The test of whether we can live in the world and abide in Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25
John 15:1-8

Jesus speaks of the disciples’ need to remain in close relationship with Him by the Holy Spirit who is yet to be given

1-2  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

“I am the true vine” – There are varieties of vine we grow on our walls, which are decorative but not fruit-bearing. A grape variety will produce a lot of leafy growth, and some dead wood, that needs regular cutting back.

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

There is a word play with the same word being used for our two words, pruning or cleaning.

The pruning or cleaning happens by the Word of God, which confronts sin while encouraging holiness. Jesus’ words of God as the Word of God is a pruning process for them that also grows them spiritually in the right way.
The word of God preached in the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, has the same cathartic and also growth-encouraging effect on us now.

For further study, read Ephesians 5:26-27; Titus 3:5.

4 Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

4  “Remain in Me” – Or in many version “abide in Me”. This has to be read together with Jesus’ promise that He would not leave them alone, John 14:15-18. His remaining in them became reality as He returned to them in the Person of the Holy Spirit. We as present-day disciples of Jesus keep close and personal fellowship with Jesus through prayerful reading and responding to His speaking to us as the Word in the Bible. Jesus “remains in us” through our inviting the Holy Spirit to empower us, and so inspire and enable us to produce ‘fruit’ of love and joy and good works that pleases the Father.

5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.

5  The life of the Spirit of Christ in a believer or disciple is evident to everybody by being life-giving to all around. We can be believers and consider ourselves disciples without growing or producing anything particularly life-giving. Apart from Jesus – and that means apart from the influence of the Spirit of Jesus – we can’t produce what He calls fruit, which inspires others.

6 If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

Those who know Jesus but do not obey Him, rejecting the need to walk with Jesus in life John 14:6, are condemning themselves. Those remaining of the Twelve will soon reflect on the example of Judas Iscariot.

7-8 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.

7  “It will be done for you” – Those who keep that close spiritual connection through Word and Spirit will be asking what Jesus Himself in the flesh would be asking – or what the Enthroned heavenly Jesus is having them ask

Application

Remaining in Jesus, in a world which demands our attention from every direction, is a challenge.

It’s an impossible challenge, both to grasp and to carry out – unless we view this from a post-resurrection, post-Pentecost perspective. Jesus was talking to his close disciples during the last week of His life, and coaching them for the imminent time when it would all change. He was saying “Remain in Me” knowing that He was going, and “if My words remain in you” knowing that they would forget much of it in the shock that was to come.

However, also to come was the impartation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a very personal experience, bringing to life Jesus’ words earlier in this discourse. At that time He said that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of what He had taught and be their teacher in explaining it, John 14:23-26.

However we understand the need to be part of the vine – part of the Body of Christ, connected spiritually, our desire for independence submitted to Jesus, willing for Him to take some things from us for us to grow more fruitful – it doesn’t happen apart from an awareness of God’s Spirit and our openness to let Him work in us. Apart from Jesus – a spiritual encounter for us – we can do nothing of His kingdom purpose. And the things we insist on doing without Him will inevitably reflect our own empires.

For reflection and discussion

How would you explain in your own words, to a new Christian or someone exploring the faith, what Jesus meant when He said: “Remain (or abide) in Me and let me abide in you…”

The new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus

THURSDAY, MARCH 15
Hebrews 5:5-10

The sinless and perfected humanity of Jesus, and His victory over the severest of tests, make Him the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him

The opening chapters of Hebrews, Hebrews 1-Hebrews 3:2, gives the Jewish readers the letter was written for, a background of who Jesus is – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”, Heb. 1:3. Christ who was “made a little lower than the angels”, is “now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death”, Heb. 1:9, and “much superior to the angels”, Heb. 1:4. He is also the “Apostle and High Priest… faithful to the One who appointed Him”, Hebrews 3:1-2. He is the One God sent (apostle) to become the ultimate mediator and source of salvation, high priest, of a different and very special kind.

5  In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son; today I have become your Father”, Psalm 2:7.

5  In New Testament times the high priestly office was in the control of the family that had bought the rights.
6  And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” Psalm 110:4. 6  Christ was appointed by God – as was Aaron. This is a similarity, but now we see that this is a different kind of priesthood. They made sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people, and dealt gently with the waywardness of the people, but this was not permanent. Aaron and his successors had to make sin offerings for their own sin, as well as the people’s. They had their time of office, and were replaced.
7  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. 7  Unlike Aaron, Jesus made a permanent sacrifice for sin as a sinless person. Unlike Aaron, He learned obedience through suffering, v.8, and offered up prayers and petitions which are heard because of His reverent submission, v.7. Salvation through His priesthood is not here-and-now (until the next sacrifice) but eternal, all-encompassing and without limit.
8  Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered… 8  Not that He was ever disobedient. But being called upon to obey in such a test, facing such temptations, engaging in such a difficult battle for victory, Christ was “made perfect”. His victory overturns Adam’s failure and the consequent curse affecting humanity.
9  …and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him… His humanity completed (another way of expressing “made perfect”), He now acts as “the source of eternal salvation”, see Hebrews 9:12.
10  …and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 10 Melchizedek had no successors, so strictly speaking there was no order named after him. “A high priest of the same kind as Melchizedek” is better and also conveys the sense that this kind of priesthood is on another level entirely.
Application

