One day an airline flight was canceled due to bad weather. One solitary agent was trying to rebook all of the travelers whose schedules had gotten messed up. One passenger became impatient and pushed his way to the front and slammed his ticket down on the counter. He said, “I have to be on this flight, and it has to be first class!” The agent politely said, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll help as soon as I can, but I have to take care of these other people first.” The man became angry and shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Without hesitating, the agent picked up the loud speaker microphone and said to the hundreds of people in the terminal, “May I have your attention, please? We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.” The man backed off, and the crowd of people burst into applause. Regardless of whom that man was—whether he was rich or famous or a little bit of both—he certainly didn’t have the respect of the people at the terminal that day. It’s hard to respect someone who considers themselves the most important person in the room and who puts his or her needs ahead of everyone else.2
Perhaps you think I’m talking about your spouse, your teenager, your neighbor, or your mother-in-law. (I might be.) But maybe I am actually talking about you. Have you ever said, “I’m not going to do that.” “No one’s going to tell me what to do!” “I don’t have to put up with this.” “They don’t realize who I am.” “They don’t appreciate all I do around here!” “I don’t get any respect.” If you have said these things or thought these things, I am talking directly to you…and, I’m afraid, to me as well. If the truth be known, we’ve all thought these things, and most likely, even said these things out loud. Thus, we need to be reminded that there is no job beneath us. In case you question this remark, in John 13:1-17 the apostle John shares an account from Christ’s life3 that reveals our need to study this passage.4
In 13:1-3 John writes, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,5 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.” Before we get too deep into this great episode, it is important to set the context. John asserts that it is the day before the Feast of Passover—a meal that commemorated Israel’s release from Egypt.6 It is Thursday evening, less than twenty-four hours away from Jesus’ death on the cross.7 What would you be doing if you knew that you had less than twenty-four hours to live? Perhaps, you would be praying to be spared from death. Or maybe you would be doing some last-minute confession of sin. Not Jesus. His mind is set on preparing His disciples for His imminent departure. In fact, all of Jesus’ teaching in John 13-17 takes place on the eve of His death. Thus, this series is entitled, “Focus on Your Family: What Matters Most to Jesus.” Our goal is to discover how to truly be Jesus’ disciples and do church as He desires.
As we begin this account, it is critical to observe that John emphasizes twice what Jesus knows. In 13:1, Jesus knows that He is going to die and return to His Father. In 13:3, Jesus knows that the Father has given all things into His hands, and that He has come forth from God, and is going back to God. These statements reveal that Jesus knows His origin and His destiny. It is my conviction that true humility grows out of our relationship with God the Father. When you know that your needs are met in Christ, when you know who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going, you’ll be able to freely serve others. If you don’t know who you are, where you came from and where you’re going, you’ll not be secure enough to serve. Instead, you’ll be tempted to manipulate people to get your needs met. But as a follower of Jesus you ought to approach relationships out of a sense of fullness. You know who you are and you have nothing to prove. You no longer have to manipulate people or be paranoid about other people’s expectations and opinions. As you meditate on biblical truths that emphasize your security and significance in Christ, you’ll be more prone to serve rather than seek to be served.8
Before we move on, it is critical to grasp 13:1b, which may be the key to the Upper Room Discourse. Regardless, this phrase has had a tremendous impact on my pastoral ministry. Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The theme of this section is service founded and grounded in love. Twice John emphasizes Jesus’ great love for His disciples. His life and ministry were characterized by a commitment to “having loved9 His own10.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested all His time, energy, and teaching into His disciples. But John also makes the startling point that Jesus “loved them to the end.” There is a double meaning here: Jesus persisted in faithful love toward His disciples in going to the cross and He persevered in unconditional love for them.11 Despite their ignorance, unbelief, disobedience, and eventual apostasy, Jesus persevered in His love for His disciples. One of the greatest incentives to serve others is to recognize that Jesus Christ has a vast, unconditional love for you. If you begin to grasp this love, it will motivate you to want to serve others as an expression of gratitude to Jesus.12 Today, you may struggle loving unlovely and unlovable Christians. We all struggle here. However, there is hope: When you feel you cannot love a brother or sister, immediately call out to God and acknowledge, “I can’t love this person, but I know you can. Will you love this believer through me?” You may have to pray this prayer (silently) several times whenever you see this person. But since this is God’s will for you (cf. 13:34-35), He will give you the supernatural strength to love your brother or sister. This Christ-like love will also take your ministry to the next level.
John has disclosed what Jesus knows about Himself and His future (13:1-3). Now he reveals what Jesus does in response to His knowledge. In 13:4-5, John describes Jesus’ actions in seven slow-motion scenes: “He [Jesus] got up from supper, and laid aside His garments;13 and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”14 Don’t miss the fact that according to 13:4 (cf. 13:2) the meal is already underway when Jesus begins washing the disciples’ feet. This may strike you as odd, and rightly so. Foot washing normally occurred before the meal when guests entered a home.15 Foot washing was needed in every home in Palestine. Not only were the streets dusty and dirty, but they usually contained garbage and the waste from the animals that traveled up and down the same streets. Furthermore, the people didn’t wear socks, much less Nike Air. Instead, they wore open-toed sandals and their feet became very grimy, grungy, sweaty, and smelly. Needless to say filthy, smelly feet could make the meal and the fellowship rather uninviting. Thus, in Jesus’ day, foot washing was mandatory! Typically, a guest normally washed his or her own feet after the host offered a basin of water. You knelt down, removed your sandals, washed your feet, and then dried them with a towel. If a host had servants, they might be delegated to do the job for you. This was a mark of a high achievement in biblical times. A host that could provide this luxury had arrived! But under no circumstances would the host wash the feet of his guests. The master would never stoop so low as to wash the feet of those beneath him. Slaves washed feet. Masters never did.
