her all his blood. (Originally taken from Chicken Soup for the Soul).

Look what REAL LOVE WILL DO! It will give up it’s place for another. Will you give up the throne of YOUR HEART for another – He is waiting to take His rightful place.

As a disciple of Jesus, I don’t live life on my own strength, or on my own terms. God tends, Jesus supplies, and I draw my strength from obediently following His direction.

Knowing Jesus: "The Choice Garden" – Genesis 3 and John 20

gethsemaneEvery Resurrection Sunday the entire church of Jesus Christ around the world gets an opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest works the Father in Heaven has ever completed. The Resurrection comes only after a long list of thrilling stories of our Master, and it puts the icing on the cake of His powerful life story. Consider this… Today we get to come to celebrate Jesus. But…why? The answer is simple. He defeated death. He walked out of the tomb… and people are touched by His love and changed by His power when they believe His message:

There is the story of the young woman by a well – rejected repeatedly by people in her life and losing hope in love. She wonders if anyone, anywhere will see her as more than an object and truly look past her body and care for HER. John’s Gospel said that she met Jesus – and He spoke words that pierced her guarded and wounded heart. He told her that God loved her, and that the men in her life didn’t. She wouldn’t find affirmation and love from them – but could find it in the God that made her, and awaited her to open her heart to Him…All over the world today, people who have been bounced between parents every other weekend, and people who have been seen only for some personal talent or physical trait, those who have been treated more as a trinket but less than a person –hear of the One who poured out Himself for them in a way that no one else ever did!

There is the story of a crusty, old religious man – a leader among his people. He counted the number of days ahead and saw them as fewer than those behind – and he wondered about the TRUTH of all that he spent his life believing… teaching. He wanted to KNOW that God wanted him, and that at the end of all the sacrifices, God would be pleased. Jesus met him and told him about a new birth – a new start that would give him true assurance of God’s love, and security in God’s arms at death. Those words filled his ears, and soon after they enlivened his heart.

There are stories of the broken and the blind – one after the other – who felt the gentle touch of Jesus on their broken bodies. Helpless and hopeless people the world over can imagine being in the room when the light and color first make their way into a long darkened eye. They get it… they can dance with joy and sing with delight as they imagine Jesus gripping their hands and jumping for JOY with them! Colors flooded in. Darkness was driven out by the flood of hope and beauty! How many a man or woman has heard of our Savior’s work and found Him ready to take their darkness from them as well.

I could go on and on with His story. He danced and lept with the healed lame man, and he laughed until tears with His silly and sometimes senseless disciples. He LIVED a real life… and He died a real death. That made Him like so many other great men of the past – compassionate, caring and consoling. He inspired hope, offered help and evoked holy celebration… but that is just the beginning. His life was not only a good example, it was a life marked with PURPOSE. The Bible says He was born a lamb, a substitute, a sacrifice for the sin of others. He died an innocent man – but He faced the turning away of His Heavenly Father on the Cross – a union that had never seen any breach in time or even before time was. God turned away from His Son as part of the judicial penalty of my sin… your sin… the rebellion and mutiny of all mankind. “The chastisement was placed on Him to make peace for us”, the Bible says. His blood washed the stench of our rebellion from the nostrils of the Living God. In this place and on this day many will believe His words – but not everyone. Here is the truth…

Key Principle: Jesus can change your life – if you will take Him at His word. If you don’t, you will leave the way you were when He tried to meet you.

Before you dismiss Jesus, you should know that the picture of Jesus from the Gospels is not an angry face of One Who is mad at you for your failures, protesting bitterly what you have done wrong. He wants to meet you where you are, and then He wants to make you NEW. You won’t be the same if you believe Him.

How does He change us? To explain, I want to open look at two simple and clear passages from the Bible. If you have a Bible with you, turn to Genesis 2 … This is a story about a garden, and a story about a woman. In fact – it is a story about a very old wound we all deal with every day. In Genesis 2, God created a beautiful garden.

Genesis 2:8 The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” 18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought [them] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”

Picture the beauty of that place! The Bible tells us simply that:

• It was a garden whose designer was God the Creator (2:8).
• It was the home planned for the man made by God (2:8b).
• It had abundance, and yielded a vast array of luscious fruits (2:9).
• It had a special tree, a tree of boundary – a tree of trust in God’s provision and care – called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9b).
• It was well-watered and secure from drought (2:10).
• It contained a vast supply of beautiful and precious minerals – gold and precious stones (2:11-14).
• God placed man there, and gave him two JOBS – work the land and guard the garden (2:15).
• The entire garden was HIS to meet every need – with one exception. One tree was not to be harvested – its fruit was not for the man (2:16-17).
• God recognized man’s need for companionship and help – to make his life meaningful in the garden work. Man needed woman to impress, accomplish for, and dwell with (2:18).
• Man needed to SEE the need for woman, so God had him name the animals, until he felt what God had already concluded – that he needed one compatible to him to love (2:19-20).
• God took a part of man and fashioned woman – of the same genetic material and chemical design – and formed his helper (2:21-22).
• Man saw the helper, and was overwhelmed with the gift of God, and stunned by her beauty. For the first time, he had someone to love, impress and guard (2:23). He felt important in a whole new way – and he felt, for the first time, the impulse to share his lunch with someone else! (2:23).

What a scene! Happiness, beauty and security abounded. The garden was a place of color, beauty, sweet smelling joy and excitement. Drop down to the words of Genesis 2:25 “…And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Man was OK with himself. Woman was OK with herself. No advertisements made them feel inadequate. No self-image marred – no need for better makeup or another exercise machine. The issue wasn’t whether they were beautiful enough or felt important enough – they were happy with who God made them. They were happy with one another. They were content with life.

Enter the tempter (3:1). Behind the scenes, God’s enemy, a fallen and disgruntled angel and a band of his follower slithered into the garden. Temptation gave way to sin, and sin opened a series of “domino falling failures”:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make [one] wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Do you see what happened to the man and woman?

1) The man was to guard the garden and failed – exposing his wife to the tempter and not governing the parameters of God (3:1b).

2) The woman entertained the question of God’s authority over her and focused on the one thing God told them to leave alone (3:2-3).

3) The serpent accused God of holding back on them and they succumbed to the idea that God wasn’t who He claimed to be (3:4-6).

What came from the fall was terrible: 

  • LOSS of INNOCENCE – “eyes were opened” (3:7a),
  • DEATH of intrinsic positive SELF IMAGE – “knew they were naked” (3:7b),
  • SHAME – “covered themselves” (3:7b); DISTANCE from God (3:8) and
  • GUILT – the FEAR to be seen of God (3:10).

The bottom line is that man’s pain came from his rebellion – and so does YOURS. When we decide we know better than God, we forgo the benefits of trusting Him to meet our every need. We lose out on blessing. We gain shame, discontent, guilt and a host of problems.

Look at the universal and lasting results from the fall experience:

Genesis 3:13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” 16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” 17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” 20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all [the] living. 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

1) BLAME: Man tried to blame the woman for his lack of guardianship and leadership (3:12) – the leader blames the followers! Woman blamed the tempter (3:13) – the shopper blames the advertiser for MAKING HER BUY the product!

2) WAR: God promised to put a battle between the deceiver and man through the Messianic seed (3:15). Every believer that faces pains of the enemy and his warfare can trace the struggle of Ephesians 6 back to this moment – not to mention the PRICE of the Cross!

3) PHYSICAL PAIN replaced the joy of the reproductive system. A collective groan may now raise from the females of the assembly! The pain of childbirth is not ALL there is to this!

4) A REBELLION HELPER: Woman was made to AID man in his walk with God – and now she would COMPETE with him and help him by supplying her own rebellion (3:16b). She will want HIS JOB – and struggle with submission.

5) STRUGGLE: Because of the lack of guardianship and leadership, God ends His dealings with their rebellion in words to Adam – the work I gave you will now be a struggle. The ground won’t cooperate (3:17b-19).

6) DEATH: An innocent animal died to make a covering for the man and his wife (3:21). The skins of animals were wrapped around the guilty.

Your painful struggle today is directly related to the rebellion against God and its effects. For a resolution, God provided a covering – but it required the life of another.

The largest thermonuclear bomb ever built and detonated on Earth was exploded on October 30, 1961 above Novaya Zemlya Island in the Arctic Circle. The bomb was dropped by Russian Soviets in an attempt to intimidate Americans. Its name: “Tsar Bomba” or “King of the Bombs.” It had the explosive power of 53 megatons (53 million tons of TNT) – more than ten times the power of all the bombs dropped during World War II, including the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima (15 kilotons) and Nagasaki (22 kilotons). The explosion was so intense that the flash was visible over 600 miles away, and people felt the air move over 160 miles away. Everything in a radius of 15.25 miles was completely destroyed. Very severe damage extended to a distance of 21.5 miles & the heat was so intense that people over 60 miles away would have experienced third degree burns if anyone had been there. All this came from a bomb that was a little over 26 feet long and had a diameter of a little over 6 feet. It was large to be sure, but it was tiny when you look at the power it packed. Big things come in little packages. The same is true of sin.

Coming out of the scene – the world was forever changed!

