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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Last Commandment

John 15

My oldest son is rather an independent sort. In his high school years he had the opportunity to attend a mathematics institute at an out of state college. I remember the departure at the airport. The one thing his mother wanted was a hug from her boy. She could have hugged him, but what she really wanted was for him to hug her. To our surprise and delight, he did.

If there was one last message I would have for my children at any farewell it would be this: I love you. And I so much want you to love me too.

Today, we will hear something from Jesus’ last night before the Crucifixion. He had one thing on his mind too.

Internal Relations – Christ and Man

(John 15:1-8 NIV) "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. {2} 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. {3} You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. {4} Remain in me, and I will 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. {5} "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. {6} If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. {7} If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. {8} This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The vine has long been a picture of Israel[1], so its use as a metaphor would not have surprised the disciples. In this picture we now see Christ as the mediator between us and God. Permit me to draw you a picture:

  • God, the life giving spirit, is one with...
  • Christ, the mediator, who is both fully God and fully man, who is the new covenant with ...
  • Man, the hybrid of spirit and animal.

Like the vine which draws moisture and nourishment from the ground through the hidden means of its internal structure, we draw spiritual nourishment from God through the mediation of Jesus Christ. He is the “bridge” between us and God – or, as Jesus expresses it here, he’s the vine, we’re the branches. It turns out that the concept has more to it than that – but that alone is cause for jubilation.

Another lesson is quickly obvious. The vine is tended by the Father and like all garden plants it has a purpose. This one’s purpose is to produce fruit. If it doesn’t, the gardener gets rid of it. The illustration is one they would know, and it would make perfect sense to them. Indeed, the idea of a Christian who does nothing for God staying in the fellowship is rather absurd.

Pruning, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Sunday School teachers know this all too well in teaching adults, and at first it can be disheartening. You work with someone for months, teaching them carefully, and then they go to another class, or another church. Sometimes God is simply pruning your vine, and you may not know it. Why would he do that?

·         First (at least in my case) is that any teacher or leader must not be given the temptation to pride. Sometimes it is useful to know that God does not need any particular leader.

·         It is also so that the “pruned” may grow! Of course I know that I’m the world’s greatest Sunday School teacher (sort of like being the world’s tallest pygmy) but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from someone else.

·         Most of all it is so that you will produce more fruit. A leader can only deal with so many at a time. Some must go on and be fruitful in themselves

The Father is the gardener with the pruning shears; it is His will that this pruning occurs. The teacher had best learn to accept that.

How then, to be fruitful? It is quite simple: abide in Christ. Stay “in” Christ. This sounds so mystical that we sometimes miss the simplicity:

·         It is a mutual abiding. We abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. Whether by prayer, practice, repentance or study, we are in Him as He is in us.

·         We are to abide in “my words.” Never has there been a better explanation for the study of the Scripture! In the Bible you will find the words of life, for in the Bible you will see revealed the author of life itself.

·         The result of this is that we shall be able to “ask whatever.” This sounds like a blanket promise of magic prayers. But consider the context: if you are in God’s will, following His way, why would he not grant your prayers?

Indeed, Christ gives us three good reasons why we are to bear such fruit and live such a life:

·         It brings glory to God

·         The fruit in and of itself is good – especially if you bring salvation to one who is lost.

·         It shows that you are his disciples – so that others will know.

We do not see the working of the vine, only the fruit. But the conclusion can be drawn.

Relations in the Family of God

(John 15:9-17 NIV) "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. {10} If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. {11} I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. {12} My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. {13} Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. {14} You are my friends if you do what I command. {15} I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. {16} You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. {17} This is my command: Love each other.

Now Christ commands his disciples. It is like that scene at the airport, the one last thing he needs to tell them. They are to remain in his love – but how? We are to obey his commands.

Now this needs some discussion. Love can easily be seen as a motivation for obedience. So the fact that Jesus loves us is motivation for our obedience. What we sometimes do not recognize is that obedience is the gatekeeper of love. Love is a relationship of trust, and disobedience breaks that trust. You cannot come to the love of God except on the road of obedience.