So why in the world is Jesus, the Master, washing His disciples’ feet? Why hadn’t the disciples washed each other’s feet? Why hadn’t someone washed Jesus’ feet? After all, this was the evening before his crucifixion. If there was any night the disciples should have served Jesus, it was the Last Supper. Why did they start the meal with dirty feet? No doubt the events of the final few days had distracted them. But we get a greater clue from Luke 22:24 (cf. 9:46). On the way to the Last Supper, the ambitious disciples had been quarreling over who should be the greatest and who would have precedence in Christ’s kingdom. They were like Muhammad Ali claiming, “I am the greatest!” When they entered the Upper Room, there was apparently no slave to perform the customary washing of the feet of the guests. The disciples probably took turns when there was no slave, but on this occasion none would condescend to do the menial task. Their minds were full of the subject of their bitter contention, and none was willing to be servant of all. Each feigned unconsciousness of the neglected duty.16 The disciples were jealous of one another and were competing for the best place. They were all looking out for number one. No wonder they didn’t wash each other’s feet. No wonder it was left to Jesus. “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”17
The attitude of the disciples is what makes John’s deliberate slow-motion account all the more powerful. By delaying the foot washing into the meal, Jesus escalated the level of suspense. Have you ever been at a restaurant with some friends, and that awkward moment arrives when the check is placed on the table? The question that likely runs through your mind is: Whose turn is it to pay? Of course you likely assume it is your friends’ turn to pay for the meal. So you wait and wait hoping that they will pick up the bill on the table. Finally, it dawns on you that your friends are not going to pay. So you slowly reach for the bill, hoping that they will beat you to it. It may seem that this is what Jesus is doing. After all, His disciples attended Jesus Christ Biblical Seminary. After three years with the world’s greatest theologian, you would hope that they would be willing to serve Him. But this is not the case.
However, before we are too hard on the disciples, we must understand that Jesus is a detail oriented administrator. It seems that the lack of a servant to wash the disciples’ feet was deliberate. First of all, it was the host’s responsibility to provide this (see Luke 7), and Jesus was the host. Furthermore, throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus very carefully arranging things in advance (e.g., procuring the donkey and its colt, securing a place in which to celebrate Passover). It is unlikely, then, that the omniscient Jesus would forget to provide for the foot washing. Finally, all the things that were necessary for the foot washing were present (i.e., the basin, the water, the towel). Therefore, it is likely that Jesus purposefully arranged for a servant not to be present, so that He could wash the disciples’ feet, knowing (as He did) all that would take place during this meal.18 Jesus was and is the quintessential servant.19
Now, if you are familiar with the Gospels, you are probably anticipating what is about to happen. Peter and Jesus have some legendary dialogue. In 13:6-11, John records Peter’s apprehension over Jesus washing his feet. John writes, “So He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter’” (13:6-7). Although Peter can be slow of mind and heart, he finally recognizes that his Creator, the very Lord of glory should not be washing his feet. However, Jesus explains that this act will make sense “hereafter.” Jesus is referring to the explanation that he will share with His disciples in 13:12-17. A question remains though: Will Peter truly understand the purpose and intent of Jesus’ words? The answer is: Absolutely yes. After Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter understood fully. It is worth noting that Peter almost certainly had this episode in mind when he commanded his readers in 1 Pet 5:5: “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”20 The verb translated “clothe yourself”21 is reminiscent of Jesus putting on the garb of a slave. Eventually Peter did indeed catch the point of Jesus example.
At the moment, however, Peter is fighting Jesus tooth and nail. In 13:8, Peter responds to Jesus’ offer by saying: “Never shall You wash my feet.” The Greek is even more forceful: “You will never wash my feet forever.” In other words, Peter uses eternal language to say: “Jesus you will never, ever wash my feet, not now or anytime in the future.” You’ve got to love Peter here! When he gets it wrong, he gets it spectacularly wrong.22
Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’” (13:8b). Jesus is not threatening Peter with a loss of salvation. This would contradict God’s Word and His very character. Rather, the purpose of foot washing is to illustrate Jesus’ philosophy of ministry, which is servant leadership. For Peter to reject Jesus’ offer to wash his feet is to reject His entire approach to ministry.23 The implication here is that Jesus wants Peter to tend His sheep (cf. John 21:16-17), but the only way that this can occur is by adopting Christ-like servant leadership. Furthermore, the only way to truly enjoy intimate fellowship with Jesus is to serve Him and keep short accounts. This is the challenge that Jesus issues to Peter.
Of course, Peter is a man of extremes. Good, ole’ Peter. Sometimes the only time he opens his mouth is to change feet!24 In 13:9, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Peter says, “Jesus, just give me a bath! I’m ready to jump into the tub.” Naturally, he is overcompensating, so Jesus says to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’25 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” There’s a great lesson here: We walk in a dirty world every day, and some of the dirt rubs off on us. We need to let Jesus get close enough to us so He can keep our lives clean.26 Again, the issue is intimate fellowship with Jesus. This is subsequent to salvation and is explained in 1 John 1:9. Yet, in the midst of a discussion of intimate fellowship, Jesus also brings up the topic of salvation, knowing full well that Judas is an unbeliever. His point is: Peter needs to have his feet washed, while Judas needs to be immersed in a tub! What a great picture of the distinction between salvation and fellowship.
I have in my possession a “Scratch & Win” card from Taco Bell. This scratch card has a circle in the bottom right-hand corner. I chose to scratch this card off in my quest to win a free prize. Once I scratched this card my surprise gift, or lack thereof, was revealed. Nothing can undo the result. However, I could have opted not to scratch off the circle. I could have said, “I never win anything. Why bother?” “Nobody probably wins a car from one of these scratch cards.” “I have a lot of intellectual issues with scratch cards.” By refusing to scratch off the circle, I could’ve lost any chance to win. Fortunately, I didn’t make this mistake, and I won a free large Dr Pepper. (Who would like a free Dr. Pepper? Give away the card.)
