Ever wonder why you feel so frustrated that no matter how many resolutions you make, how much effort you exert, how many books you read or classes you attend, you seem to stay stuck all the time? Well, if you’ve ever felt that way, or if you feel that way right now, at the beginning of a new year, you’ve come to the right place. Because we’re going to be able to learn today, in John 15, why people fail, and why they stay frustrated.
This is the chapter about the vine, about how the life of God flows into ordinary, fractured, broken human beings; how God takes us where we are, and plants us into himself. He becomes the vine, we’re the branch, and He flows through us. The life that we live, as Paul said, is not the life that we live, it’s the life He lives through us, so that our fruitfulness and our continued success over time is guaranteed, as long as we don’t forget the vine/branch relationship.
And also, by the way, there’s a reason why so many people don’t like you, why there are people who lie to you, why there are people who betray you, why there are people who walk away just at the right time to cause you the maximum pain and frustration. It’s all in there. You’ll find it today in John 15: the vine and the branch theory.
No matter how long you’ve been walking with God, or how sophisticated your knowledge, or how complete your experience, you’ll never get beyond one single demand.
What demand is that? It’s not moral perfection, or doctrinal sophistication. It’s not faithful church attendance, or the willingness to be nice to each other. It’s the one thing without which your life without God is not possible. It’s simply this. Jesus demanded that we trust Him. Of all the beautiful things that are promised in this chapter – Heaven, the Holy Spirit, fruitfulness, blessing, peace of mind, the purposeful life – none of it can be accessed through effort, through family, or through business achievement. All of it hinges on your ability to trust God, to test God and take Him at His word. This is what He demands. And on this, He will not compromise.
But if you can trust Him, all things open up. The world gets bigger. His promises drop into place. Listen to them as we study together in our Friday Morning Bible Study.
The fear of being humiliated is one of the strongest fears we have to defeat if we’re going to live well.
Jesus introduces this idea of humility through the practice of feet-washing. You probably know this is a cultural thing; that feet were washed by servants when people entered the house after a long journey. But what the disciples could never have expected was that Jesus, their God, Lord, and Messiah, the One they had left everything for, would humble Himself to wash their feet. He taught them that humility was the bedrock of our faith, that we are servants, not task masters, not Lords, not those who demand their own way.
One of the great contributions of this chapter is Jesus giving us a very clear, focused understanding of how we are to express our faith in the real world. And that’s simply this, that if we love other people, particularly other Christians, that becomes one of the first evidences of our faith.
You can’t say that you love God and not love people, period. That rules out hate, prejudice, any of the stuff that we see people using to excuse their behavior in God’s name.
Humility is a beautiful thing. Humiliation can become a beautiful thing as God applies His grace to it. It’s His love that grows strong in us that allows us to be strong in the world, even as we take up the towel as our Savior did, and serve others.
We’re getting to the section of John where Jesus is now beginning to taper down His activity and focus on moving to Jerusalem. This is the direction he has been going, with purpose and intentionality, all along. He is beginning to enter the phase of His ministry when He suffers and dies as a sacrifice for our sins.
As you go through the study of John 12, think about how important Jesus’ statement is when He says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed.” Reflect on that as you’ve seen what has happened since the death and resurrection and the growth in the movement of this faith that has resulted in the fact that 2,000 years after His death 40% of the billions of people on this planet claim to follow Jesus. Is it any accident that the fastest growing faith on the planet is Christianity? This just leads you to believe that Jesus was and is real, that He did and does live, and that what He did in a moment of history remains done and continues to happen.
Let’s get something straight. Jesus Christ is God, is the Savior, no doubts, no ifs, no ands, and no compromises. Anyone who tells you any differently is lying to you.
That having been said, you might ask, “How can you be so sure?” Well, Jesus was. So sure, that in John 11 He promised to raise the dead. And not only raise the dead, but He promised that those who believed in Him, trusted Him, accepted Him, embraced Him in a personal connected relationship of Savior to the one needing to be saved, that after this life, we would live. Death would not be the final note, but death would be defeated. The sting of death, the victory of death is gone forever for those who are in Christ.
What does it say about those who aren’t in Christ? It means there is no hope; absolutely nothing but desolation; a future so horrible that the Bible describes it as hell. Now, can this be true? As true as the other. The opposites do exist. That’s why it is imperative for the simple gospel message to be heard, and people be given a choice and a chance to receive it or to reject it.
As a Christian, I can accept people saying “no” to Christ. It’s their right. As a matter of fact, it’s their right between them and God; not me. I can’t save you. I can’t even save myself. I can’t save the world, and I don’t need to save Jesus. But here it is: Jesus promises the impossible. Life – eternal life – and though we die in this life, we awaken in a place called Heaven. A future in eternity, better and more glorious than anything we can ever imagine. That is something to not be missed, nor can it be compromised.
Jesus is radical, you might almost say fanatical about his equality with God the Father. It’s important to understand that Jesus didn’t just claim to be a good guy, a religious leader, a prophet. He claimed to be God, to have the ultimate power, willingly die, and then by His own power, come back to life. Only Jesus was crucified and was resurrected from the dead.
