John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.”
This is another “new” experience. An offhand idea last Sunday has stuck in my brain. What if I did a chapter verse by verse? The sermon series at church was ending with John 14 but John 15 is one of my all time favorite chapters so that’s my choice to begin.
It’s going to be interesting because right off the bat there is a very short statement by Jesus. The “vinegrower” is depending on the “true vine” to establish the vineyard. The quality of the crop is totally dependent on the ability of the true vine to multiply and reproduce itself while maintaining the exact properties it was chosen for.
I barely dipped into the vast amount of information on the internet about the development of grapevines over the ages and found something I think strengthens the imagery of Jesus’ claim. Long before the birth of Christ there are documented efforts of the struggle of vine growers to develop grapevines that were able to reproduce their desirable qualities without continually having to introduce variable characteristics from another vine.
The Bible doesn’t waste it’s analogies. Jesus could claim He was the “true vine” because He was the complete and accurate reflection of his Father who perfectly reproduces that same unique likeness within His followers.
NRSV Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
NRSV Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us.
NRSV Luke 9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
After reading several versions of these passages and looking at commentaries written by people at various levels of prestige from St. Augustine to names I didn’t recognize this is my #1 question. Is Jesus speaking more about people outside the disciple’s experience of faith rather than those in opposition to Jesus? Is Jesus challenging us to check the balance of our focus on the relationship between doctrine and comfort?
Apparently doctrine is an age-old conflict. What if Jesus is speaking of people who operate outside the body of faith as we know it but don’t actually oppose Him? What if Jesus’ emphasis is about “tying up the strong man” with dependence on doctrine, rather than Himself. Can that be what makes the “strong man’s house” vulnerable to plunder? What if these three passages reveal the very words of Jesus that lead us from doctrine to comfort?
That makes sense to me when I read the Mark and Luke versions of this passage. I feel like I can read between the lines of John’s words in Mark. Sure the man is “casting out demons in your name” but how can what he’s doing possibly be OK “because he was not following us”? John’s concern for the corporate integrity of their ministry was real. Jesus matches his assurance to John with the same group-inclusive pronoun, “us.” “Whoever is not against US is for US.”
John’s invested his own life and identity in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew the question of integrity was still very personal to John. John’s own conflict was finding the comfort between doing things the way they “should” be done [doctrine?] and his commitment to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus words from Luke challenged John to move from doctrine to the exclusive assurance of comfort of a personal pronoun, “you.’ “Whoever is not against YOU is for YOU.”
NASB John 1: 35–39 As John the Baptist stood there with two of his disciples, Jesus passed and John stared hard at him and said: “Look, there is the Lamb of God.” Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus, and Jesus turned around, saw them following, and said, “What do you want?” “Rabbi [which means “teacher”], where do you live?” “Come and see,” he replied. So they went and saw where he lived and they stayed with him the rest of the day. It was about the tenth hour.
There’s no simpler or more effective way to tell people about Jesus than to invite them using His own words…“come and see.” They are gentle words with a mystery about them. That invitation to a one-on-one engagement with Jesus is what makes that relationship a “personal” and effective one. “Come and see” for yourself.
NASB Isaiah 32:18 Then my people will live in a peaceful habitation, And in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places;
I’ve finally reached Chapter 1 of the book of Hebrews. Honestly this grand finale feels like one of the biggest accomplishments of my years of study. I began at the end of Hebrews and have ended at the beginning of the book to discover this simple proof for myself; there is no “the end” anywhere in it. It’s all about beginning.
God’s provision of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are still at work in every chapter even with my own limitations of what I could comprehend from this theologically challenging book. The weeks of reading with the expectation I would personally discover an ultimate conclusion taught my heart something more than I expected. That is surely the gift of the Word of God.
Chapter 13. ”Outside” is where Christ receives your brokenness and disgrace and makes them his own. It’s the plan of God that we who are outsiders can go to where “new” begins, the Cross.
Chapter 1. I’m in God’s Kingdom because of the provision of that righteous scepter, His Son, “the exact imprint of God’s very being,” being the “crutch” that held me up so I could limp into it.
The ultimate conclusion of the Word of God always leads you to the cross and Christ and the reality there is no “the end” to your beginning.
NRSV 1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word…8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
Scepter’s not a common word today so that caught my attention. A scepter is an ornamented staff often used by kings as visual evidence of power but the word also has a practical meaning as something one can lean on for support.
You may have heard a negative description of faith as being a “crutch” as I have. Your reaction may have been as defensive as mine was so it was back to the dictionary for another definition – crutch: a long stick with a crosspiece at the top, used as a support under the armpit by a lame person.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard your faith referred to as a crutch. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been confronted by your own need for support. My heart still has a negative reaction to identifying my faith as a crutch but the reality is my hand is in the air.
