at the Light through John - Chapter 15
said the apostle John, knowing that His hour had come that
He should depart out of this world, engaged in the
time-honored practice of passing His important thoughts along to
His disciples (John
13:1). Participating in the Passover meal and instituting the
Lords Supper, He talked about His giving them a new
commandment, and established that no one comes to the
Father but through Me. He gave them initial seeds for
contemplation about the coming of the Holy Spirit and His peace
that He would give to these apostles. Finishing the time at the
table, He explained that the ruler of the world was
coming, and He then began to lead them to the Garden of
Gethsemane with these words, Arise, let us go from here
14:31). But the trip to the Kidron and across was not a
silent one; He continued His discourse in imparting His wisdom
and concerns to these chosen men.
- The true vine He who spoke in parables
chose to use a grape vine to illustrate several of His
points. I am the true vine, He averred,
and My Father is the vinedresser (John
15:1). Grape vines have one purpose: to produce
grapes. Jesus, as the true vine, has one
purpose: to produce Christians. Earlier, He had used
another metaphor, comparing Himself to a grain of wheat.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and
dies, He had said, it remains by itself
alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John
12:24). Through His death, and only through His
death, could the much fruit of many
Christians be produced. The true vine, then, also is the
only way in which the much fruit of the grape
vine illustration would be borne. He who said, I am
the resurrection and the life, is also the One who
said with equal weight I am the true vine!
- The vinedresser Good horticulturists are
intimately concerned about their plants, and those who
get their living from the ground, such as vinegrowers,
hover over their crops, checking on a continuous basis in
order to get the maximum production. In this example, the
Father as the vinedresser has only one vine and its
branches, and the total focus of His concern is centered
on the production of this vine.
- Fruit-bearing Grape vines have one purpose:
to produce grapes. Every branch in Me that does not
bear fruit, said the Lord of the harvest, He
takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes
it, that it may bear more fruit (John
15:2). It is possible to be in Christ and
not bear fruit. But the penalty for being an unproductive
branch is simply to be lopped off. Vinegrowers cannot
afford to be sentimental about pretty branches that take
up space, use water and nutrients, but produce no grapes.
If those branches are going to be unfruitful, then they
are GONE! Fruitful branches come under the pruning shears
also. Any unnecessary twigs or suckers are
pared off and the main branch periodically is cut way
back to the quick so that everything going
into the branch goes into bearing grapes. Catharsis is
to clear the way for an increased crop! The message to
the saints is pretty clear: the Father has a disciplined
and regular program for paring off any baggage
the disciples may be carrying so that they are honed down
for bearing more fruit.
The entire attention of heaven and its
attendants is fixed on the vine and its branches. All its
resources are poured into supplying the sustenance for the vines
produce. And the Father, pictured as the vinedresser, hacks off
the unproductive branches, and prunes back the productive ones.
What heaven wants from the vine is more fruit, more fruit,
more fruit! Every branch, while it is still on the vine,
needs to take stock of its production, and get prepared for more
production or be prepared to be chopped off.
Special Role of the Apostles
Jesus warned that
every unproductive branch in Him would be taken away. Every
productive branch, He informed the interested, would be pruned
back to bear more fruit. But He then made this amazing statement
to the apostles: You are already clean because of the word
which I have spoken to you (John
15:3). This final group of eleven Galileans had been chosen
and honed by the Lord for the great purpose which lay before
them. As apostles, they had been set apart from the regular
disciples and had been given the special training and attention
necessary for their functioning in the upcoming work of the King.
This collection of fishermen, tax-gatherers, and agitators for
political freedom were the best of the best; while confused about
the nature of the kingdom and sometimes impulsive in their
actions, these men had the best hearts of any in all history.
Judas had already taken himself out of the game, but these
remaining men would not fail in accomplishing Jesus
- Already clean You are already
clean, Jesus had said. He had hinted at this
earlier when He washed the disciples feet. When
Peter proved somewhat resistant to Jesus, the Lord
responded, He who has bathed needs only to wash his
feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not
all of you (John
13:10). Judas was not clean, but the rest were
completely purified and forgiven. Jesus, of course, had
authority on earth to forgive sins, and by the word He
had spoken had purified and cleansed these mens
- The Day of Pentecost Were the apostles
immersed on the Day of Pentecost during the events
recorded in Acts chapter two? There are some pointers
indicating that they were not. First, one of the
principles coming from the Old Testament account of
creation is that the first of the plant and animal
kingdoms were created by the miracle of the spoken word,
and then reproduced according to their kind. The
apostles, as the first of the spiritual kingdom, would
have been made saints by the miracle of Jesus
spoken word, and would then reproduce according to
their kind. Secondly, the 3000 immersed on the day
of Pentecost were added (Acts
2:41). The expression were added carries
the idea that they were placed as an addition onto
something that already existed; the something would have
been the spiritual kingdom of which the apostles were
already the first members.