Salvation is similar to this scratch card except the rules are different. Jesus identifies your free gift upfront. It is salvation! This gift is available to you if you will simply believe in Christ’s person and work, which is akin to scratching off the circle on a scratch card. Better yet, unlike Taco Bell, Jesus promises you that He will not revoke your free gift even if you lose your card. Of course, the great risk that you run is not to scratch off the card. When you refuse to believe in Christ, there is no hope for you. If you have never believed in Jesus, I challenge you to do so today. Claim the free gift that is available through Christ.
Again, Jesus Christ, not only died on the cross for the sins of the world, He lived a life of servanthood. During this last supper, Jesus washed all the feet of his disciples, including Judas, the one who would betray him in a matter of hours. To visualize this it is important to remember that Jesus and His disciples are not sitting in chairs around a dinning room table.27 Rather, they are reclining on their left elbows, eating with their right hand, and have their feet behind them.28 The stench from their feet must have been horrendous. How could they really have enjoyed their meal? Nevertheless, Jesus went from disciple to disciple and washed their feet. In His love, He was able to endure the ingrown nails, corns, calluses, cracked heels, and fungi. What a great, sacrificial love!
In 13:12-17, John’s account becomes rather pointed. “So when He [Jesus] had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?” (13:12) Jesus, the master teacher, poses a question because He knows His disciples are slow of mind and heart. He wants to make sure that they have really caught this truth. He then follows up His question with a powerful declaration: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.’ If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:13-14).29 Twice in these verses, Jesus calls Himself “Teacher and Lord.” It is worth noticing that no disciple ever addressed Jesus casually. No one ever called Him “Jesus” and they certainly never used expressions like “Sweet Jesus” or “Dear Jesus.” They called Him “Master” or “Lord.”30 Often, I think we make a mistake in being too familiar with the Lord Jesus Christ. We envision Him as a cosmic Santa Claus or a Mr. Rogers with a nice zip-up polyester sweater. We rarely ponder the fact that He came as the Lamb of God but is now the Lion of God.31 If we had a holy sense of awe at the power and sovereignty of Jesus and recognized that He willingly served humankind, we would not hesitate to do so as well. It is when we have a great view of Jesus and a small view of ourselves that we get things done.
It is worth noting that some Christians32 understand 13:14b to proscribe foot washing as the third ordinance, along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, most Christian groups have said that this is not the case because, (1) there is never a record of it being done by any church in Acts; (2) it is never advocated in the New Testament letters;33 and (3) it is never specifically said to be an ongoing ordinance as are baptism (cf. Matt 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). This is not meant to imply that this might not be an important worship event.34 But it is more appropriate to look for other creative ways to wash people’s feet.
John’s account concludes in 13:1517 with a powerful punch line: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly,35 I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” The command is: Do as I have done. Apparently, Nike copied Jesus when they trademarked the slogan, “Just do it!”36 Jesus is simply saying, “See what needs to be done and do it.”37 Therefore, if I could boil down this sermon into one statement, it would be: Actions speak louder than words.38 If Jesus asked the disciples (even on the road to the upper room), “Do you love Me?” they would have responded, “We love You with all our hearts.” If He had asked them, “Do you love one another?” His disciples would have replied, “We love each other and all of God’s children.” Jesus’ disciples knew the right things, but they did not do the right things. Yet, James, the half-brother of Jesus said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jas 1:22). Actions speak louder than words.
Many cathedrals in Europe suffered damage as a result of bombing raids during World War II. The explosion of a bomb in one great cathedral blew the hands off a statue of Christ. Though the cathedral was repaired, the statue of Christ stands there today with His hands missing. An inscription on the pedestal reads, “Christ hath no hands but yours.”39 Today will you be Jesus’ hands and feet?
This past week, I began looking for contemporary examples of foot washing. I didn’t need to look far. I found them everywhere among the people in our church. On Tuesday afternoon, I received some cookies from a busy leader in our body. They came at just the right time when I was working late at the office. Since I didn’t have any dinner, I enjoyed five cookies instead. On Wednesday, during his lunch hour, our pastoral care director and a group of men from our church helped a widow move some furniture. On Wednesday afternoon, our outreach director and a number of people in our church went into downtown Olympia and put change into delinquent parking meters with the note: “Your parking meter time expired. We deposited more coins to show God’s love in a practical way.” On Thursday afternoon, one of our men offered to help another busy family by taxiing their son around town. On Saturday, a couple in their 70s offered to clean the house of one of our members. On Sunday morning before church one of our elders sent out an e-mail to suggest practical ways that we can help a man in need. I could go on and on, but the capstone for me was a memorial service on Saturday afternoon for Helen Stover (86) who has exemplified Christ-like service for decades. We celebrated the rich legacy that Helen left behind. But we were also fortunate to see the busiest leaders in our church serving behind the scenes (e.g., running sound, preparing refreshments, setting up and tearing down). It was a thing of beauty. Even my own eight year old daughter served in the kitchen with a group of ladies in our church. On our way home, Jena said, “Daddy, the time went so fast.” I replied, “How could it have gone fast? It was hot in that kitchen and you worked hard.” Little Jena explained, “When I work hard, time goes by so fast, because it is fun.” That is the joy that can come from serving like Jesus.
Today, will you pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you a single person He wants you to serve? Don’t think about a list of twenty, just one single person that the Lord will lay upon your heart. Ask Him for the grace to love this person unconditionally and to serve him or her with your whole being. This is a prayer that God will answer. Remember, actions speak louder than words. May you and I follow in the sandals of Jesus and become foot washers.