I stop on this passage a second time to look carefully at it for good reason. The pain of every minute of every day from that time until now came from that Garden scene. You can draw a direct line between that rebellion long ago and the painful experiences we see all around us today.

According to one record, in America every 24 hours:

• 3,000 children see their parents divorced.
• 1,629 children are put in adult jail.
• 3,228 children run away from home.
• 1,512 children drop out of school.
• 7,742 teens become sexually active.

Pain. Stop and consider how devastating the Garden scene was for each of us. Every innocent child that has been abused can draw a line back to that moment of rebellion. Every cancer patient can draw that same line. Hum in the background the anthem of humanity before God. Can you hear it? “I Did It My Way” is more than Frank Sinatra’s theme. It is also the story of the fallen human nature. It is not just human nature in general – it is yours and mine as well. Our insistence on our way rather than God’s way explains a lot of human experience.

Don’t squirm, we all know it is true. One Pastor wrote in an article I clipped: “There are people in our church involved in stealing. You go to work and turn in a time card or reimbursement or mileage sheet that you know is false. There are folks in our church involved in sexual sin. We have some in our church addicted to internet pornography. We have some involved in promiscuity or an extramarital affair. We have some who are so consumed with lust that they undress people around them with their imaginations. We have people here who lie. We like to call them “white lies” so they don’t sound as bad. According to James Emory White, “91% of all Americans confessed that they regularly lied. 79% had given out false phone numbers or invented new identities when meeting strangers on airplanes. 20% said they couldn’t get through even one day without going along with a previously manufactured lie. We have people here whose tongue is the most active muscle in their bodies. These are the ones who “don’t want to gossip, but…” There are people here who can’t talk to people nicely or who curse in anger.

Don’t pull away – you came to the right place. We aren’t here because we are good. We are here specifically because we ARE NOT GOOD and are desperate for God’s love and grace amid our sin sick world. We get it. We don’t trust ourselves. We know better. We are our parents – fresh from the garden and full of rebellion!

You see, the story of the Bible doesn’t end with the SIN, brokenness, darkness and its power. The Bible moves on to another Garden Story… This one powerfully unwinds, bit by bit, the destructive power of the GARDEN OF THE FALL. It is the garden we came to celebrate today, and it is found in John 20…

First, the time was given: It was a FIRST DAY – a NEW BEGINNING.

John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came… early to the tomb…”

John simply says Mary Magdalene came. Matthew 28:1 adds that she was accompanied to the grave by other women to see what they could do about finishing the work on the broken body of Jesus. Mark 16:1-3 identified two other women in the scene – Mary “the mother of James” and Salome, the mother of some of the disciples, and well known to the team.

Second, the place was specified: It was a TOMB – AN OLD REMINDER OF PAIN.

John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came… early to the tomb…”

Our story is in a backdrop of one picture – a tomb to remind us of the death that came from the sin garden. Standing there, the anthem in the background is this: “The wages of sin is death.” The ladies walked, but their hearts were broken to the point where the conversation was only about the next responsibility. You can almost feel their numbness. It is the pain of separation. It is the disappointment and sadness and emptiness of loss.

We have all lost someone. In our natural state, death separates us from them. We come to the grave with only aching loss and despair. We weep – it is all that one who does not know God can do. At death, God’s presence can seem far away – and we can feel abandoned to figure out life on our own. That garden of death – like our most meticulously manicured cemetery – held no beauty in their eyes. Breakfast had no taste. Death seemed like an END… a DEAD END.

Third, the hopelessness was expressed: It was DARK – A MOMENT OF CHILLY UNCERTAINTY.

John 20:1b …”while it was still dark…”.

Can you feel the weight of the words? “IT WAS STILL DARK….” The three women descended below the angle of the breaking sun into a rock cut quarry. It was a shadowy and dark place, with the sun not yet making things clear. They were in the dark – and had no idea that the greatest discovery in their lives was about to take place! The insurmountable wall between the Dead One and the living had been breached – but they were still walking in the dark.

Fourth, the breach was declared: The tomb was OPEN – GOD BROKE DOWN THE BARRIER OF DEATH.

John 20:1b …”and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb”

The story of Easter is not about how men in their efforts pried open a breach and finally reached God. It is a story about how God powerfully shook the earth and pushed aside a blocking stone – THE OBSTACLE THAT SEPARATED THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. He broke the power of death, long ago imposed in sin’s garden– bringing victory over death. With the stone gone, a narrow door was exposed, and the door opened between eternity and our physical world.

Do you see it? God broke in to man’s world. God moved a stone. God tore down the wall between man and eternity and shattered the power and mystery of death. God did it all in a dramatic and bold statement from the spiritual world. The narrow passage of the Christian faith is that one must accept that God did these things, or remain in the darkness outside the tomb – offering other explanations for the stone’s displacement and the body’s removal.

But that is not all there is to tell the story of the Gospel…

Fifth, the alarm was sounded: Jesus was GONE – DID GOD REALLY DO IT? (20:2).

John 20:2 “So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

John seemed anxious to bring the disciples into the story. He left out what happened to the women between the discovery of the empty tomb and the sharing of that news in the room with the hiding disciples. He offers the truncated story that showed how the disciples first encountered the empty tomb, but didn’t understand its meaning:

John 20:3 “So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. … 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”

Did you notice the words “They believed”. They believed the body was MOVED, not that Jesus was risen. They were like so many other people today… they thought that Jesus was a GOOD MAN. They knew His body was gone… but they didn’t really believe that GOD JUST BROKE THROUGH THE BARRIER OF DEATH.

What was the problem? It is found in verse nine – THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE THE WORDS OF THE SCRIPTURE.

• They believed that their Master could call forth Lazarus.
• They believed that He could do miracles.
• What they didn’t believe – what didn’t make sense to them – was the WORD OF GOD AS PROMISED.

Jesus already shared with His followers that His death was coming but it would NOT be His end… Matt 16:21 after the disciple’s final exam and before the Transfiguration made this clear: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

So it comes down to this: Is the Bible telling the truth? Do you believe that God rolled the stone away? Did Jesus conquer death? Is His Word true when He said: John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Sixth, the choice was made: The Word was TRUE – JESUS HAD RISEN!

The disciples eventually DID truly believe, and we got the record of these event from them. They claimed they were “eyewitnesses”, and that Jesus was telling the truth:

They made a choice, and they offered YOU and I the same choice….John 20:30 “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name”.

We need to reckon with the choice: He is the way, or He is not. His words are true, or He is a fake. The Bible is God’s Word – or it is a book of lies for which people have lived a false hope and followed a false teaching. Answer the question carefully – for EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS YOUR LAST BREATH DEPENDS ON THE ANSWER. IT IS YOUR CHOICE. He is Risen, or He is NOT.

Under torture, they died proclaiming that He AROSE. It gave them confidence and assured them that God accepted the sin sacrifice. They DIED knowing He was who the One of whom Scriptures foretold. They left us a full record that we might believe as well…

I have heard that possums are smart animals. You wouldn’t think so because you hardly ever see one except when it’s dead on the road. But possums, it turns out, are smart. They won’t enter a hole if there’s just one set of tracks going into it. They know there’s something in there. But if there are two sets of tracks, the possum will enter and not be afraid. The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave – we don’t have to fear death because there are tracks leading out of the tomb.

How does He plan to change us?

He will do it from the INSIDE OUT, beginning with our acceptance of His Word.

Jesus can change your life – if you will take Him at His word. If you don’t, you will leave the way you were when He tried to meet you. The Word declares it so, and I believe it – and you can too.

Knowing Jesus: “The Marked Path” – John 14

Israel hikingWhen I have the time, I enjoy a good hike. One of my favorite hiking areas in Israel is Nahal Arugot near the Dead Sea. Recently, I had the opportunity to see the end of the old hiking path in the Judean Desert– an arduous trail that I used to love to climb and follow back along the dry river bed to a beautiful waterfall that carved a canyon out of the chalk wilderness. Looking longingly at the end of the trail (and recognizing I lacked the time to go there), I saw the familiar three stripes painted on a large brown boulder – the simple markers that pointed to the hiker’s path. That simple, but colorful blue and white marker is a very comforting symbol in the desert. You see, in the desert everything can look the same. It is a dead, brown chalk wilderness to the novice viewer. With more time and a closer inspection, the initiated find that the desert has a life of its own. The truth is that the path markers make the whole experience so much safer, and add a confidence a traveler would not have without their presence. A marked path is not a mystery – because one has been there before.

marked trailI mention this because we are studying together a slice of time from the last week of Jesus’ teaching before the Crucifixion – a time in the Upper Room that left significant path markers: teachings that show us both how to FIND and FOLLOW God. The words were from Jesus – and they clearly marked the path – not only to the disciples in the room – but to every follower of Jesus from the time the words were made known by the Gospel writers until today.