- The Holy Spirit What defines a person as
being a Christian is whether he is indwelt by the Holy
Spirit, as Paul stated in his epistle to the Roman
brethren: But if anyone does not have the Spirit of
Christ, he does not belong to him (Romans
8:9). Jesus had promised these apostles that they
would be immersed in the Holy Spirit on the Day of
Pentecost (the sign consisting of a sound like a mighty
wind, tongues like fire standing on eachs head, and
their speaking in other languages). He had also informed
them that they would receive power when the
Holy Spirit came upon them, referring to their ability as
apostles to perform signs, as well as their ability to
pass on gifts of the Spirit through the laying on of
their hands. It would be reasonable to conclude that they
were granted the indwelling Spirit at this point also,
born again by miracle as the first that would reproduce
in the spiritual realm.
The apostle Paul,
by contrast, was not one of the original apostles. As one
untimely born, he did not have the words, You are
already clean, spoken to him. Therefore he, like all others
following the original eleven plus Matthias, needed to arise, be
immersed, and wash away his sins (Acts
22:16). The twelve were special; all who would become
disciples of Jesus would believe in Him through their
17:20). And they were already clean, at the time
of John 15, because of the word Jesus had spoken to them.
Abiding in Christ
A person is either
in or he is out. There are many groups,
clubs, cliques, or cabals of which a person may be in or out, but
none of those have eternal value. What matters is whether the
individual is in Christ.
All the great
spiritual benefits are found in Christ. There
is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ
8:1). Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a
new creature (II
Corinthians 5:17). The Father has blessed us with every
spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
1:3). The list continues, and is very extensive, as might be
expected. It is eternally important to be in Christ, to
continue to abide in Him, and at His return to be found in
3:9). The challenge for all saints is to put sufficient value
on this abiding in Christ, and to do all the spiritual things
necessary to maintain and strengthen that abiding.
- Fellowship with Christ Abide in Me,
and I in you, the Lord stated (John
15:4). The only way to be in Christ is to be
immersed into Christ (Romans
3:27). If a penitent believer is lowered into the
watery grave, then he arises to walk in newness of life
and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In this way Christ
dwells in his heart by faith, and he now abides in Christ
and Christ abides in him. This wonderful fellowship has
to be maintained, however, and the saint is warned not to
turn his back on the Lord but rather to continue to walk
in a manner worthy of his calling.
- More on fruit bearing It has already been
iterated that the purpose of a grape vine is to produce
grapes. The Lord Jesus has made it clear that He is the
vine, and His earnest desire to bear fruit was expressed
in another figure: Referring to Himself as a grain of
wheat, He stated, unless a grain of wheat falls
into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but
if it dies it bears much fruit (John
12:24). Christ was willing to die an earthly death as
a demonstration of His earnest desire to produce much
fruit, and He expects that His disciples will naturally
have that same earnest desire. Using that expectation, He
then appeals to all disciples to remain plugged
in to His program rather than charging off into
something of man-made origin or some latest church
growth fad. As the branch cannot bear fruit
of itself, He averred, unless it abides in
the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in
- Only through Jesus I am the
vine, He re-emphasized, you are the
15:5). The branch must not get too puffed up and
think that it can run an independent operation. He
who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much
fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. The
life is coming from the vine into the branch, and it
should be patently obvious that the branch by itself
would lifeless and unproductive. Because the connection
between Jesus and the branches is spiritual, whether the
branch is alive or lifeless is not quite so noticeable,
and there are many who claim to be bearing fruit who are
in fact far, far from the vine and whose
fruit is just as lifeless as they. Only
through Jesus can true fruit be borne.
It is critical that
each branch be in Christ initially, but it is equally
critical that each branch abide in Christ for the long
haul. As each branch remains attached to the vine, the life can
flow and the branch can bear much fruit. There are
two questions therefore for each Christian: 1) Am I abiding in
the vine? 2) Am I doing everything I can in the body of Christ to
bear much fruit?
I am the vine, you are the
branches, stated the Lord Christ. The branches, therefore,
need to remember that they are branches and subservient to the
vine. As branches, their role is to bear fruit. The role of the
vine is not to make the branches happy; the role of the vine is
simply to provide nourishment to the branches so that an
abundance of grapes are produced. And, He had
informed the apostles earlier, My Father is the
vinedresser. The branches are thusly warned that the Father
is going to be hacking away at the weaknesses of their
characters, chopping off the unproductive to make way for the
productive. So interested is the Vinedresser in the efficient,
honed-down fruitfulness of the vine that this statement is made
by Jesus: Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He
takes away. What happens to those unfruitful branches?
- Thrown away One of the great challenges for
the saints of God is to be able to focus on that which is
spiritually important; otherwise the motivation for
mammon and the worries of the world pre-empt the
priorities of eternity. Hence the connection between the
vine and the branch is weakened, and that which once
firmly abode in Christ is on its way out. If anyone
does not abide in Me, warned the King, he is
thrown away as a branch (John
15:6). The branch is given plenty of opportunities to
be fruitful, but if the saint does not follow Christ and
become a fisher of men, then the Master is done with him.
The day of mercy is gone; the Vinedresser is not going to
put up with unproductive branches!