Luke 7:44-46; 14:8-11; 22:24-27
1 John 1:9
Romans 5:20; 8:33-34
1. How would I describe my love quotient for other believers (13:1)? When have I found it difficult to persevere in my love for the body of Christ? What makes certain believers so unlovable? How were Jesus’ struggles with His disciples similar to some of the challenges I face? How can I prepare myself to love God’s difficult people and follow Jesus’ example?
2. In what ways did Jesus’ self-awareness enable Him to lovingly serving others (13:3, 13-14)? When have I had to be humble and firm at the same time? What was the outcome? How can I learn to balance confidence in Christ with humility of heart?
3. In what ways do I serve my church (13:4-5)? How do I go about serving my family, my coworkers, my neighbors, and my community? How can I seek to meet the tangible needs of those whom God has placed in my life? Would those who know me best say that I have a servant’s heart? Why or why not?
4. What is the difference between salvation and fellowship (13:6-10)? How can I know for certain that I have received the free gift of salvation? How can I be confident that I am in fellowship with God? How can I clearly distinguish between these concepts?
5. How important is church unity and community to me (13:1-17). On the last day of my earthly life, would this be the first thing on my mind? Why or why not? What can I learn from Jesus’ priorities? How can I apply His heart to the body of Christ that I serve?
1 Copyright © 2009 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
3 Many interpreters extend this text through John 13:20. However, with the contrast between the believing disciples and the unbelieving Judas, it seems best to make the break after 13:17.
4 There are several parallels between John 13:1–5 and Phil 2:6–11. See Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 210. There are also some intriguing parallels in John 1:1–18 and 13:1–3. See Jerome H. Neyrey, The Gospel of John (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 225.
5 John 13:2 serves as a footnote about Judas Iscariot that will be expounded in 13:18–30. Burge notes, “The Greek at this point is uncertain: ‘The devil had already put in his heart that Judas should betray him [Jesus]’ (lit. trans.). But whose heart is this? Our assumption that it belongs to Judas (NIV) is not altogether clear. The phrase ‘put in his heart’ also means ‘made up his mind,’ and according to some Greek manuscripts, Judas is not yet the object of the devil’s work. The sense is most likely: ‘When the devil had decided that Judas should betray Jesus… ’ It is not till 13:27 that Satan enters Judas. Either way, Judas becomes one who has refused to believe (12:46); since he is surrounded by the darkness, he is ready to become a pawn of Jesus’ adversary, Satan. See Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 368.
6 See John 18:28; 19:14, 31, 42; cf. Exod 12.
7 Scholars discuss the chronological issues that stem from the timing of the Passover meal. Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Matt 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7) clearly teach that Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover Supper at the prescribed time; and that He died on (what we would call) the following day (Mark 15:1 ff.). The question then becomes: Did Jesus die after the Passover Supper (thus the Synoptics), or did he die before the Passover Supper (thus, say some, John)? See William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to John. Vol. 1–2, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953–2001), 2.222.
9 “Love” is one of the key terms in John 13–17, occurring thirty-one times in these five chapters as compared to only six times in chapters 1–12.
10 The Greek phrase “His own” (tous idious) was used in the Egyptian papyri for “near kin” (cf. Luke 8:19–21). See Bob Utley, John and I, II & III John: www://freebiblecommentary.org/pdf/EN/VOL04.pdf, 125.
11 The phrase, eis telos, if taken temporally, would mean that Jesus loved His disciples until He died. Here it is better to see it as an adverbial phrase describing the nature of Jesus’ love with which He was loving them. The meaning is similar Paul’s use of eis telos in 1 Thess 2:16: “to the utmost.” Köstenberger writes, “Of the five other NT occurrences of the phrase eis telos, four are temporal (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; Luke 18:5) and one is intensive (1 Thess. 2:16). The present reference may contain an allusion to Moses’ completing the writing of the law (and his song) in Deut. 31:24, 30.” Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 402. The dual meaning is most likely correct. See Köstenberger, John, 402; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 545 n. 9; and Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 202–3. Neyrey, The Gospel of John, 226 compares John’s uses of telos and teleo (John 4:34; 5:36; 13:1; 17:24; 19:28, 30) and opts for a qualitative understanding, which seems to be confirmed by the following context (15:12–17; 17:11–12, 15).
12 Elsewhere John writes, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10–11).
13 It is interesting that this same verb (tithemi) is used in John 10:11, 15, 17, 18 for Jesus’ laying down His life (cf. 13:37). This may be another of John’s double entendres. It seems likely that the foot washing was more than just an object lesson on humility (cf. 13:6–10). Utley, John and I, II & III John, 126.
14 Note how Jesus’ thinking and action contrasts sharply with the self-seeking insecurity of the disciples (cf. Matt 20:20–24; Mark 9:33–34; Luke 22:24–30).
15 The custom goes back so far that the first four mentions of the word “feet” in the Bible involve washing dirty feet (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24). In each case the water was provided so that the visitors could wash their own feet. This was simply common courtesy in those days. And, in fact, not to offer water for a guest to wash his feet would be a breach of etiquette and an act of unkindness to a guest (cf. 1 Sam 25:41; Luke 7:40–50; 1 Tim 5:10).
16 J. Oswald Sanders, 31 Days on the Life of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 2001), 118.
17 Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 199.
19 In Phil 2:5–7 Paul writes, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
20 See also Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 213.
21 The verb egkomboomaiis only used here in the NT. BDAG s.v. egkomboomaiis: “to put or tie something on oneself, put on.”
22 According to Matthew, John the Baptist had the same sort of problem at Jesus’ baptism, although then the water was on the other foot (as it were): “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matt 3:14).
23 Bill Hull, Jesus Christ Disciplemaker (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984 ), 200.
24 R. Kent Hughes, John. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.
25 John uses two different Greek words for wash/bathe in John 13:10: louo (“to bathe the entire body”) and nipto (“to wash part of the body”).