As Easter approaches, we need to remember that we cannot take the Savior’s real words for granted in our time. Jesus gets quoted out of context for all manner of purposes today. In fact, over time, many of the clear “path marking words” have been worn into more fuzzy views and politically correct terms – obscuring Jesus’ once clearly expounded teaching. Take, for instance, the movies of the Easter Season like “The Robe” that will again take their place from the archives of the silver screen to the streaming of the web. Movies of that genre offer a “slice of storyline evocative of the Bible” – but are not taken from the Bible – and don’t reflect the Biblical views of following Jesus all that well. They tell OF JESUS – but don’t really represent the crisp and clear echo of His voice. Sadly, the movies and their interpretations of the Savior have slowly displaced the Bible in popular society – especially for the many who do not take the time to examine the text of the Gospel itself. As a result, the longer I spend teaching Jesus’ life and words, the more I realize that many people have only a fuzzy grasp of Jesus and His ministry. They have a blurred focus of His purpose, a softened and muffled sound of His voice in their ears. But if you open the Word, these “last night” sayings of Jesus have a crystal clarity that can snap us into understanding of what Jesus wanted us to know of Him and His Father. A clear picture of Jesus can truly be found in His teaching about Himself and the Father.

Key Principle: Jesus came to offer and explain a walk with God – how God is “found” and how we can “follow” Him. He left a clearly marked trail to God.

Go back to the Upper Room with me. Huddle in the low lamp light and recline against the disciples as they listen to the words of the Master. The place smells of olive oil and lamb sop. As the Master speaks, the disciples lean in from their repose to hear every word. He seems “off” emotionally, and they don’t know why. Yet, if we listen closely, we will hear John 13 and 14 unfolding seven essential teachings of Jesus in the face of the closing hours of His training program for His men. In our previous lesson we looked at three of these lessons, After a brief review of these, we will unfold the rest of that last night address and together marvel at how CLEAR Jesus was about God’s plan and purpose in and through Him:

Consider from John 13 the first three lessons:

Lesson One: Jesus explained cleansing to His men as the basis of our relationship to God (13:4-20).

In the first lesson of the chapter, we were drawn to a basin and a pitcher of water. Jesus got up from supper, and girded Himself with a towel, and began to offer a living picture that flowed into a dialogue with a resistant disciple. Jesus explained the lesson would become clearer with time – and the men should not be frustrated with their lack of immediate understanding. He outlined the basis of our ongoing and growing relationship to God – showing that relationship rests entirely upon the cleansing work He would do for all of us. He called on the men to understand that our acceptance of His cleansing would be the beginning of our personal relationship to God. He wasn’t done with just a beginning, though. He went on to make clear that our continued growth IN God would depend on other cleansing that He was prepared to do as we needed it. The whole living parable of foot washing offered Jesus a way to point to necessary cleansing.

Here’s the point: You and I cannot find God on our terms. We cannot work through any series of religious or benevolent acts to earn favor with God. There is only one payment that God will accept – the work of Jesus as our substitute. He came as the Lamb to be slain for my sin, and anyone’s sin that will believe and trust what He has done. When we find God, the basis of our initial relationship with God is the continual cleansing work of Jesus. As we follow God, our growth and intimacy is dependent upon our willingness to confess our sin to Him and to one another. He cleanses – that is His primary work. He sweeps away the dirt that hinders us from falling into the Father’s arms – and makes it simply disappear. Not only that – but He alone has the ability to do it! There is no other way! That is why He clearly and undiplomatically said – “No man comes to the Father but by Me.” Cleansing from sin is the essential precursor to a relationship with God, and the necessary maintaining act to enable us to follow the marked path for life God provided.

Lesson Two: Jesus removed the cloak over the battle with His enemy (13:22-30).

During the meal, Jesus told the men that Satan was going to draw away one of their fellows, pulling him to betray Jesus and the disciples. Not all of the men were truly with Him, He warned. Darkness would have its moment soon. Betrayal was at hand, and it would come from one that shared their bowl, their boat and their business together. No one else detected the presence of the WICKED ONE as he slithered into the heart of Judas Iscariot, but Jesus felt his evil presence. Jesus knew the deceiver was at work, and the powers of darkness were weaving a web to ensnare Him.

Herein is the lesson. The men were eating and drinking, but they were NOT able to peer beyond the veil into the spiritual world. They could understand comfort and wine, food and fellowship – but not the true spiritual battle that was firing darts into the heart of one of their closest companions. They saw the physical, but ignored the spiritual. They grasped the human, but snubbed the eternal. Jesus pulled the cloak from the enemy and announced his ugly presence. The Master knew that men would need cleansing, but they would also need to recognize the incredible truth: LIFE IS NOT AS IT APPEARS. We are not simply a string of DNA passing through the strands of a randomly interactive universe. We are, as we have ever been, created and temporal physical beings with an eternal soul. Our body is our TENT, not our PERMANENT HOME.

Jesus knew that for His people to follow God, they would need to be shown the markers of the spiritual struggle. They would fight constantly, but not against mere flesh and blood. They would stand against the powers of darkness – and they would need to learn to see what they were really fighting.

Lesson Three: Jesus explained His course – it began with a departure (13:31-38).

Jesus knew His men would have a fight on their hands, but He also knew it was about to get harder for them. They could not count on His physical and embodied presence to guide them, or keep them together. In fact, they needed to recognize that He needed to depart the scene for the rest of the drama of human history to play out as it was designed by the Father. He warned them of His departure to assure them that it was not a surprise to Him. He also pressed two essential truths. First, He told them the marker that defined them before men was to become their LOVE for one another. His desire was NOT for them to scatter – but to draw more close to one another in His absence. Second, they needed to be careful about one other terrible enemy, potentially as harmful as their spiritual FOE- their own EGO. Jesus wanted them to know that NO WILL POWER was sufficient to carry them through the days and hours ahead. They would NEED each other. They would need to care for one another in their wounds. They would need to be HUMBLE and not BOASTFUL, other person centered and not self-centered.

Let’s progress past the first three lessons, for there are yet FOUR MORE that we have invested no time in yet. Not surprisingly, they build on the last chapter – because it was the same speech, the same room, the same night – just a bit later…

Lesson Four: Jesus proclaimed His coming – leaving had its purpose (14:1-6).

John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, [there] you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Every disciple in the “Upper Room” understood what Jesus was talking about when He said those famous words – but the meaning is less obvious to many of us today – especially if you are unfamiliar with ancient wedding customs of the Jewish people. If you opened the Encyclopedia Judaica and looked under “ancient wedding customs” – you would see a scenario that was just like what Jesus said in John 14.

He referred to the common custom of marriage as it was practiced at that time. If a man found a woman that he desired to marry, the proper form of the day required that he approach, not the woman, but her father. When the father found his request tolerable, they would begin to bargain for the “shidduchim contract” value of the woman – a compensation for the family’s loss of their daughter and her contribution to the family income. The family was about to lose one of their valuable field hands and helpers, and the family would need to be compensated. A ceremony followed to “cement” the engagement – including a presentation of bread and wine. Following that engagement, the man left to add to his father’s house. In a period within the specifications of the shiducchim contract, the man returns to take his bride. He has been away, but he has been preparing a home for his bride – the point of Jesus’ saying. In fact, the bread and cup engagement symbol is employed in the same setting by Jesus.

Here is the point: Jesus didn’t leave the men because He was tired of teaching them. He wasn’t abandoning them – He was working on their behalf in another place – preparing for their coming. He promised to rejoin them and bring them home to a wedding feast. Paul clearly caught the picture, because his instruction for the bread and cup recalls:

1 Corinthians 11:23 “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way [He took] the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink [it], in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

The return of Jesus, as well as His reason for departure was explained in advance of His arrest, just as the promise of His return was given PRIOR to the event of it. In the same way that the early promises were literally fulfilled – a literal death, burial, resurrection and ascension – so the return will be physical and literal. It will not be fulfilled in some indiscernible “spiritual return” to the world. Jesus is coming back. He promised it, and He will deliver on His promises – just as He did in the past.

Lesson Five: Jesus described His connection between Him and the Father in Heaven (14:7-15).

How can we make the bold claim that Jesus will return? How can we elevate this builder from ancient Nazareth to the level of one that can surpass time and space, and even conquer death? Jesus shared that His power came from His position – and that was ONE WITH THE FATHER. He said:

John 14:7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and [yet] you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how [can] you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater [works] than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do [it]. 15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

Take apart what Jesus said:

• To know Him was to know the Father (14:7).
• To see Him was to see the Father (14:8-10a).
• To hear and observe Me is to see the Father’s hand and power at work (14:10b-11).
• To believe in Jesus and His place is to be set to access great power (14:12).
• To speak to the Father in Jesus’ name offers us Divine access (14:13-14).
• To follow Jesus is to place Him above our will, and follow His commands (14:15).

No religious Jew could make a claim to have such a relationship. No rabbi ever did. It was unthinkable to place their binding rules at the level of the Father in Heaven. Jesus unflinchingly claimed a relationship with God that was a direct reflection of the Father’s will, the Father’s power, the Father’s access. The point is simple: Because Jesus was an “expressed image of God’s person” as the writer to Hebrews wrote – He can and will fulfill His word on our behalf. A human Jesus, a humble teacher, an honorable actor on humanity’s stage – leaves man LOST and UNFORGIVEN. Only one who is fully a MAN but yet God in HUMAN SKIN could fulfill the work of the Savior. He needed to be BOTH!

Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. …8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

The disciples were not UNSURE of His two natures. Go back and visit them after the Resurrection, and watch as Thomas kneels. The scene is from John 20:

John 20:26 “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace [be] with you.” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed.” 30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Just in case some cult comes knocking on your door and claims that what Thomas was doing was exclaiming “My God!” out of shock and not exaltation, take them to Jude 1:25 and remind them that early believers weren’t sheepish on the point:

Jude 1:25 (KJV): “To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

Let me press the point to be absolutely clear. Jesus wasn’t just a good guy that loved God. He was the very One who walked long before in the Garden of Eden. He was the very One who spoke the world into being (according to Colossians 1:16 and 17). He isn’t just some martyr and example – He is the expressed image of God Himself. To see Him is to see God. To hear Him is to hear God. To know Him is to know God. To reject Him is to reject God. He couldn’t have been clearer:

Mathew 28:16 “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped [Him]; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

  • If Jesus isn’t the Living Image of the Father – He is a liar.
  • If Jesus isn’t the embodiment of God Himself – He is unable to save us, and He won’t return for us.

Resurrection Day was a hoax, and our faith is a crime against an unsuspecting humanity. We are promising a bogus Heaven based on a fake Savior. You are all still in your sins, and Christianity should be outlawed and banned. Every martyr that ever died for the message was delusional and misguided.

But wait… what if the New Testament account is TRUE.

What if Jesus possesses the power to speak all things into being? What if He can make the promise of a return and then COME BACK? Are you prepared for that? Will you celebrate at the prospect or shrink back in guilt?

Lesson Six: Jesus explained the Comforter to come (14:16-25).

Jesus also claimed that His departure would not leave the disciples alone. He said:

14:16 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 [that is] the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, [but] you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. … 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “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.

No believer can afford to ignore the teaching of Jesus concerning the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of truth – and He is unavailable to those who will not follow Jesus (14:16-17). He is our constant companion until our Prince returns. Snow white was RIGHT all the way back in 1937: “Some day my Prince will come!” Until He does, I have a helper.

• He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
• He guides us into all truth (John 16:13).
• He glorifies and testifies of Christ (John 15:26; 16:14).
• He leads us (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18; Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1).
• He sanctifies us (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 5:16).
• He empowers us (Luke 4:14; 24:49; Rom. 15:19; Acts 1:8).
• He fills us (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17).
• He teaches us to pray (Rom. 8:26-27; Jude 1:20).
• He bears witness in us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).
• He produces in us the fruit or evidence of His work and presence (Gal. 5:22-23).
• He distributes spiritual gifts and manifestations of His presence to the body (1 Cor. 12:4, 8-10; Heb. 2:4).
• He washes and renews us (Titus 3:5).
• He seals us unto the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
• He is our guarantee and deposit of the future resurrection (2 Cor. 1:22; 2 Cor. 5:5).
• He reveals the deep things of God to us (1 Cor. 2:10).
• He dwells in us (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:14; John 14:17).
• He speaks to, in, and through us (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:11; Heb 3:7; Matt. 10:20; Acts 2:4; 8:29; 10:19; 11:12, 28; 13:2; 16:6,7; 21:4,11).
• He brings us liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).
• He transforms us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).
• He enables us to wait on God (Gal. 5:5).
• He strengthens our spirits (Eph. 3:16).
• He enables us to obey the truth (1 Pet. 1:22).

And someday, one day soon… He will shout out the great words that all Creation awaits:

• He exclaims: “Come, Lord Jesus” along with the bride (Rev. 22:17).

Lesson Seven: Jesus outlined the call to follow Him (14:27-31).

Don’t skip the final lesson before Jesus said: “Let’s get up and walk out of here”. The rest of the sayings are apparently from the walk to Gethsemane, as He journeyed out into the night. Linger in the room. Listen to the CALL to follow Jesus. It was the last place He shared this before the Cross that loomed only hours ahead:

14:27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28 “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 “Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. 30 “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; 31 but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.

Jesus gave a deliberate call:

• The call included walking in peace (14:27). His followers aren’t supposed to live a life that is shaken by the news and stirred by politics. They are to walk in certainty that His control cannot be outvoted or overpowered.

• The call included rejoicing in Jesus’ work (14:28). His followers are supposed to celebrate the joys of His work, His return to the Father, His preparation of our place in Heaven!

• The call included recognizing the greatness of the Father (14:28b). Real believers ADORE the Father in Heaven! They hunger to PLEASE HIM with their lives, and ache at the lostness of men and women. He is worthy of praise, and they LOVE to bring it to Him!

• The call included trust in His Word (14:29). True followers of Jesus believe His Word about the past reality of sin, the present of opportunity for intimacy with God, and the future return of the Prince of Truth!

• The call included moving out from the protection of the huddle (14:31). Our job IS NOT to become so comfortable that we forget to GET OUT! Walking through LIFE with Jesus is what should bring us joy. Ours is not to build a higher wall and more secluded monastery – the ministry is OUT THERE!

Jesus came to offer and explain a walk with God – how He is found and how we can follow Him. He left a marked trail to God.

In the Upper Room, Jesus offered seven clear statements about His work and its impact on our lives:

• Jesus came to build a bridge back to God by offering Himself for cleansing, then becoming our constant Intercessor.

• Jesus came to make sure His followers look PAST the physical battles and struggles into the SPIRITUAL ones that were fought in Heavenly places.

• Jesus came to offer Himself and then to implant His message in the church – His body is to be found in US – a thriving manifestation of His way of living.

• Jesus left a promise to COME AGAIN for His people – a real and physical sweeping of His people away as a bride to the wedding feast.

• Jesus came to explain and expose the Father in all His tenderness and power.

• Jesus left behind not only His people and His promises – but His indwelling companion of the Holy Spirit.

• Jesus left us with a CALL to follow Him in our everyday life.

Don’t get fuzzy on Jesus – listen to the clarion call of His words. You can have life and peace and truth. It is within your grasp, because His hand is out stretched…. And it was the same hand that was pierced in your place.

Knowing Jesus: "Getting to the Sharp Point" – John 13

sharp-point-closeWhen I get tired, I can’t seem to communicate as clearly as I want to. I was recently on tour with two groups, and taught all day, every day – an activity that I have come to love over the years. In spite of my passion, there are times when I understand anew the saying of Jesus about His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane when He exclaimed: “…the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” When my body gets worn out, I cannot seem to put a “sharp point” on my words. People ask questions, and the answer is in my mind, but won’t move easily to my tongue. Does that happen to you? I have found that one of the things that can snap me back into focused speech is recognizing the clock is ticking and the site closure is coming up fast. Let me illustrate what I am saying…

On a site in Jerusalem last week, I was teaching about “Jesus before Annas and the High Priest Caiaphas” at a home thought by its excavators to have been the house of Joseph Caiaphas. I was tired, and the second program was nearly completed – but I confess that I was running out of steam. I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t get it there. As we began, I breathed a prayer and sipped the last of my espresso – there is an excellent espresso machine at the shop beside the excavation – and I jumped into the site and the story. As I unfolded the story, I immediately became sharper. Some will credit the espresso “kicking in” – but I don’t believe that was all there was to it. I recognized that our time was slipping and this was my only chance to get through the story and make it clear. The impending closing time clarified my thinking and my speech.

I mention that story because that situation seems to be a noticeable element of Jesus’ speaking in the passage we will examine in this lesson, found in the Gospel of John, chapters 13. The Lord was in the last night of teaching His disciples in the Upper Room as He was facing His impending arrest by Temple authorities – in short, time was running out to convey essential truths. There really seemed much left to say by the Servant King – since the disciples were arguing about their own importance on the way into the room! Yet, the words of Jesus seemed even sharper – more penetrating – than usual. John recorded that Jesus knew the time was almost gone. I have to believe it helped Him to choose His words and clarify His presentation even more than usual. His sharp and crisp communication will help us see Jesus and His message with even more acute clarity today – and that is a real need.

You see, the longer I spend teaching Jesus’ life and words, the more I realize that many people have only a fuzzy grasp of Jesus and His ministry. They have a blurred focus of His purpose, a softened and muffled sound of His voice in their ears. These “last night” sayings have a clarity that can snap us into understanding of what Jesus wanted us to know of Him and His Father.

Key Principle: The closer you examine the record of Jesus in the Gospels, the clearer the purposes of God become.

To set up our story, let me mention from the first three verses of chapter 13, four important truths about the setting of Jesus’ sayings that we should keep in mind (13:1-3):

1) First, it was a time of high Messianic Expectation. John 13:1 “Now before the Feast of the Passover…” Passover always brought out the redemption hopes of the Jewish people. John 6 reflected that when Jesus fed thousands in Galilee “they wanted to make Him king”. Why? It was not just the food – it was the fact that Passover was near and national redemption hopes were high.

2) It was time for His departure – and He knew it. 13:1b: “…Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father…” As I mentioned a moment ago, Jesus knew time was short. Look carefully at each teaching, because Jesus isn’t adding any extras to the message. This is meat with no sauce, salad with no dressing.

3) It was a time of deep emotional sensitivity for Jesus. 13:1b: “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…and later in verse ”3 [Jesus], knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God…” Jesus was leaving the boys, but He was also heading HOME to His Father. These times bring a tear to us, even when the Cross isn’t in view. Departures are hard, and Jesus LOVED the men – John makes that clear.