- Drying up As soon as a branch is cut off
from the main plant, its connection to the life-giving
sap is severed. Immediately the leaves begin to dry up,
and the woody stem commences to harden and crack. Just so
with a branch which is thrown away as not abiding in
Christ it dries up.
- Gathered When a hedge is trimmed or a vine
is being dressed, the chopped off portions are left to
lay all over the ground while the dresser concentrates on
his pruning. Then he proceeds to have all the
hackings gathered up and thrown into a pile
for burning. The parable of Jesus continues in the same
vein, as He notes of the dried branches, and they
gather them. This gathering of unfruitful branches,
according to the Lord, will be accomplished by the
angels. The Son of Man, said He in another
place, will send forth His angels, and they will
gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those
who commit lawlessness (Matthew
- Fire The unproductive and dried up branches
have a predictable end: they gather them, and cast
them into the fire, and they are burned. This is
Gehenna, the eternal garbage dump, where their worm
does not die, and the fire is not quenched (Mark
9:48). It is clear, upon reflection, that God created
this world for His benefit and His glory, and that
destructive or unproductive people will be cast away from
His presence, waste products shoved through the eternal
vacuole into the outer darkness.
The seriousness of
Jesus statements should be carefully considered by each
claimant to discipleship. A time of self-examination is in order,
wherein each branch presents himself with some poignant queries:
Am I really abiding in the vine, or is my claim to
Christianity just a sham? Am I a productive
fruit-bearing branch, or am I willing to be hacked off and
burned? If I am a branch bearing fruit, am I willing
to undergo the Vinedressers pruning with a great attitude,
or will I cast aspersions on someone else instead of facing my
responsibilities? The advice from the scripture is to abide
in Him, and bear much fruit!
The Proving Ground
It must be
re-emphasized: the reason for a grapevines existence is to
produce grapes. And the only reason for the universe is to
provide a setting in which the Father, the vinedresser, can grow
His vine and harvest His grapes. It stands to reason, then, that
all the resources of heaven are funneled toward assisting the
vine and the branches to bear fruit.
true vine, had access to the power of God through faith
during the years of His earthly sojourn. The Son, He
commented, can do nothing of Himself, unless it is
something He sees the Father doing (John
5:19). As He then approached His crucifixion His death
being necessary for the bearing of future fruit He
petitioned the Father that the cup of His suffering might be
removed from Him. But, as the plan was for the crucifixion to go
on as scheduled, the assistance of heaven was provided. Luke
records, Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him,
strengthening Him (Luke
22:43). But more from heaven was forthcoming. As the apostle
Paul described, Jesus was declared the Son of God with
power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit
of holiness (Romans
1:14). The power of the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead to
the position of authority on the heavenly throne. What resources!
- Resources for the saints He who
abides in Me, the Savior had stated, he bears
much fruit. The branches that are not interested in
bearing fruit are cut off and burned, but the resources
and patience of heaven are available for the disciples
who earnestly desire to be fruitful. If you abide
in Me, encouraged the Lord, and My words
abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done
for you (John
15:7). In the realm of the unseen, there is an entire
support team providing for the fruit-bearing saint, so
that whenever he needs assistance or materials, they are
available at his beck and call. But he has to call; he
has to ask.
- Jesus words abiding within The vine
must demonstrate its trustworthiness in its use of
resources. Therefore one of the conditions in regard to
whether prayer is going to be answered or not is that the
words of Jesus must abide in the branch. The
Vinedressers earnest desire is that the branch bear
fruit, but if the branch is going to squander the
nutrients coming down the stem because the focus is
wrong, then the nutrients are not going to come down the
stem for very long. One of the ways in which the branch
can develop and maintain the fruit-bearing focus is to
memorize the word to get those words abiding
within so that those words direct the thoughts and
actions of the follower of Christ into making disciples
of men. Jesus Himself relied on memorized scripture; His
disciples certainly will have to memorize huge chunks of
the word as well.
- Glorifying God God, the great King, will
only be glorified in the ways He wants to be glorified.
The man, then, under the terms of the old covenant, who
tried to offer the blind or blemished to God was rightly
cursed instead of blessed (Malachi
1:14). So how is God to be glorified under the terms
of the new covenant? By this is My Father
glorified, the Christ informed us, that you
bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples (John
The only reason for being a branch on the
vine is to bear fruit. Anyone who does not bear much
fruit cannot prove that he is a disciple. God wants fruit!
God wants fruit! God wants fruit! Let us prove that we are His
disciples by throwing our whole efforts into going, making
disciples, immersing those disciples, and teaching those
disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded!
Abiding in His Love
God loves all people. But God is also a just God, and His justice requires the commensurate penalty for sin. God is also a righteous God, so the commensurate penalty for sin is eternal death - an eternal separation away from the presence of the Holy God. Inasmuch as God loves man, as He surveys history from beginning to end in His magnificent omniscience, His stark and accurate analysis is: "There is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).
