Monthly Archives: June 2017

The fruit-bearing vine (John 15.1-17)

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The Vine must bear fruit
(cf. Isaiah 5.1-7)

Filled with the Spirit of truth, Jesus declares that he is the true vine under his Father who is the gardener (15.1). While judgement falls on branches that don’t bear fruit, the Father ‘cleanses’/prunes fruit-bearing branches so that they will produce more fruit. But Jesus declares that his disciples are already ‘clean’ through his Word and so just need to remain firmly in Jesus (cf. John 13.10: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.”). In union with Jesus his followers will bear fruit (15.3-5).  Wonderfully, Jesus’ disciples are told that those who do abide in Jesus will “bear much fruit”. On the other hand they and we need to learn and constantly remember that “apart from me you can do nothing”.

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Sin and rebellion against God constantly hinder God’s call of Israel as his people. But now Jesus declares that he is the “true” vine, all that God has called Israel and the Jewish people to be (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). And Jesus’ followers are to be the fruit-bearing branches who abide in his love and obey his commands (15.9/10). Jesus too shows us the perfect model in that he obeys his Father’s commands and abides in his love (15.10). Jesus makes it clear that his command is that within the people of God we should abide in Jesus’ love and love each other (15.9-17). If we obey Jesus’ commands and abide in his love, he promises us the amazing gift of his joy so that our “joy may be complete” (cf. 1 John 1.3/4). What therefore is the secret of finding true happiness? Abide in Jesus’ love and obey his command to love one another.
While we rejoice in the gift of love and joy which Jesus gives to us as his people, we need also to remember Jesus’ words of warning. If we do not abide in Jesus and obey his commands of love, we shall be like dead branches which are cut off and wither (15.6). Such branches are ‘picked up’ (the word has the same root as ‘synagogue’ to remind us that the vine stands for the Jewish people), thrown into the fire and suffer God’s judgement. But although God’s judgement falls on unbelieving Israel, this applies to all who reject Jesus. And in his covenant with Israel God still has eternal purposes for them.

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I am the true vine
In conversation with an agnostic businessman in London I used the word “truth”. He immediately broke into what I was saying, declaring “Truth! What an interesting word! I don’t think I’ve heard that word since I was a boy.” After a pause he added, “After all, no-one believes in truth nowadays, do they?” I suggested to him that as a businessman truth might be rather important. Without truth there can be no trust. But he responded by asserting that in business he wouldn’t trust anyone. What a sad world!
In the Old Testament God is clearly described as “the God of truth” (e.g. Deuteronomy 32.4, Psalm 31.5) and Jesus declares himself to be the truth (John 14.6). As we have already noted, in John’s Gospel the Spirit of God is called ‘the Spirit of Truth’. Truth and therefore trustworthiness lie at the very heart of the Christian faith and life.

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Replacement Theology?


What does this picture of the vine representing Israel with Jesus’ disciples as the people of Israel mean today? Has God rejected the people of Israel? Has he replaced them with the very largely non-Jewish church? Or does God still have loving purposes for Israel, the Jewish people? In the Bible we may note a narrowing down of God’s people and then a wonderful expansion. The Old Testament shows that Israel as a whole is called to be God’s people. Sadly the history of Israel shows the people of God often rejecting the Lord and worshipping foreign gods. So we find God’s love being concentrated on ‘the remnant’ of Israel, while most of the people of Israel were cut off like dead branches from God’s loving purposes. Now finally the Father’s love is narrowed even further and Jesus is “the true vine” with his disciples as the living branches. Jesus in his life is all that Israel was called to be. He is the perfect Israel. And God’s call of Israel flows through him to all his followers in union with him. The first disciples and the early church were of course Jewish. God’s purposes for Israel continue in and through Jesus. As the people of God in the Old Testament consisted of Jews plus a few proselytes from other nations, so now too in Jesus all who relate to him in love and faith enter into the promises of the God of Israel. Jews and Gentiles together can now find life and salvation in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. As Romans 12 shows, Gentiles too can be grafted into the Jewish covenantal tree. Throughout the history of God’s church there has always been a core of Jewish believers in Jesus. Even if the majority of Jesus’ followers now are not Jewish, the basis of the church must always remain Jewish – with Gentiles added into the Israel of faith.