26 Tony Evans, Who is This King of Glory? (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 315.
27 In the Greco-Roman world and also in the first-century Jewish world, many of the Jews adopted the Roman triclinium. This arrangement was a U-shaped affair where people would sit around the outside of the table.
28 Köstenberger, John, 404.
29 This is a figure of speech called a synecdoche—the exchange of one idea for an associated idea. The act of foot washing stands for any act of self-denying love and service.
30 Eaton, John, 207.
31 Note the contrast between John 1:29 and Rev 5:5, both written by the apostle John.
32 The Grace Brethren and certain Mennonite churches, among others, view footwashing as a third ordinance. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on John,” 2008 ed.: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf, 199 n. 452.
33 1 Tim 5:10 speaks of foot washing as an example of humble service, not as an ordinance of the church.
34 Utley, John and I, II & III John, 126.
35 Utley, John and I, II & III John, 126 writes, “This is literally ‘Amen, amen.’ This is a form of the OT term for ‘faith’ (cf. Hab. 2:4). Jesus was the only one (in any Greek literature) to ever use it in this opening position. It usually was said last to agree with or confirm a statement or act. When used at the beginning of a sentence and doubled, it is an attention-getting device.”
36 See Matt 7:24–27; Luke 6:46–49; Rom 2:13; Jas 1:22–25; 4:11.
37 In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the central feature of the Upper Room is the institution of Lord’s Supper. But strikingly John does not mention this at all in his account. He writes as though He understands that we already have
Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In place of the account of the Lord’s Table, however, John gives us an incident which the other gospels do not report—the washing of the disciples’ feet.
38 Hull, Jesus Christ Disciplemaker, 200.
39 J. Carl Laney, Marching Orders (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 33.
Our skin is soft, like tightly woven fabric. It appears porous from the outside with millions of tiny openings that ooze sweat. But our skin is a surprisingly effective barrier. For decades medicine makers have tried to develop drugs that can be administered through the skin. Doctors call them transdermal drugs—like some pain-relieving sprays and nicotine and hormone patches. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to perfect a way to manufacture drugs that can be painlessly administered through the skin. But for all their efforts, scientists have only found a handful of compounds that go through our skin. However, if our skin is properly prepared, medicines can permeate it. Scientists have developed ointments that make the skin able to transmit drugs. They’ve used very low electrical currents to propel drugs through the skin. They’ve even invented little patches about the size of a band-aid with tiny micro needles that pierce the top layers of the skin enough to get drugs in but not deep enough to be felt by our nerves. This has all been done in an attempt to overcome the barrier of our skin.1
Spiritually, we’re the same. Our hearts have barriers. We can be immersed in God’s grace, but at times none of it permeates into our hearts. We need God to prepare our hearts so that He can administer His grace. Throughout America, many people attend church on a weekly basis and are even involved in various small groups or ministries, yet have never personally trusted in Christ. This is why it’s been said there are three kinds of believers in every church: believers, unbelievers, and make-believers.2 Because the reception of faith in Christ is an invisible transaction that takes place between God and an individual, it’s often difficult to know who is a believer. Some might object, “Well, that’s easy, just look at a person’s works to determine whether one is genuine or counterfeit.” Yet, the problem with this suggestion is that many unbelievers and make-believers have more quality and quantity to their works than true believers. They have the external reality (works), but not the internal reality (faith).3 This is what I call, “The Judas Syndrome.” Judas spent over three years up-close with Jesus Himself. Judas exorcised demons, healed people, and even preached the gospel. But Jesus calls him “a devil” (John 6:70) and “the son of perdition” (17:12). In the end, Judas handed Jesus over to be murdered for thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:14–16). Judas was both an unbeliever and a make-believer. In John 13:18–30, we’ll study an account that exemplifies Christ’s amazing grace in the face of Judas’ own unbelief and hardness of heart. This account should compel us to be certain that we’ve believed in Christ as Savior. It should also motivate us to love and forgive unbelievers who reject Christ and us.
In 13:18a, in the midst of the Last Supper, Jesus says: “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen.” Jesus tells His disciples that what He is saying doesn’t apply to all of them; His words apply to those whom He has chosen.4 The inference is clear: There is an impostor in their midst—Judas. But what has Jesus been saying that doesn’t apply to Judas? Most likely it is Jesus’ definitive statement in 13:17: “If you understand these things [i.e., serving others], you will be blessed if you do them.” Jesus’ point is good works are of great benefit to the believer. They express gratitude to God, provide visible confirmation of salvation, and serve as the basis for eternal rewards. However, good works don’t benefit the unbeliever. When good works are done apart from faith in Christ, they are of no eternal value.5 The reason is simple: God only honors works that are empowered by Him and performed for Him.
In 13:8b–19, Jesus provides two reasons He alludes to Judas’ betrayal, First, Jesus wants His disciples to trust in the veracity of the Scriptures. Jesus speaks of Judas “…that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’” Jesus quotes Ps 41:9, which is about David who endured the painful experience of being rejected by a one-time friend.6 Someone who had often eaten with David and enjoyed his hospitality turned on him and became his enemy.7 To eat bread is a cultural symbol that refers to personal intimacy, and to lift up the heel is a symbol of personal contempt8 that likely symbolizes that one had walked out on his friend.9 Jesus informs His disciples about Judas so that they understand that his betrayal was all a part of God’s perfect plan.10
The second reason Jesus alludes to Judas’ betrayal is He wants His disciples to trust that He’s the Christ.11 In 13:19 Jesus declares, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” The phrase “I am” (ego eimi) is used throughout John’s gospel to affirm Jesus’ deity. The phrase echoes God’s Old Testament name YHWH.12 The name YHWH points to God’s self-sufficiency. This is especially clear in Exod 3:14 when God reveals Himself to Moses as “I am.” By using this Old Testament language, Jesus is claiming that He is God. Thus, it is erroneous when cynics and critics argue that Jesus never claimed to be God. As C.S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity, Jesus did indeed claim to be God. Consequently, there are only three possibilities: Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord. There is no fourth option.
