The Petition

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Last week, Pastor Mark told us that Jesus spoke figuratively. He shared with the disciples what was coming and told them soon He would tell them plainly. He reminded them of where He came from and where He was going. The disciples understood and firmly believed that Jesus was from God. Jesus tells them their sobering future included being scattered and left alone. He encouraged them by saying they have peace in Christ in contrast to the tribulation of the world. Jesus left them with the incredible truth that He has overcome the world. This morning, the time that Jesus has been referring to has arrived.

John 17:1-5 says, “Jesus spoke these things; and raising His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, so that the Son may glorify You, just as You gave Him authority over all mankind, so that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth by accomplishing the work which You have given Me to do. And now You, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world existed.”

Jesus shifts gears and begins to pray. The phrase, “Jesus spoke these things,” indicates a shift in the setting. For the moment, He has finished speaking to the disciples and He turns His attention elsewhere. He looks up in the sky and says, “Father.” Jesus does what many of us do in prayer. He tells God what He already knows. It’s a reminder to us that God is all knowing and all seeing. There’s encouragement for us when we pray in this manner. We’ll often quote Scripture to the Author of Scripture. We’ll remind the Promise Keeper of the promises He has made. We’ll affirm His characteristics by saying things like, “We know You are a God of love, justice, and mercy.” God knows these things, but it helps us have the confidence that He will hear our prayers and act on them.

Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come.” As you probably have figured out, this is not a reference to a specific time. It is the time of Jesus’ glorification. The time that all of history before Jesus has looked forward to. The time since that all history looks back on. “Glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” It is such a simple prayer with such incredible depth. To fully understand the depth of this prayer, we have to remember that, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (Jo. 3:17) As we have seen in John, anytime the Son is glorified, the Father is glorified. Anytime the Father is glorified, the Son is glorified. Remember too, that this specifically refers to the final glorification that will occur through what is to come. Jesus knows His days are drawing rapidly to an end. Jesus continues by acknowledging, “Even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” This verse can be challenging if taken by itself without looking at the surrounding verses. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” There are restrictions to this: this is not universal salvation. 2 Pet. 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” We know what Jo. 3:16 says too. In the matter of eternity, we know God’s desire, but we know not all will respond to the message.

Here we are presented with restrictions. God is the one and only. He is not one among many gods as some say. We would definitely acknowledge there are other gods in the world. Time, money, prestige, power. We would call that idolatry, but it represents the same thing. God is unique in position and authority and there is only One. Not only is He One and only, He is absolutely genuine and authentic. There is none like Him. But it’s not just God. You need to hold the same knowledge and belief in Jesus Christ. There is no way to bypass this. Gen. 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Go back to the first chapter of this book and read Jo. 1:1-5, 14. Since God created everything that we know, He gets to make the rules and you don’t get to change them to suit your individual desires. We don’t look at Scripture through a modern lens of cultural relevance where we change the fundamental tenants of the faith to make things more appealing. Speaking to God Jesus says, “Even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” The focus of this verse is not to limit those that come to Christ or to say that all will come to a saving knowledge of Christ, the point is Jesus has been given authority over those that respond to the message of salvation.

What’s the point? Jesus clarifies this point when He says, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Jesus is interceding to the Father on behalf of the people. “May know” is one word in Greek and it is the word ginosko that means know and understand. The only way to eternal life is to know God as the one true God. But that’s not all. Eternal life also means to know Jesus Christ who was sent by God. Being sent by God opens the door of understanding into the mission of Christ. In a basic manner, Jesus was sent, “To seek and to save that which was lost.” (Lu. 19:10) In a nutshell, that’s the primary goal for God. Look over at Rom. 1:16-25. God has planted a desire to know Him into every being created in His image. Knowing God is not some impossibility or pipe dream. We can know the one and only true God and we can know His Son. That’s the path to eternal life. Remember what Jesus said in Jo. 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There is no other way. Remember the theme of this book: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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.” (Jo. 20:30-31)

Jesus goes on to say, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work which you have given Me to do.” Jesus is speaking in the past tense of something that is still to come. It is finished even though it is not yet finished. This is the desire and confidence Jesus has to complete the mission He was sent to do. This is the last night Jesus will spend with the disciples. The work is complete, but suffering remains. Everything in His life has led to this moment and it is finished. The atoning nature of His death and resurrection are complete even though His death has not occurred. I know this is challenging, but Jesus is confident in who He is and the mission His Father has sent Him on. Everything He has done, the miracles, the teaching, the fellowship, the one-on-one interactions, His mannerisms, His personality, His character, His devotion and desire, His willingness, His obedience, His submission have led to this moment in the history of mankind. Jesus has glorified God while on earth. This is similar to the words of Paul at the end of his life when he told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

Continuing in prayer Jesus says, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Pay attention to the pronouns in this verse. In our opening verse this morning, Jesus prayed, “Glorify Your Son.” Jesus identifies Himself as the Son, God’s Son. He specifically asks God for the glory He had before the world was created. Remember the opening verses of this gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him, nothing came into being.” (Jo. 1:1-3) Jesus is specifically asking for the glory that He had before He stepped onto the earth. We know that Jesus glorified God in all that He did, but this glory seems to be a different kind. The glory Jesus had on earth seems limited in some way by our human understanding and restrictions. But Jesus knows and remembers the glory He had in heaven before the world was formed and He asks the Father to restore that glory. Through the glory of His death, Jesus would enable humanity to enter into the very throne room of God. But this isn’t some sort of morphing of Jesus into God. John paints the very real picture that Jesus is separate from God. It’s not just an idea or principle. Before the world was, there was God the Father and God the Son. They’ve always been two distinct and separate beings coexisting and coequal in authority, harmony, and glory. To help us understanding this challenging concept, let’s read what Paul had to say about this. Paul came after John. John interacted with Jesus during His ministry, while Paul came on the scene after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. They’re writing with different perspectives. John wrote before the church; Paul writes after the church has been established.

Jump over to Phil. 2:6-11. The key to understanding this passage is to understand the words used. Words like form as in “form of God” and “form of a bond-servant.” Form here means an outward appearance consistent with what is true. The form would express that reality perfectly. Then we have equality as in, “equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Equality describes how God and Jesus existed. We’ve seen from John the reality of their co-equal nature. The other key word is grasped. Jesus, “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Remember back to the garden during the pivotal moment when Adam succumbed to temptation. The serpent successfully cast doubt on the truth and both Adam and Eve desired to be like God. To be like God was not their right to possess. In that sense, they robbed God of what was rightfully His. When we go back to Paul’s use of grasp in Philippians, Jesus and God coexisted in an equal nature and so equality was not something Jesus needed to hold onto because He already possessed it.

Then Paul says Jesus, “emptied Himself taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We often want to know what was emptied.         You have to look at the entire passage. Paul says Jesus Christ is Lord in v. 11, but servant in v. 7. He says Jesus has the very nature of God in v. 6, yet human likeness in v. 7. The emptying refers to God becoming human: the Lord became a servant, and obedience led to death. Jesus emptied Himself of what was rightfully His. Emptied means to render void or of no effect or made Himself nothing. Jesus left His position of authority, privilege, and rank to become man. How did that happen? He took on the nature of a bond-servant and was made in the likeness of men. This represents a paradox. Being made nothing means adding humanity to deity rather than subtracting deity from His person. Challenging concept? Absolutely.

Let me see if I can tie it all together nicely. In John, Jesus prays to God the Father and asks that He be restored to the glory He had before He willingly left heaven and His rightful position in equality with the Father. His mission on earth is complete. Everything that needed to be done has been completed or has been set in motion to take place after His death. The thousands of years since the world was created and life began has led to this point in time. Jesus is ready, His time as a man is over. Although the actual events of the cross are yet to occur, they are as good as a memory for Jesus.

These few verses are certainly challenging. We are allowed into the prayer closet of Jesus as He readies Himself for what is to occur. Even though He knows what is to happen, we see His confidence in the will of God. What about you? We have the promises of God. Do we boldly and confidently pray that God’s will be done?

The Promise

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Last week, Pastor Mark presented the difficult concept of hatred for Christ and the resultant hatred for those who belong to Him. We’re not of the world so the world rejects us. Since the world persecuted Jesus, the world will persecute His followers. This demonstrates a hatred for Jesus and a resultant hatred for God. But even in the midst of that trouble, Jesus provided the promise of the Helper that would come; the spirit of Truth that comes from the Father that will testify about Jesus and that enables us to testify about Jesus too. This morning, Jesus tells His disciples some very troubling and confusing but hopeful words.

Our passage today is found in John 16:1-15. I encourage you to read along with me.

We start with a warning. Jesus begins by saying, “These things I have spoken so that you may be kept from stumbling.” Jesus provided a warning about what was to happen to them after He left. It was a very stern warning to keep them from stumbling. Stumbling here is a Greek term that refers to a baited trap. In this context, Jesus is warning them of the potential trap they could fall into because of the hateful treatment of the world. Being treated hatefully because of what you believe is something Jesus wanted them to be prepared for. He didn’t want them to focus on the treatment they received at the hands of others, but wanted them to be ready when the time came.

That sure is a lesson for us today. I think many believers still find it shocking when they are maligned for believing in Christ. What I often see is this can come from within the church as well as outside of the church. I’ll just speak of my own experiences. I have been criticized by people in the church over the way I choose to follow Christ. From my decision to abstain from alcohol, something I have the liberty to do, to my dogmatic stance on the validity of Scripture. I have been called to the carpet for things I have said that clearly and specifically align with Scripture. Jesus provides this warning so they won’t be caught off guard. Where is this hateful treatment going to occur? Here’s the shocking part: “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.” That’s a troubling statement. Unique to John’s writings is the word outcast. We need to be reminded that John was writing in the first century and synagogue worship was the practice of the day. The synagogue practiced at least two degrees of discipline. A member could be disciplined for such things as dishonoring or opposing a teacher of the Torah.  Or testifying against a fellow Jew in a non-Jewish court. This would garner you a 30-day suspension from the congregation, and that time could be extended. During that time, you had to use a different entrance to the synagogue and you had to wear certain clothing to indicate the suspension. But you could still go. For more serious offenses such as heresy, 60-day suspensions could be issued. Additional penalties included preventing the offending member from buying or selling, refusing to teach the offender’s son a trade, and refusing to heal them. Both these degrees of sanctions could be lifted by synagogue officials; it was not permanent. In Jo. 9:22, the parents of the man that was healed from blindness was threatened by this suspension. In Jo. 12:42, “Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.”

Outcast is a stronger word. Jesus warned the disciples that they would be expelled from the synagogue. They would be kicked out of the place that was supposed to stand for truth, godliness, and holiness. The ban would be a total and irreversible expulsion. That’s what the disciples have to look forward to following Jesus’ death. The rest of the verse is even more troubling when Jesus goes on to say, “But an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering service to God.” Zealots thinking they are doing God a service by killing people of faith. Simply kill those that are determined to have backward or heretical thinking. I know that’s challenging to comprehend given what we know, but look at some history. The first crusade was requested in 1095 by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in an effort to stem the advance of Islam from the Middle East into Europe. The belief was that this was a holy work and pleasing to God. Then there’s the Spanish Inquisition. They were looking primarily for heretics that converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism. That morphed into forced conversions to Catholicism.

