Study Notes 12-29-13: John 15:6-8

Below are my study notes for John 15:6-8.  We spent a good time this Sunday on verse 6 especially and dealt with the reality of God’s judgment and the converse blessing (eternally) of abiding in the vine.

15:6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Invisible and Visible

This is a reiteration of what was introduced by Jesus in verse two.  Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit it likened unto a person who spends their time attending church but never really believes.  These are the false Christians – they are the chaff, the weeds, the seed that lands on the hard ground and never takes root.

It is hard for anyone to read this passage and not think of Christ’s words from Matthew 13. In that chapter we read of Jesus’ parable of the weeds (among several others) and the power of that parable brings us to a place of fear and trembling.  Here are some excerpts:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36-43)

We have to distinguish between those who fellowship on a Sunday morning and superficially “attach” themselves to the vine (the church who is Christ), and the vine itself with its true branches.  There have been those who make a distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” church, or the “visible” and “true” church.  Theologically when you distinguish these two groups, it comes down to those who are the elect and those who are the reprobate.  Those who attend church for something to do on the weekends, and those are themselves joined metaphysically and spiritually to the body of Christ.

I stress here that we are not to be play the role of the angels here sorting through the crop.  Rather we are to be sowers of seeds and those who nourish the ground with the Word of God.

The second point in Scripture that this passage brings to mind is when the prophet Zachariah tells of a vision he was given of Joshua (the high priest at the time) before the throne of God.  In the vision, Joshua stands before God’s throne in filthy garments and is being accused by Satan. The analogy used to describe Joshua here resembles verse 6 of our own passage:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1-2, ESV)

This is the kind of defense that Jesus will offer us on that final Day of Judgment. He will stand for no accusation against His elect – for all accusations fail to hold weight against the balance sheet of Christ’s redemption.  What a great truth to know that He has plucked us from the burning and placed us before the Lord and clothed us in the righteousness of Christ (see the rest of Zech. 3 for a beautiful picture of this).

Getting it Wrong

One of the things we see from time to time in our everyday interaction with other evangelical friends – especially those brothers and sisters who worship in the Presbyterians tradition – is that instead of “playing the angel” they go in the opposite direction to the point where we see them baptizing even infants into the church.

This is not the same mistake as the Catholic Church, which believes their baptism conveys grace, and therefore salvation. The Catholics are completely in error and have been for hundreds of years, but it is not that error which we are addressing here.  Rather, the Presbyterians baptize infants from an outgrowth of a belief that the NT community functions as the OT community functions.  They (rightly) believe that the church will be a “mixed” communion with both wheat and tares, but (wrongly) see that as meaning that the church of the Old Testament will function as that of the NT with Baptism serving in the place and manner of circumcision.

This is a mistake of not applying the newness of the New Covenant to their ecclesiology.  While the OT congregation was marked outwardly by circumcision inwardly the people were missing the primary determiner of New Covenant membership: the indwelling of the Spirit. All it took to be part of the Israelite communion was obedience to the laws of Moses with regards to the ceremonial rites and so forth (most notably circumcision).  Of course God wanted their obedience from the heart, but He dealt with them differently than He deals with us – there is some discontinuity there (in other places I have dealt with the justification of OT believers as coming from Christ – they looked forward for their justification as we look backward to the cross etc.).

The New Covenant church is marked outwardly by love and obedience – this certainly includes baptism and the Lord’s Super.  But those are outward manifestations of the primary marking, which is new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is the new circumcision – a circumcision of the heart.

Again, I’m convinced that this problem we see in other evangelical denominations with padeobaptism emanates primarily from a lack of understanding and applying the newness of the new covenant.

The Outward Sign of a Brand Plucked

Lastly, as I write these words my own daughter Chloe Mae is going to be baptized tomorrow morning by our pastor.  I believe in the significance of baptism, and the reasoning behind it is clear – it is an outward sign that we have been joined to the body of Christ.  It is the proclamation of that spiritual truth to all who will listen.  It is the testimony given by a soul whose life has been raised from death unto life.