So then, Christ gives us obedience as the route to his love. But obedience to what? What would Christ give his disciples on this last night as the commandment? The answer was found at the airport: I love you; I want you to love like I do. So Christ commands us – it is the central command of the night – to love one another.

This had its effect on at least one of the Apostles. John lived to a ripe old age. His last Sunday on earth the deacons of the church at Ephesus carried him into the church. The congregation had to strain to hear the last words of the last living Apostle. What were they? “Little children, love one another.”

The Disciple-ine of Love

Christ promotes his disciples here. Just before the crucifixion he says they are no longer servants but friends. Why? Because they know what the Master intends. No longer waiting for a clue, they know the purpose of God. Interestingly, after the Resurrection Christ refers to them not as friends but as brothers[2] -- which may be the ultimate promotion!

That is the way of the disciple: he knows what God wants, and he does it. Not just from formal obedience to command, but from knowing the heart of God.

Christ tells his disciples that he has chosen them. Kids like to tell their parents that “I didn’t choose to be in this family.” A good reply is that we, the parents, chose them to be in the family, sight unseen, just as Christ has chosen us to be in the family of God. Choosing those you will have before they can choose you is a characteristic of love, for God certainly chose us when we were unlovable.

So you must abide in his love; and again the result is “ask whatever.” Because you now know the purposes of God and will to do them, God will grant your every request. Indeed, as Edward Bounds put it, “The Word of God is the fulcrum upon which the lever of prayer is placed and by which things are mightily moved.”

Relations with the World

(John 15:18-27 NIV) "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. {19} If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. {20} Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. {21} They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. {22} If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. {23} He who hates me hates my Father as well. {24} If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. {25} But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.' {26} "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. {27} And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

One of the most frustrating things in life is to discover how completely misunderstood, ridiculed and indeed hated a Christian can be. Christ is the Stumbling Stone, the Rock of Offense, and his disciples bear the brunt in this world. We often think that, being so loving, people ought to love us back. It is not so.

·         First, the most lovable guy on the planet got a Cross for his pains. So before you and I were born, this pattern was established. Nice guys don’t finish last, they get crucified.

·         Worse, it is patently without cause – yet the hatred is very real. I have experienced people (my management) who had a furious, blind hatred of me. No explanation ever was made; no attempt at reconciliation. Everyone around knew why.

·         But the servant is not above the Master. If they hated him, they will hate us. To the extent that we remind the world of Christ, we will be hated. But why?

Principle: exposure to light[3]

If you’ve ever had a traffic ticket for violating some obscure section of the motor vehicle code you’ve used the excuse “I didn’t know that was against the law.” The cop, of course, just tells you to tell it to the judge. But the principle is, in a way, sound. How can I be guilty – morally – if I did not know.

Jesus turns this around here.

·         Because he spoke – not just acted – they cannot be mistaken about what he meant. If he had not come, they could be innocent in ignorance.

·         Because he acted – not just spoke – they had the evidence which should have convicted them. Words alone might be dismissed. The power of God shown in Jesus’ ministry cannot.

But these words apply to us too. Because he spoke and acted, we cannot stand by. What shall we then do? We must testify.

Now, a witness is not allowed to testify except to that which he or she knows personally. But if you know the Lord personally, you must testify to it. Our Lord now introduces (again) the Counselor or Helper (Holy Spirit) who will also testify. Indeed, the primary function of the Spirit in the lives of unbelievers is the conviction of sin, judgment and righteousness.

But that same Spirit lives within us. We are His temple. If He must testify, then we must testify.

Practical Application

Internal Relations - it is difficult to see the internal relations except by their fruit. But two things stand out in this passage: study of the Scripture, the Word, and prayer. Is your life filled with them?

Family Relations – this is a bit easier. Do you love those in the church? Do you go to the assistance of the poor and the homeless? If your life were examined today, would the love of your Christian brothers and sisters show up as a central portion of it? Do you love one another?

External Relations – Are you, as our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, salt and light? Does your mere presence show the purity and righteousness of Christ? (Want the test on that? Do you have those who can’t stand you and can’t explain why?) And do you actively testify for your Lord?

Little children, love one another.

[1] See, for example, Isaiah 5:1-7

[2] John 20:17

[3] See John 3:20-21

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