The other thing that stands out in these verses is that he wasn’t afraid of confrontation. He wasn’t afraid to put people in their place when their intent was to harm other people. Jesus wasn’t nice, calm, and limp-wristed. He had a strong will and was willing to confront when the truth was at stake, when lives were at stake. Getting Jesus right is everything. And everything else is secondary to that.
As you reflect on the study today, ask yourself these questions:
- Is Jesus Christ my God and Savior? Do I have a personal relationship?
- Is my profession of faith as a Christian a current reality, not just something in the past I refer to?
- Do I walk in the abundant life that Jesus dies to make possible?
- What is abundant life? How would I know it when I see it?
- If Jesus Christ is essential, what am I doing to make sure other people hear the story of the gospel and the claims of Christ?
One of the hardest things to get right is how to understand God’s part and my part. We either think that God does everything without any participation on our part, or that He does nothing. That we have to earn our way to God and the good or the bad that happens in our life is brought onto ourselves by our action or lack thereof.
Today in John Chapter 9, we learn, in the encounter of Jesus and the blind man, that there are things that Jesus does, like healing out of His power. And then there are times that He requires our help or participation, like getting up and going to bathe in the Pool of Siloam.
John Chapter 9 is also a typical encounter of Jesus as He speaks truth to power. Religious abuse is still conducted today in the name of God. Religious professionals and other weird-type people who have one agenda – power and control – resort oftentimes to manipulation by threat of exclusion from the community in order to get their way.
As you follow along today, get the subtleties of how radical Jesus’s teachings and behaviors were in His day of religious conformity, and ask yourself this question, “Has it changed much in my day?”
We continue in our study of the Book of John with Chapter 8, verse 12 and finish with verse 58.
One of the key messages of Jesus is that if you know Him you know the truth, and if you the truth, the truth will set you free. The response of the Pharisees is that they had never been in bondage, so they didn’t need to be set free. How blind is the person who is in bondage to his sin, his opinions, or his fears, and doesn’t realize not only does he need to be set free, the One who can set him free is standing right in front of him?
As you share today’s study with your small groups or friends and your family, ask yourself these questions: “Are we really free? Are we living in freedom? What does it mean to be free in Christ? What does it mean to be free from? What does it mean to be free under? And what does it mean to be free for? This is the trinity of freedom that Chirist offers.
One thing we are discovering in our study through the book of John is, Jesus had a message. He was a man on a mission. He didn’t avoid controversy and he constantly made the religious elite mad; not just mad, but angry. He confronted them on every side about the truth of who He was, and what the implications of that truth would mean to them and their future.
When Jesus heals, he does it publicly, on the Sabbath, at major festivals, outside the temple courts. He preaches and teaches that He and His Father are One, that if they knew God they would know Him. In our study today, a group of religious professionals got together to try to trap Jesus by bringing a woman caught in adultery. If He lets her go, He’s condemned. If He condemns her then He’s taken the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrin – accused either way. Yet the Master Teacher had a masterful response to those who tried to trap Him. Read it and you’ll understand that Jesus constantly made people mad by telling them the truth; the truth about who He was and how life would change now that the Messiah has come; the truth about why He came, but most of all the truth about themselves.
Notice what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. He said, “I don’t condemn you.” But He had another message for her. Think about it. Ask yourself this question: “If Jesus were speaking to me today on my worst day, what would he tell me?” Would He say, “Peace, be still. You’re forgiven”? And what instruction would He give me to change my life? The truth is, Jesus makes people mad in order to heal them and set them free; confronting the truth and then allowing His grace to cover it, redeem it, set us free, and love us back to life. Yea God! Yea Jesus!
Jesus is now being public with His intentions. He’s making claims that rightfully should shock His listeners, unless of course they’re true. The guy in the room who claims to be God and is, you would expect that everything now is going to change. So Jesus is not only training His disciples, telling His story, but also slowly and methodically moving toward Jerusalem where He pushes the religious elite into a corner where they have to come after Him.
One of the most poignant and pointed questions in this passage is when Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Others have left me. Will you leave me too?” And we have to give it to Peter here. For all the times he got it wrong, this time he got it right, in spades. He looked at Jesus and said, “Where can we go, because we believe and know that you are the Son of God?”
Here is a beautiful and balanced view of belief. We believe in our heart and our spirit, with our emotions, whatever you want to call it, but that part of us that makes us human; and we know in our mind, that part of us that helps inform our emotional decisions and makes sure that we make wise ones.
As you consider this week’s passage, ask yourself these questions. How do we tell this radical story in a cynical world? How do we help confront the world with the truth that Jesus is God in human form, that He has come to rescue the world, that He is the Messiah, He is God’s first and last answer for the hope of the world? How do we tell this in a way that helps people consider it, believe it, and know it as Peter did? And how do we answer the objections of those who call attention to all the weird and goofy stuff that has grown up around the American church to obscure and hide the true simplicity?
We start today in John 6:16, with the account of the disciples meeting Jesus in a storm, walking on the water.