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So let us pray specially for all Christian ministry among Jews that by God’s Spirit of Truth many may come into life and salvation in Jesus the Messiah. This is why I am specially delighted to be associated with Jews for Jesus, a key evangelistic ministry among Jewish people. God’s covenant with Israel, his promises to the Jewish people can never be withdrawn or countermanded. God’s word and covenant abide for ever.

 

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I’m Coming! (John 14.3, 18)

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I shall never forget when I first met Elizabeth and fell in love with her on the spot! She then meant everything to me. To be with her was more important than anything else. To me she outshone everything and everybody. I longed to be with her and to share life together for the rest of my life. My love burned and I was confident that Elizabeth was God’s choice for me – but for a whole year she steadfastly said “no”. Devastating!

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Peter and Jesus’ other disciples had come to love Jesus with their whole heart. They gave up everything to follow him and to be with him through all the ups and downs of his years of ministry on earth. Then Jesus announced to them, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13.33) and “Where I am going, you cannot follow now” (John 13.36). Their love for Jesus overcame all other desires in their hearts and minds. They had determined to follow Jesus totally. How could Jesus reject such love and declare that they couldn’t stay with him and be with him wherever he went? No wonder Peter asserts that he wants to continue following Jesus even if it costs him his life (13.37). But Jesus knew that neither Peter nor the other disciples were yet ready for martyrdom. And Jesus knew that he must die alone and suffer the final darkness and loneliness of being totally abandoned by them. On the cross there was nothing to comfort him, not even the loving presence of his Father in glory.

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After a year saying “no”, Elizabeth found love ruling in her heart too. What joy now to belong to each other and to be together! And so our lives took on a wonderful new dimension of love – and we have now delighted in these last 55 years of marriage and love. The bewildering disappointment of the past yielded to the wonderful glory of Christian marriage.
Jesus’ disciples also had something of a parallel experience. “Where I am going, you cannot come” in Chapter 14 gives way now to the reassurance that Jesus will prepare a place for them where he is going (14.2). In contrast with the future tense of “I will prepare”, Jesus uses present tenses for his coming again to the disciples – “I am coming and will take you to myself” (14.3) and wonderfully too “I am coming to you”
(14.18). How exciting! Jesus is coming for us! He is on his way! And he will assuredly take us (the verb implies bringing us to his side) to be with him in his glory.

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So where is he bringing us? Jesus’ emphasis underlines that our final goal is to be with the Father, the one who had sent Jesus. Jesus is perfectly one with the Father and dwells eternally with the Father. We as Jesus’ followers are one with Jesus and therefore with him are brought into the intimate presence of the Father. That is what heaven is all about. Meanwhile let us never forget that the only way to that glory of knowing the Father is through Jesus who is the unique way without whom no-one can come to God the Father. And Jesus is totally trustworthy and his words are truth. We can trust and believe in him with confidence because he is in himself “the truth”. If we believe in him and love him, we shall of course delight to obey his commands and teaching (14.23). In loving and following Jesus we shall find the perfect life, even life eternal. Jesus is indeed “the way, the truth and the life” (14.6).

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What glory! What love! No wonder Jesus declares that our hearts should not be troubled (14.1, 27). He will not leave us as orphans, for we are now adopted as children of our perfect Father in glory. It is amazing that the all-holy God Almighty is now our Father and we are his much loved children. In addition, to crown it all, he promises to send us the Spirit of Truth, so that with him we can do even greater things than what Jesus did (wow!!) and our prayers ‘in his name’ will be granted (14.12-14).
Jesus is coming for us!

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P.S. For those who have not yet got hold of Elizabeth’s life story “God can be Trusted”, let me warmly recommend it. She starts the book with her youth experience in a Japanese prison camp in China and in the second half she vividly describes our life as missionaries under local churches during the wonderful mass movement to Christ in Indonesia. This book is available through Amazon or direct from the publishers, Authentic Media.

 

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