There have always been misguided people in the world that passionately commit to something they deem is following the will of God. If you think that’s ancient history, let me give you a more recent example of this type of behavior. During the beginning of the pandemic, many people lived in fear of catching the virus that was fueled by global ignorance. This led professing believers to conclude that if you didn’t wear a mask or get the vaccine, you did not love people. Others said if you do wear a mask or get the vaccine, you were simply a sheep following the misguided notions of an overzealous and overreaching government.

In perhaps the most concerning movement that is happening all around us and gaining ground. Adherents to this way of thinking view the Bible as lacking authority in favor of personal belief. Feelings and emotions are emphasized over fact. Essential Christian doctrines that have long been held as fundamental truths are open for reinterpretation. Things like the virgin birth and the physical resurrection of Jesus, a literal hell, and the sexuality of man need to be viewed in modern context and not the antiquated views of an ancient text created by man. Historic terms are redefined. Terms like inerrancy, authority, and inspiration are redefined to mean what you want them to mean. Love is the ultimate characteristic of God and trumps all His other qualities including His hatred of sin. We cannot talk about sin because God is love so we must love everyone and this requires redefining sin. The primary focus of the church has shifted from the gospel of Jesus Christ to social justice. The idea that Jesus’ death on the cross is what pastor and author Steve Chalke termed cosmic child abuse. He abandoned the essential doctrine of plenary substitution. That idea is barbaric and unloving he said and we should focus our energy on promoting social justice and doing good works. To that I say, utter nonsense and bunk. What I described is progressive Christianity that is neither progressive nor Christian.

Jesus is warning the disciples that there will be people who think they are serving God by causing their death. Remember, He is preparing them for His death that will come at the hand of religious zealots who have concluded that Jesus is a blasphemer and the only solution is to kill Him. So what’s the root cause of this overt action against Jesus and His followers? V. 3 says, “These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.” Followers of Christ are getting thrown out of the synagogues because the Jews don’t know God. You cannot know God if you don’t know Jesus. Remember those incredible words Jesus said in Jo. 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” You can’t have a relationship with God unless you go through Jesus and the Jews reject Jesus. That’s the source of their anger, their hatred, and their hostility. “These things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” Persecution is in their future; there is no escape for what will come. Jesus wants them prepared and there is no indication that the disciples should run and hide. There is no indication that their mission will change.

Timing is everything and Jesus explains why He is just now telling them these things, “These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” The beginning refers to the beginning of their journey together. We’re now at the end of their journey together and Jesus is preparing them for what is to come. The disciples are having difficulty understanding what is going to happen even after walking with Jesus for nearly three years. There was no chance they would have understood this concept at the beginning. “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, “Where are You going?” If you remember, Peter asked Jesus “Where are You going?” in 13:36. In 14:5 Thomas asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” These are not contradictions to the earlier questions. It seems best to understand that our current passage occurs in a different setting. In the last phrase of Jo. 15:31, Jesus says, “Get up, let us go from here.”

For now, Jesus says, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” What Jesus has shared with the disciples is bad news to their ears. Of course, they’re filled with sorrow. All they know is the One they love, the One that loves them is going away and Jesus has been giving them warnings of what is to happen to them. Here’s the dramatic turn of events: Look at vs. 7-11. “I tell you the truth,” is like an oath. Jesus promises that it is advantageous for Him to leave. How will Jesus leave? Through His atoning death on the cross. This is the glorification of Christ that John has mentioned many times in this gospel. This triggers the arrival of the Helper. Look at the three things the Helper will do. He’ll convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. John spells it out and explains this. Sin here is the overarching charge of not believing in Jesus. Righteousness is the standard that the charge is given. Judgement is complete because the ruler of the world has been judged. Satan has many victories as the ruler of this world that we have seen in John. From his influence over the religious crowd to using Judas to betray Him. From our current state of affairs in this world through all the anti-God rhetoric and the lack of zeal that many followers demonstrate, we know that Satan stands condemned and all those that submit to the world’s powers stand condemned with him. Jesus says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples have got to be undone by that statement. They are in total confusion at what they have just heard and Jesus tells them there’s more, but they can’t handle it right now. Their hearts are filled with sorrow and there’s more coming.

The last three verses gives us insight into the practical workings of the Helper that Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth. Jesus’ words are spoken directly to the disciples, but have practical application to us. Take a quick read of vs. 13-15. The Spirit guides us to truth. As I have said on many occasions in our study of John, there is only one truth. There is not your truth or my truth, there is only absolute truth. The Spirit will guide you to truth, but you have to be open to it. You might have to change what you think is true to what the Spirit says is true. This is one of the challenges presented to us when we counsel others. I’ve referred to it as playing the Holy Spirit card. When someone tells me something like, “I feel led to,” what they are saying is you can’t question me because it is the Spirit that is guiding me. But wait, what the Spirit says is not independent of what Jesus says. The Spirit cannot tell you something contrary to what Jesus or God says. “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.” Anything you say that is contrary to God’s word does not come from the Spirit. I have been told some off the wall things that have been attributed to the leading of the Spirit. The Spirit, “Will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Thus completes what one scholar called the communication triad. God speaks to Jesus who speaks to the Spirit who speaks to His followers. That’s why saying something is from God that is not, is so horrible. I believe with all my heart that God speaks in this manner and can speak to our hearts through the Spirit, but He will never tell you something contrary to what He has said in His word. We need to learn to discern the difference in the Spirit of God and the spirit of this world. The Spirit of God is a Him and He is personal and you can personally know Him.

Jesus knows and understands the disciples are confused about what is going to happen in the next few days. Even though what He says is difficult to hear, He doesn’t want them to be shocked when it does happen. They’re going to be thrown out of the synagogues and made to be outcasts. They’re going to die at the hands of zealots that think they’re doing the will of God. The fundamental cause for these things is because of those that do not know God or Jesus. But Jesus also provides hope in the form of the Helper, the Spirit of truth that will speak the words of Christ that offer courage, comfort, and strength. But the Helper won’t come unless Jesus goes away. That caused great sorrow in the hearts of the disciples. All this is to happen and we are privileged to know the time, but for the disciples, uncertainty rules the day. As we’ll see, that uncertainty will be replaced with determination and resolve.

The True Vine

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Last week, Pastor Mark completed Jesus’ explanation of the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will teach us and cause us to remember the things that Jesus taught. Jesus encouraged the disciples by granting them peace. Jesus told them these things so they would believe. This morning, Jesus gives one of the most powerful metaphors in this gospel.

Take a look at our passage today that’s found in John 15:1-11.

We start with the symbolic nature of the metaphor. Metaphors are important in Scripture because it helps us understand difficult concepts. In Jo. 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” In Jo. 8:12, He said, “I am the light of the world.” In Jo. 10:7, “I am the door of the sheep.” In Jo. 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.” In Chapter 14, Jesus emphasized the relationship between the Father and the Son and what that meant spiritually and practically for the disciples. And now, Jesus once again uses a metaphor to help move the disciples from the love of God and Christ as it pertains to obedience to fruitfulness in the believer’s life. In Chapter 14, the comparison was love to obedience. Here the comparison will be fruitfulness and unfruitfulness. Jesus calls Himself the true vine. There are a number of fruits and vegetables that grow on vines including pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, and all melons. Particularly familiar to the disciples would be grapes that grow on vines and this metaphor would not be lost on the disciples. The fruit or vegetable that grows on the vine is dependent upon the vine to bring nutrients to the fruit that allow it to grow in a healthy, mature fruit.

Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” Fruit that has been designed to grow on a vine cannot grow apart from that vine. If you take a fruit off the vine, it will begin to die. In this metaphor, Jesus provides life giving nutrients to the fruit. Jesus goes on to say, “and My Father is the vine dresser.” In continuing the metaphor, since Jesus is the vine, then there has to be a vinedresser. Vinedresser is another word for gardener or one who cultivates and prunes. In order to have healthy vines, regular pruning is required. Why is pruning necessary? It gives the vine shape and structure. It controls the amount of fruit the vine produces. If you’re a vine, you need a vinedresser. Jesus says, “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.” According to Gardening Know How, “When it comes to pruning grapes, the most common mistake people make is not pruning hard enough. Light pruning doesn’t promote adequate fruiting whereas heavy pruning provides the greatest quality of grapes.” We know this is a real thing that occurs in the production of fruit.

In the church, we’re talking about a different kind of pruning. Remember the context that we are in. John is an evangelist and he wants to draw people to Christ. He’s still making the case for the abiding love of Christ and what that means in the life of a believer. So what are the branches and what of the branches that are taken away? This is not a case of saved versus lost, this is a case of fruitful versus unfruitful. When you consider the church, even in John’s time the idea of fruitfulness was important and it remains very important today. Pruning also means to make clean or cleanse. The gardener takes the time and effort to clean the vine, to prune it to help it grow more productive. The useless parts of the vine are cut away. The unproductive parts of the vine are cut away allowing nutrients to be directed where they are needed. It takes care to properly prune a vine. Cut too much and the growth could be stunted or otherwise negatively affected. Cut too little, and the vine can grow in the wrong direction. Unfruitful believers present a challenge to church leaders today as I’m sure they did back in John’s day. There is a need to identify unfruitful believers in the church. One of the primary problems in doing this is the blurry line of legalism and judgment. Invariably, the one that is challenged for their unfruitfulness will scream we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. To this, I of course would agree. The dilemma becomes do we really remove unfruitful believers from our midst? That’s not what John is saying and there are many other passages that speak to the real need for discipleship to take place.

Who is clean? Remember, John is talking to the disciples and He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Clean here means pruned like a branch. In verses 1-2, Jesus is speaking in generalities and now he speaks directly to the disciples. The obvious question is what words did Jesus speak that provided the cleansing? Given the context of this passage, there are no specific words, doctrines, or commands that Jesus is referring to. These are the general principles that have been taught for the nearly three years Jesus has walked with the disciples. Principles like Jesus being in the beginning with God and later appearing in the flesh. The miracles Jesus performed. The principle of the temple being destroyed and raised again after three days. The teaching that you must be born again to see God’s kingdom. The fact that God so loved the world that He gave Jesus as a free gift. The principle of love that was demonstrated to the woman at the well. The warning that people will only believe if they see signs. The principles of persecution and the promise that it is coming for those that believe in Christ. I could go on and on, but Jesus spoke and taught many things which are not recorded. Those are the words of Jesus that enable redemption that purifies the soul and makes one clean.

Jesus says, “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.” We have seen the theme of abiding before. John emphasized it in Chapter 14. Back in Jo. 6:56 Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” 1 Jo. 2:6 says, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” Abide here is in the imperative mood indicating it is a command. This isn’t an option for the believer. A branch cannot exist apart from the vine. A Christian cannot exist apart from Christ. A believer is completely dependent on Christ to be fruitful. There must be a consistent and direct connection to Christ to live the life that Christ intends. When that connection is severed, the fruitful life expected of a believer is not possible. We have truly experienced this during Covid. Covid revealed the hearts of people.

Jesus goes on, “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.”  This is very similar to v. 1, but Jesus uses pronouns to refer to the disciples and Himself. “I am the vine. You are the branches.” The disciples must be directly connected to Christ in order to be effective for the kingdom. Here’s the sobering conclusion: “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Remember, Jesus is talking about fruitfulness here. There is an expectation that we will actually do the things He has spoken about. Love others. Help others. Serve others. Teach others. This is all part of the discipleship model that Jesus lived out with the disciples. The flip side is, “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 sets up two groups of people: fruitful and unfruitful. Fruitful people abide in Christ: unfruitful people do not. Fruitful people are connected to Christ and grow and are nourished. Unfruitful people are not connected to Christ and wither and die and are cut off the branch. Those cuttings are gathered together and thrown into the fire. Fire often represents judgment, and in this context, it seems appropriate.

Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus provides the link of the abiding presence of Christ and prayer. Do you ever feel like your prayers bounce off the ceiling? Do you ever wonder if God hears what you are asking for? My experience is that this occurs when there has been a slide into unfruitfulness that can result from normal life. We’re not intentional about our relationship with Christ. The expectation is to abide in Christ, and we modify that to abide with Christ as long as we believe it to be possible. I would love to abide in Christ, Pastor Ian, if only I had more time. Our relationship with Christ is withering because we’re not connected. We haven’t put forth the effort in the relationship and we blame everything and everyone else for the problems and then we really complain when our prayers don’t seem to be making an impact on God.

Think about your prayer life for a moment. What do you consistently pray for? If you’re like many Christians, the prayer life is me centered. Prayers for your job, your children, your family and friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. When was the last time you prayed seeking God’s direction in your life? Praying for what God wants you to personally do for the kingdom? Our faith is an active faith, not passive. In other words, we don’t sit back and watch. The, “whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” that Jesus mentions is not a wish list presented to God like He is some kind of eternal wish granter. Biblical scholar G.L. Borchert says, “There is a direct connection between how one prays and the primary commitments of one’s life. Jesus in this core mashal demands that the fundamental commitment of a disciple’s life is abiding in him. That means that the model of Jesus in life and word must permeate the life and words of the disciple. When this happens, praying ceases to be selfish asking and becomes aligned with the will and purposes of God in Christ.”

Look at the results. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” There’s that familiar word glorified that we have looked at in depth. It’s not just fruit that Jesus wants you to have in life, it’s much fruit. Don’t get confused. God the Father is not glorified by your works of fruitfulness directly although that may also be true. The point here is that as believers, we are consistently abiding in Christ, we are connected to God the Father through Jesus and are bearing fruit, present tense, that proves our life is connected to Jesus and that glorifies the Father. Note the progression: salvation, abiding presence of Christ, fruitfulness, proof of life in Christ, glorification of God. Jesus then says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” You know with John the theme of love would be tied into this. Look at this progression: The Father loves the Son. The Son loves His followers. The followers love and obey the Son. Loving and obeying the Son means being loved by the Father. Being loved by the Son means loving others. 1 Jo. 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” In Jo. 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Here He says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” The order is reversed. It’s not a contradiction: love and obedience are so interrelated that you cannot have one without the other. V. 11 provides the conclusion to this great passage: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” We haven’t heard the word joy since Chapter 3. Jesus ties up this section nicely.

We started the passage with pruning. That can be a painful process, but in the end, proves very valuable to the productivity of the plant. In the metaphor, we are the branches, Jesus is the vine, and God is the pruner. There is a direct correlation between the abiding love of Christ and the fruitfulness of a believer. Fruitfulness results from abiding in Christ and Him in you.

Abiding in Christ is connected to prayer. When you keep the commands of God, you demonstrate your abiding love in Christ. God is glorified by this entire process and Christ’s joy is in you and your joy is made full or complete, room for no more. We’ll see joy as a theme as we move forward in this gospel.

The Promise of a Comfortor

You can watch the video for this message here.

Last week, Pastor Zane told us how Jesus chided Philip for the request to show us the Father. Jesus told him, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Jesus reminded the disciples of the work He had done and tells them even greater works are to come. He challenges them to ask anything of the Father and it will be granted to them. The beginning verses of Chapter 14 are filled with great reminders of who Jesus is and are quoted often. This morning, Jesus dispels the myth that love conquers all and gives us insight into what it truly means to be a follower of Christ.

Our passage for today comes from John 14:15-24.

We start with one of the most critical conditional clauses in Scripture. Jesus starts by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” People can say they love Jesus, but a practical demonstration of that love is required. This is not a faith based on works. Does God expect perfect obedience? Disobedience is sin. 1 Jo. 2:1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” We have instructions on how to live, how to act, how to think, how to pray, how to fellowship with believers, and how to share the Gospel along with hundreds of other instructions, principles, and commands and God expects us to be obedient. 1 Jo. 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”  That’s an awful lot like, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  (Jo. 14:15) The keeping of God’s commands doesn’t save you; it is evidence of salvation – don’t confuse the two. When you read or study your Bible, do you ever feel like it’s just filled with a bunch of rules and regulations of what we can and cannot do? Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t lust, don’t overeat, don’t gossip. Do study, pray, rejoice, fellowship, love your brothers, love your enemies, memorize Scripture, give, honor, be hospitable.

But John goes beyond the do and do nots of Scripture. 1 Jo. 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” Burden means a heavy load; it is a cause for hardship, worry, or grief. The tax code is burdensome, but God’s commandments are not. In Matt. 23:4, Jesus blasted the Pharisees by saying, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” The Pharisees added restrictions that were burdensome to God’s people. Jesus did not and does not weigh down His children with meaningless restrictions. His commands reveal God’s heart for His children. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matt. 11:28-30) That’s the difference in God’s restrictions and man’s restrictions. God wants to affect change in our hearts to reflect Him: man seeks to control, to restrict, and to oppress. God’s standards are high, but they are achievable. How? What follows is a beautiful picture of a loving Father giving high expectations and then providing the way to make it happen.

Jo. 14:16 says, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” It would be cruel, heartless, and pointless to provide expectations that are impossible to attain. A key source of trouble in any relationship is unrealized expectations. I have dealt with this in every facet of life. People get dissatisfied or disgruntled over some issue they feel is being neglected. In an organization, it’s tied to morale. In a relationship, it’s tied to happiness. In a church, it often comes down to an exit. There is typically a common root cause: there is an expectation that is not being met. Your wife doesn’t cook like your mother or keep house like your mother. Your husband doesn’t earn enough money or spends too much time on the golf course. The pastor fails to call you or check on you following a hospital stay or sickness, or some other perceived injustice. Your favorite song isn’t sung often enough. These things can lead to unhappiness in relationships and job dissatisfaction. What I find curious is that no matter how bad a boss is, people still go to work. When leadership hears those grumblings, often second or third hand, and when confronted, the unhappy people say everything is fine and continue to grumble to their co-workers and friends. Often times, people don’t get dissatisfied until someone tells them to be. Unrealized expectations lead to unhappiness. When I challenge these issues, I like to ask something like, “What does that look like to you?” We have poor leadership. What does good leadership look like? We need pastors and leaders who really care about us and not just say they care. What does that look like?

When expectations take the form of perfection for everyone else, but grace and mercy for you, we end up with problems. I remember a woman got unhappy with Kari because Kari didn’t respond to an email in the manner that was expected. The reason I know that was that Kari received a reply email that said something like, “I thought you would have responded differently.” What that person didn’t know was that Kari had recently received a test that indicated her cancer had spread to her bones and more testing was needed. That’s the trouble with expectations, we tend to place high expectations on everyone else no matter what’s going on with them, but low expectations on ourselves. Husbands, if you expect a spotless house, have you considered hiring someone to help your wife clean? Or maybe lend a hand yourself? Parents, if you expect your C student to get As, have you considered hiring a tutor? Christian, if you expect your knowledge to get deeper, have you considered studying your Bible? Christian, do feel like you’re disconnected in the faith community? Have you considered faithfully attending Sunday School, church, and community group? Church member, if you feel some ministry is not meeting your expectations, have you thought about serving in that area? Church member, if you feel like love isn’t abounding, have you thought about demonstrating love to others?

God is not someone that expects us to walk the straight and narrow path alone. We were not meant to be alone. Of all the good things in the garden following creation, God said, “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18) Good here means complete. In order to complete the man, in that same verse God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” The woman was to be the helper in the marriage relationship. Jesus knew that we would have difficulties in this world as His followers and He didn’t leave us to figure it out without help. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” Notice the confidence Jesus demonstrates. When He asks, He knows God the Father will grant the request for this Helper. Helper is the Greek word paraclete and is also translated comforter, counselor, and advocate. John is the only biblical writer to use this term making it difficult to define. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “The use as a noun, attested in secular Greek from the 4th century B.C. in the sense of a “person called in to help, summoned to give assistance,” gives us the meaning of “helper in court.” In 1 Jo. 2:1, John says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” If we focus on helper, the meaning can be very broad.     Helper by itself falls short of the complete meaning. A helper is someone that assists or aids like a teacher’s helper. That indicates the teacher is in charge and the helper is subordinate to the teacher. Dr. Gerald Borchert says, “As a result of such problems with the various attempts at translating the Greek term, I prefer to use the transliterated form “Paraclete.” Even though it might appear to some readers that I have sought to hide in the enclaves of academic language, for the present I have yet to find an adequate English linguistic equivalent that is not encumbered with unnecessary baggage in the meaning of the options that are available.” Jesus says another Helper. That means that there has to be a current helper. Remember, we opened this passage with Jesus saying, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Then He goes into talking about a Helper because He knew the difficulty we would have in doing this and would need some very supernatural assistance. This other Helper would be a permanent fixture for the disciples.

Jesus identifies the Helper as, “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.” Truth is a main theme for John. In 1:14, John said Jesus was full of truth. In 1:17, grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ. In 8:32, John said the truth will set you free. In 8:45, Jesus told the Pharisees that He spoke the truth and they didn’t believe Him. In Jo. 14:6, Jesus said He was, “The way, the truth, and the life.” In John’s thinking, there are just two types of people. There are those that cannot receive the Spirit of truth because they don’t see Him or know Him. Don’t read into this. They don’t see Him or know Him and that is why they cannot receive the Spirit of truth. The disciples are a contrast to those that cannot receive the Spirit of truth. For John, there are Christians and non-Christians. Believers and unbelievers. Saved and lost. If an unbeliever came to the knowledge of the truth and accepted it, they are no longer in the world: they’re saved, and no longer an un-believer.

“But you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” This has been the source of some confusion by believers. The confusion lies with the words with and in. With gives us the meaning of alongside of. Kari has been with me for over 36 years as my wife. She has walked with me, has been by my side all those years. In context, someone has walked with the disciples and been beside the disciples and that can only be Jesus. Jesus was their Paraclete, their Helper. Remember, Jesus is preparing them for His departure. He says the Spirit is with them, but there will soon come a time when the Spirit is in them. It’s not a two-step process, it’s not a second portion. Think about it another way. If we have unbelievers in our midst, they can experience what it’s like to walk with people that have the Spirit. They can see the effects of the Spirit and will likely benefit from being in this type of community. Should those unbelievers move from belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life to belief in Jesus, the Spirit will dwell in them and they will experience first-hand what the indwelling presence of the Spirit is. If this is a bit confusing, hold on because we’ll go deeper when we get to Chapter 16.

When will this occur? Look at 14:18-21. Jesus clearly speaks of the future, but exactly when is defined only by the term, “A little while.” There will be a defining moment in time that will draw the line for the disciples. We know it is the cross, but the disciples continue to have difficulty grasping what Jesus is telling them. Honestly, this language is difficult to comprehend. “The world will no longer see Me, but you will.” “Because I live, you will live also.” “In that day, you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I in you.” Put yourself in their place. These are challenging concepts. Then Jesus reminds them once again that keeping the Lord’s commands is a practical demonstration of the love we have for the Father. Being in a relationship with Jesus implies a life of obedience. It’s not complete or accurate to say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t have to ________.” That blank is filled in with whatever behavior or thought that is in disagreement with Scripture. Jesus’ expectations are not keeping a list of rules, but a way of life that includes completely and wholly surrendering to His will for you. If you’re loved by Jesus, you’ll be loved by the Father. This is not earning God’s love. We know that’s not the case. Love is a defining mark in the relationship between Christ and His Father and since we love Jesus, that love would naturally be manifested to the Father.

