Friday, July 31, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-31 [John's Portraits of Christ] 15. The True Vine

15. The True Vine

I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener... I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me - and I in him - bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.      (John15:1-5)
This is based on an old EmmDev that I wrote in 2003 when I had met someone who knew a lot about vines...

There are three aspects to fruitful vines:
- A good gardener
- Good root stock onto which the branches are grafted.
- Good branches

The root stock is critical - it must be free from disease and weakness. It is resistant to bugs, pests, and illnesses and provides the plant with the critical nutrients that it needs. Different branches of different types of grapes can be grafted onto the rootstock.

God is the gardener. A good gardener wants the very best for His plants. He tends, protects, provides, and sacrifices. A good gardener works toward a plan and will even prune when necessary, but always for the long term benefit of the plant. God is all of that for us.

Jesus is the root stock. Our roots are marred and weak because of our bad choices in terms of the kind of soil we have placed them in. There is nothing that we can do to change the bad roots which we have. Our only hope is to be grafted into rootstock that is good. That is exactly what Jesus is: Good rootstock - He is without sin and blemish and we can be grafted into Him. He is rooted in the soil of faithfulness, obedience, and sacrifice. He is rooted in love.

As long as we remain in relationship with Him, as long as we find our nourishment in His roots, and remain connected to Him, we bear fruit. Put another way: Our task is not to bear fruit, but to remain connected with Jesus. If we do that, the fruit will come on its own.

To be like Jesus we need to be with Jesus.
He is the vine and we are the branches.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-30 [John's Portraits of Christ] 14. Consoler

14. Consoler

1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you"...
6 "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"...
9 "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."...
12 "anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father"...
13 "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father"...
16 "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth"...
19 "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."
27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."      (John14:1-27)
John 14 is a discussion Jesus has with His fearful disciples as they are about to move from the table of the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a very moving conversation in which Thomas, Philip and Judas (not Iscariot) ask questions and Jesus answers them.

It is the sensitivity with which Jesus answers and the obvious tenderness evident in His words that really grabs my attention. This is not only Jesus the Teacher, but Jesus the Pastor. He is speaking to the deep fears and concerns of the disciples - and also to you and me.

But in addition to the pastoral comfort, look at the great truths:

  • Life is not purposeless - He prepares a place for us.
  • The way is not uncertain - He is the way
  • What is God like? If we've seen Jesus we've seen the Father
  • Jesus' departure doesn't disadvantage us - we will do greater things
  • We can ask in His name and it will be given
  • We will not be alone - we will receive the Spirit
  • Through the Spirit we will see Jesus and we will know we belong
  • We will have peace that conquers fear

We would have excused Jesus if He'd been quiet and withdrawn. His arrest and crucifixion were a few hours away. He had enough trouble of His own. Instead of dwelling on His impending agony Jesus offers His best pastoring and teaching to the disciples.

Later when they are tired and sleepy, Jesus will kneel before the Father in agonised prayer, but for now He is their Consoler.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-29 [John's Portraits of Christ] 13. Servant

13. Servant

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.      (John13:1-5)
This scene is incongruent.
Being a king is congruent with being served but not with serving.
Especially not washing dirty feet that have sweated all day in sandals on dusty roads!

When John introduces this beautiful account to us, he does a couple of interesting things:

  • First he tells us that Passover is near. Passover is synonymous with rescue and deliverance from oppression. The Passover is effected by a sacrifice of a blemish-less lamb.
  • Second he tells us that the time had come for Jesus to leave this world and go to the Father. This reminds us that Jesus is not of this world and does not have to be subject to its limitations. It also tells us that He is nearing the end of His mission.
  • Thirdly, when he uses the word "world" ("Kosmos" in Greek) he almost always uses it in the sense of a "worldly system." John is indicating that while Jesus was able to leave this world, His disciples (His own) were in this world. There is a sense of stuckness implied here and Jesus' actions relate to this stuckness.
  • Fourthly, this is the full extent of His love - John is making clear that Jesus' actions here are significant - He isn't just setting a good example - this action epitomises who Jesus is and what He came to do. He came to serve. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom to many." (Mark 10:45)

And so Jesus, the Passover Lamb, who will later in the week die to free us from the oppression of the world system (kosmos), washes feet. By this act of unnecessary service Jesus is breaking the mould of our dog-eat-dog world system and lifting up service as greatness. His act of footwashing is subversive: it sabotages the rules and norms of power and status, it breaks the grip of broken self esteem (watch Peter trying to stop Jesus washing his feet) and it creates a new reality where service is love.