My heart and my hand respond today to God’s own words identifying his Scepter: “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.” My heart and my hand have responded to His Son. Jesus is the righteous scepter God provided for the support of His own Kingdom and for each of us to personally lean on. All you have to do is admit to being lame. I’m in God’s Kingdom because of the provision of that righteous scepter, His Son, “the exact imprint of God’s very being,” being the “crutch” that held me up so I could limp into it.
MSG 2:1-4 It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off. If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation? First of all, it was delivered in person by the Master, then accurately passed on to us by those who heard it from him. All the while God was validating it with gifts through the Holy Spirit, all sorts of signs and miracles, as he saw fit.
MSG 13 Again, he puts himself in the same family circle when he says, Even I live by placing my trust in God.
I’m thankful this morning for the wisdom and work of the Holy Spirit in those who dedicate their lives to either translating the Word directly from original texts or taking the risk to trust in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who’s the real author in both cases anyway. I trust that. The Word reveals it’s own accuracy to the heart. The power of that accuracy began here for me today…
The “firm grip” we need to hang on to “so that we don’t drift off” is Jesus. The perfecter of our salvation has recreated His life within us so His experience can become our own. “Even I live by placing my trust in God.”
NRSV Galatians 2:20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God [Or by the faith of the Son of God], who loved me and gave himself for me.
NIV Hebrews 3
• 1…think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest…
• 7 That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear his voice, 8 don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness…
• 15 Remember what it says: “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”
There’s a mystery involved in hearing the unspoken Word of this book we call our Bible. We know the mystery involves our training to recognize guidance and respond to Word that can speak truth into the human heart. “There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament where the prophet stands at the mouth of a cave and the Lord is passing. There is thunder, and the Lord is not in the thunder. There is an earthquake, and the Lord is not in the earthquake. There is fire, and the Lord is not in the fire. Then there is a still, small voice, and the Lord is in that voice. (See 1 Kings 19: 11–13.)” Intro to Following Jesus [Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety] by Henri Nouwen
OK, it’s the Holy Spirit…√. Do you imagine the writer of Hebrews was just casually writing “think carefully about this Jesus” or “today when you hear his voice” or “remember?” The answer of course is no! The Holy Spirit is the vital voice that teaches us to consciously respond to that mystery. The “gentle whisper” that happens “today” when you allow Jesus to teach you is the Holy Spirit speaking the reality of the Word within you despite the noise of the world around you.
The passage from 1 Kings ends with the question of the day. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here Elijah [insert your name here]?” I hope your answer is thinking, hearing and remembering.
The idea of each Chapter being another layer peeled back has become an intriguing journey for me. My anticipation is building that when I get to chapter 1 of Hebrews I will discover my “final” thought has led me to the “core” of meaning for this experiment of reading the book backwards. Anticipation is the interaction I believe God desires between His Word and the followers of Jesus.
8 Just as faithfully as we practice those other disciplines of experience we need to learn to practice this simple truth…“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
7 The word sacrifice is familiar when thinking about Jesus but it was a new and meaningful thing for me to consider Abraham’s tithe as the prepaid debt that gave all of us descendants the option of Jesus, God’s promised “perfect” and final “tithe.”
6 A very important concept of faith every believer has to learn is renewal is not repetition. Surely that’s the beginning of a whole new direction that leads us to “become mature in our understanding.” Maturity and understanding have their ups and downs but God has a plan for that.
5 None of the diligent and and rigid rules of sacrifice had the power to deal with the full capacity of a broken human being to choose to sin on purpose. Jesus was “appointed by God to represent the people in matters related to God” in place of those sacrifices.
4 God swears on an oath He will jealously guard the heart, soul, mind and strength of “we who have believed” and entered the rest He’s completed for them.
NIV Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his REST still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that REST, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my REST.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God RESTed from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my REST.” 6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that REST, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Rest is apparently something more than lack of activity. That’s a good thing to know because lack of activity often seems impossible. There are schedules to keep, projects that need doing, places to be and people to care for. One of the first questions I asked as I began to write was why? Why did God sound so peevish when he said “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’” and then He even repeated it?
I looked at all the modifier words and phrases for “rest” in the 11 times it’s mentioned in the 16 verses of this chapter and here’s something I found that’s worth noting. I’ve been looking at ”rest” as a break from activity when in reality every single mention of rest in Hebrews 4 indicates it’s God’s rest, not mine that’s involved. God swears on an oath He will jealously guard the heart, soul, mind and strength of “we who have believed” and entered the rest He’s completed for them. The reality is God’s rest ”still remains for some to enter.“ In that rest lies His peace, His promises and the priceless value of ”the good news proclaimed to us.”
“God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen, don’t turn a deaf ear . . .[v6-7 MSG]”