“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” John wants to make sure the reader doesn’t think it’s the Betrayer that asks this question. This is a good question to ask and again gives us insight into the trouble the disciples are having with what is to come. “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” Does this sound familiar? How many times does Jesus need to tell them the same thing? This is the entire Christian package. Loving Jesus compels obedience. Obedience demonstrates a bona fide love for Christ. Since obedience demonstrates love for Christ, the Father’s love is guaranteed. This is the way of Jesus. Since the Father loves the person, Jesus and the Father will take residence in the believer. The abode mentioned here is the same word used in 14:2 when Jesus told the disciples that He was preparing a dwelling place for them. The Old Testament tabernacle that contained the mercy seat where God resided was replaced with the temple and soon the dwelling place of the Godhead will be the hearts of believers. The opposite is also true as Jesus says, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” If you don’t love Jesus, you’re not going to follow His words. You’re not going to be obedient. Since you don’t love God, you won’t be obedient, and God will not dwell in you.

The love of Christ is not earned or deserved. It is simply granted because every person is made in the image of God. Because He loved, we can also love. Jesus knew demonstrating love would be challenging so He made a way that enables us to keep His words. While He walked with the disciples, He was their helper, their guide, their leader, but He is going away soon and does not want to leave the disciples without help. The Spirit of truth will soon come and enable the disciples, and us to fulfil the expectations Jesus has for the life of obedience that He commands us to have. After all, this is the life that will demonstrate that we are God’s children.

A New Commandment

You can watch the video of this message here.

Last week, Pastor Mark shared that Jesus had become troubled in spirit. The disciples are together in the upper room and the end is getting closer and closer for Jesus. There was a betrayer among the disciples and the disciples were confused with each one wondering if it was them. Peter asked the pointed question, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus gave a morsel of bread to Judas indicating it was he who would betray Jesus. Satan enters the body of Judas to take possession of it, and the disciples are confused over the meaning of the morsel. Judas leaves the meeting and enters the night. This morning, we’re still in the upper room and Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment.

Take a look at our passage that’s found in John 13:31-35.

After Judas left the meeting, “Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” All that Jesus has taught, all the places He has gone, all the words that have been spoken, all the people He has met have led to this moment in time. This moment in time is connected with the departure of Judas and sets us up for a summary of the introduction to what is known as the farewell cycle that follows. Jesus is left with eleven disciples. They have just finished a meal together and Jesus took the form of a servant by washing their feet. Everything in Jesus’ life has been orchestrated for this moment.          All the anticipation, the dread, the heartache, the sorrow is set in motion by the time phrase, “Now.” John speaks often of Jesus’ glorification. When Jesus became flesh in Jo. 1:14, John said, “We saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus gets His glory from God in Jo. 5:40, 8:54, and 17:5. Jesus consistently directs glory to God in Jo. 7:18, 8:50, 11:4, 13:31, 14:13, and 17:1 which indicates that what He accomplishes is for God’s glory and not His own. Jesus has chosen the way of obedience. As painful and heart wrenching as this is, the glory of Jesus will usher in the coming of the Spirit of God when Jesus will return to the right hand of God from which He came.

As we saw in Chapter 12, glory is the Greek word doxazo which means praise. While we are all familiar with that word, it is difficult to define. Praise is to cause someone to have glorious greatness, to make gloriously great or to glorify. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, glory denotes divine and heavenly radiance, the loftiness and majesty of God, and even the being of God and His world. That dictionary goes on to say, “in relation to God it implies that which makes God impressive to man, the force of His self-manifestation.” To help us understand this very challenging concept, the Bible often uses the power of nature. To get an understanding of the power of God in nature, take a look at Ps. 97:1-6. Incredible. In Ezekiel’s vision, he saw the heavens opened and saw, “A storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.” (Ez. 1:4) Ex. 24:17 speaks of the glory of God that looked like a consuming fire on the mountain top. One more in Ps. 29:3-9. the glory of God is nearly impossible to define because our efforts fall short to describe what is indescribable.

And if it weren’t challenging enough, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately.” This seems like a circular explanation. Jesus is glorified. God is glorified in Jesus. The verb glorified here is passive and intransitive. That means the actions of God are not separate from the actions of Jesus. Jesus acts as God’s representative on earth. Anything that Jesus does brings credit to God. In other words, God has revealed Himself in the person and work of Christ. God has revealed His willingness and desire to see the process of redemption affected by Jesus. In Jesus’ walk of obedience, God is glorified. The end does not have to arrive for the glorification to occur. It is an immediate result. Time is running out. As the time for reflection draws to a close, Jesus tells His disciples, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Little children is a term of affection. He’s speaking to them with love, tenderness, and compassion. In just a little while, He will no longer be with them. This is an undefinable period of time. It’s relative. As I get older, things I think happened a few months ago actually occurred a couple of years ago. Jesus is preparing them for His departure. This isn’t like taking a short trip. See you soon. Jesus is preparing to leave and they will not see Him again. The disciples do not have the luxury we have. They are not aware of what John writes in 14:1-3. Jesus told this same thing to the Jews. You will seek me. He told this to the Pharisees in 7:34 when He was teaching in the temple and again when they brought the woman caught in adultery in 8:21.

“You cannot come” relates to the word now. Now is in this present moment. It is separate from the past and to the future, but connected to both. Jesus has a mission. The disciples have a mission. Jesus’ time on earth is coming to the end, but the disciple’s lives are not. The work of Jesus will continue through the disciples. The testimony of Jesus will continue through the disciples. The teaching of Jesus will continue through the disciples. This would better be translated, “You cannot come right now.”

As the disciples ponder the idea of not being able to follow Jesus where He is going, Jesus lays a new commandment on them. This new commandment has to do with community. Community in our culture is a pretty big deal. Community can be defined as a group of people living together in one place practicing common ownership. We have community college, community libraries, community parks, and community centers. We have community policing. At Three Rivers, we have community groups. As new communities are established, those communities develop standards for interaction with one another. These standards take the form of laws, covenants, and ordinances. These are boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We see these boundaries on the local, state, and national levels. Rules and restrictions designed for the common good of the people and they can be written and unwritten. When new people come into a neighborhood, a school, a city, or a church, they try to bring their ways to what has been established. They want things done the way they are used to and this can result in confusion, tension, and chaos. When you get a large influx of people from elsewhere, those boundaries are sometimes disregarded.

The new commandment Jesus gives comes with a basic premise. He provides a foundational assumption that enables this new commandment. Sometimes it’s quite necessary to state the assumptions. When I first began searching for a position in ministry, in most of the ads I looked at, there was an assumption made. When you think of the qualifications for pastor, what are the characteristics churches look for? Education, experience, dynamic speaker, good communicator, a history of compassionate character one ad listed. To see if this trend continued, I looked at some job postings on a popular ministry job website. I looked at ten ads and only two mention something that I think most churches take for granted. The churches assume that someone applying for the office of pastor would have a credible confession of faith in Jesus Christ, but it is not listed. To be fair, the Bible is filled with assumptions based on the context of what it’s saying. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy when he annotated the qualifications for pastor, the assumption is that the person has a credible confession of faith, but Paul clarified the qualification by saying, “Not a new convert.” (1 Tim. 3:6) In going back to the Old Testament and Ex. 20, the assumption is the Ten Commandments were given to those people in a covenant relationship with God. Ex. 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” That’s where the Ten Commandments start. Then v. 3 says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

The assumption Jesus makes before He gives the new commandment is that the people He is talking to have a credible confession of faith which enables them to fulfill the commandment He is about to give. Here it is: “That you love one another.” This seems simple enough and pretty straight forward. Jesus will explain this command in the next phrase, but let’s look at the four words in the command, “You love one another.” You refer to the disciples specifically, but is applied to all followers. Men who have made a profession of faith. Men who have walked with Christ. Men who are growing in Christ, developing spiritual maturity and wisdom. Love is the Greek word agape that many people are familiar with. It is a present tense verb meaning it’s an action word with no assessment of completion. It is in the subjunctive mood meaning the action is probable or likely and it is also intentional. One another is one word in Greek and means another person. Love is one of the most common words used to describe an affection for something. It comes as no surprise to you that I love donuts, coffee, and chocolate, but you know that’s not what Jesus is talking about. Our frequent usage of the word love has watered down the actual meaning of the word. Websters give us nine basic definitions for the word love and then has 11 other sub-definitions. It’s a pretty complex concept.

In order to get a handle on this new commandment, let’s go to the greatest description of love known to man: 1 Cor. 13. The church at Corinth was a mess. Corinth was the chief city of Greece. The city was known for intellectualism, athletics, and culture. But the city had serious issues with idolatry and paganism. This was reflected in the church and divisions arose among the people prompting Paul to write the letter. In his letter, Paul addresses at least 15 specific issues and provides the solution to those problems. Before Paul defines love, he establishes what it’s like to be devoid of love. Look carefully at 1 Cor. 13:1-14. There’s a lot there to take in. Anything done without love, while it may not be sinful, is not necessarily Christlike. If the Corinthians would simply have demonstrated love to one another, a lot of the problems they had would not have been problems.

Too often in our society, we have allowed people that are incapable of biblical love to define what love is. 1 Jo. 4:19 says “We love, because He first loved us.” Apart from Christ, we can only demonstrate an incomplete form of love. Jesus qualifies the love by adding, “Even as I loved you, that you love one another.” How does Jesus love? Perfectly, completely, with no limitation, no restriction. Unconditionally, sacrificially, eternally. This new command to love is not so everyone will get along with each other although that is a really great idea. Love doesn’t mean no conflict as some may suggest. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Gal. 2:11) Paul referenced the disagreement he had with Peter in Antioch. There was such, “A sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39) between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark that they determined to go their separate ways. Love doesn’t mean always agreeing. Jesus’ primary reason for issuing this new commandment is given when He says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” A demonstration of Jesus’ love is what separates us from others, it’s what we should be known by. But you also need to understand other passages of Scripture that have to do with this same topic. In Mark 12, a scribe asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered with, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Now is the time that God is glorified in Jesus. Jesus is only going to be with His disciples a little while longer. He takes the time to teach them a new commandment that will truly demonstrate that they are one with Him. The disciples were to love one another the way Christ loved them. Christ’s abiding love is the reason they can actually achieve this level of love. It is something we should seek to do. It is not some intangible, unattainable goal. We are to love. All men will see the love of Christ that is in us and that will tell everyone who we belong to.

The Humility of Jesus

You can watch the video for this message here.

Last time we were in John, Pastor Mark told us that Jesus declared He was the Light of the world. If you can see Jesus, you can see God. Jesus said He did not come to judge the world, but to save the world, a phrase many misinterpret these days. God provided Jesus with the things that needed to be said to draw people to Him. The words of God that Jesus speaks bring eternal life to those that believe so Jesus will continue to speak to save those into eternal life. This morning, we’re brought into a very intimate and moving time Jesus has with the disciples.

Take the time to read John 13:1-11.