He even washed the feet of Judas Iscariot...

That is amazing subversive love!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-28 [John's Portraits of Christ] 12. King

12. King

The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
"Hosanna! "
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Blessed is the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."      (John12:12-15)
In chapters 12 and 13 we are confronted with two incredible pictures that describe both the identity and mission of Jesus. In this chapter we see Jesus revealed as King.

Think about what happened: It's nearly Passover - the crowds are pouring into Jerusalem. People have been travelling and now they are seeking accommodation, food and supplies for Passover... It's busy, noisy and chaotic.
But now a ripple goes through the crowd and a country preacher appears riding on a donkey. He has the calloused hands of a carpenter. His sandalled feet bear the dust of walking many miles to Jerusalem. His eyes are warm and compassionate. The wrinkles on His brow reveals the weariness of bearing the burdens of the sick, the broken and the lost. His bearing is noble. His voice has the authority of Truth.

And they're calling Him the King!

A King in clothes of poverty.
A King on a donkey instead of a stallion. (Peace instead of war.)
A King of the masses while the authorities scoff and scowl.

Palm branches are torn down, cloaks are put on the road, songs and chants of someone greater than a king - a Messiah - are sung.
Surely this will result in a riot?!?
Surely this is going to get out of control (just like so many of our protest marches do)?!?
Surely He will lose control of the rabble?!?
But incredibly it doesn't. The march dies down and the crowds drift home. The political powder keg (which is what Jerusalem was) doesn't explode. This is the influence of the peaceful King.

But the palm branches lie on the road - mute testimony that the King of kings came to Jerusalem, and just for a moment - one beautiful moment - He was recognised.

Sadly this scenario plays itself out weekly. We recognise Jesus in our worship service and forget Him in the week...
But He's the King - not of power and pomp - but love and grace.

Friday, July 24, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-24 [John's Portraits of Christ] 11. Resurrection and Life

11. Resurrection and Life

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She replied, "Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world."      (John11:25-27)
Lazarus has died. He was sick and Jesus deliberately took His time getting there. He told His disciples beforehand that Lazarus would die and that he would be raised again. Now Jesus must face Mary and Martha, the brokenhearted sisters of Lazarus.

The two sisters do not grieve in the same way: Martha is angry and reasoning (even bargaining) whilst Mary is sad and quiet. Jesus must focus Martha's attention on His identity. He is the Resurrection and the Life. Many translations translate Martha's answer in the present tense: "Yes Lord, I believe that You are the Christ." I think the tentative past tense we have in this translation is more in line with the Greek. If Martha's statement was one of unshakeable faith, why would she object to Jesus wanting the tomb opened as she does later in the chapter? Martha's position is that she once trusted Jesus completely, now that her brother was dead because Jesus dilly-dallied, she's not too sure anymore.

Jesus' response to Mary, whose need is more emotional than intellectual, is to ask where Lazarus is buried. And then He does a very strange thing: He weeps. But His tears are not for Lazarus: He has told His disciples and Martha that Lazarus will rise. His tears are tears of frustration at the futility of death and tears of compassion as He weeps with Mary and Martha in their pain. And He still stands at gravesides and memorial services today and He still weeps with those who mourn.

Then with a loud voice Jesus turns a verbal claim into a physical reality: Lazarus! Come out!

He has power over death - for Him death does not have the final say. He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-23 [John's Portraits of Christ] 10. The good Shepherd

10. The good Shepherd

So Jesus said to them again, "I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."      (John10:7-11)
Jesus uses two agricultural metaphors in this chapter: The door for the sheep and the good shepherd. These are images that powerfully explain both His mission and His nature.

At night the shepherds in Israel would gather their sheep in a kraal - a circle surrounded by a low stone wall. The entrance was a break in the wall and after leading the sheep through the entrance, the shepherd would station himself in the gap and even sleep there during the night thus becoming the door through which any predator must pass while the sheep rest.

