In 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)