In Chapter 12, Jesus has dealt with His impending glory. In Jo. 12:23 Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He knows what is going to happen and I believe He is resolved to fulfil God’s plan for humanity. He said in Jo. 12:27, “Now My soul has become troubled, and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” Chapter 13 ushers us into a new segment in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Instead of being with the large crowds, the story shifts to more intimate settings with the disciples. We’ll see a number of encounters Jesus has with individual disciples and we get insight into their character and personalities.

Our time reference takes us just prior to Passover. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” Jesus knows the time is coming quickly for Him to leave His disciples and return to the Father. I’m reminded of John’s words way back in 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The Passover lamb is about to be sacrificed. His love for people is affirmed: “He loved them to the end.” To the end is better translated as utterly, absolute, or perfectly.

Jesus has known of His unique purpose for many years. Remember when He was left behind in Jerusalem? Joseph and Mary made the habit of traveling to Jerusalem each year for Passover. When Jesus was 12, they mistakenly left Him behind. It took three days to find Jesus and He was in the temple sitting among the teachers listening and asking questions. The grown-ups were, “. . . amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Lu. 2:47) After a rebuke from Mary, Jesus told her, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” They did not know and Luke says, “They did not understand the statement.” (Lu. 2:50) Jesus knew His purpose and knew what was to happen.

Our passage takes an ominous turn when John writes, “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him.” We know it’s before Passover, but we don’t know exactly when before Passover. The last time we heard the word devil was back in Chapter 6 when Jesus said He chose the 12 and one of them was a devil. Jesus spoke of Judas Iscariot who was going to betray Him. At this point, we are loosely introduced to how this is going to happen. The devil has placed the notion of betrayal into the heart of Judas Iscariot who is identified as the son of Simon. What is astonishing is that Judas has walked with Jesus for some time now and we have no indication that Judas is treated any differently than the other disciples. There’s no indication that the other disciples knew anything more about Judas and they didn’t treat him differently. Judas represents all that is wrong with humanity. Jesus knew this would happen and yet He treated Judas no differently than He did the other disciples. He knew Judas would rebel against the way, but He still loved Him with a perfect love. Jesus would experience the heart wrenching feel of betrayal at the hand of another yet gave him every opportunity to repent and turn from his wicked ways.

“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, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.” Jesus knew His mission. He knew what must occur to affect redemption for mankind. He knew the timeline as He grew up. We’ve seen in confrontations with the Pharisees that Jesus knew what He was about. In 8:14 Jesus told them, “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” Jesus transcends our definition of time and space. Remember, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jo. 1:1) To see Jesus is to see God. “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” (Jo. 5:26-27)

Up to this point, John has portrayed Jesus as God in the flesh, sent from above to carry out the will of God for humanity. The Word that was in the beginning with God, that took part in the creation of the heavens and earth that became flesh, that operates with the authority of God, the One that has the authority to execute judgment is about to do something that will literally knock the socks off of the disciples and also gives insight into another aspect of His nature. Jesus, “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. 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.” Foot washing was needed in those days. The roads were dusty and the people wore sandals. There were no socks or closed footwear. It seems strange to us that you would only wash your feet, but that’s all that was dirty. If you were a guest in someone’s house, it was only fitting that the host would provide a servant to wash his guest’s feet.  In referring to Abigail, 1 Sam. 25:41 says, “She arose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” In referring to a good widow, 1 Tim. 5:10 says, “Having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she washed the saint’s feet, if she assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.” Foot washing was a task reserved for the lowliest of servants.

Get the picture in your mind. Jesus and His disciples are sharing a meal. In this setting, the people would be reclining with their heads near the table leaning on their left elbow and picking up food with their right. Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe and picks up a towel and wraps it around His waist. He pours water in a basin and begins washing their feet. We don’t know the order that He did this, but I imagine there was some confusion about what was happening. Remember John the Baptizer didn’t consider himself worthy enough to even touch the leather strap that held Jesus’ sandal. When you’re in the presence of perfection, you can feel a bit inadequate. As Jesus goes about washing their feet, He comes to Peter. I imagine Peter has a look of horror on his face as he looks into the eyes of the King of kings and Lord of lords and says, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” You can hear the confusion in Peter’s voice. “Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” This is not the first time that people have been confused by Jesus’ actions or His words. Back in Chapter 7, the Jews were confused because Jesus said He was going somewhere the Jews would not be able to find Him. In Chapter 8, they were confused when Jesus told them He could make them free. Later in Chapter 8, they were confused when Jesus told them if they kept His word, they’d never see death.

Jesus acknowledges that what He is doing is confusing. It’s hard to understand now, but later they’ll get it. When you don’t have the picture to the puzzle, it’s hard to see the final product. What is ironic is that we have the picture of the puzzle in front of us with all the pieces, but have difficulty fitting them together. We say things like: “I don’t know how we can put it together.” “There are so many pieces.” “It’s too hard.” “It’ll take too long to finish it.” Sometimes we dump out the puzzle pieces and go at it with passion and zeal only to lose steam and give up. Sometimes we just quit because we’re not making the progress we think we should. If we stay at, if we invest the time and energy, if we persevere, we’ll see the completed puzzle and the picture will be completed. It may take years, but if you keep your eyes on the finished puzzle picture, you’ll see it finished.

Peter didn’t think over Jesus’ words. He didn’t ponder them in his heart like Mary did when the angel called her favored one. We don’t see him reflecting on those words. In that brief moment, it seems Peter sums up what many of us feel at times because he didn’t understand. We want to see the finished puzzle, but we lack the faith to see it through. Faith means trusting in God when you don’t know where the path leads. Faith means following the Lord when He doesn’t give you the route you will take. The opening verse of Hebrews sums it up by saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 1:1) Peter’s not having it and immediately voices his objection to the whole thing and says, “Never shall You wash my feet!” While the other disciples have got to be thinking the same thing, Peter actually says it. This incredible act of humility has completely undone Peter. Peter did not consider there was something more to what was happening. He thought he understood, but he didn’t. And he lets the Lord know this: never will you do this. Jesus’ response is equally immediate and conclusive when He says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” This verse has far greater implications than at first reading as we’ll see in just a minute.

So what’s the meaning behind the foot washing?  Jesus give Peter the conditional directive. We experience this all the time. They are known as conditional or if then statements. If you study, then you’ll pass the test. If you clean your room, you can go out and play. The opposite would also be true. If you don’t study, you won’t pass the test. If you don’t clean your room, you can’t go out and play. Jesus give Peter the conditional directive. If you don’t let me do this, you cannot be a part of Me. This is a scenario that has eternal consequences. Jesus is setting up the purpose for what He is doing. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Peter enthusiastically submits to what Jesus intends to do. To show that he’s all in, he asks Jesus to wash his whole body. But what Peter understands and what Jesus means are different. “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.” Bathed is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense in Greek describes a completed action which produces results that are still in effect all the way up to the present. It carries two ideas: a completed action and continuing results. If you have bathed, the only thing you need to clean is your dirty feet and you can rinse your feet off whenever it is necessary.

Here is the spiritual insight. If you’ve been bathed in the blood of Christ, you are saved. One bathing that has been completed that has continuing results to this day. It is done, but you still need to occasionally wash the dirt from your feet. Jesus is saying that if you are saved, you are clean, but you do need to regularly rinse the sin from your life. 1 Jo. 1:8-9 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is the lesson Jesus is teaching the disciples. He tells them, “You are clean, but not all of you.” It makes sense that Jesus has gone around the room and washed the feet of the 12. Since they’ve all had this done, it would likely be surprising to learn that one of them is not clean. And that’s because, “He knew the one that was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” The one that is not clean is Judas and he has already been identified as the betrayer in v. 2. Judas could have been saved if he responded to the invitation. At this moment in time, Jesus is stating a fact. 11 are saved and one is not. In his omniscience, Jesus knows Judas will not respond to the invitation, but that’s not causative. Remember, foreknowledge is not causative.

There probably is no greater example of Christ’s humility than this story. He took on the form of a servant even though He is a King. There is another school of thought on these verses that provide the lesson that we should be servants and have a spirit of humility, but while I think that is a good lesson, I don’t think that’s John’s intention. Pro. 30:12 says, “There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness.” At his core, John is an evangelist. He consistently shares the truth of who Jesus is with the intention of persuading the reader to make a decision. Have you been bathed in the blood of Christ?

The Greek Riddle

You can check out the video for this message here.

Last week, Pastor Mark told us that the people in Jerusalem heard that Jesus was back. The people wanted to see Him, but they also wanted to see Lazarus who they concluded was a walking miracle. The chief priests decided that Lazarus was just too dangerous so they decided to kill him too. The people welcomed Jesus back, who was riding on a donkey, with palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hearing about the sign of Lazarus, the people wanted to meet with Jesus. The Pharisees criticized one another because people wanted to get close to Jesus. This morning, we’re introduced to a group of people that have a desire to meet Jesus.

Our passage is found in John 12:20-26.

Passover is nearing and many people from all over come up to Jerusalem to participate in the feast. There are two words used for Greek in the New Testament. One is Hellenes that refers to people who live in Greece. The other is Hellenistai that refers to someone that participates in the Greek lifestyle and culture and speak the Greek language. The word used here is Hellenistai. A group of Greeks has come to Jerusalem to worship at the feast. When they arrive in Jerusalem, they waste no time in finding Philip. John reminds us that Philip is from Bethsaida of Galilee. Philip was the one Jesus tested in John 6 in reference to the large crowd that followed Him to Tiberias. That was the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves and two fishes.

The Greeks find Philip. Why Philip? Philip is a Greek name that means horse lover. It is likely these Greeks found Philip since he had a Greek name and probably spoke Greek. The Greeks tell Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The phrase “to see” is better translated meet. They want to meet Jesus. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, everyone wanted to meet Jesus. He just arrived in Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and it seemed many people heard about the miracle of Lazarus and they’re there in the hope of catching a glimpse of Jesus. The Greeks are outsiders in Jerusalem, but want to get to be an insider. They don’t approach Jesus because they probably can’t get close. But if they can make a connection with Philip, he may provide the opportunity to meet Jesus. We do the same thing. We want to meet someone so we find a mutual friend or acquaintance that will introduce us.

The Greeks are strangers in Jerusalem, but see Philip and make some conclusions. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.” People have gate keepers. These are people that have the role of determining access. Here at 3RC, Pastor Zane and I have Vicky. At the school, Mark has the front office staff. In the military, you can’t just go talk to the Commanding Officer, you’ve got to move up the Chain of Command. These people determine who will be allowed in. Way back in Jo. 1:40, Andrew brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. In Jo. 1:45, Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus. So this is the progression: the Greeks find Philip who finds Andrew who goes to Jesus. This is the exact scenario the Pharisees were concerned about in 12:19 when they said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”

At this point in John, something Jesus has alluded to arrives. It is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry. The long-awaited turning point and shift is upon us. Jesus says to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Everything John has told us has led us to this point.  The miracle of turning water to wine. The woman at the well. The healing of the royal official’s son. The healing of the lame man in the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The feeding of the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Jesus walking on the water at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus declaring that He was the Bread of Life. His teaching in the Temple that astounded all that heard. The test of the woman caught in adultery. Lazarus being raised from the dead. His declaration that He is the living water, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Light of the world, the Light of life, the door to God, the way the truth, and the life, and the Good Shepherd. These events have paved the way for this moment. “Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Who specifically is the “them” that Jesus speaks to is not clear. It could be the Greeks, the disciples, or both. The hour does not refer to a specific time as you have likely gathered.

