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.

The Glory of Christ in Colossians

As I was reading Colossians this past week, one of the things that struck me is how often I come to the Word of God seeking what it has to say about me and what I should do etc. This is all well and good, but what has hit me is that I’ve been so focused on the didactic, that I have not reveled in the glory of Christ and who He is.  It’s been all about me, me, me…

It is not hard to feel such conviction while reading over what is perhaps one of the richest Christological passages in Scripture. Colossians 1:15-20 presents us with a picture of Christ that is nothing short of mind-blowing, and mind renewing.

Meditating on this passage provides for some wonderful Christ-drenched thought, and it is in that spirit that I thought I’d take a brief look at these verses and make a few remarks. Stop with me for a few minutes and set your mind upon Christ…

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 

Much of this passage reminds me of Hebrews 1:1-3, but this verse most of all because it proclaims that Christ is the “image” of God”, just as the author of Hebrews proclaims that Christ is “the exact imprint” of God. And so the first thing that Paul tells us here is that Christ is a perfect replication of the God that no man can see. In other words, if you ever wanted to know what God was like up close and personal, then set your gaze upon Jesus. God was pleased to send His Son, His only Son, to be born of a virgin and dwell among us, as one of us, and so even though Christ was fully God and perfectly divine, He was also fully human and perfectly displayed what it means to be truly human in the way that God originally intended – that is why we call Him the ‘Last Adam’.

John’s opening prologue the first chapter of his gospel states this truth very clearly, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

The second thing that Paul says is that Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” and then goes on explain that some more in verse 16…

1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 

There are two great truths here for us to discover, first, Christ is the maker of all things (John 1:10), and second, all things exist for Him. It is often difficult for us to think about Christ in the role of Creator, because many of us have grown up thinking that the second person of the Trinity really didn’t arrive on the scene until we open our Bibles to the New Testament. But Scripture is clear that all three members of the Trinity were involved in Creation. Because we know that all things were created “through” Him, and because we know that Christ is “the Word” of God, its probably safe to assume that when God spoke things into existence in Genesis 1, it was Christ who was uttering the words (although I’m sure our anthropomorphic language really doesn’t do justice to what occurred). This is an amazing thing to think about, but it makes a lot of sense when we consider that even during His ministry here on earth He used His voice to calm the stormy sea, and to bring life from death (as in John 11 and Lazarus). “The Word became flesh” seen in this light now adds another dimension to our understanding of Christ’s role in the creation account. For it does not say “the word became the word” as if He wasn’t the word prior to His incarnation, but rather that “the Word became flesh.” The preexistent Word, the second person of the Trinity, was poured into the flesh of a man.

The second great truth here is that “all things were created through him and for him.” Therefore, all of the things that He spoke into existence were made for Himself. God made all things “for His own glory” as the Westminster Divines tell us, and it is texts like this that give them the footing to declare such a statement.

There are obvious (and several) ramifications for this, but let me mention just one for now, namely that He made you for Himself. This is a very previous truth indeed, and it reminds me of what Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” It is a wonderful thing to think about that I was made for Jesus. He knows me, loves me, and actually made me for Himself. If that doesn’t send tingles down your spine then check your pulse…

1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This is similar to the point Paul made earlier about Christ being the “first born” of all creation because “first born” is indicative of his preeminence. There are two ways in which Christ is “before all things”: First, He existed before all things from a time-perspective. John the Baptist declares this truth when he states, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me’” (John 1:30).

Secondly, He is “before all things” in that He is over, or above, or in charge of all things. The Greek word here though is “pro” which usually means “before” as in “prior.” So I don’t want to read too much into it as meaning “above” because it only means that a few times in the New Testament, however, this second sense of the word might just be what Paul is referring to since he then proceeds to tell us that it is Christ who holds all things together. This holding of all things together is a role carried out by someone who is of a higher order than us humans, and therefore it makes sense that Paul would say that He is “before” all things.

The last part of the verse is interesting because it can kind of get your mind in a bind if you think too hard on it.  We just touched on it briefly above, but Paul says that in Christ “all things hold together.” Similar language is used in Acts 17:28 when Paul tells the gathering at Mars Hill that, “In him we live and move and have our being.”  But perhaps Hebrews 1:3 is the closest we come to a similar thought when the author says that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

That is an amazing statement, and the more you contemplate it the more you grow amazed at the shear power of God. Sometimes we read the gospel accounts and the weakness of our finite minds we see Jesus, the man, teaching us, caring for the sick and so forth. But we must not forget the same Jesus who cared for the sick also calmed the raging sea, and we’re told here, upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.

What this means is that if Jesus were to utter the word, the entire universe could collapse into a blackhole, or evaporate into nothingness. It means that chaos is kept at bay by the fact that Jesus keeps it at bay. All science, and all math, operates upon the rules of His decree. We live and breathe and exist because it is His pleasure that we do so. When one truly comprehends who “the boss” of the universe is, the spectacle of the cross becomes all that much more radical and offensive. One begins to shake at the fact that humans – created beings – put their creator to death in response to His loving them, and that the Creator would condescend to such depths of pain and shame on our behalf, all in order to show forth the glory of His Son.