The Almighty, then, is faced with a dilemma: Can He find some way to pardon this fallen creature, and yet not violate His own principles? As the late Don DeWelt put it: "The love of God searched with wisdom of God to find a means of satisfying the justice of God; and the result was the cross of Calvary." In the words of the late apostle Paul, "But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). One of the major purposes of the written revelation is to paint a clear picture for the sons of men - a picture delineating Godís greatest and abiding attribute, "God is love" (I John 4:6).
- The Father loves the Son - It is generally built into the human race for parents to love their children, and for fathers to have a special affection for their sons. This is one of Godís avenues of communication, an avenue that speaks volumes in a short space when we read the words of Jesus: "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you" (John 15:9). The Father loves the Son, and loves the only begotten Son greatly!
- Jesus loved the apostles - It is believable that the Father would love the Son. But what is stupendously amazing is that Jesus loved the apostles - and therefore the rest of the sons of men - as much as the Father loved Him! The human race tends to be oblivious to Godís love for them, and selfishly and (to some degree) mindlessly plods on its way through earthly existence. Oh, if only they could or would comprehend, and then govern themselves accordingly.
- Abide in His love - Building on the foundation of Jesusí love for the world, the Savior added, "Abide in My love." The love of God is unconditional; the eternal blessings are not! If a person chooses to wander outside the boundaries prescribed by His love, then the benefits of His love are lost for all eternity.
- How? - How then, to abide in this wondrous, rapturous, eternal love? "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love," stated the Son, "just as I have kept My Fatherís commandments, and abide in His love" (John 15:10). What the Father wanted the Son to do, He did. He could have just kept the Law of Moses and would have lived a perfect life. But that was not the major point; God required that He die that we might live. "We know love by this," said the apostle in his first epistle, "that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (I John 3:16).
Love is so much more than a feeling; it is offering a life in sacrifice and service. In the home, it means that the Christian husband and wife will each lay down their lives for the other, and together they will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children. In the body of Christ, it means that self-serving interests will be set aside, and that saints will look for ways to serve Christ, serve the lost, and serve each other. If the saints will do this, they will abide in the Fatherís matchless love forever.
My Joy in You
Love and joy are inseparable. In fact, without love it is not possible to have real joy, and without joy love is pointless and short-lived. Therefore it is not surprising to find a significant statement about joy in the midst of one of Jesusí discourses on love.
Did the "Man of Sorrows" know anything about joy? When the seventy returned victoriously from their being sent out, the Lord was correspondingly upbeat. Luke records: "At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit" (Luke 10:21). Not only was there "the joy set before Him," but He also was a happy Man, filled with the Holy Spirit and exuding love and good cheer wherever He went.
- Things spoken - Words are powerful - able to destroy and able to save. And words of instruction taken to heart by a serious disciple can form firm foundations for life and lifeís course. "These things I have spoken to you," said the Christ therefore, in reference to His comments about love.
- His joy - What foundation was the Lord trying to lay? "These things I have spoken to you," He affirmed, "that My joy may be in you" (John 15:11). Jesus, much more "Man of Joy" rather than "Man of Sorrows" was particularly desirous that the same joy which reverberated through His entire being also be the hallmark of His disciples. Without joy, love cannot be communicated; it is difficult to tell a person he is loved unless it is also apparent that he is welcomed with gladness!
- In you - The Lordís intention is that His joy be in each disciple. His rejoicing was not a surface belly laugh or a false "good olí boy" act. Only with the joy of deep unchanging fellowship with the Father could He take the continued rejection of a significant percentage of Jewry and the more and more serious threats on His life. To be able to greet each day with such joy was no small accomplishment in the midst of such swirling controversy.
- Full joy - The Lord further emphasized: "that your joy may be made full." The keys to gladness all hang on the ring of love. "Beware," exhorted the Lord, "and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). Happiness is not found in things; happiness is found in good, spiritual, and deepening relationships with others - all flowing from a wonderful and full fellowship with God. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God," affirmed Jesus the Christ, "over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). The secret to finding joy and happiness is to be involved in the process of seeking and saving the lost. Anything else is selfishness to some degree, and therefore falls short of the full joy experienced by those who walk in Christís footsteps.
How hard it seems to be for even the redeemed to listen to Jesus! Christians want to be happy, but have a tendency to do anything except to follow the Lordís prescription for joy. "These things I have spoken to you," we must be reminded, "that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." Love others enough to bear fruit, and experience the full joy that comes in sharing in the harvest.
The Greatest Commandment
God is love. So why should it be surprising that His great commandments are all about love? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind," was the greatest of the Old Testament commandments. The concomitant command, in the words of Jesus, was like the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The whole system of Judaism hung on those two commandments. But Judaism was a maintenance system, dedicated to preserving the Jewish people, rooting out idolatry within, and providing a remnant for the faith that would come through Jesus Christ. Christianity, being an expansion system, requires more than the mere maintenance of Judaism. Hence the new covenant requires an upgrade from the old covenant, coming in the form of a new command. "A new commandment I give to you," the Lord informed His apostles in connection with a new covenant, "that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). This means going further and sacrificing more for the neighbor than was ever a part of the Law of Moses.