4) It was a time when the spiritual conflict was about to become apparent. 13:2: “… During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, [the son] of Simon, to betray Him…” (compare the event in John 13:21). The setting of Jesus’ last interchange with Judas as a disciple take place on that night. The next kiss from Judas won’t be a friendly one. There is a battle for the redemption of men to be fought, and Jesus looked into Judas’ eyes and saw what He saw long before in the serpent in the Garden – the face of His creation empowered by His enemy.

The rest of the passage unfolds three essential teachings of Jesus in the face of the closing moments of His teaching time. Look at each of the three and I think you will marvel at how CLEAR Jesus was about God’s plan and purpose in and through Him:

Lesson One: Jesus explained cleansing to His men as the basis of our relationship to God (13:4-20).

The gulf fixed between God and man – the guilt of sin – needed to be cared for in a Divinely prepared cleansing. Jesus knew His death would provide that. His disciples didn’t see it. Here’s the truth: You cannot understand the basis of entering and remaining in the family of God without knowing how we get in, and why God allows us to stay. Recognizing what washed us clean and what keeps us in God’s grace is essential. Jesus started with a living parable – a “show” to His disciples to teach the truth of how our guilt and sin is washed away by His atoning blood.

The Example – a Living Parable:

John 13:4 …got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. 5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

Washing feet wasn’t an uncommon practice – but Jesus wasn’t doing it for the normal reason at the normal time. Jesus didn’t wash them to PREPARE them for a supper together, but rather to prepare them for what awaited them AFTER supper. The simple act of washing became the platform for the powerful truth Jesus wanted them to understand – their relationship to God was dependent upon cleansing – and it wasn’t something they could provide themselves or do on their own.

The Exchange – a Learning Partner:

6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, [then wash] not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all [of you].” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.

Peter objected to Jesus serving him – but that wasn’t what Jesus was trying to get him to understand. Pete thought the exchange was about SERVANTHOOD and VALUE – but it wasn’t. Jesus made it clear that Pete and the boys wouldn’t really understand the whole symbolic value of the lesson that day – it would happen in the FUTURE. Jesus made clear several things about the symbol:

First, cleansing was required if Peter would be a part of the future ministry of Jesus.

Second, there were two kinds of cleansing – a BATH (Greek: lou-o) and a WASH (Greek: nipto). This simple FOOT WASHING was not the same as the full cleansing BATH that made them initially clean, but was a smaller venue with some of the same effects.

The English translation signals the two were different words in the original language as well. I believe on close inspection that we can discern that the GREAT CLEANSING of Jesus occurs when we fall before His Cross and ask Him for salvation from our sins. In the case of the disciples, their choice was initially made to follow Jesus.

At the same time, there is ANOTHER CLEANSING that all who follow Jesus know they need. This is part of understanding the need for Jesus’ cleaning work as our intercessor and advocate before the Father. 1 John 1 says it this way:

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Third, you could tell which were cleansed by the ACTIONS of the men, not their proximity to Jesus. Judas wasn’t clean, but he had spent a long time with Jesus.

The Explanation – A Lesson Presented:

He began with a query: Jesus wanted to be sure they recognized that what He was doing was more than just a common custom, so John recorded His words:

13:12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined [at the table] again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?

He moved to a concern: The Master wanted to be sure the disciples would not think what He was teaching was an unimportant optional gesture – but something He intended them to mark, follow and remember.

13:13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for [so] I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor [is] one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Here is where the symbol can become confusing. Jesus’ symbol of cleansing was something they would do for ONE ANOTHER. How can that be? We cannot cleanse sin from each other, can we? If the teaching was about the SPIRITUAL TRUTH OF TWO KINDS OF CLEANSING, how could believers do this for each other?

To grasp the truth, you have to slow down and take the whole thing apart.

First, symbolic teachings have two levels – the physical and the spiritual. The physical level is what a believer can practice with another believer. The spiritual level is the truth the physical picture displays. For example, one of us can baptize you as a symbol of your coming into a new identity in Christ by acknowledging the Father, Son and Spirit’s work in making you a new creation. We can get in the pool or tank and do that with you, but we cannot do anything to aid the SPIRITUAL REALITY of the symbol. Believers can do the physical part, but the SYMBOL depicts a ‘GOD THING”. In the passage, followers of Jesus were told to do this FOR EACH OTHER in the physical sense (washing each other’s feet), but the cleansing depicted happens in HEAVENLY PLACES by the work of our Savior.

Second, don’t overlook that Jesus ended by making an overt statement about our nature to be too uppity to serve one another by completing the symbol He gave us. You and I are not to think of ourselves too highly to follow through on the physical symbol – since Jesus Himself did it for them.

Remember that believers were not only told to confess their sins to God, but were commanded to “confess your sins one to another” in James 5:16. Though we don’t forgive sins on God’s behalf, but we do help each other come to Him – and we mustn’t think we are too good to do it! Confessing faults to one another in a Biblical way requires both “confessor” and “listener” to humble themselves beneath the Cross. No one is perfect except the Lord Himself.

He added exclusion: Jesus didn’t desire all to follow the command – but those who intended to follow Him. Those who did not follow Jesus were not to be included, for the betrayer’s work was about to become clear.

18 “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but [it is] that the Scripture may be fulfilled, HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ 19 “From now on I am telling you before [it] comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am [He]. 20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.

Following Jesus requires a choice. We cannot live in rejection to His Mastery over our lives and yet act like His cleansing ignores our rebellion. We have to understand the His cleansing is for those who CHOOSE to follow Him. Salvation is for the SAVED, and intercession is for the WILLING. No one gets to Heaven by passivity – it is ALWAYS a choice to repent, and a choice to follow Jesus.

Let’s be clear: Jesus is the reason I am in the family of God. His blood cleansed me from my sin, and my belief in His work at Calvary was the energizing faith that God accepted. Yet, He is more than that. He is the reason I am allowed to REMAIN in the family. Though SIN is my constant problem, He is my constant advocate.

Lesson Two: Jesus removed the cloak over the battle with His enemy (13:22-30).

We live in the physical world, often unaware of the place of the real battle. We get disgusted with our government, or argue with our neighbor and forget that much of what we see is only the surface – the real battle is fought in Heavenly realms. The men who knew Jesus certainly saw Him as One with great power, but they had little understanding of the enormity of the battle field Jesus was operating on. At His birth, the Heavenly Army stood guard over Bethlehem – but we make them into Christmas card decorations. We don’t really focus as much on the spiritual warfare that is at the heart of the redemption story. Neither did the men in the upper room.

It occurs to me that you and I can follow Jesus through confusion of troubles and pains of the battle with sure confidence – if we recognize His knowledge of and power over events surrounding us. Confidence grows as we see His power and control over circumstances. Look back into the room with His disciples, and we can see an example of that:

John 13:21 When Jesus had said this; He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” 22 The disciples [began] looking at one another, at a loss [to know] of which one He was speaking. 23 There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell [us] who it is of whom He is speaking.” 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus then answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, [the son] of Simon Iscariot. 27 After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one of those reclining [at the table] knew for what purpose He had said this to him. 29 For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.

When Hollywood tries to depict the scene of the Upper Room, there is a great HUMAN DRAMA, as the embittered and conniving Judas whispers with the distraught and wounded Savior. What a great point of conflict to pull the hearts of any audience in a drama. Sadly, that falls far short of the true understanding of what was going on in the room. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. The betrayal wasn’t even something that started with Judas, or the Pharisees, or the Sanhedrin. The scene was physical, but the mammoth battle had been building since the Garden of the Fall. This wasn’t just a struggle between a teacher and a disaffected student. That doesn’t scratch the surface. This was the BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF MANKIND. Take another look:

• The troubled spirit of Jesus was about the MEANS of the betrayal – through a man He loved and cared for – just like Adam and Even in the Garden Long before.

• The confusion of the disciples over WHO exposed the small thinking of these men – that the issue was faithfulness to Jesus in their walking and talking with men. What was about to happen was far greater than a simple denial of Jesus (as in the case of Peter) or even the testimony of Judas against Jesus.

• Jesus made it clear to John who would be the vehicle of his arrest – and yet John didn’t really catch it at the time. There is no scene of John grabbing Judas by the tunic and forcing him to remain in the room – it simply didn’t happen. John got an idea that something bad was going to happen – but he simply didn’t grasp the size of the physical issue, let alone the spiritual one.

Before you write off John and Pete and the boys – some of us are still stuck in that mode. This very day there is a battle for the souls of men, women and children in our town, and perhaps even in the room where you are now sitting. It is easy to talk in THEORY about spiritual stakes and wars – but it is harder to visualize in OUR DAILY LIVES. Yet, the Bible is clear – that is where we live. The battle is joined. The enemy is warring to grab our nation, our education system, our public airwaves, our children’s hearts and our leader’s minds. For far too many believers, even now, we will only focus on the symptoms, the physical struggles, the human societal ills. We won’t see the battle for the soul of the man next door – but call him obstinate. We cannot see the teeth marks and paw scrapes of the enemy’s vicious attacks on our marriage partner – we just think they are in a bad mood. We are tuned to the physical when the far greater portion of the universe is the spiritual world.