Although (as Ryle says) many have been attached to Christ outwardly through baptism or church membership, but have never understood the significance of what it truly means to be “in” Christ. First must come repentance and a true desire to set Christ above all things. A real affection for the Savior is kindled within your heart, and you cannot help but tell others of the gracious salvation of which you are now a recipient.  All of this is from the Spirit at the direction of the Lord Jesus, and for the glory of the Father.

15:7-8 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Prior Desire

We’ve studied something similar before in prior lessons, and we see this principle illustrated throughout Scripture – not simply in the NT but also in the OT as well.

When Jesus tells them that they will be granted whatever they ask its based on the presupposition (or prerequisite, you might say) that they will be asking for the right things because the words of Jesus will be “abiding” in them. When Jesus’ words abide in someone they change that person. Their desires are different because His words are powerful – they are “living and active.”

Take, for example, Psalm 37:4, which says:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
 

In this passage, David knows that the prerequisite for receiving what we desire from the Lord is that first we desire Him in the first place.

If you recall, I addressed this specifically in John 14 where we read the following:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

Here we see that the end goal of Jesus granting us what we ask for is that the Father would be glorified in the Son. The Father is glorified in the Son in three main ways. Here is an adapted list of what I mentioned previously:

  1. When we ask for things in the name of the Son, the Father is glorified in the lordship of the Son, because this lordship exhibits our desire to please Him, and mirrors the relationship that the Father and the Son have together.
  2. The Father is glorified in the Son because when the Son answers our requests He exhibits his power, mercy, grace, kindness and love – all of which are character qualities shared with the Father. Therefore, by His acts of love on our behalf, the Son exhibits the heart of the Father for His children.
  3. The Father is glorified in the Son because “whatever” He grants will be in accordance with the “greater works” (14:12) of the Son. In other words, when we ask for “whatever” we need, it is in the context of 14:12 and doing His works, which is to say that we are asking for His help to do His work. We are basically bowing before Jesus and saying, “this is Your work Lord, give us help to do this work of Yours.” The Father is glorified in this because it makes much of His Son and the Father’s plan and character (as we see in 15:8).

Consequently, this verse reminds us that we have a chief end in life and a real purpose for which we have been saved (Eph. 2:10).  I really can’t stress this enough because there are so many people in the world who don’t know the answers to these fundamental questions: what is the purpose of my life? Why am I here? Who am I?  Etc.  We not only know the purpose of our lives, but we know who sustains us, and keeps us until the end. This passage assumes we know these truths, and is a call for us to call upon Christ to for our help in our daily task of living for His glory.

Two Practical Takeaways

There are two things that are presupposed by Jesus’ words here that are most instructive.

First, we have to have His words abiding in us.  Which means we need to first be reading His word.  This only serves to underscore both the need for time in the word of God.  Here is Jesus, the Word incarnate, telling us something more than just a mystical truth (cf. Carson) having to do with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. There is truth by extension to the assertion that in order for His words to be abiding in us we have to devote ourselves to those words. That means time in the Word of God itself.

Second, to “ask” something of God is to be spending time in prayer. Jesus assumes that we will be taking our requests before the Lord.  Paul urges us to do the same:

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

And so in order to be a fruitful Christian we must recognize the importance of prayer and reading God’s word.  Interestingly, the more we realize and internalize the truth that we are “in” Christ and that He is “in” us, and in fact here with us right now, the more we ought to be driven to communicate with Him.

So here is the question: Do you ignore Jesus’ presence?  And do you seek to solve problems on your own strength, or do you consult the Word?  Let me tell you this, there are many within the church today who seriously think that ministry can be done apart from using God’s word as the dominant method for gaining wisdom and healing.  There are people in this very church who think that.  And I am here to tell you that they couldn’t be further from the truth.  If you are in a small group or “Bible study” which purports to be using the “latest” in trendy programs and yet considers the Bible as an adjunct part of the curriculum, then flee from that group my friend!  Run for your life.