Jesus knows that soon the disciples are going to know that there’s a betrayer in their midst. Jesus considers it important to tell them before it happens, lest Peter look at John and say: “Jesus really blew it. I mean, He chose twelve, and one of them was a bad choice. If He made that big a mistake, then He may not be who He said He was, or who we think He is.” Jesus is saying, in effect: “I just want you to know that I know what I’m doing.”13 Nothing takes Jesus by surprise. He is the sovereign Son of God. After His death and resurrection, He wants His disciples to have further evidence that He is who He claimed to be—God Himself.
In 13:20, Jesus refers to the “chain of connection”: Father-Son-Apostles14: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”15 The one who receives the apostles receives Christ; the one who receives Christ receives God the Father. It is a logical, inevitable chain reaction. John typically uses the verb “believe” (pisteuo), “believe in” (pisteuo eis) or “believe that” (pisteuo hoti) to designate Christians, but he also uses the term “receive” (lambano) in three instances (1:12; 5:43; 13:20). This is simply a synonym for “believe,” and emphasizes receiving the gift of salvation. Today, have you received God’s free gift of Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead to demonstrate that He is God? If you haven’t, I urge you to receive Christ today. Please don’t miss an opportunity to receive the gift of salvation that Jesus offers. Tomorrow holds no guarantees. Now, if you’re looking for something to contribute to salvation (like most Americans), give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. He will then transform you from the inside out.
After previously only alluding to Judas’ betrayal (cf. John 6:70; 13:10, 18–19), Jesus becomes more explicit in 13:21. John writes, “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.’” If you’re familiar with the Gospels, it’s easy to diminish Jesus’ grief over Judas’ betrayal. However, the verb “troubled” (tarasso) is the same word used in John 11:33 as Jesus stood by Lazarus’ grave and wept. It’s also the same term used in 12:27 as Jesus thought about the coming dread of the cross and said, “Now my heart is troubled.” As these instances demonstrate, Jesus is heavy-hearted and grieving over one of His own disciples betraying Him.16 John 13:21 demonstrates one of the most remarkable truths about Jesus’ heart. On the eve of the cross, just a few hours before He is going to be crucified, our Lord’s heart is troubled, not for Himself, but for Judas—the one who is going to deliver Him to death.17
In the midst of your declining physical health, who are you concerned about? When you suffer through physical symptoms, does your heart ache for someone else? Do you sense a heart of compassion that draws you into prayer? When you are in the midst of a personal trial, do you become absorbed in yourself or do you attempt to focus on someone else who is struggling as well? As you wage war with sin, do you feel a sense of humility that burdens you to be concerned for others who are living for the flesh or being devoured by the enemy? Are you aware of those who are hurting because they are experiencing trials, tests, or temptations? Could you name such people today? Will you take the time to lift these believers up in prayer? Will you pray, God increase my heart for my church family? Please give me a burden for others. When we take our eyes off of ourselves, our perspective frequently improves.
Surprisingly, in 13:22, “The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking.”18 It is rather astonishing, there is no mention in the New Testament that the disciples suspect Judas or are even suspicious of him. This indicates that he “covered his duplicity very well.”19 In the other three gospels, the disciples (including Judas) ask Jesus, “Surely not I?”20 The eleven do not know who the betrayer is. Yet, it is likely that they are not threatened by Jesus’ prediction. After all, Jesus could calm storms, raise the dead, feed the hungry, and heal the sick. They likely assume that there isn’t any potential disaster that He can’t handle.21 The possibility of personal failure is their concern, especially when they are vying with one another for a higher position in the coming kingdom.22
Naturally, in the wake of the betrayal revelation, Peter intervenes. John provides the play-by-play in 13:23–25: “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, ‘Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.’ He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” The disciple “whom Jesus loved” is a reference to John,23 who chooses to write from a third person perspective. Evidently, Peter was somewhere across the table from Jesus. He is unable to ask Jesus privately to identify the betrayer. John must have reclined on his left elbow immediately to Jesus’ right. By leaning back against Jesus’ chest John could have whispered his request quietly.24
In 13:26, we have one of the most beautiful verses in the New Testament. John writes, “Jesus then answered, ‘That [the one who will betray Me] is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.’ So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” In the culture of Jesus’ time, to take a morsel from the table, dip it in the common dish, and offer it to someone else was a gesture of special friendship.25 Interestingly, Judas must have sat near enough to Jesus for Jesus to do this conveniently (cf. Matt 26:25). Possibly, Judas reclined to Jesus’ immediate left. If he did, this would have put him in the place of the honored guest immediately to the host’s left.26 Regardless, the morsel Jesus prepares for Judas was a piece of the Passover lamb wrapped in flour and rolled together. It would be dipped in sauce made of bitter herbs and eaten. Why did Jesus prepare a morsel and offer it to Judas? In the greatest act of grace ever recorded, Jesus offers Judas one more chance. Jesus offers Judas a piece of the sacrificial lamb. Jesus, the Lamb of God to be sacrificed to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), is offering Judas Himself. He is saying, “Judas, here I am. Do you want Me?”27
How far are you to go in expressing love and forgiveness toward others? As far as Jesus who gave His life even for those who rejected and betrayed Him. Have you ever experienced betrayal? Have you been abused sexually or physically by a relative? Has your spouse ever had a physical or emotional affair? Have your children ever shared confidential information with others? Has a coworker ever run you into the ground with your boss or a fellow coworker? Has anyone from your church gossiped about you? Has a classmate spread slander about you throughout the school? Jesus’ example of unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace reminds us that we must model the same kind of compassion for those who sin against us.