Humanizing Jesus doesn’t tell the whole story. The Savior wasn’t a historical VICTIM of some mysterious plot that caught Him unawares. He knew exactly what was happening, and why. It wasn’t political intrigue that drove the story, but a battle for man’s redemption.

Lesson Three: Jesus explained His departure (13:31-14:6).

Jesus didn’t get kicked off the planet in the fight over man. He wasn’t defeated and dismissed. His exit was predicted, planned and even promised. He shared it beforehand to steady His followers, and help them learn to see His power and plan. We must recognize that we will not learn to anticipate His return if you don’t clearly identify all of the events as part of Jesus’ promised plan. Jesus opened an explanation with four truths:

First, He signaled the approaching time:

13:31 Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; 32 if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. 33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer…

Jesus wanted to prepare the men for the crushing blow that was coming to them as He was taken away, so He told them that He was aware the time was short. Perhaps they would listen more intensely if they thought they wouldn’t have more time together. What is DID was get them stirred up…

Second, He explained the coming confusion:

13:33b “…. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

What did He mean? They had followed Him for part of the last four years, journeying around the mountains of Galilee, back and forth from Jerusalem, and even to the reaches of the mountains of southern Lebanon. Where was He going? Why wouldn’t they be allowed to follow Him? He didn’t say. He just made it clear that what He told the others He was now telling THEM. I am leaving, and YOU cannot follow.

Stunned, they sat there. He kept going on – and this time He told them two things they would need to understand. The FIRST was what they would need for their journey without Him. The second was what they needed to recognize before they could take the journey…

He highlighted a need that would become essential for the days ahead – an identity marker:

13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus told the men that they needed to actively care for and watch over one another in the way that He had been doing. They were not to scatter. They were not to so embrace the priesthood of the individual believer that they didn’t see the need for the body in all things. They COULD NOT and WOULD NOT make it in the coming days if they didn’t stick together. Then Jesus said something that should rock our twenty-first century Christian world. He told them the BADGE of His followers would become their care for one another. He didn’t say the SIZE of their churches, the POPULARITY of their music, the DEPTH of their bankbook, the GAUDINESS of their Cathedrals, the SUCCESSFUL MARKETING of their publishing houses, the SLICKNESS of their literature would be their badge. He said the way they simply LOVED and CARED for each other would be their calling card. They would need each other, and they would recognize their need of each other.

Oh that we would see this as real in our time! That we who have been showered with prosperity would see with compassion those who have not had such abundance and we would share our love, our time, our resources – simply because we see them as valuable and precious! There is a special sweetness when God’s people see others through God’s eyes!

He exposed the disciple’s weakness – self confidence:

Here is the kicker. We are pretty self-sufficient. When you get right down to it, we can think our faith is about will power. We can quickly come to believe that if we just TRY HARDER we can walk with God. We make such proclamations and declarations. Listen to this:

13:36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.

Can you hear it?

• Peter thought Jesus needed to explain where He was going.

• Peter thought Jesus needed to share WHY Pete couldn’t join.

• Peter thought he could trust his WILL POWER to get him through the pummeling ahead.

Peter was wrong. We don’t have what it takes – so we need each other. We don’t have what is required – so we need humility. We don’t know what Jesus knows – so we need to trust Him and not expect answers NOW. What we have, is a TRUCK LOAD of distraction designed to get us to trust the PHYSICAL WORLD, and OUR OWN ABILITY.

Consider this story: Many years ago a preacher named John Greenlee wrote an article entitled, “Better Than Burning At the Stake.” The story is a satirical discussion between the powers of the wicked world.

A senior demon wrote, “I am truly amazed at you. Your methods are so antiquated that I can scarcely believe it. You and your ridiculous talk of torturing Christians. Can’t you see that those things don’t work anymore? It just makes them mad and then you can’t do a thing with them…“Catch up, you bungler. There’s a whole new approach to getting Christians to denounce the faith. And it does work! “It’s called TRIAL BY AFFLUENCE, for lack of a better name. The point is, it gets results. We’ve never seen anything like it down here around the ol’ Fire Lake. The Boss came up with the original idea and we’ve each adjusted it a little to suit our needs. It’s so simple you wouldn’t believe it! Here’s what you do. You take a good, solid Christian family so you can make the best example of them. Now start pouring on the ‘the good life.’ “Give him a boat, a camper, a good car, a decent house, several color TV’s, and an income that provides for more than what is needed in life. Add to this a couple of days a week he doesn’t have to work. Better yet, give him a three-day weekend. Pour on the goodies. Now watch him crack! And if you really want to get your laughs, listen to what he says. “Sooner or later you’ll hear him mention how God gave him all these good things. But while he is saying this, he’s hooking up the camper to be gone from worship again. Or turning on the TV to sit paralyzed instead of thinking or doing anything. We find that each week we give him a shot of play time, we’ve got him one step farther away from the tremendous power of our Enemy above. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before. Just goes to show you that our Boss down here can adjust to the times and the situation. He claims that the newest arrival on the scene, America, is almost completely in his grasp. And it’s almost solely through this new method of his. You’ve got to him credit, Lucie, old buddy. He’s never lost a country yet. So get going. This weekend should be perfect for us. Signed, Your Sinister Superior.” (Shared by Steve Shepherd, Sermon Central illustrations.)

I love looking back into the Upper Room. I have walked the streets of Jerusalem many times, and I never tire of picturing the events of the Passion Week. I love that God told us so much of the story.

The closer you examine the record of Jesus in the Gospels, the clearer the purposes of God become.

Knowing Jesus: “WDJD: What DID Jesus DO” (Seven Works in John)

wwjdYou have all heard of the WWJD bracelets – that abbreviate “What would Jesus Do?” I am entitling this lesson from the Gospel of John WDJD – “What DID Jesus Do?”

In our last lesson, we talked about the complexity that has replaced the church’s once simple message on finding God. The church is not the cause. In fact, stressful complexity appears to be a common characteristic of modernity. With all of our modern conveniences, I don’t think I am being dramatic when I say that the streets of our cities and towns are filled with tired people. How did it happen? We are the most technologically advanced people ever to inhabit the planet – but that hasn’t translated to a less stressed people. Perhaps our technologies are part of our problem. In an effort to save time, we may have unwittingly enslaved ourselves to the time saving and efficiency promising gadgets of modern life – and lost the simplicity that we once knew in the process. Consider the evidence. In her book, Alone Together: “Why we expect more from technology and less from one another”, Sherry Turkle offered some compelling, and yet careful studies about modern life. She wrote (p.279):

In the fall of 1978, Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, held a two-day retreat at MIT’s Endicott House on the future of personal computers, at the time widely called “home computers.” It was clear that “everyday people” …would soon be able to have their own computers…But what could people DO with them? …Some of the most brilliant computer scientists in the world…were asked to brainstorm on the question…tax preparation…teaching children to program…a calendar….games [all were mentioned].

She continued: “Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep US busy. It is as though we have become the killer app…”We don’t do our emails; our email does US. We talk about spending hours on email, but we, too, are being spent.”

Many of us complain that the simplicity of spending time together has been overtaken by a wave of unending, but commonly accepted interruptions.

We don’t pull up in a “drive thru” and expect a greeting from the server – because he or she is busy speaking to the person behind us who is just giving their order. We will get a hand out for the money, and a bag for the food – often with little or no human interaction apart from the almost indiscernible voice from the loud speaker when we ordered.

Many of us have come to prefer TEXTING over talking, since we can control the whole length of the conversation – and stay away from the time saving greetings and “niceties”. We can ask what we want, and get what we need – no extras.

We may enjoy contacting people all over the world via SKYPE, but we find ourselves checking our email in the background where the other party cannot see what we are doing. Look in the airport. Half the people talking to a small face in a window on their laptop are also playing cards or checking emails in another window.

The current generation has learned to “build themselves” in avatars and profiles, and wrestles with how to say enough to be included and interesting – but not enough to give up all privacy. Often the people lurking like spiders on the web are not the people we were intentionally addressing.

We have accepted that everything we watch, buy or show interest in can and is tracked – because we see the value of the convenience – even if the ads are numerous and distracting. At least they tailored to our interests!

Our children do homework with Facebook, IM, online games and the net constantly in the background – surrendering concentration to the gods of “multitasking” and unending connectivity.

Our email leaves work with us and comes home. The lines are ever blurred. WIFI is now in the skies with us, so that the office can always reach us. In spite of that, our inbox becomes a stress of “always feeling behind.”

Vacations are now a change of location, but often not a change of responsibility – because our instant connection goes with us. Technology speeds up expectations in our boss and our co-workers. Clients expect faster response time, and it is hard to maintain a true sense of what really matters – over what seems urgent.

Adolescents grow up with a constant attachment to their parents, not learning to make a plan, but recognizing the parachute of mom or dad is always lurking one text away.

We rush off to the grocery store, and then call our spouse to get an accurate list of what we went there to shop for. Fewer and fewer people walk through a grocery store without a cell phone at their ear.