There is nothing so powerful as the Word of God.  It is that abiding word used by the One who abides within us that will renew your mind, change your heart, and sanctify your soul.

Study Notes 7-7-13: Following Christ

Today’s passage takes us from the 26th verse of John 12 through verse 30, although we didn’t get much time this morning to discuss verses 29 and 30 and will do so next week.

This week we will be meditating on verse 26, and asking ourselves questions about the verse and asking God to help give us insight into its meaning. How, for instance, does it speak to our need to obey Christ? What does it tell us about where Christ is? What does it remind us of in terms of Christ’s own character? What does it really look like in my life to “follow” after Christ? And, perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves “where is Christ that I should follow Him to?”

John 12:26-30

12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Cost of Discipleship

When Christ says that those who serve him must also follow him, we can see plainly enough in the context of this passage, and the view to the cross he had, that this is a call for us to take up our cross. This conclusion is simple based on the fact that “where” He is can plainly be seen as suffering and death. Although there can also be a secondary meaning which I will explore in a minute.

The idea that we would be called by Christ to follow Him even to death had been enumerated at other times in Jesus’ ministry. For example Matthew 16:24-26 says explicitly, and ties well in with what Christ says in John 12:25:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What Jesus is saying here and in the John passage, is that we must obey His Word even if it doing so comes with difficulty. Obedience is not without cost. The life of a Christian is not promised to be easy. For one, we are constantly being put to the test, and molded by our Father into the likeness of His Son. This is a grand, albeit painful process. For two, we are identified with Jesus, which in this world can mean anything from snarky comments to the death sentence.

But what is wonderful about what Jesus is saying here is that the there is a real, tangible benefit to all of this difficulty – not only life itself, eternal life – but also honor from the father.

The Reward for Following Christ is Christ Himself

And so, that leads me to explore the flip side, if you will, of what it means to be with Christ where He is, because in a very real sense the verse above shows us that the reward of God’s people is God Himself. It says, “and where I am, there will my servant be also” and this, to me, seems to indicate that Christ Himself and His presence with us will be a great portion of our reward. For we follow Christ not only into the battlements of war here on earth, but also into the blessedness of heaven to come.

In his book ‘Holiness’ J.C. Ryle explains that our striving toward holiness on this earth is as much to please God here on earth, as it is to prepare us to enjoy heaven.  For heaven will be a holy place, and for those who imagine heaven as otherwise are quite mistaken.

“What could an unsanctified man do in Heaven, if by any chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” – J.C. Ryle

In his short discipleship book ‘In Our Joy’ John Piper talks about this, and its worth quoting him on this extensively due to the impact his own thinking has had on mine, and millions of others in this area:

Jesus bases our present joy explicitly on the hope for great reward. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He does not define the reward. But in the whole context of his life and message, the essential reward is fellowship with Jesus himself and with God the Father through him (John 17:3, 24).

There are several pointers to this understanding. For example, Jesus says to his disciples just before his death, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The indomitable joy that Jesus promises is based on his own presence: “I will see you again.” Similarly Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy is mentioned by John the Baptist, and he bases it on the presence of Jesus, comparing Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to his friend: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29) John’s “complete” joy is based on the presence of Jesus.

Therefore, I conclude that the essence of the reward that we count on to complete our joy is the fullness of the presence of Jesus experienced in the age to come. The reason that we can rejoice now is not only that we taste that future fellowship in hope, but also that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit. He promised us, as he left to return to the Father, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He said that the Spirit of truth would come and make Jesus gloriously real to us even though he is physically absent. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will . . . glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Therefore, even though we can’t see Jesus now, we hope in him with great joy, and he sustains that joy by his continual presence.