The page has turned in His ministry beginning a new chapter. A new era has begun. It is now time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Son of Man is Jesus’ preferred way to identify Himself. John spoke of the Son of Man descending from heaven in 3:13 and ascending back in 6:62. Jesus is the one God gave authority for judgment in Jo. 5:27 because He was the Son of Man. The term Son of Man is far more significant that saying son of a man or sons of man. This is the Word that was in the beginning with God and who was God who became flesh and dwelled among us. It’s time for Jesus to be glorified. The glorification has not occurred yet, but is coming. It represents the last chapter of Jesus’ life on earth. It is the Greek word doxazo which means praise. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow! Praise him, all creatures here below! Praise him above, ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!” The doxology that is so familiar to many of us older folks was written in 1551.

Jesus marks this shift in His ministry by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus is the ultimate teacher. He knows and understands His audience. He adjusts His teaching to enable those that are hearing it to understand what He is saying. Have you ever been in a class and the teacher begins teaching and you have no idea what the topic is? You’re lost from the beginning so you drift off into space. You leave having no idea what was said. A good teacher knows his audience and will adapt the teaching to maximize learning. Jesus speaks about a grain of wheat dying; a seed. The people would understand this immediately. They knew planting and harvesting; they knew what it took to make plants grow. I once spoke at a dying church. I used this passage to relate to the tiny congregation what I believed would be best for them. If you take a seed and put it on a shelf, it will remain. No change, no hope, all alone. When the seed is planted in the ground, it dies. In its death, it ushers in the hope of new life, a new beginning, a new chance. The message was lost on that congregation and they remain on life support. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus speaks this short parable to point to His coming glorification. In His glorification: His death, burial, and resurrection will bring much fruit.

Jesus then says, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” This is one of those riddle-like sayings Jesus has used before. In Matt. 10:39 Jesus said, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” n Luke 9:24 He said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 17:33, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” The world tells us that we have to live life to the fullest. Achieve everything you can. We have entire industries designed for entertainment, for self-indulgence, for pleasure, for comfort and ease. This is an important principle that many today forget. Life in this verse is better translated soul. We know that life will end. We don’t know when, but we all know the day will come when we will breathe our last breath.

Many people, even in the church, are so bent on pursuing the things of the world, they’ll actually leave behind the most precious treasure we have. We who are followers of Christ know where our eternity is. Yet even with that hope, that assurance, that promise, we don’t take the time to prepare to leave this world. We pursue the daily requirements of life with little to no thought of what Jesus expects of us. Luke 9:23 says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Matt. 10:37-38, “He who loves his father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

What message are we telling our family, our community, our church or yourself when we consistently demonstrate our allegiance to the world? In the context of the passages I just shared, more and more people were following Jesus. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger and these were the things He said to them. He spoke of denying yourself. Of hating father and mother, son and daughter. He spoke of counting the cost of being a disciple, a follower of Christ. He related this concept to His listeners. Who doesn’t first sit down and make a list of what is needed to build that tower before beginning the project? What king doesn’t get together with his staff to talk about an upcoming battle to see if he can win? The truth Jesus spoke thinned the crowd. Truth tends to do that. The message we speak today is that you can have a foot in the world and a foot in the church. I’m here to tell you that is not true. Over the years, Kari and I have been on the receiving end of criticism because of decisions we’ve made. These decisions had no bearing on anyone making or sharing the criticism mind you. Choosing duty stations while we were active duty. How we celebrate Christmas. How we spend the money God has entrusted to us. Following a call to ministry. How we raised our children and where we sent them to school. Our decision to abstain from alcohol. A long time ago, I learned and held to Col. 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than men.” That became my life pursuit. That became a constant reminder of who I should be serving. That became the catalyst for life decisions. I find it difficult to exclude God from my life. I would find it difficult to know that I chose to follow other courses of action, while not sinful in themselves, were not what God intended for me. I’m not here to rain on your parade or be a killer of fun, but if you live your life with God as an afterthought, is that denying yourself? If you are so consumed with activities that you don’t have time to engage in the things of God, is that denying yourself? If you’re so busy that you don’t have time each day to develop your relationship with Christ, is that denying yourself? If there is so much on your plate, that you cannot serve God, is that denying yourself? Is your life so chaotic, that you don’t know which way is up? Do you thrive on chaos? Do you wear disorganization as a badge of honor? If you’re a professing believer and your life, that is supposed to be devoted to Christ, is no different than any non-believer, is that what God intends? To be clear, God is not against fun, pleasure, vacations, sports, extra-curricular activities or anything like that, unless that prevents or otherwise hinders you from being the person God wants you to be. I know the quick response is, “That’s not me, that doesn’t apply.”

So let me ask you a few questions. When was the last time you read your Bible and you weren’t in a church service? When was the last time you prayed that didn’t include a meal? How are you using your spiritual gift or gifts for the common good of the church? How are you serving? When was the last time you shared the Gospel? When our children’s ministry director has difficulty staffing our nursery, that tells me something. When we have people commit to doing something here, and then back out, that tells me something. When was the last time you heard of someone surrendering to be a missionary or vocational minister?  I don’t ask these questions to shame or guilt you, but to help you see that American Christianity is struggling. Jesus sums it up by saying, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” What Jesus teaches represents a paradox. This is a statement that seems to be contradictory. If you want to live life, you have to lose it.    If you love your kids more than Jesus, you’re not worthy. Service to Christ is a life of Christ marked by intentionality and consistency. You can’t serve Christ without following Him. Jesus is modeling the principle of self-giving. This teaching began with Him saying that the hour for His glorification has come. Jesus has gone to great lengths, and will continue to the end, to explain the need for His death and resurrection. This model of service is to be followed by His disciples. Take a look at Mark 10:42-45 and we’ll tie this up neatly.

We started with a group of Greeks that wanted to meet Jesus. What happened to them? They quickly disappeared from the pages of Scripture, but their presence brought in a shift in Jesus’ ministry; a turning point. He spoke of a death that brings forth new life. He spoke of living a life for Christ which requires dying to oneself. This is challenging teaching that begins the journey to the end.

The Plot Thickens

You can watch the service and message here.

Last week, Pastor Mark told us that Jesus arrived in Bethany and was met by Martha. There was sorrow, grief, and weeping and when Jesus went to the tomb where Lazarus lay, He wept too. There’s some talk about Jesus; second guessing. If He can open the eyes of a blind man, surely, He could have saved Lazarus. As Jesus stands in front of the stone closing the tomb where Lazarus was, He tells them to remove the stone. Martha protests by saying Lazarus would stink since it has been four days. When the stone is removed, Jesus commands Lazarus to come forth and he did. As one of Jesus’ greatest miracles ever unfolded before their very eyes, “Many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.” This morning, we’ll see the Pharisees formulate a plan to stop Jesus.

Grab your Bible and look at John 11:47-57.

Everyone knows you need to meet together to hatch out a plan. “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.” The major players of the day get together to formulate a plan. The chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council. The members of this council make up what is known as the Sanhedrin. Although we have seen allusions to this body in John, this is the first time they are mentioned by name. These are the ruling leaders in Jerusalem and we’ve seen them before. In general, the Sanhedrin was made up of seventy leading priests of the day who were mostly Sadducees. Also in the group were the rabbinic scribes who were mostly Pharisees. The ruling high priest of the year made member 71. In general, this body exercised authority over the religious life of the Jews. They were under the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities and we’ll see that played out more as we move on. The Sanhedrin play a huge role in Acts. They had the decision-making power to affect change that should be for the good of the Jewish people.

A council is called together to discuss a matter of great importance. In the opening verse for today’s message, I am drawn to the phrase, “What are we doing?” It is better translated, “What should we do?” or “What are we to do?”  Your version may have it translated that way. We have a council meeting made up of the leading religious figures of the day and they get together to discuss this cataclysmic event that has everyone talking. You would think that having one of their people die and subsequently raised from the dead would be big news and bring great joy to the people. Verse 47 has the council already meeting together and this is the first thing that is said. “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.” Of the 71 members of the council, we know of only one man that seems open to hearing about the true Jesus. We saw him first back in Chapter 3 and his name is Nicodemus. Later we’ll be introduced to Joseph of Arimathea (Jo. 19:38) and Gamaliel (Acts 5) who also looked favorably on Jesus. Jesus is performing many signs. Back in Jo. 2:11 we saw the beginning of His many signs when He turned water into wine. You would think the Sanhedrin would be happy about this. People are turning to Jesus and following the way. This is the way of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the way spoken of in the Old Testament. These signs are pointing to the truth of who Jesus really is: the long-awaited Messiah which the Sanhedrin were supposed to be looking forward to.

The reason for their concern is found in the chilling reason they admit with their own mouths: “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” This is a power struggle. Jesus has arrived on the scene and has upset the status quo. He is doing things the Sanhedrin say He should not do. He is saying things the Sanhedrin say He cannot say. The Sanhedrin cannot counter what Jesus says so they do what people do when they have no regard for truth: they seek to censor. Back in the day, we learned how to handle disagreements. We could disagree and maintain a respectful and courteous demeanor. We knew how to listen. We were willing to hear differing viewpoints and come to a well thought out, educated conclusions based on fact. What we are experiencing today is an attack on the very fabric of God’s design for humanity. Whether it’s global warming, animal rights, green energy, abortion, or plastic straws, divisions have been created – either real or perceived – because of a position someone takes. Why do these divisions exist? It is the source of everything that is contrary to God and truth. It is the root of every single sin and that is pride. Pride says my way is better. My way is right. My truth is what matters.

The real reason the Sanhedrin are so concerned about Jesus is they don’t want to see people follow Him because it would mean less power for them. Remember, these are the religious experts of the day. The reason they are so strongly opposed to Jesus is He did not come as they expected the Messiah to come. Even though He spoke as One who is in intimate fellowship with God and even claimed to be God, they could not see past their own misguided view of truth. The Sanhedrin reasoned if they let Jesus continue on this path unchecked, they would lose everything they had: position, power, prestige, and authority. This council was not as much a religious authority as they were a political authority. You’ve seen this same thing in today’s political arena. Elected officials that are supposed to represent the will of the people often ignore those that elected them. They’re unwilling to go against others even if it’s the will of the people. What’s funny is that in our system, if elected officials don’t do the will of the people, they’re supposed to be voted out.

The Sanhedrin had the same fear today’s political leaders have: loss of position, power, prestige, and authority. What we fail to realize is the reason for this. It comes down to the responsibility of the church and those that make up the church. The church’s primary mission is found in Matt. 28:19-20 that commands us to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is a two-step process. Baptize: this refers to presenting the Gospel message to people we come in contact with. Once people make the decision to accept the free gift of salvation, you teach them all that Jesus has commanded. This is where we have dropped the ball and this is one of the reasons society is where it is. The church is supposed to shape society, not the other way around. But when the people who profess a relationship with God through the door that is Jesus Christ look, act, and think no differently than the world, we have a big problem. Church leadership has a role to play in that, but at best, we have you with us about 5.5 hours in the week if you participate in Sunday School, corporate worship, CG on Monday and CG on Wednesday. There are 168 hours in the week. That’s just over 3% of your time. To put this in perspective, American spends an average of five hours 16 minutes on leisure activities including watching TV, exercising, and shopping – 21 % of our time. Included in that as an average of 11 minutes per day reading.