The high priest role of Jesus may not be the easiest one for us to relate to – but we reflect on it every time we pray a prayer “in the name of Jesus”. We are asking the resurrected Jesus in His heavenly position to pick up our prayer, to agree with it and then pray it before the Father on our behalf.

Knowing that Jesus, “the radiance of God’s glory”, is by the Father’s side interceding for us, Romans 8:34 gives us a lot of confidence in intercession prayer. But we know that prayer in the face of the one who steals, kills and destroys, John 10:10, is a battle. It is something of a courtroom standoff of legal arguments against a merciless prosecutor, in which God’s word is used to establish precedents. If we know that the high priest role of Jesus is an appointment by God of one tested and found perfected and sinless, even through the most severe trials, and now designated to be the source of eternal salvation for those who follow Him – we are giving our brief to the ultimate Kings Counsel, a barrister of the very highest standing and impeccable reputation.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How has this changed your perspective on what happens in the heavenlies when we pray with requests for ourselves or others?

Jesus speaks of His impending death, and God’s audible voice is heard

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
John 12:20-33

As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him

20  Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.

20  “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 21  Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.
22  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23  Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 23  Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.
24  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 24  Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.
25  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 25  “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech

25  The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.

26  Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me. 26  Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)
27  “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 27  We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.

28  Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

28  This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.

For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.

29  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.

30  Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

 30  Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.

31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

31  Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.

31  Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).

31  There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15. 

32  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

32  John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32;  and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.

32  Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.

Application

The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16,  about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.

The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.

Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.

The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than  the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.

The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?

The heavenlies proclaim the Lord, but his words move us towards His intentions

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27
Psalm 19: 1-14

God reveals Himself in the order and beauty of creation, but even more in the words that define His ways

The two main ways that God reveals Himself are contrasted in this psalm, verses 1-6 and then 7-14.

1  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

1-2  “The heavens” can mean God’s dwelling place or, as here, the skies. Here the heavenly skies silently extol God the Creator’s majesty in what theologians term General Revelation.

3  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

3  “No words” – by comparison, vv. 7-14 is expressed in words.

4  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens, God has pitched a tent for the sun.

4  Ps. 104:2 The Lord… stretches out the heavens like a tent. Creation is set out like the Lord setting out a tent, Isaiah 40:22.

5  It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6  It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

5-6  Many ways have been put forward to explain this, with reference to the mythology of the time which ascribed particular powers to the moon and sun. In Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts the sun-god’s penetrating rays exposed every human activity. However, here the sun is subject to God, the Creator. If its heat and light affect everything, how much more does God’s word refresh and inform and guide (expanded below); there is true joy and security in that.

7  The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul;

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

7  Here is the change of direction from the general revelation given by creation and specifically, the skies and the sun tracking its way across each day…

8  The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

8  …Now, by comparison, God’s word brings what is far better – specific revelation which can be trusted, which is enlightening, reliable and lifegiving.

9  The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.

“The fear of the Lord” is usually the reverence of the Lord. Here “the precepts” and “the commands” become the definition of “the fear” and some versions e.g. ESV keep this within the one sentence.

10  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.

10  The word for “pure gold” or, in some versions “finest gold” is different from the word for “gold” – it is a stronger expression in Hebrew than in English. God’s truth is of rare, remarkable sought-after value.

11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12  But who can discern their own errors?Forgive my hidden faults.

13  Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

11-12  God’s word, like 24 carat gold in its purity, reveals the truth which confronts attitudes we use to defend our bits of denial. Sharp and penetrating, it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”, Hebrews 4:12.

12-13  The psalmist is seeking to be blameless before God and free of “great transgression” and the behaviour that goes with it. At the same time, the human tendency to have blind spots for our own failings, or “hidden sins”, is acknowledged. We are all creative when it comes to self-justification. 

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

“Be pleasing” is correct but a bit shallow. Most other versions have ‘acceptable’ for ratzon, a word that goes with sacrifice. The psalmist has seen the glory of God in the wonder and beauty of His creation, and has been impacted by the revealing truth of divine principles in the written word. Now there is a heart response to be offered, a life to be loved as a sacrifice to God.