- New command restated - The goal of the Lord is that each branch in Him (the Vine) bear much fruit. But without a deep, driving love for the lost, the "branch" will not push himself out his own door to bear fruit in the fields of the harvest, and he will not press on through the myriads of disappointments he encounters as people choose eternal death rather than eternal life. Jesus then restates His executive order: "This is My commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you" (John 15:12). The lost also have to know that the one who presents the gospel really cares for the one who receives the presentation. Hence, the self-sacrificing love of Christ for lost sheep also has to shine through the eyes of the disciple-maker in order for him to be effective. The gospel is only entrusted "to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2).
- Greater love - History records the feats of those selfless men and women who lost their lives to rescue or preserve someone else. The soldier who covers the grenade to save his platoon, the mother who dies in the fire but is able to free her child, or the person who drowns while saving the life of someone trapped in raging waters are all regarded as heroes, and generally awarded some posthumous recognition for such selflessness and bravery. The Author of this truth therefore stated: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The Lord, of course, was contemplating His impending crucifixion, and was communicating His love for the apostles and ultimately for all who would be obedient to His gospel. What more could Jesus do to express His love for each of humanityís children than to die that each might live?
If someone is pulled from the flames or drawn from the waters, his deliverance is physical and therefore very obvious. The deliverance offered through the sacrifice of Christ is spiritual, and consequently a step away from being so manifest. And because the physical realm obscures the spiritual realm for most, comparatively few respond to the greatest act of love ever performed in the history of the world. May the saints of God, however, pierce the veil, recognize the great love Jesus has for their souls, and respond with corresponding love and imitation.
Friends of Jesus
When Jesus issued a "hard saying" or "difficult statement" to the multitudes who listened to Him in the synagogue at Capernaum, they complained about Him and left. But not the apostles. When the crowds following Him needed thinning down a bit, the Lord stressed the necessity of a personís giving up his life to be a disciple. The impression is that many walked away. But not the apostles. Some turned away when the Lord informed them that He did not have a place to lay His head, and that His disciples would be subjected to the same privation. But not the apostles. When the rich young ruler was exhorted to break free of his covetousness by selling his possessions and following Jesus, "he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property" (Matthew 19:23). But not the apostles. It was these men who demonstrated their loyalty to Christ, and with whom He earnestly desired to eat the last Passover. They were His proven friends.
- You are My friends - Jesus had explained to them, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." After establishing the general principle, then the Son of God made specific application: "You are My friends, if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). What an honor! To be called friends by the most important personage to ever set foot on the earth! Undoubtedly the apostles were not able to appreciate that honor in the midst of enduring their circumstances; it would only be in looking back from a better perspective that they would begin to see what privilege the Lord had bestowed on them. And through the apostles, all faithful disciples also are friends of this same Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords!
- Conditional friends - While the love of God is unconditional, His friendship is not. "You are My friends," averred the Lord, "if you do what I command you." How the words of Jesus must have stung in Judasí heart as he greeted Jesus with the kiss of betrayal. "Friend," said the Lord, "do what you have come for" (Matthew 26:50). Right up to the last minute, Judas had the opportunity to remain a friend of God rather than becoming the son of perdition. A similar choice faces each who claims to be one of the holy ones: will I be a friend of Jesus and do what He commands, or will I choose my own path and become a son of perdition also?
- No longer slaves - One of the basic ideas in Christianity is that those of the faith are going to have sufficient maturity to govern themselves responsibly with their freedom in Christ, and use that liberty to be productive citizens of the kingdom. This is in contrast to the accursed children, who live under the law of conscience or the law of Moses, "in bondage," mourned the apostle Paul, "under the elemental things of the world" (Galatians 4:3). "No longer do I call you slaves," was the Lordís affirmation, "Ö but I have called you friends" (John 15:15). All true friends of Jesus have been set free from attempts to be motivated by law or similar outward pressures. Instead, they follow the upward call of their new image in Christ - friends!
The true Emancipation Proclamation was delivered as recorded in Acts chapter two. There the apostles were set free as they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit; 3000 more joined them when they were immersed in the name of Jesus and received that same promise of the indwelling Spirit. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Corinthians 3:18). Multitudes upon multitudes have since had the Spirit of Godís Son sent into their hearts, crying out, "Abba! Father!" No longer slaves, but friends!
Knowing the Masters Will
Jesus in glory is the last word in Godís revelation to man. Having shown Jesus to be the radiance of the Fatherís glory and the exact representation of His nature, God has nothing further to reveal. What more could be added to the words of the Great Prophet who speaks from heaven? "In these last days," animadverted Hebrewsí author, God "has spoken to us in His Son" (Hebrews 1:2). Thus, "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (II Peter 1:3). The revelation is complete. He has "made known to us the mystery of His will" (Ephesians 1:9). And this has come about through a process Jesus started with the apostles.
- Slaves do not know - Slaves are tools, and not expected to the understand the overall picture that the master has, and consequently are not expected to show initiative. Like soldiers, their job is to do and die, and not understand why. "No longer do I call you slaves," Jesus informed the apostles, "for the slave does not know what his master is doing" (John 15:15). A major and exciting upgrade in the status of the disciples was imminent! The transition from spiritual slave to spiritual freeman was about to take place.