This is not an anti-technology rant – just a set of observations that we seem to be willing to become an enslaved population of stressed, tired, and complicated people.

We don’t talk to the people in front of us, but always feel the need to be in touch with someone who may want to reach out to us. We favor the possible over the actual – the distant over the present. Young and old, we are surrendering both privacy and simplicity to a new lifestyle. Life is getting more complex with each device that promises to make us more efficient and more productive. We seem to know what we want, and we don’t seem to be getting it in what we have. The constant blaring light of technology has fed our need for constant adrenaline or a reaction of immediate boredom. We KNOW life isn’t supposed to run non-stop, but we feel “out of the loop” if it doesn’t. As a result, along with being the most technologically advanced – we are also the most exhausted and most easily bored generation of human beings ever on the planet.

Then we stop for an hour on Sunday morning and come into church and talk about God. We explore the Word and seek truth. We feel the guilt of being bored with a time to reflect, pray, and hopefully even think. The tendency of our lifestyle leads even worship planners to CRAM church meetings with sound, thought, and challenge. We struggle to find new ways to keep people engaged. Constant hunger for connection has both severed connection and brought us to a stress fracture. Constant stimulation has made us hunger for more constant stimulation.

Here is the heart of our problem – we were designed for CONSTANT CONNECTION – but not to our fellow man. We were designed to get affirmation and connection from our Creator – and His network is ALWAYS ON. In short, what we NEED isn’t what we think we WANT, and what we WANT isn’t what will WORK. We think we want ACTION and CONNECTION to EACH OTHER to feel important and affirmed. The truth is, that WILL NEVER SATISFY. The truth lies in an intimate and constant connection to the Creator –and only Jesus can give us that!

Key Principle: Jesus offers us a complete “always on” connection to His Father. His clear demonstrations help us see both HOW to know God and WHY we need to walk in intimacy with Him!

In our last lesson that introduced the Gospel of John, and suggested the church’s foundational message was this: You can have a relationship with God through the Person and Work of Jesus. I want to go back to that place, and remind us what we saw:

• First, we saw that John was intentional about what he chose to include in his teaching biography. He included only the things that would show Who Jesus Is – and then showed how believing them, and surrendering to Him, brings new life. We saw in John 20:30-31 that “these are written that you might believe.”

• Second, we noted that John’s audience was not one community, but two. The church at Ephesus contained a large component of “former pig eating pagans” that came to Jesus. They were Greek speakers and Gentile born. They were educated to believe that a man could be best known by the “philosophy that fell from his lips”. What they wanted to know about Jesus centered on knowing His WORDS – and last time we looked at SEVEN I AM SAYINGS to embrace what John included from the words of Messiah.

• Third, we also noted that another group joined the church at Ephesus. We called them the “kosher kids” – people that grew up in synagogue instruction and chose to live near kosher delis. They were Jews, and as such they were interested in what Jesus DID – because they believed in the SIGNS more than the WORDS of an individual.

“Seven Works that Show Who Jesus Is”

John opened his Gospel account with a statement of the Divine nature of Jesus – an announcement that Jesus is the Word that He created all that is. From the opening lines, John was pointed as he led the reader to recognize the essential nature of knowing Jesus. The rest of the first chapter was dedicated to following the movement of the first disciples from the “John the Baptizer Evangelistic campaign, Inc.” to “part-time” followers of Jesus. John, Jesus’ cousin, was a popular preacher before anyone knew Jesus’ name in the public lecture circuit. John had regulars – followers and students. He baptized Jesus one afternoon, and told everyone present that his younger cousin was the very Lamb of God that would take away the world’s sin. Five men found Jesus there, and began their relationship with Him. They would eventually become disciples.

Water into Wine (2:1-11). He transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary!

By John 2, these first five followers joined Jesus for a wedding, where He arrived on the last day of a seven day wedding feast. The account reminds “On Tuesday, there had been a wedding…” The Cana family apparently had insufficient wine for the later arrivals, and were deeply embarrassed. Jesus’ mother was in some way related to the planning or perhaps was responsible for the party – so she ordered Jesus to take care of the problem. She told the servants to “do whatever Jesus tells you” – and she walked off. They filled jars with water and dipped out EXCELLENT WINE!

The first work of Jesus in the Gospel record was TRANSFORMATION! Jesus took something as common as water, and transformed it into an exceptional quality wine for the wedding guests. Right out front in the story is this truth: Jesus makes the ordinary into the extraordinary! Ask any believer what happened when they surrendered to Christ. When they experienced the power and peace of God – their lives were forever changed. Their purpose changed. Their tone changed. Their direction changed. I have seen it time and time again- God performing incredible transformation on a life that was, by all accounts, ORDINARY up to that point…Consider what Peter and his mouth would have been if it weren’t for Jesus! What about Matthew the tax collector? Can you guess at Simon the Zealot’s life expectancy apart from meeting and following Jesus? These were just the FIRST – millions of transformed lives followed.

Long Distance Healing (John 4:46-54) – He requires my trust.

The end of John two and the beginning of John chapter three are set at a Passover feast in Jerusalem. Jesus left the first disciples for a time and wrestled alone with the Devil in the wilderness. He later met up with the men again at the feast in Jerusalem. John chapter three has since become a well-known chapter because it includes an important interview by a religious leader named Nicodemus – who snuck over to see Jesus one night and learn about a real walk with God in the face of his empty religiosity. Jesus told Nick that the only way to God was being “born again” – as John shows how the transformation theme was intended for PEOPLE – not just wedding beverages!

After the Passover feast, Jesus went back to the Galilee, in the north of the country. He passed through Samaria, and had a fascinating dialogue with an abused and neglected woman who was devastated by being passed from one man to another in a string of failed marriages. She was married and divorced five times, and was now with a man out of wedlock who showed that he didn’t care enough to have her accompanied to the well. Jesus tenderly showed her how to find the love she desperately craved – by opening her life to Him. Finally, He arrived back in the area of his youth, the ridges of western lower Galilee.

Returning to Cana, Jesus was known as “wine man” – the guy you wanted to invite to your party to keep the costs down. He was well known by now as a miracle worker – and people as far away as Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee were enticed to come to see Him to solve the intractable problems. One such man was a “Basilikos” or local ruler, who heard Jesus was back in Cana. His son was dying, and hope was slipping away – apart from a miracle. He left early in the morning to see the Master, and was told about 1 PM that the boy was made well. As Jesus healed the boy “long distance” –the man showed incredible belief in Jesus’ word. He didn’t depart until the following day – completely trusting what Jesus told him. In belief, there was no need to charge down the hill to verify the claim of Jesus.

John reminded his readers that Jesus DEMANDS trust from people to do His work in and through them. He is not content to have a half-belief and a half-surrender. Jesus wants us to “play all in” and take His Word at face value. What He declares is wrong – is wrong. What He directs us to do – we do. We trust His Word because of WHO He is – not because we always know how it will work.

Lame man healed at Bethesda (John 5:1) – He helps the abandoned.

Back to Jerusalem for yet another Jewish feast, Jesus visited the area north of the Temple Mount, at the area of the sheep pool and market. The Beth Zatha quarter may have been the area where Mary, His mother, grew up as a girl. The pools attracted the shepherds, the poor, and the feeble. As Jesus passed by a man who was thirty-eight years lame, He asked the man a critical question: “Do you want to be made whole?” The man’s reply is telling. He said: “Sir, I have NO ONE to help me!” Like the woman at the well in John 4 – this man was living life alone and hurt.

There he lay beside the large double pool, atop a pile of blankets and makeshift bedding. The people believed the pool was periodically stirred by an angel – signaling the opportunity for healing if one reached the water first after the stirring. The man stayed by the pools, ostensible to lunge in when he saw the water stir. Looking day after day at the deep pool – the lame man saw the distance down to the water, and the impossibility of getting out safely if he was not healed – and he hesitated at each opportunity. Without help, the man felt not only HELPLESS but HOPELESS. He felt forgotten. Jesus told him to “Get up, clean up his bedding, and walk home.” Healed, the former lonely lame man found himself in the middle of a controversy about getting up and cleaning up on Sabbath. He followed Jesus’ commands, but Jesus didn’t follow the rabbi’s versions of the Sabbath Law. The Pharisees, therefore, took the man to task, and then turned their anger on Jesus for performing the miracle on Sabbath. When they questioned Jesus and accused Him – He turned to them directly and identified Himself as the One they truly needed. He reminded them that John the Baptizer had testified of Jesus, and that the very WORDS of the Law were written of Him.

The Jerusalem leaders seemed far more interested in managing the timing of healings over seeing men who felt alone and abandoned HEALED AT ALL! Jesus made clear that the purpose of the Law was not to exclude men – but to help them understand God – seek God – and FIND God! Jesus saw a man who needed a helper and restored hope – and the Master gave Him both that Sabbath afternoon.

Loaves and Fishes (6:6-13) – His resources are inexhaustible.

The following spring, Jesus was back up north beside the Sea of Galilee, now in the prime of His “teaching and healing ministry” before the Galilean crowds. He had twelve disciples with Him now – and they were “full time” companions and students – living together and journeying as a group from village to village.