Honor from the Father

There seems to be a second part of this reward, which Jesus says is “honor” from the Father. It would be really easy to simply pass by this and not really think much about it, but I think we’d do well to linger here just a bit, if only to marvel at the revelation we’ve been given.

I honestly can only make a few educated guesses as to what “honor” from God might look like, but I know that in relative contrast to being honored by men, it must evoke awe from the honoree!  What I’m saying here is that so often we love the praise of other men – I know that I enjoy a good “attaboy!” from friends or colleagues. In fact I think we often seek the praise of men to the detriment of what God would have us do.

Many times in the past I have been convicted about how often I relish the praise of men, and each time my mind turns to this weakness, the third stanza of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ often brings me to my knees. The words are as follows:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Notice how man’s empty praise is here contrasted with God being our inheritance. Samuel Rutherford once said, “His well done is worth a shipful of good-days and earthly honours.”

I would ask you to examine yourselves and see if this is your mindset.  Can you agree with the hymnist and with Rutherford? Can you truly say that your reward is an imperishable one?  And if so, is your mindset such that the praise you receive on earth is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us?

12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Troubled in Soul

His human psyche must have been overwhelmed by the painful thought of that death. Why? Because He knew what pain was. He had spent the last 33 years on this earth and knew physical and emotional pain.

But more than that, He knows that what He values most is about to be ripped away from Him –His communion with the Father. During His time on the cross Jesus will suffer something He has never faced – separation from His Father. When the Father turns His back on the Son, the Son in agony cries out “why have you forsaken me!?”  The anguish that the Son goes through at this moment is pure Hell.

The word “troubled” here is significant. Carson says, “The verb is a strong one, and signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.

I do not suppose to know whether Jesus truly knew in His humanity that this would happen as it did, but I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus understood the ramifications of what He was undertaking. And this is why John records for us Jesus’ words and we must ponder them carefully if we’re to understand the sacrifice and the depth of pain that our Savior endured on our account.

Not My Will, But Thy Will be Done

Now, as to the latter part of the verse, and whether Jesus is asking a true question, or actually praying a prayer (Carson), I do not know entirely and am not wholly convinced of Carson’s argument that this is not a question in the true sense, but rather a prayer asking for deliverance as in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, because of the fact that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He knew His purpose, and He knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant end. You can see the human and the divine nature here so clearly. He is troubled in the weakness of His flesh. His souls is shaken. He is probably greatly afflicted with intense emotion and perhaps anxiety of a kind that shakes you to the core. Yet, at the same time, He knows what He has to do. He says, “And what shall I say?” It is as if we are witnessing here an internal discussion, almost as if Jesus is thinking out loud and we see the back and forth.  Carson aptly quotes Bengel, “The horror of death, and the ardour of His obedience, were meeting together.”

Note that in His flesh He acknowledges the painful proposition ahead, but then He answers it by saying that will not pray something that He knows is outside of God’s will.  As Carson remarks, “This request is nothing other than an articulation of the principle that has controlled his life and ministry. The servant who does not stoop to his own will, but who performs the will of the one who sent him – even to death on a cross – is the one who glorified God.”

More than Restraint

So Christ restrains Himself from asking something of God that He knows will displease Him and run counter to the purpose for which He came to this earth. But it is more than simply restraint, as Carson argues, it is an active passionate obedience.  Carson says, “But the focus of the prayer transcends mere acquiescence; it betrays acquiescence that is subsumed under the passionate desire to bring glory to God, in much the same way that the petition ‘hallowed be your name’ in the Lord’s model prayer presupposes the active obedience of the one who is praying.”