If the church would function as the church should, we would see the world around us change. We must make Jesus the focus and not the building. We must challenge people with the truth of Jesus and allow Him to be the force for change. We must carefully and intentionally move people from a salvation experience to an intentional daily walk with Christ. We do this in every other facet of life. We start with simple concepts and build on those. You cannot master complex concepts or tasks until you’ve mastered the fundamentals. We want to know the mysteries of God, but haven’t taken the time to know who Jesus is. We want to have some platform where people listen to us, but aren’t willing to take the time to listen to what God is telling us. The church needs to lead the way in helping people grow into who Christ wants them to be. Sometimes we can be like the Sanhedrin. We get jealous. That church has more people than we do. That youth group is stealing our kids. We lose sight of the big picture. the Sanhedrin were jealous and threatened by Jesus. Remember, they did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, didn’t acknowledge His teaching as from God, and thought Him to be at best a magician leading people astray, or at worst, the devil incarnate. In their zeal to maintain their position, they missed the Messiah.

As the Sanhedrin discussed this matter, Caiaphas the high priest says, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Caiaphas served as high priest from A.D. 18-36. He reasoned that Jesus had to die if Israel was to remain in Rome’s favor. The Sanhedrin just concluded that if Jesus continued on and gained more favor, the Romans would take away their nation. How would that happen? How did the Roman Empire expand? By force. John provides some clarification by saying, “Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation.” Caiaphas was right, Jesus had to die for the nation and die for all. This is an example of God using what He will to accomplish His will. John is saying that Caiaphas’ words were not from him. He didn’t come up with them on his own, but had to be directed by the power of God to say what he said. What Caiaphas seems oblivious to is that his words foreshadow what is to come regarding Jesus. It is true that Jesus must die for an entire nation and to gather all the children of God. But not in the manner Caiaphas means. Caiaphas thinks Jesus has to die to maintain the status quo of power the Sanhedrin have and to preserve the nation in which they are ruling. John means something far more eternal in referencing Jesus’ death.

The last part of Caiaphas’s prophesy says, “and not the for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” Not all of God’s children are in Jerusalem. They’re all over the earth. Remember the other sheep that are not in the sheepfold that Jesus spoke of in Jo. 10:16. Ps. 106:47 says, “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise.” Is. 43:5-6 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!” And to the south, “Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” Jer. 23:3 says, “Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of al the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.” Jesus will gather His children together. “So from that day on they planned to kill Him.” We knew where this was going. How are they going to do this? What’s the plan? Matt. 26:4 says, “They plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him.”

Now what? The loose plan has been established. Secretly seize Jesus and then kill Him. The Sanhedrin’s power would be maintained, Caiaphas would continue on as high priest, and all would be as it had been with Jesus out of the picture. While the Sanhedrin work out the details of the plan, Jesus makes a decision. “Therefore Jesus no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews, but went away from there to the country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there He stayed with the disciples.” Ephraim is about 12 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus retreats to Ephraim, out of the reach of the Sanhedrin, at least for a time. While Jesus and His disciples spend quiet time in Ephraim, “Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves.”  Things are getting busy in Jerusalem as people from all over the countryside will make the journey prior to Passover.

As Passover approached, John gives us a peek into the one tracked mind of the Pharisees and says, “So they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?” Will Passover give them an opportunity to seize Jesus? Will He come at all? Not leaving anything to chance, “Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him.” This reminds me of what was happening at the height of the pandemic. Hotlines were set up in some areas that people could call an 800 number and report illegal gatherings. They get the word out to report any sightings of Jesus so they could continue with their diabolical plot to kill Jesus.

Concerned over the rising popularity of Jesus and the message He carried, the Sanhedrin convened a special meeting to deal with what they viewed as a huge problem. If Jesus is not shut down, the Sanhedrin could lose all their power, something that causes them great concern. Unable to contain the growing popularity of Jesus, they decide the only thing to do is kill Him. As Chapter 11 comes to a close, we look forward to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the chronological pace of this gospel picks up. There is still a long way to go and it keeps getting better and better.

The Death of Lazarus

You can watch the video from this message here.

Last week, Pastor Mark told us that the Jews are still in opposition to Jesus. They went so far as to pick up stones to try and stone Him, but Jesus stopped them with a question: “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” It was not because of the works they said, but because of blasphemy. Jesus did say, “I and the Father are one.” If you don’t believe in Jesus, believe in His results; believe in His works; the proof is in His actions to show who He truly is. The Jews tried to seize Him, yet He eluded their grasp and went to the area of the Jordan where John was first baptizing. This morning, we look at a story that has been told throughout the ages. Songs have been written about this event and it has been incorporated into many passion plays.

Our passage for today is found in John 11:1-16 and I hope you’ll grab your Bible and follow along.

John starts with an introduction to a new family. This family is identified as Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They reside in Bethany which is located on the farthest side of the Mount of Olives on the road to Jericho and a couple of miles from Jerusalem. Lazarus is a familiar name to many believers and he is just one of two with this name mentioned in the Bible. The other Lazarus was a poor man covered in sores that was laid at the gate of a rich man hoping to eat the crumbs that fell from his table. That Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man died and went to Hades where he longed for a drop of water to be placed on his tongue. The moral of that story is there is a mighty chasm between the two locations and you can’t cross over. You can read all about that in Luke 16.

This Lazarus is sick and the specific sickness is not mentioned, but it must be bad. To help the reader identify who the story is about, John says, “It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” Remember, these words are not being written in real time, but a number of years after the event happened. References that are difficult for us to understand are easily clarified for those that would be reading this gospel. Because Mary was a very common name back then, John distinguishes this Mary as the one that, “anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair.” Mary and Martha are contrasted in Luke 10. Martha is portrayed as a worker while Mary was more of a worshiper. Jesus gently rebuked Martha after she complained about all the work she was doing without Mary’s help because Mary sat around listening to the words of Jesus. The description of Mary is also interesting because she is identified to the reader with a reference to a future occurrence. Jo. 12:3 speaks of Mary anointing the Lord’s feet with expensive perfume. The event is also recorded in Matt. 26 and Mark 14. Everyone knew what happened when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume in the alabaster bottle. Pastor Zane will tell you all about that next month.

With these descriptions of Mary and Martha, it is easy for the reader to identify who Lazarus is. Lazarus is sick, “So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” This is not unexpected and we get word all the time of illnesses that are affecting those we know and love. It’s much easier now to get the word than it was back in the day. A few scholars have argued that Lazarus is the author of this gospel because of the phrase, “He whom you love.” Using that logic, anyone could have written it.

The message is sent to Jesus informing Him that Lazarus is sick. “But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” At this point we don’t know if Lazarus has the sniffles, the flu, or some dreaded disease. It seems likely that something serious is going on because they felt like Jesus would want to know about Lazarus and likely expected Him to travel to Bethany. Jesus’ calmness seems to be in direct contrast with what I believe is a sense of urgency on the part of Mary and Martha. Lazarus is sick, but Jesus does not seem to be as concerned as Mary and Martha. Lazarus is sick and that sickness will not result in his death, “but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” How can God be glorified in sickness? How can Jesus be glorified through someone’s sickness? We’re going to find out.

        

The story now changes venue. John states the obvious by saying, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” That seems to be contrary to the next verse that says, “So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Jesus hears about Lazarus being sick. Jesus loves Lazarus and when He hears that Lazarus is sick, He spends another two days where He was. Why didn’t He drop what He was doing and go to Bethany? What was Jesus doing beyond the Jordan that was important enough to stay there?

What we need is some perspective. We often determine any delay in getting what we want to be inconvenient at best and cruel and heartless at worst. To help understand what I’m talking about, think about what aggravates you about waiting. It could be waiting in line at the grocery store. You enter the express lane so you can get out faster. Are you the one that counts the items that those in front of you are holding? We’ve invented all manner of conveniences that are designed to save time. From self-checkout at Walmart to scan and go at Sam’s Club. We have self-serve gas stations and ice cream counters. Quick Lube and Jiffy Lube to get your oil changed fast. Fast food restaurants to get you a meal quickly and they even have a drive through so you don’t have to waste time getting out of the car, but then we complain that the convenience of the drive through is inconvenient because the line is so long. We have over the counter medication that is time released so you don’t have to bother with taking it every six hours. Grocery shopping too inconvenient for you? You can order online and pick them up or if that’s too inconvenient, you can have them delivered. No time to plan your family’s menu? You can order preplanned meals delivered right to your door. Not only do we have emergency rooms, we now have urgent care and WebMD. Don’t want to wait for your test results to come back from the doctor? We have home tests now for pregnancy and Covid. Need a home loan, car loan, school loan? Get approved fast. Delay for us is not acceptable. Jesus stayed for two days beyond the Jordan after hearing that Lazarus was sick.

After the two days, Jesus says, “Let us go to Judea again.” Presumably, the disciples also know that Lazarus is sick. We don’t know if they questioned Jesus on not returning when He first heard that Lazarus was sick. Did they ask Him about the delay? What we do know is they were concerned for Jesus’s safety because they respond by saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and You are going there again?” We don’t know exactly how much time has passed since His encounter with the Jews about the man born blind. It can only be a short time based on the disciple’s response. “Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Jesus’ reasoning seems unconnected to what is going on. The disciples are talking about being stoned to death by the Jews and Jesus tells them there are 12 hours in a day. This is not a contradiction to a normal day, but refers to the amount of daylight available in a day. If you walk during the day, you can see where you’re going and you won’t stumble. Even on a cloudy day, you can see where you’re going because the light of the physical world provides daylight. If you try and walk around during the night, it’s dark because the sun is on the other side of the world. Walking around in Israel at night was not advised. It was rocky; paths were not straight, and overall, a person would have a challenging time not stumbling around.

This is all common sense, but the disciples are missing the real meaning and have battled with that since they began their walk with Jesus. Remember that light and dark are powerful metaphors for John. Nicodemus went to Jesus in the night so no one would see him. In Jo. 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Just a short while ago in Jo. 9:5, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” Physical light enables people to see, but the significance here is lost on the disciples. The disciples are suffering from what some of us suffer from: spiritual nighttime. Jesus said if you walk in the night, you will stumble. Stumble is linked to the idea of being offended as well as falling. In Rom. 14:21, Paul warned against causing a brother to stumble. In 1 Pet. 2:8, Peter said people stumble because they are disobedient to the word. As believers, we have the Light that will drive spiritual darkness away, but we sometimes put a cover over that Light.

Then Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of his sleep.” The disciples are in total confusion. They know Lazarus is sick and respond by saying, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” In other words, Lord, there’s no need to risk Your life, or ours, by going back to Jerusalem. If Lazarus is sick, he’s going to be fine, he will recover. People get sick, they get better. People get sick, they go to the doctor. They get some medicine and they get better. It seems Jesus has more information than they do as John tells us, “Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.” Lots of confusion can result from avoiding potentially painful words. Back when I received chaplain training on making death notifications, the emphasis was placed on precise words so there was no opportunity to misunderstand what was being said. There is no easy way to tell someone that their spouse or child or loved one has been killed or has died. They don’t pass on. They don’t go to glory. They don’t not make it. They haven’t moved on to another place. You have to be clear and it can feel cruel, heartless, and painful. There is a finality with death. It is irreversible.    Paul said death is our last enemy. (1 Cor. 15:26)

I imagine the disciples were quite confused over this whole scene. “So Jesus then said the them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” Clarity, finality, to the point, heartbreaking. they’re thinking Lazarus is sick and he’ll recover and they now learn Lazarus is dead. It must have been quite a shock to hear this news. There are some things we hear and we are cast down to despair with all hope lost. There are phrases we do not want to hear. the doctor says, “I found something and I’d like to run some more tests. It may be nothing, but I want to be sure.” We tend to focus on the word something and ignore the word nothing. There are phone calls we don’t want to take especially after the doctor told you more tests were needed. A diagnosis of cancer. There’s been an accident. It’s the suddenlies of life that catch us off guard and shock us when they happen. It must have been like that for the disciples. Lazarus is dead. What Jesus says next is something that seems really out of character. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were all known to Jesus and His disciples. Jesus calls him, “our friend.” Jesus says, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Were the disciples able to hear past, “I am glad for your sakes I was not there.” The disciples are still reeling from the news that Lazarus is dead and Jesus is glad that He wasn’t there. Jesus knows what is going to happen and knows that their faith will be strengthened. But for now, Jesus says, “Let us go to him” That’s what we do, someone dies and if we can, we go to where the family is. Just being beside someone offers some measure of comfort.