With Passover’s requirement of unleavened bread – the hungry crowds following Jesus found themselves on the Gentile side of the Sea without an accessible kosher bakery. Jesus took pity on the hungry hoards and decided this was a good time to teach His disciples an important truth. Before He performed a miracle, (just for fun) He asked Philip, one of His disciples, “Where can we buy bread for all these?” Philip made a crack about the amount of money it was take to feed this huge crowd, and Jesus took the five loaves and two tiny salt fish, and divided them for the whole crowd. Phil’s sarcastic comment became the platform for teaching.

Sadly, Jesus still had a distance to go to get the men who followed Him closely to understand His POWER – and this “problem” offered Him an opportunity to illustrate that to them. Problems that were insurmountable to them were mere inconveniences to Him. He made it clear… All the many people of the crowd ate and were filled. The disciples had to “clean up” – to walk around and collect all the leftovers in twelve baskets of scraps – one basket for each of them. Jesus made His point: You don’t need MONEY to follow Me, Phil – you need TRUST and you need UNDERSTANDING. When I see a need, I already have the necessary resources to care for the need. “My followers,” taught Jesus, “Can get what they need by listening to ME and following MY commands. Jesus has resources at His disposal that may be hard to spot at first – but Jesus knows how to DO what He sets out to do. His resources are truly inexhaustible. He started everything by creating “ex nihilo” – Latin for “out of nothing”.

Calming the Storm (6:16-21) – His power is unbounded to those who open themselves to Him.

Jesus fed the crowd to teach His disciples – but He could feel the crowd getting restless – wanting to crown Him King and pose that He lead them against the Roman occupiers. Jesus withdrew when He sensed the mood of the well fed crowd, and sent His disciples into the boat. He told them he would meet them on the Capernaum side, and they shoved off. Mark recorded the same story, and added an interesting single sentence that makes me smile- because Jesus has done this to ME a number of times.

You see, once the disciples got out of the water, the sun set. The wind picked up, and the small vessel was taking on some water. They began rowing to get back to Capernaum, but the wind was fighting them – pushing them out to the center of the Sea. Struggling, one of them looked up to see Jesus taking a stroll on the water. He must have chuckled under His voice when He called out to them: “Don’t worry! It is just ME!” I cannot see how that would have allayed their fears or reduced their shock. Sometimes to make a point, Jesus does the “knock you off your feet” thing. John picked up the fact that people ASKED how Jesus got with them since they left before Him and left Him no boat. As a follower of Jesus, though, my mind wanders to the one detail I want to know. WHY rock the disciples in the boat!?! Why not make the trip back after their lesson with the feeding of the crowds a SMOOTH SAIL? Mark helps out with this one line: (Mark 6:52) “…for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”

Jesus took the stability out from under the disciples because they FORGOT what it meant to be vulnerable- like the crowd they were just serving. They were hanging out with Jesus so much they were getting uppity and believing all the affirming things people said about THEM. They were lost reading their own good press. Jesus rocked their boat and reminded them – it is HIS POWER that we work in. His power is UNBOUNDED when we trust Him, follow Him, and CREDIT HIM.

Healing the Blind Man at Siloam (9:1-7) – He proves He WANTS to include me.

The next three chapters, seven through the first half of ten, are about a trip Jesus took in the Autumn of the year to the Feast of Sukkot, or Tabernacles. It is a great time of year. The grapes are all in full harvest. The country smells like wine. The bees are happy. The hottest part of the summer is beginning to show cracks of cold in the evenings.

Last time we mentioned in the “I Am” sayings the story of the man born blind. Jesus spit on the ground and told him to go wash off the mud and spittle in the pool of Siloam at the southeast end of town. When the man was kicked out for being healed on Sabbath – Jesus was there to tell him that a TRUE SHEPHERD isn’t looking for ways to HURT or REJECT the sheep – but to bring them in, huddle them close and protect them. Jesus WANTED to help the former blind man – not to exclude him. Christianity is, at its core, a message about RESCUE. The people that need it are often broken, and not the most desired of the world. Yet, Jesus grabs us and holds us close – because He LOVES to LOVE US.

Raising of Lazarus (11:1-45) – Even death is no barrier for Him.

A few months before the arrest of Jesus, the death of His dear friend Lazarus gave Him an opportunity to break through the barrier that terrifies many of us…the grave. Jesus is the answer to the six foot hole.

One day a man was talking to his grandson right after he had graduated from high school. And he asked, “My boy, what are your plans? What are you going to do with your life?” The grandson said, “I plan to go to college & then graduate from college. His grandfather said, “Great, what then?” “After I get out of college I plan to start my career.” “Fine,” said grandpa, “what then?” “Well, I guess I’ll get married & settle down & have a family.” “Fine,” said the grandpa, “what then?” “To be honest with you, I really want to make a lot of money, & have enough to save for a rainy day.” “All right,” said the grandpa, “what then?” “Well,” he said, “If I can, I plan to retire early & sit back & enjoy life. We’ll travel & see the world.” “All right,” said the grandpa, “What then?” “Well,” said the boy, “I guess like everybody else, someday I’ll grow old & die.” “All right,” said the granddad. “But what then?” Jesus is essential because it is the only thing that answers the question, “What then?” (sermon central illustrations).

Yes, Jesus has what we need – and His works have clearly proven that!

• He can take your bland existence and turn your life into something ETERNALLY POWERFUL for His kingdom. He can grab your life and make you something useful to your Creator. He can thrill you with the feel of His gifts flowing through you to change the lives of those around you.

• He demands that you take His Word seriously, but will do wondrous things in and through you if you do!

• He won’t leave you alone! He will not abandon you when your closest friend does. He will be the One connection you can constantly count on to be there.

• He has unlimited resources! When you see too many problems and too few solutions – Jesus has options that you have never dreamed about!

• His power can shut down any storm, and His might can confront any foe.

• He WANTS people who have done wrong. He DESIRES people who are broken. He LONGS to have you see the struggle of life is TOO GREAT to do alone. Religions try to make walls to keep people out – Jesus is a door to access Heaven – and He wants you IN!

• Even the power of death cannot hold Him down. He alone has conquered death. He can stand at the grave and LOUDLY PROCLAIM that death holds no power over His own. He broke the grave’s strangle hold on man – and we will live because He conquered death!

This is the Jesus of the Bible. He is tough but true, fair to us and fierce to His enemy. He is powerful and yet tender. He is inviting and yet unbending in requirement of trust and surrender. The message of the church must return to the simplicity of KNOWING AND SURRENDERING TO JESUS.

Christianity is NOT a religion. It is the relationship of knowing, loving and obeying Jesus as a means to a dynamic relationship with His Father. HE is what we need. No other relationship will replace one with God… The truth is that people won’t find happiness in constant connection to their web friends – they will use that to plaster over the lack of intimacy in their heart with the God that created them. That is what EACH OF US TRULY NEEDS. We can have that – but only in Messiah Jesus – and that requires that they both SEE Him as He is and RECOGNIZE His mastery over the world, and their lives.

If you look closely at Jesus, you will see that HE IS TRULY WORTHY of the surrender He seeks and you desperately need….I am aware that I have used this before. In fact, I use it on tour in Israel a lot. I LOVE this writing about Jesus…

As Don Moen said: “My friend, you can trust God! He is good, and He is good all the time! But as you focus on His goodness, don’t forget His greatness!! He is unparalleled and unprecedented – He is the centerpiece of civilization! He is the superlative of all excellence – He is the sum of human greatness; He is the source of Divine grace! His name is the only one able to save, and His power is the only one able to cleanse. His ear is open to the sinner’s call, and His hand is quick to lift the fallen soul. He is the eternal lover of us all – every one – and you can trust Him!

He supplies mercy for the struggling soul. He sustains the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes with the wounded and the broken. He heals the sick and cleanses the leper. He delivers the captive and defends the helpless. He binds up the broken-hearted. He is FOR you, and you CAN trust Him!

Jesus is the key to all knowledge. He is the well-spring of wisdom. He is the doorway fo deliverance. He is the pathway to peace. He is the roadway to righteousness. He is the highway of holiness. He is the gateway to glory.. and YES, you can trust Him!

Jesus IS enough! He’s the all-sufficient king! He is the King of the Jews. He’s the King of Israel. He is the King of Righteousness and He’s the King of the Ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of Glory! He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and you can trust Him!

And rejoice in this my friend, He is a Sovereign King! There is no gauge to measure His limitless love. There is no barrier to block His blessings outpoured! He is enduringly strong and He is entirely Supreme. He is eternally steadfast. He is immortally faithful. He is imperially powerful and He is impartially merciful. He is Jesus – God’s Son -and YES, YOU CAN TRUST HIM!

I wish I could more accurately describe Him, but He’s “indescribable”! He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistable. You can’t outlive Him, and you cannot live without Him! The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they couldn’t stop Him! Pilate couldn’t fault Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t conquer Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him! My friend, He’s the Alpha and the Omega – the first and the last. He’s the God of our future, and the God of our past – and we rise to speak His name again and again… Jesus, Jesus, JESUS! He is FOR US, and WE CAN TRUST HIM!

Jesus offers us a complete “always on” connection to His Father. His clear demonstrations help us see both HOW to know God and WHY we need to walk in intimacy with Him!