- The Fatherís will - Jesus was repeatedly emphatic that He was not running His own independent program. "The Son can do nothing of Himself," He had stated, "unless it is something He sees the Father doing" (John 5:19). "For I did not speak on My own initiative," He said in another place, "but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak" (John 12:49). Before the foundation of the world, the Father devised a plan to create man, and through Jesus provide redemption for the poor, fallen creature. Jesus was privy to those details - the only thing hidden from Him during the years of His earthly sojourn was the exact day and hour of His second coming. So intimate, then, was His relationship with the Father.
- Shared information - Only the closest of associates would be let in on the plans of God to conquer Satan and rescue the kidnapped. This, therefore, is the complete statement of the Lord to those eventually tested and trusted disciples: "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). As the Father was intimate with the Son, as evidenced by the disclosure of His plans to Jesus, just so the Son was intimate with the apostles, similarly evidenced by His sharing of all the sensitive information with them.
- Passing the information on - What Jesus shared with the chosen apostles, they in turn have shared with all disciples. The early church continually devoted themselves "to the apostlesí teaching" (Acts 2:42). "Remember the words that were spoken beforehand," emphasized Jude, "by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 17). Every true Christian is one of the friends of Jesus, and has access to the things hidden from the past generations.
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ," was the affirmation of the apostle Paul (Galatians 3:26). These intimate friends of Jesus are privy to the special information about the Fatherís will. This information, in printed form and to some degree readily accessible by everyone, is locked behind the door of faith. Only those whose lives are driven by the faith of Christ will press on to understand the things "hidden from the past ages and generations." The rest of mankind hears but does not understand, sees but does not perceive.
Choosing the Apostles
After some general opening comments, the gospel according to John takes us to the Jordan River. There John the Immerser has been preaching, making disciples, and immersing those disciples for the remission of their sins. When the day came for Jesus to be immersed by John, fourteen men, mostly unknown to each other, were among the throng who witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Son of Man. Their names are now well-known to Christians and most are recognized as the conduits of the message of Jesus Christ to the earth - names such as Peter, Andrew, James, John, Judas Iscariot, Joseph called Barsabbas, and Matthias. These men were willingly disciples of the Immerser, but unknown to them, a much larger plan was in motion. Two of those disciples, Andrew and John, by their own choice, were with the Immerser at the precise moment when the Lamb of God walked by following His descent from fasting in the wilderness. How coincidental! Andrew and John were immediately convinced that Jesus was indeed the Christ, soon followed by Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel. This began the flow of those close associates whom Jesus would later designate as His apostles or emissaries.
- Jesusí choosing - In a very complex way, beyond the ken of finite minds, man exercises his free will and yet God accomplishes His mighty and patient plan. "You did not choose Me," was Jesus own commentary, "but I chose you Ö" (John 15:16). The Lord was emphasizing His sovereignty, explaining that in the larger picture He really chose them out of all the possible inhabitants of the world to be His apostles.
- Jesusí appointing - The apostles initially joined Jesus because they were looking for an earthly kingdom in which they would share positions of influence, honor, and power. Unknown to them, right up to the day that Jesus ascended, Jesus was establishing a spiritual kingdom, bringing into existence the church. "I Ö appointed you," He said, "that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16). Aha! That is where the analogy of the vine, branches, and bearing fruit would tie in! The apostles were appointed to lead in the fruit-bearing that would come through the rest of the church. As Jesus spoke these words, there was no way that the apostles could envision the establishment of the church on the upcoming Day of Pentecost, the multitudes of Jews that would become Christians, that the Samaritans would be welcomed into the fellowship, or that the great salvation would be extended to the Gentiles. They were not yet spiritually prepared for the strategic plan that God had in mind for laying down the foundation of the first century church rapidly and over a broad area - so rapidly that it could not be immediately thwarted by Satan, and so broad that later historians would not be able to blot its existence off the record. The apostles were to bear much fruit, and fruit that would remain.
- Asking the Father - The Father has always been totally committed to the vineís bearing fruit, much fruit, and fruit that remains. Therefore all the resources of heaven are available for the use of those who are involved in the process, beginning with the apostles. Jesus appointed them to bear fruit, and thus "that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you" (John 15:16).
Just as the total plan of the Father for saving the world ran through Jesus, so it also ran through the apostles. These men were carefully selected by Jesus from all those available throughout the entire history of the world, and then appointed to lead the fruit-bearing. Once tested and appointed, the check book of heaven and the assistance of the angels were offered to them. This enabled them to execute their critical portion of the plan of God -setting the foundation of the church in place quickly and over a broad area, and recording the apostlesí doctrine for all later spiritual generations to follow.
True love is the strongest of all bonds. It was the bond between Father and Son. As that which "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things," love holds husband and wife together through shocks and trials. Love provides a tight relationship between brother and sister. Love causes grandmothers to sacrifice greatly for their grandchildren. But a love far deeper than even these others sent the Son from heaven to suffer and die on behalf of the lost of earth. It is Godís intention that love be the "ambience" pervading His church, and that it be the "perfect bond of unity," holding the brethren together through the vagaries of Satanís scorching attacks. And it is His goal that His love be "poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5).