1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 

Now Paul begins to talk about how these facts influence ecclesiology. If Christ is the first born of all creation, if he is the One through whom all things have been made, then should it come as a shock that He is the head of the church? Of course not! For He is preeminent over “everything.”

It’s also interesting to hear Paul refer to the church as “the body” and Christ as its head. He’s used this anthropomorphic language in other letters to other churches as well, and it signifies how closely we have come to be associated with our Savior. We are part of Him – we are His body!

Therefore, if He is our head, we must contemplate what that means for our daily lives. How does our own physical head function in relation to the rest of the body? Well, it may sound odd to put it this way, but one might say that the head is “in charge” of the rest of the body. The rest of the body functions because the head tells the rest of the body to function. The head sends the orders and the body obeys. Such is the relationship between Christ and His people. He sends the orders and we obey.

Lastly, Paul sums up his thought process by restating again that Christ is preeminent, and this is because God the Father wanted Him to be preeminent in “everything.” Drilling down to what that word “everything” means is important because up until now Paul has been talking about very big concepts – creation, the church, the universe, heaven, earth and so on. He is saying that Christ is above all of these things and actually made all of these things and directs them according to His own will.

This too has ramifications for our lives, not simply so that we can know “how things works as they do” (to quote the Children’s Catechism), but so that we can order our lives around the same facts that the universe (both heaven and earth) are ordered around. What I mean by this is that if Christ is preeminent over all things, why do we fool ourselves into believing we are preeminent over all things? You think I go too far? I doubt it. For we not only place our own desires before serving and communing with Christ, but we also place our own opinions above His revelation to us (the Bible). Therefore, if what Paul is saying is true (and we can be assured that it is), then we ought to be making Jesus Christ the top priority of our lives. That means all things ought to revolve around Him. Anything other than that is not living in reality, but rather creating a false reality that denies His preeminence. Therefore creating our own self-centered priorities that usurp the priorities of Christ is, in essence, creating for ourselves a fairyland.

The benefit of living in reality, and ordering life on the priority and preeminence of Christ, is that we’ll be made into His image, which means that we’ll become more truly human (the way we were created to be) than we would if we were simply focused on our own fleshly desires. Ironically, becoming truly human means dying to ourselves and living in the reality of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by submitting to His Lordship and renewing of our image.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 

Paul now gets to the point of things. Christ is preeminent because He is God. God is the highest Being in the universe, and because Christ is God, He is therefore preeminent by default.

Paul uses the word “fullness” – plērōma in the Greek – to indicate that Jesus didn’t lack anything in His Godness (so to speak). He never ceased being God. He did “lay aside” (if it is proper to speak so) some of His attributes (omnipresence etc.) due to His humanity, but He never ceased from being fully God – a truth of such magnitude and such incomprehensibility that scholars of every generation have had to defend it against “critical scholarship” and heretics throughout the centuries since Christ’s time on earth.

The last thing I want to examine here is that God was “pleased” to dwell in and with humanity. Let it be known to every Christian that God does what God does for His pleasure. All things happen by and for Him as we read earlier – and note especially “for” Him. That word “for” is indicative of “His pleasure” because whatever He does He does for His own good pleasure. Let that sink in…

1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Verse twenty is remarkable because after describing all of who Christ is, Paul now goes on to remind us of why He came to earth, namely to die for our sins. Paul has us so enamored with the magnificence of this God-man that we are in a state of adoration until He preaches to us the gospel in verse twenty and we can do nothing at this point except weep and praise God for His mercy. For here is the Christ, the preeminence of all creation, the God-man, the only begotten Son of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords and now Paul is saying this Being, this Radiance, has sacrificed His blood for the goal of reconciling us to God. Here we are, hostile rebels who have had the mercy of obtaining favor from heaven. God sent His Son instead of His wrath and we stand in the merciful wake of this unbelievably awesome act of mercy.

This verse reeks of mission. It is Christ’s mission, to seek and save the lost, to reconcile us to God…this is why He came, and what blows my mind even further is that when we put all the pieces together from the last few verses, we see that He does this for His own pleasure. How then can we not surmise, with John, that “God is Love”?

And so after Paul commends to us the magnificent nature and person of Christ, he ends on the magnanimous work of Christ on our behalf. He reminds us again that it was because of our sin that the beauty of the Son was marred. What an amazing story of grace! Paul ends with this sentence because he knows that one cannot separate the attributes of Christ from the work of Christ. His righteous work flows from His holy character.

I hope this passage has brought your mind once again to that place of worship and adoration and that you can join me in saying “Soli Deo Gloria!” for the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.