As if to put into words the hopelessness and despair felt by the disciples, “Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” That escalated quickly. Rven people outside the church know all about doubting Thomas. Talk about reaching an unfounded conclusion. Just because Lazarus died doesn’t mean anything. The disciples aren’t even sick. Before dogging Thomas too much, how many would admit that in the face of well documented proof, we also doubt? Something happens to us and we cry out, “God, why have You abandoned me?” Instead of seeking God’s wisdom first, too often we seek God as our last hope. God is not a God of last resort. He is not a God to run to when all else fails. He is our first choice. He is our hope. He is our confidence. Notice that Thomas encourages all the disciples to go back to Bethany even if it meant death. That looks like courage.

We are introduced to siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We learn they are friends of Jesus and the disciples. We learned that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, an event that is yet to occur. We learn that Lazarus is sick and Jesus is told about it, but remains where He is with the disciples for two additional days before traveling back to Bethany. Jesus told the disciples He was glad He wasn’t with Lazarus so they might believe. Thomas concludes that going to Bethany is a death sentence, but has the courage to make the short trip anyway. What will happen along the way? Will Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany safely? Join us next week to find out.

The Good Shepherd

Check out the video for this message here.

Last week, Pastor Zane taught us that Jesus told the disciples there was just one way to enter into the fold of the sheep. Jesus spoke of the doorkeeper who calls the sheep by name and leads them.

The sheep follow because they know His voice. The disciples didn’t understand and Jesus revealed that He was the doorkeeper. Jesus said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” Jesus finished by saying, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This morning, we’ll look at one of the most often quoted summaries of who Jesus says He is.

Our passage today comes from John 10:11-21 and I hope you’ll take a minute to read it.

Just before Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd, He spoke of the thief that only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. This is known as a triad. We’ll see it again in Jo. 14:6 when Jesus says He is the way, the truth, and the life. Paul was also known to use triads with faith, hope, and love being one of the most quoted. I mention this because of the contrast Jesus sets up in comparison to the thief. The thief has three purposes: steal, kill, destroy. But Jesus wants abundant life.

He says, “I am the good shepherd.” We often hear Jesus referring to Himself in the role of a shepherd. In a literal sense, shepherds were responsible for the safety, security, care, and feeding of the sheep that were entrusted to them. The role of the shepherd was so well known and so important, that the term also came to refer to political leaders. “It is I who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.” (Is. 44:28) “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15) “I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them: and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.” (Jer. 23:4) If Jesus is the good shepherd, that tells us that there are bad shepherds.

God has little patience for bad shepherds. Is. 56:11-12 say, “And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one. “Come,” they say, “let us drink heavily of strong drink; and tomorrow will be like today, only more so.” Jer. 10:21 says, “For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.” Jer. 50:6 says, “My people have become lost sheep; their shepherds have led them stray. They have made them turn aside on the mountains; they have gone along from the mountain to hiss and have forgotten their resting place.”

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” Good describes what separates Jesus from other shepherds. Good here means authentic or genuine. It’s very similar to the word true in Jo. 1:9 when John describes Jesus as the, “true Light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” John uses the word again to describe those that worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. (Jo. 4:23) John calls Jesus the true bread of heaven in Jo. 6:32. In Jo. 8:16, Jesus said His judgment is true. We’ll see in 15:1, Jesus refers to Himself as the true vine. In 17:3, Jesus calls God the only true God.  What does the genuine shepherd do? They’re willing to lay down their life for the sheep. This is in direct contrast to the shepherd Jesus refers to as a hired hand. “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” The word pictures Jesus forms here are quite intriguing. In a literal sense, there are limits to what a person will do when you have someone that is responsible for tending sheep that are not his own. Jesus explains this by saying what happens when a wolf comes prowling. Wolves love to eat sheep. Remember, Jesus is the good shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. The hired hand sees a wolf and runs leaving the sheep to defend themselves which they cannot do. The hired hand has no stake in the sheep because they’re not his. But it’s his job to protect the sheep. Why would the person take on the occupation of a shepherd if he isn’t willing to do the job? We see this all the time today. People hired to do a job that do it halfway. People that are only in it for the paycheck, not to actually do the job they were hired to do.

Jesus reiterates who He is by saying, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Jesus knows His sheep. The word know here carries the idea of factual knowledge. Think of someone you know. Do you really know them? What do you know about them? Do you know where they’re from? Education? Favorite foods? Background? Childhood ambitions? When it comes down to it, we say we know someone, but it’s a very surface knowledge. Jesus knows each one that is His. He knows all of the blemishes. He knows the ones that tend to wander. He knows the ones that need a heavier hand to guide. He knows the number of hairs on your head. The number of red blood cells in your body. He can draw your DNA without thinking about it. He also knows those that look like sheep, but are not. He sees the wolves that are disguised as sheep. He sees those that seek to hurt the flock. He sees those that do not have the flock’s best interests in mind.

Not only does Jesus know the sheep, the sheep know Him. The sheep look on the shepherd with love and trust. They will follow Him because they love and trust Him. In the same way that Jesus knows His sheep, the Father knows Him. The Father knows what Jesus is willing to do. The Father knows the love Jesus has for His flock because Jesus is willing to lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus let’s this flock in on a little secret: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold.” This has been the topic of much debate and the controversy surrounds the word fold. Fold here means sheep pen or enclosure. I’m not sure why there’s been debate, but it surrounds the Greek word that is used. Jesus said He had other sheep at the time, but were not in the sheep pen. Mormons interpret this to mean that Jesus was specifically referring to North America. But remember that the context has to be accurate for when it was written so this has to be interpreted in light of what was happening at that time so that interpretation does not hold water. It seems likely this refers to the Jewish Gentile division that was present at the time. The other sheep refer to Gentiles that have yet to hear the message of Christ, who have yet to make a decision to follow Him.

Of these people Jesus says, “I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” Now we get a bit more clarity. It seems that Jesus is referring to His main mission for stepping out of heaven. People will hear His voice and become part of the flock. Notice that it’s future tense, but it doesn’t mean everyone. This is not universal salvation and it’s not determination. There are people that will hear the voice of God and not become part of the flock. That doesn’t mean they can’t, it means they won’t. Keep with the metaphor: sheep know the voice of the shepherd and will follow that voice. The sheep know the shepherd represents safety and security and they will follow that voice they know and trust. Sheep are gathered into one flock under the care of the good shepherd. “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.” This is not the only reason the Father loves Jesus, and it’s the second time Jesus mentions His willingness to lay down His life for the sheep. Remember, Jesus is still contrasting Himself to the thief that steals, kills, and destroys. The good Shepherd is willing to lay down His life. This shouldn’t be taken as a casual reference to Jesus’ impending crucifixion. Remember Jesus knows His sheep. There is a relationship. That relationship is modeled in the relationship between the Father and the Son. That’s why God loves Him, but it’s not the only reason. If we go back to Jo. 3:16, the sacrificial death of Christ is a measure of the depth of love God has for humanity. We can’t stop there though. The good news of the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In 1 Cor. 15:4 Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain.” You can’t take up your life again unless you lay it down in the first place.

Here’s where it gets really deep. Jesus says, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” The it refers to Jesus’ life. No one took His life from Him. He willingly and voluntarily surrendered Himself in payment for our sin. His life was not demanded of Him. We can’t go back in time to peek into the conversations God had with Jesus before the foundations of the world were laid out. Jesus has the authority to sacrifice His own life for the sheep. But if He stayed dead, where is the power in that? Over the course of history, many people have offered their lives for the freedom and safety of others. Secret Service agents will take a bullet for the President and others they are sworn to protect. Our military go into harm’s way to preserve freedom or liberate people from oppression and harm – complete strangers, but fighting for the common good. Law enforcement officers run into situations to protect citizens. People in these profession die. They’re remembered as heroes, but their service ends. If Jesus had simply died, even in sacrifice, how could He continue as the Good Shepherd? He couldn’t. People can sacrifice themselves for others, but only the one and only true God can take His life up again in victory. This is presented as a fact that will occur in the future. Jesus’s death and resurrection are still months away, yet He speaks of it as a done deal.

“This commandment I received from My Father” is not a contradiction to the first part of the verse. The command from the Father was not that Jesus was ordered to sacrifice Himself. The command was that Jesus was granted the freedom to choose to do this. I recognize this is a very difficult concept to understand and I wish I could explain it more accurately. In Lu. 22:42 Jesus prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus had the freedom to simply walk away. That’s very hard to comprehend. One theologian said, “To cover this incomparable privilege with a veil of humility, he thought good to call it a command. The Father’s mandate was, Thou shalt die or not die, thou shalt rise again or not rise again, according to the free promptings of thy love.”[1]

Not surprisingly, “A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words.” In general, we’ve seen the division between two groups of people. The Jews represent the ruling body of the religious crowd: the Sanhedrin comprised of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had disagreements among themselves, but often united against Jesus. The two groups here are a bit easier to define. One group said, “He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?” These are the same Pharisees that are still there and have been since Chapter 9. Jo. 9:16 says, “Some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath,” but others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was division among them.” This had to do with the healing of the man blind from birth. Because they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, they characterized Jesus as a demon and that He was insane. This is a very common technique for people that have no defense for the claims they hear or that disagree with what they hear. We experience this all the time regarding a wide variety of topics. If you hold fast that there are only two sexes, you’re labeled homophobic or transphobic. If you think that people should be free to choose to be vaccinated or not, you’re labeled unloving. What it comes down to is an acknowledgment of absolute truth. There is truth or there is not. There cannot be your truth or my truth, only the truth. We need to stop cowering in fear for publicly disagreeing with the ever-changing, mind-numbing nonsense of our society.

The other group says, “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” This is the same conclusion that was reached about Jesus in 9:16 and the division remains. Their conclusion of who this man is in the proof of what He does. They’re not saying He is God, but they are saying that Jesus could not be demon-possessed because demons can’t open the eyes of the blind: demons cannot perform miracles. This group of people is beginning to believe. They are open to the possibility of Jesus being who He claims to be. The Jews are angry because His followers are growing in number.

Our message began this morning with Jesus describing Himself as the good shepherd. The difference between a good shepherd and a hired hand is the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Zech. 11:17 says, “Woe to the worthless shepherd who leaves the flock!” God loves Jesus because He was willing to follow the will of the Father in His plan of redemption. Heb. 10:10 says, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” This represents the new and better covenant in Christ. This is what sets Jesus apart as the Good Shepherd. This is why the Jews attack Him; this is why the people love Him. But it’s not all roses and rainbows. Next week, we’ll see another confrontation between the Jews and Jesus.

[1] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St. John (Vol. 2, p. 47). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.