Tragically, there are instances when Jesus displays magnificent grace, and humans harden their hearts. John writes, “After the morsel, Satan then entered into him [Judas]. Therefore Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly’” (13:27). Judas rejects Jesus’ love, which opens him up to Satan in the greatest way imaginable.28 Hence, Jesus commands Judas to quickly depart, secure his silver, and betray Him. In other words, get this dastardly deed over with! Jesus recognizes that Judas has reached the point of no return. After all, you can reject the Light only so many times. If you have rejected Christ over the course of your lifetime, you may be getting dangerously close to hardening your heart to such an extent that you will not ever believe in Him. So do not make the horrible mistake that Judas did. Instead, believe in Christ today.
After Jesus commanded Judas to take care of his business, John writes, “Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, ‘Buy the things we have need of for the feast’; or else, that he should give something to the poor” (13:28–29). Again, no one suspects Judas. Perhaps, since Judas managed the money, the disciples assume that he is the least likely person to betray Jesus. After all, he is trustworthy, right? Jesus gave Judas this position of authority. Interestingly, Peter and John don’t jump up from supper and run after Judas. Somehow, Jesus’ explicit visual aid didn’t register in their minds. Maybe they thought the betrayal would happen much later and they would have time to talk some sense into Judas. Perhaps, the Lord didn’t allow them to comprehend everything that He said and did. Only God knows completely what happened on that evening.
John’s account concludes in 13:30 on the following note: “So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.” “And it was night” is a peculiar parenthetical note by the author. There is no need to mention that it is night. The setting is the Last Supper. Supper occurs at night! Obviously, the comment is more than just a time indicator; it is laden with theology. With the departure of Judas to set in motion the betrayal, arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus, daytime is over and night has come (see 9:5; 11:9–10; 12:35–36). Judas became one of those who walked by night and stumbled because the light was not in him (11:10). Instead of receiving the light, Judas chose to walk in darkness. As a result, he sealed his eternal fate. Don’t make the mistake of Judas!
What do you think of when you hear the name Benedict Arnold? Now, you may have to dust off your mental archives and reflect back on your grammar school history class, but undoubtedly you remember Benedict’s claim to fame. You likely think of treason and betrayal. Assuredly, you remember little else about him.
What do you think of when you hear the name Robert Hanssen? You may recall, Hanssen was a brilliant FBI agent (1976–2001). He also was a seemingly devout Catholic, happily married husband, and father of six kids. He seemed to be successful in every area of his life. Yet, Hanseen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for more than twenty years. He was found guilty of selling American secrets to Moscow for more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a twenty-two year period. Hanssen is serving a life sentence at a “Supermax” federal prison in Florence, CO, in which Hanssen spends twenty-three hours a day in solitary confinement. Hanssen’s story is chronicled in the made for television movie Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story (2002). A more recent movie about Hanssen’s life is entitled Breach (2007). His activities have been described as possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history. Robert Hanssen will always be remembered as a man with incredible privilege and opportunity who ended in absolute failure.
What do you think of when you hear the name Judas? Obviously, you probably have not named any of your children Judas, nor do you know anyone who has done so (I hope). Like Arnold and Hanssen, Judas is linked in biblical history with treason and betrayal. He is remembered solely for how his relationship with Jesus ended. He was a miserable failure in every sense of the word.
You see, you can have tons of religion without one ounce of salvation. It is imperative, therefore, that you and I ensure that we are not trusting in religion. Instead, we must trust in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Will you do so today?
2 Corinthians 11:3–5
John 1:1–18, 29; 14:6
1. Have I ever been betrayed by a friend (13:18)? What emotions did I experience? How would I compare the way I felt and acted to Jesus’ interaction toward Judas? What might Jesus have done if He had been bitter toward Judas? How can I learn from Jesus’ example?
2. How do the Bible’s prophetic statements affect my confidence in God (13:19)? In what ways do I depend on the Bible in my daily life? When my neighbors, coworkers, family members, and friends object to the veracity of God’s Word, how do I usually respond? What explanations can I use in the future that may be more compelling?
3. What motivated Judas to betray Christ (13:21)? How might Christians betray Christ today? How have I betrayed Christ with my life or my lips? What can I do to avoid betraying Christ in this way again?
4. Why were the disciples so oblivious to Judas’ true character (13:22–25)? How can individuals infiltrate Christian circles as “wolves in sheep’s clothing?” What can my church do to protect the body from those who are seeking to deny or destroy Christ?
5. How can someone so close to Jesus betray Him (13:26–27)? Why does familiarity with Christ sometimes breed contempt? As a believer, how can I guard myself from a hard heart? Read Hebrews 3:13. What can I do to ensure that my intimacy with Christ is fresh and vibrant?
3 Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 59. An illuminating parallel passage is found in Matt 7:21–23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”
4 While Jesus chose Judas to be an apostle, He did not choose him for salvation. Earlier in 6:70, Jesus said: “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?”
6 Rabbinic interpretation took Ps 41:9 to refer to Ahithophel’s conspiracy with Absalom against David. Ahithophel, like Judas, later hung himself (2 Sam 16:20–17:3, 23).
7 Eaton writes, “Jesus found it encouraging that David had known this experience. Jesus was the ‘Son of David’ and was walking in the footsteps of David. The Scriptures have to be fulfilled. Jesus has to experience the same kind of things David experienced.” Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 209–210.
8 Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 372. These symbols are true even today in the Middle East.
9 The phrase “to lift up one’s heel against someone” reads literally in the Hebrew of Ps 41 “has made his heel great against me.” There have been numerous interpretations of this phrase, but most likely it is an idiom meaning “has given me a great fall,” “has taken cruel advantage of me,” or “has walked out on me.” See NET study notes.
10 John 13:19; cf. 14:29; 16:4; Matt 24:25.
11 Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 218.
12 Cf. Isa 41:4; 43:10; John 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8.
13 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 553; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 411.