- Another reiteration - The apostle John opens His description of the giving of the Lordís Supper in these words: "Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). Desirous He was, then, that His love and motivation be passed on to His disciples, beginning with the apostles. "A new commandment I give you," He had stressed concerning love. "Love one another, just as I have loved you," He had stated again. But it was going to be necessary for Him to reiterate it at least one more time: "This I command you, that you love one another" (John 15:17). The apostles, and all future disciples, should be getting the point!
- World in rebellion - All the peoples of the world should love God, their Creator. But in order to make their spiritual break, like a nasty divorce, they have to turn that love to hate. "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer," asseverated the apostle Paul, then they became "haters of God" (Romans 1:28,30). This hate spills over onto anyone who reminds of them of their obligations to God, to anyone who presses the claims of Jesus the Savior upon their souls. "If the world hates you," Jesus forewarned these apostles, "you know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). The apostles, then, and all subsequent disciples of Christ, should not take that hate personally. Nor should they expect that the accolades and honors of the world be showered upon them.
- Of the world - "If you were of the world, the world would love its ownÖ" said Jesus (John 15:19). The world has its agenda in its rebellion against God, and it is willing to pour out its affections on those it uses before their souls slip into the agony of Hadesí darkness. Those who persist in their insurrections against the Almighty, affirmed the great Paul, "although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).
- The calling out - The church and the world are hostile enemy camps. The apostles, as those who would be first in the church, were informed of the enmity: "Öbut because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). The apostles, therefore, were chosen or called out of the world by Jesus to form the core of the ekklesia, those who are "called out."
The underlying driving force of the world is the hate of Satan. His hostility toward God transfers over to those caught in his web, varying from outright hatred and rebellion toward the name of Jesus to a very subtle but deliberate deviation from the direction offered by the word of God. The apostles were chosen out of this into the realm where the love of God pervades all aspects of the great fellowship of the saints.
The Masters Example
One of the threads that runs through the fabric of Godís word has to do with the master/slave relationship. "A disciple," the Lord had stated, "is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master" (Matthew 10:24). The principle is that all things flow from the greater to the lesser, and that the extremities of blessings and cursings will fall on the greater. After the Christ had washed their feet at the institution of the Lordís Supper, He noted, "A slave is not greater than his master; neither is the one sent greater than the one who sent him" (John 13:16). If the Master was willing to stoop low enough to do the work of the simplest slave, then the disciples of the Lord should be willing to do the same. If the Master was willing to be sent with a message of hope and love into a hostile environment, then disciples of the Lord should be willing to go with that same message into that same hostile environment.
- Remember - As Jesus approached the Kidron geographically and His death mentally, He was earnestly passing along His final thoughts to His chosen apostles. "Remember," He pleaded, "the word that I said to you, ĎA slave is not greater than his master.í " (John 15:20). The Lord was gently trying to move the disciples into a realm where they previously had not wanted to go. Near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had told the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and be killed, and Peterís response had been an emphatic, "This shall never happen to You" (Matthew 16:22). Now the Lord was saying to the apostles directly, "The world hates you." Now He was asking them to remember that a slave was not greater than his master.
- Persecution - "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you," He added. Just a few hours earlier, at the Passover meal, these same apostles had been arguing over who would be "regarded to be greatest" (Luke 22:24). Now Jesus was soberly telling them that, since He had been persecuted, so they would be also. Before they would experience the reward of sitting "on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel," they would have to drink the same cup of suffering and persecution He was about to drink.
- Keeping the word - The message of the Lord Jesus to the world was being entrusted to these men. Jesus, as the first-born from the dead, was privileged to preach light both to the Jews and the Gentiles, through the apostles. Jesus, having purchased reconciliation with God through His own blood, preached peace both to the Jews and the Gentiles, through the apostles. Just as they were to be sharers in His sufferings, so they were to be sharers in His joy of delivering the word. "If they kept My word," the Lord affirmed, "they will keep yours also" (John 15:20).
- His nameís sake - The only reason that God has allowed the salvation of anyone is for the benefit of His name, to vindicate His name. Jesusí plan, laid down before the foundation of the world, was that He would suffer and die on behalf of the lost souls of men, thus establishing that Godís character is not so much one of vengeance but of mercy. As the heathen raged and the Jews plotted - not only against Jesus but also eventually against the apostles - they were actually also unwittingly carrying out the agenda of God. "But all these things they will do to you for My nameís sake," He informed them, "because they do not know the One who sent Me."
It is easy to see how these same principles carry over to all true disciples of the Lord - both the persecutions connected with and the blessings of distributing the word of Jesus. As He learned obedience, so His disciples are transformed in the process. "A pupil is not above his teacher," was another statement of the principle, "but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40).