The Palestinian Shepherd image is one used throughout Scripture:

  • the beautiful comfort of Psalm 23
  • the heartache of God the Shepherd whose sheep have stubbornly gone astray in Isaiah and Jeremiah
  • the stern condemnation of the leaders who have been hirelings instead of shepherds in Ezekiel
  • and the beautiful parable of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep in Luke 15.

The shepherd analogy here in John 10 is just as powerful. The Palestinian shepherd does not chase the sheep from behind, but leads them from the front. Jesus has gone in front of us. He faced the perils of the cross and death before us.

Having done that He now is the doorway by which we can enter into His rest and experience His loving protection.

Anyone who enters by any other way is not a sheep or a shepherd and we should not trust them. Their motive is our destruction. The Shepherd places Himself at risk for the sheep. He comes to give abundant (overflowing) life.

Christ is our door. He placed Himself in harm's way so that we might have abundant life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-22 [John's Portraits of Christ] 9. Light of the World

9. Light of the World

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. John9:1-6
This chapter is a lovely counterpoint to ch.5 where the lame man is healed by Jesus, but rejects the opportunity to receive full healing by embracing Jesus as His Lord and Saviour.

In this chapter the blind man is healed, and, when he gets into trouble because it happened on a Sabbath, he defends Jesus and stands up for him even though he doesn't know him. (He was just a voice and a pair of hands that put mud on his eyes and told him to go to the pool of Siloam.) He manages to make the Pharisees so angry that they excommunicate Him.

(It's well worth reading the dialogue - I've pasted it in at the end. Watch the man's progress:
- He put mud on my eyes, told me to wash and now I see
- He is a prophet
- Do you want to become His disciples too?
- This man is from God
- I believe )

Throughout the chapter we see the recurring themes of light and darkness and of blindness and sight. Jesus is depicted as the light of the world.

  • Addressing suffering as an opportunity for God's glory to be revealed. (Suffering is a bully that Jesus can defeat)
  • Bringing physical sight to the man.
  • The stubborn blindness of the Pharisees is revealed as folly in beautiful progressive "dawning" of faith as we see it unfolding in the man's life.
  • That beautiful moment when the man can look at Jesus and say those all important words: "I believe."

In the beautiful healing of this man's eyes and soul we see that Jesus is the light of the World.

11 He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."

12 "Where is this man?" they asked him.
"I don't know," he said.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see."

16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath."
But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided.

17 Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened."
The man replied, "He is a prophet."

18 The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. 19 "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?"

20 "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God, " they said. "We know this man is a sinner."

25 He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"

26 Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"

27 He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?"

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from."

30 The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

34 To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

EmmDev 2015-07-21 [John's Portraits of Christ] 8. Defender of the weak

8. Defender of the weak

3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11 "No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." John8:3-11
What stands out to you in this amazing passage?
  • Is it the audacity of the law-teachers in bringing only the woman for judgement? (How do you commit adultery alone?)
  • Is it that you wonder what Jesus wrote in the sand? Most suggest that it was a set of mnemonics that represented the Ten Commandments. But I think that Jesus wrote in the sand to take their eyes off the woman who probably only had a sheet wrapped around her.
  • Is it His eyes of holy purity as He challenges anyone who was sinless to cast the first stone?
  • Is it the thudding sound of stones dropping and the sight of gray bearded heads shaking in denial as one by one the teachers drop their stones and walk away?
  • Is it that moment that the woman and Jesus are left alone in the road and, as she looks into His eyes, she realises that He could throw the first stone, but that He isn't going to?
  • Is it that incredible moment where she hears the life-saving words: "Neither do I condemn you - go and leave your life of sin" ?

I don't know which your favourite moment is. But I love this picture of Jesus the defender of the weak. The woman is a victim - she is defenceless against the teachers. She's not perfect, but she is loved. Jesus beautifully and elegantly deals with injustice and corruption.

I think my favourite scene, as I imagine the story, is the scene on the street with Jesus standing in the middle of a circle of dropped stones watching the woman walk away with a renewed purpose and direction in her life. I imagine His face: Content, Satisfied, Hopeful, Determined and Loving.

This is our Saviour!