Remember this, Jesus never did anything for show. There was a meaning, a purpose that tied into His larger mission in everything He did. So walking on the water and meeting the disciples was certainly a teachable moment. Not only the metaphor of storms, water and spiritual calm, but that Jesus was the Lord over creation and over nature. There is no realm into which His power does not extend.
From the storm we go to another metaphor of bread, that Jesus is the bread of life. It is a repeated theme here that comes over from John 4, and the woman at the well. Jesus told her that whoever drank His water would never be thirsty again. Now there is bread that satisfies, walking on the water, healing the sick. There’s a picture developing here that Jesus Christ is the mighty Messiah, the Lord of all creation and the servant of God sent to redeem and to reconcile for God. What a beautiful picture John is painting; like a word-artist telling stories that lead us to that ultimate place of absolute confidence in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, His love for us, and His plan for our future.
Today we begin in John Chapter 6. We go through the first 15 verses. This is the famous account of Jesus feeding the tens of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish.
This is an illustration of God’s provision. It’s an authentication of Christ as the Messiah. And it also a teaching moment for his disciples.
After all that Jesus had done to “wow” the crowd, what they really fall in love with is not Jesus, but the fact that Jesus is now their own private restaurant. If they could only make him King, he could supply all their needs, all their wishes, set them free, return them to national pride. They missed the entire point, as we often do today. We so easily fall in love with what God can do for us, rather than who God is to us, through us, and in us.
How many times have you gotten mad and angry at God because He didn’t perform up to your expectations and standards? But make no mistake about it. As in Jesus’s day with the feeding of the tens of thousands, He’s not the one on trial. We are. We are the ones who have a chance to reject religion and embrace a real relationship; a relationship in which God is God, and we are His created beings. Where the Father loves His children. Where the children obey their Father. Where we worship and adore, pay homage and sacrifice to the One who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us.
We continue in our study of John in John Chapter 5, beginning with verse 31 throughout the rest of the chapter, with an extended confrontation of Jesus with the Pharisees. He loved nothing more than driving them crazy by claiming to be God; or more importantly for their understanding, the Messiah.
And let’s be honest. Any guy who claims to be God is a nut, unless he is God. If he is God, everything changes. Jesus is in a pattern here in the Book of John. He heals someone on the Sabbath. Those people go tell other people and attract the attention of the fundamentalists among them. They get upset. They gather a growing number of people who are upset. And they begin to follow Jesus, and confront him, trying to trap him, ultimately, so they can accuse, arrest, and have him crucified, and in their way of thinking, done away with. And yet we see as we study this book, Jesus is always in control knowing exactly what he is doing, leading them exactly where he wants them to go. But all at the same time helping us understand that Christ is indeed the promised Messiah, rooted in the history and prophecy of Scripture, fulfilling all the covenants and promises of God.
Here’s what we understand at the very end of this. Everything changes if Jesus is indeed God. If he is God, he is the Messiah. If he is the Messiah he is the Redeemer. And if he is the Redeemer and he died and rose again, then he has actually purchased an atonement for our sin. We can know God, be right with God, and everything radically changes.
We’ve come to John Chapter 5 when Jesus now leaves the rural areas and goes straight into the eye of the storm in Jerusalem. He’s there to stir up trouble. Yeah, our sweet,little, wouldn’t hurt a fly Jesus was looking for a fight and knew exactly where to go.
He meets a lame guy, who has been lame for 38 years, using perfectly good excuses why he can do no other. And yet Jesus in a moment says, “Get up, take up your bed and walk,” illustrating the fact that God is not going to do magic for you. You’re going to be involved in every miracle He does in your life in some way. You’re going to join Him because God is looking for a relationship, not more people to wow.
Since Jesus healed the guy on the Sabbath, the religious people totally forgot about the miracle and the good news that this guy could walk. It’s the fact that they were carrying his bed, they wanted to know who to blame, and they soon found Jesus.
It’s also important to listen carefully to this week’s episode to understand that Jesus claimed to be God. We worship Jesus as God; not as a sub-god or a lesser god, but listen to the ways in which He drew attention to Himself by confessing that He was equal with God.
As we continue our study in the Book of John, I beg you to at least attempt to put your understanding into the first century context. Jesus claims to be the Messiah; not a great teacher, not a great man, not a holy man, not even a man with the power to do miracles. But the one and only God come down, to be prophet, priest, and King, as Redeemer, once and for all.
The other thing I want you to notice as we go through the study today is the Messiah is always communicated in terms of relationships, or in connection to them. Jesus comes to the woman at the well: relationship. She goes back and tells the people in town what she’s heard and what she’s experienced: relationship. They come and hear Jesus: relationship. The disciples who we all think are the great Green Beret of the Christian faith, still have to learn an awfully lot about Jesus in relationship.
Even Jesus raising from the dead, the official Son, was put in context of relationship. It’s important that you understand that the study of the Bible is not to make you a smarter sinner or not to give you an elevated sense of self-righteous, but to introduce you to a personal, radical transforming relationship with Jesus Christ as the only Messiah that we’ve ever had or are ever going to get.
Jesus said outrageous things, but if they are true, they are not only good news, they are the kind of hope we need and the kind of hope that sustains and creates a better future.