One of the natural tendencies of the race of men is to duck accountability. Tests are hated, performance evaluations are dreaded, and situations are avoided. When individuals are engaged in activities which they know are forbidden by God, or when they are refusing to do those things which are recommended by the Almighty, their consciences go to work, and they in general do not want attention called to their falling short of the glory of God. "Men loved the darkness rather than the light," was Jesusí inspired commentary, "for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:19,20). That, unfortunately, is a general description of the human race.
- Confronted with words - The Lord also issued a commentary on the Jewish people. "They do not know the One who sent Me," was His analysis. By Godís design Levites and itinerant rabbis circulated among the people, whose purpose was to be to teach the people to "know the Lord." That had not been successful, however, as Jesus noted in another place: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me" (Mark 7:6). In sending the Christ as the Teacher, however, the Father ramped up pressure on the Jews. In regard to His appearing to Israel, Jesus therefore asseverated, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22). So significant was His interaction with Israel that their refusal to listen to Him was regarded as the sin by which they would be judged. As they collectively were confronted with the words of Jesus, backed by the miracles He performed establishing His authority to speak His words, they ducked for cover and tried to avoid being accountable. It didnít work. "Now they have no excuse for their sin."
- Reaction - The human race has calculated that the best defense is often a really nasty offense. "Win by intimidation," is the name of that game. When confronted with the words that convict them of sin and bring them to a recognition of their accountability to God, the race resorts to hatred and anger. Aware of that, Jesus threw in this comment: "He who hates Me hates My Father also" (John 15:23). He who hates the messenger boy because of the messenger boyís words really hates the one who gave the messenger boy the words in the first place.
- Confronted with righteous deeds - When words are backed by action, the combination is one of formidable power. Jesus not only preached righteousness, He practiced righteousness. He not only informed them that He was the Son of God and the Son of Man, but He verified those claims with the miracles He performed. "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did," He added, "they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well" (John 15:24). Not only did Jesus call the nation to repentance, but He backed that call with a life - a life they had witnessed - that gave Him credibility to make that call. Their reaction to the double call to accountability: hatred! "But they have done this," the Lord noted, being aware of all the Old Testament prophecies, "in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ĎThey hated Me without a cause.í " (John 15:25). No good reason for the hatred, just a desire to escape accountability.
The world is going to continue to hate those who walk in the footsteps of Jesus and bring the word of God to the people around them. Christians just need to remind themselves of the source of that hatred, and continue to plow forward with message and lifestyle that is pleasing to God.
Witnesses have to have seen something, or experienced something. And when a witness claims to have seen something, or experienced something, the claims stand or fall based on the credibility of the witness. Many give "witness" or "testimony" as to how Jesus "saved" them in some wondrous or glorious fashion. But what did these "witnesses" really know other than their subjective feelings? This type of "witnessing what Jesus has done in my life" is based on a Calvinist perspective, an idea that God has to do something specific in an individualís life to show him that the Sovereign has already "saved" him apart from his own choice and action. Such a "witness" as this has no credibility because his testimony is not based on the word of God.
But apostles and select others were the ones called "witnesses" by the scriptures. Specifically the New Testament usage of witness refers to one who by the revelation of the Spirit has had a vision of Jesus in glory. In the selection of Matthias to take Judasí place as recorded in Acts chapter one, the man was to have already been in the company from the time that Jesus was immersed until the time when He was taken up to glory. Out of such, one "should become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:22).
- The coming of the Spirit - The Lord knew that He was going to leave the earth physically, and that He would send the Spirit (Himself in Spirit-form) to accomplish His purposes. "When the Helper comes," He informed the apostles, "whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father Ö" (John 15:26). The Helper, whom Jesus had already defined as the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), was also called the Spirit of truth to contradistinguish Him from the spirit of falsehood, the lying spirit that is working in the sons of disobedience. And the Lord, according to His custom, stated that the Spirit was proceeding from the Father - always emphasizing the Father as the central figure to be worshiped and served.
- The witness of the Spirit - The Holy Spirit would have quite a number of functions as He would work within the oncoming church. His core and first function, however, would be to have people focus on Jesus. "He will bear witness of Me," was information from Christ in the flesh. The Holy Spirit, of course, was the One who had written the Old Testament, and had made and recorded the prophecies concerning the Christ. The Spirit would also, as Jesus had stated earlier to the apostles, "teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). Thus the plan was in motion so that the life of Christ on earth could be written as "the gospels" - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- The witness of the apostles - Not everyone was a witness of Jesusí resurrection. Of himself and the other apostles Peter said, "God raised [Jesus] up on the third day, and granted that He should be come visible, not to all the people, but witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead" (Acts 10:40,41). These would be the same ones who would receive revelation about Jesusí coronation in heaven, and His seating in power at the right hand of the Majesty on high. "Ö and you will bear witness also," the Lord had stated to these same apostles, "because you have been with Me from the beginning" (John 15:27).
The Holy Spirit would be the One bearing witness of Jesus, but He would bear that testimony first through the apostles. Not only would He bring to their remembrance all the words spoken by Jesus during His temporal time on earth, but He would be the One to bear witness of the heavenly things connected with Jesusí High Priesthood and reign from heaven. What an honor, to be chosen to be such witnesses!