Application

God’s majesty, glory and creativity affect everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not; anyone who has been struck by a landscape view, or looked up with wonder at the stars and planets on a clear night has had an encounter with the One who created it, even if not a very profound one!

The ancient people of Mesopotamia saw the sun rise and traverse the sky with penetrating heat and light. To them the sun, and the moon also, were deities that observed our actions and required our penitence for our wrongdoings, known and unknown. The psalmist gives a nod to this while explaining the natural revelation of God Almighty that is in His creation and which stirs our conscience to join the heavens in declaring the glory of God.

But God has given us His word, specific revelation of who He is and how He is – and His way of truth for us. This truth is pure and free from any tarnish, like pure gold, and it acts like a mirror, showing up things in us we cannot see or have got accustomed to not seeing in denial and self-justification. At the same time, God’s principles from his word give us the security of good and righteous guidance, and bring us joy in bringing us closer to Him.

Of course, this stirs up a desire in us to respond to this. We want to live according to His purposes for us, to speak what is pleasing, from heart attitudes that reflect the heart of God Himself.

For reflection or discussion

How much do we value God’s word, and the principles for Christian living we find there? In reading and reflecting on the Bible day by day for ourselves? In holding the Bible readings and exposition through preaching central among the sacraments of Sunday worship?

Good News given to us – for others

The emerging message – Friday, January 5 (Epiphany)

The headlines

Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, your light has come…” The light of God’s glory has risen, and it is prophesied that all nations, meaning Gentiles, will come to this light. Meanwhile the nation of Israel is coming home, truly.

Psalm 72
All kings, from the ends of the earth, will defer to the coming king who combines true greatness with a heart to rescue the poor and redeem them from oppression. The godly flourish during his reign, from shore to shore.

Matthew 2:1-12
Distinguished visitors from afar recognise the significance of the birth of Jesus and come to worship Him. Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah show that he is their Messiah, too.

Ephesians 3:1-12
God’s plan, which astonished the culture of the time, is revealed by the Holy Spirit: Gentiles and Jews are part of the same church body, with equal share. This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who have confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus, and confidence coming before holy, almighty God.

 

How do we respond? We look beyond our walls and our ‘tribe’ with light and love.

This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who show confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus and before holy, almighty God. There will always be the human tendency, born of pride, to keep separate. But the Holy Spirit’s work is always to unify, from a heavenly perspective. Jews, Gentiles, Christians or not, denominational barriers, state church or independent – the Holy Spirit gives us a heavenly, rather than worldly perspective, if we allow Him to.

Who is Jesus and what is this Good News? Who is it for?

This is the mystery that was being revealed to those early believers who knew Paul. They struggled with it. But the Holy Spirit gave them a sense of heavenly perspective — the greater vision of what God was about.

This what had been shown to Abraham in those earliest times, composed as prophetic song by David a thousand years earlier, foretold by Isaiah and others more than 800 years before and grasped by Mary, then acted out in a remarkable way by distinguished Gentile visitors. The early church, mainly Jewish to begin with, had to come to a completely new understanding of what they were about.

And so for us — every generation has to get this revelation afresh.

This Good News has been given to us, but not for us alone. It is given, not for people like us, but for us to share with people who are not like us.

That is our task as church — to be confident in the inevitable spiritual battle for souls and for God’s rest and peace, and to be as generous as the Lord Himself in relating to those on the fringe of faith or outside it.

Where does this generosity come from? We are, as the renowned Archbishop Temple said, the only organisation on earth that exists for those who don’t belong to it. We are people on a mission – the mission that springs out of the mystery Paul writes about. It’s a mission that only makes sense as we become empowered by the Spirit of Mission.

Paul writes: “God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by His Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets.” Paul wrote it, but God spoke it to Paul’s heart. This is Scripture —as meaningful for us as the prophecies about the Messiah were for the Jews and Wise Men of Jesus’ time.

This is what we see God doing, and so our call is to be willing to join Him in it.

Who are the ‘Greeks’ and ‘Gentiles’ of our world — the not-yet believers around us? Where is God working outside the church walls?

When we begin to address this honestly and join God in what He is doing, our church attendances and finances and very future will begin to look very different. The kingdom of God will be evident among us. As we seek to mirror something of God’s generosity of spirit, there will be a release. We trust God and give away what we have – and He finds us faithful and gives more.

For reflection and discussion – all the questions

1.  Where do we see the Lord’s light resting, and what response is the Holy Spirit leading us to make?

2.  If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?

3.  Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?

4.  God’s plan and God’s purpose are mentioned half a dozen times in this short passage. How are you beginning to see God’s plan in your life, your church, your community?

5.  What are good ways of focusing our attention on God’s plan and purpose and encouraging one another in it?

Readings this week for Sunday, January 7, (Epiphany):
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Matthew 2:1-12
Ephesians 3:1-12