As we have looked closely at this, it has humbled me greatly. I think of how often I have thought that merely acquiescing to the Lord’s will or my life’s circumstances was pleasing to God.  As if my formalist obedience was a sacrifice of some great magnitude. But Christ here shows us something more. He didn’t go to sulking to the cross with a drooping head. Christ does not model stoicism or begrudging obedience, rather He models for us a passion for God’s glory that completely subsumed His mind.  Like the angels of Zechariah 3 were consumed with glorifying God through the dressing of the high priest, so we too much be like Christ and His angelic creations and be completely subsumed with the thought: how can I glorify God in every action, every thought, every breathe I take?

So often we think the least common denominator will please God, we think of how much we can get away with and how far we can stretch His law and His patience, when we ought to be thinking, “Is this reflective of holiness? Or: Does this please God?”  In his book ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ Kevin DeYoung points out that this is a frequent mistake we make – especially seen in our dating/pre-marital relationships.  We think about our physical interaction with our fiancé and ask the question “how far is too far?”  When we ought to be asking, “How can we best tailor our actions toward holiness and righteousness?” Or, “Is this pleasing to God?”

Let us also seek to do more than simply curb the sinful impulses of our nature, or bow begrudgingly under the rule of God’s law; let us seek to develop holiness in our character, mind, and actions. Let us always be seeking to please God – for if we love Him, we will certainly seek to please Him!

12:28-30 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

The fact that Jesus had his prayer answered so quickly by an audible voice from heaven may not stun us, the reader, living 2000 years later and reading this in black and white type. But to those around him it must have been a shocking, and even scary site to behold. The fact that some in the crowd thought it was an angel that spoke, while others thought that it was simply thunder, has not been fully understood by several theologians except to say that some seemed to be more discerning than others that there was an audible voice of some kind, though they misinterpreted its author as an angel. Though it didn’t seem as though any of them really understood what was said from the way the text is laid out, so Christ must have told them the thing after the fact (Carson).

Taking Measure of Our Desires

Now Jesus ends His prayer showcasing His strongest desire: that God’s name would be glorified. I think its fair to say that very often our strongest desires bubble up in our prayers. We secretly let God know what it is that we want most in the world. Some of these things are very noble and good things.  But I think of the times I have prayed to God, and I can hardly recall very many instances wherein I truly desired for God’s name to be magnified and glorified in the way that I imagine Jesus desired it to be. To hear Jesus pray is so humbling – it’s a heart check for us.  Hearing Him pray ought to cause us to ask ourselves this: what are our greatest desires?

I am reminded of Psalm 37:4-6:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday

How is He Glorified?

If one cross references the last time such an instance had occurred in the life of Jesus one would think immediately of two instances, the baptism of Jesus and the Mount of Transfiguration. In both of these two other scenes Jesus had been in the midst of several people when a voice had come booming from the heavens.  What is the purpose of these events? I believe it is to attest to the deity of Christ and to point us to the event of the cross, which would be the one place where Christ is most glorified.

John MacArthur explains why:

God receives glory when His attributes are manifested, and nowhere was His magnanimous love for helpless sinners, His holy wrath against sin, His perfect justice, His redeeming grace, his forgiving mercy, or His infinite wisdom more clearly seen than in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of His Son.

For Your Sake

Finally, look at verse 30 and we’ll see that Jesus has directed us to turn our attention to the fact that the voice was not for his sake primarily, but rather for “your sake.”

As I mentioned above, all of these supernatural events were happening in the life of Jesus as a way to point us toward the realization of who Jesus is.  You have to ask the question: who is this man, and what is He all about?

What makes me shudder is to see that a voice literally spoke from heavens attesting that this Jesus is who He says He is, and yet there are still people who remain in their unbelief. The old joke of people not believing a thing even if it was “written in the sky” comes to mind. I don’t know how you can get much more plain than this. This man Jesus had done super human miracle after miracle from healing people, to casting out demons, to walking on water and calming a sea. He seems to know their thoughts and their hearts, and their pasts (John 1:48-49; 4:16-19), and now, to top it all, he is the subject (for a third time) of a literal voice addressing Him from heaven.  At this point, you continue in your unbelief at your own peril.