14 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 218.
15 Cf. John 5:23; 12:44–50; esp. 13:16.
16 Köstenberger, John, 412 n. 8 writes, “Jesus’ experience closely parallels that of David, who expressed extreme anguish over the betrayal of a close friend (Ps. 55:2–14; see also Ps. 31:9–10; 38:10; and other references to Davidic psalms noted in commentary at 11:33).”
17 Hughes, John, Electronic ed.
18 Only Matthew recorded Judas’ hypocritical question, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” and Jesus’ reply, “You have said it yourself” (Matt 26:25).
19 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 555.
20 See Matt 26:20–24; Mark 14:17–21 ; Luke 22:21–23.
21 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 472.
22 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 64.
23 This seems to refer to John himself (cf. John 13:23, 25; 19:26–27, 34–35; 20:2–5, 8; 21:7, 20–24). John’s name never appears in this gospel.
24 The Jews did not sit at traditional tables as we know them. They reclined, leaning on the left elbow, leaving the right hand free to eat with. Sitting in such a way, a man’s head was quite literally in the breast of the person who was reclining to his left. Constable writes, “Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is a beautiful painting, but it does not represent the table arrangement as it would have existed in the upper room.” Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on John,” 2008 ed.: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf, 202.
25 Back in the OT, we read of Boaz inviting Ruth to come fellowship with him: “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar” (Ruth 2:14a).
26 Constable, “Notes on John,” 202.
27 Tony Evans, Who is This King of Glory? (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 316.
28 Eaton, John, 211.
I am an avid reader, and I really enjoy buying books. In fact, book buying may be my greatest addiction. I’m especially prone to buying books online. I frequently buy cheap used books on Amazon marketplace. When I am done reading these books, I sell them back to earn money to maintain my addiction. However, this past week, instead of buying any books, I did a little research on book titles. Here’s what I discovered: Amazon.com lists 507,878 book titles about heaven, 547,195 about sex, 766,921 about God, and 884,737 about money. Isn’t this astounding? Even more staggering is the fact that one topic beats out all of these—love. There are 922,816 that contain love in their title.1
Love is a popular word in our society. Our world is desperately seeking true love. There are all kinds of dating services, escort services, personal classifieds, bars, clubs, and social organizations. There are illicit websites and chat rooms where you can pursue love without leaving your own home. All of these opportunities promise “true love” or “real love.” But this is an example of the classic country song by Johnny Lee, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…looking for love in too many faces.” I’ll stop there. The point is: Our world craves love, but they can’t find fulfilling and lasting love.
Love is also a frequent word in the Bible. The Bible uses the root word “love” over 500 times2 from Genesis through Revelation. Interestingly, for our purposes, the word love is used only twelve times in John 1–12, but in John 13–21 it is used forty–five times!3 Hence, in the last twenty–four hours of his life, Jesus uses the word love repeatedly. The closer He travels toward the cross, the more love is on His heart and mind. In John 13:31–38,4 Jesus suggests that the key to impacting the world is for Christians to love each other. So why is the church having so little impact on society? We’re not giving the world what it so desperately craves—love. Yet, the church ought to be Jesus’ solution to the lack of true love in this world. We ought to be able to say, “Look for love in the right place.”
Our passage begins in John 13:31–32 with an important footnote and Jesus’ ultimate prediction of love. The footnote is simply: “Therefore when he [Judas] had gone out” (13:31a). One can almost hear Jesus heave a sigh of relief when Judas closes the door behind him. Once Judas departs, Jesus hunkers down with His believing disciples and articulates the cross and the importance of love. Jesus declares, “Now is the Son of Man5 glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately” (13:31b–32). What is the key word in 13:31b–32? It doesn’t take a Greek scholar to discern this. Five times in two verses Jesus uses a form of the verb “glorify” (doxazo). Notice as well the past tense verb “glorified.” The cross is as good as done in Jesus’ mind. For Him death is not a mournful tragedy, but a magnificent triumph. It is glorious not gruesome.6 At this very moment which seems to spell defeat, dishonor, and disaster for Him, the Son of Man is in reality glorified!7 Later in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus explains that He glorified His Father by finishing the work the Father gave Him to do (17:4). This is also how we glorify the Father. What has God called you to today? How does He want you to sacrificially express your love to others? Will you finish the work He has given you?
Jesus explains in 13:33 that His purposes for the disciples are not complete. He says, “Little children,8 I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Many people long to go to heaven to escape their present trials and tribulations. Others talk about how they just want to get away from the evils of our world. While I understand this type of thinking, Jesus explains to His disciples, whom He dearly loves, that they cannot come with Him to heaven just yet because their work on earth is not done. It is a wonderful thing to anxiously anticipate Jesus return. This is a critical element of the Christian life. Paul promises the crown of righteousness for all who love Jesus appearing (2 Tim 4:8). Yet, we also need to relish the privilege of fulfilling God’s call upon our lives while we still have breath. His purposes for you are not complete.
One of the clear-cut purposes that God has for Christians is found in 13:34–35. Jesus declares, “A new commandment I give to you,9 that you love10 one another,11 even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (13:34). Jesus issues a command for you and me to love one another. Of course, the primary question that must be answered in this verse is: Why does Jesus call the commandment to love one another “a new commandment?”12 Love itself is not a new commandment; it is an old commandment found in Lev 19:8 and Deut 6:5.13 The Greek word translated “new” (kainos) speaks of what is new in the sense of unused or fresh, rather than something recent or different.14 It is not so much that the commandment hasn’t been given before as that it has a different quality about it, a quality of freshness that differentiates it from any other. To put it simply, this new commandment has a new object and a new measure.15 The object is now “one another.” In the Old Testament the command was “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The Jews had watered down the Mosaic teaching so they could love whom they wanted and hate whom they wanted. But Christ changes the object from “neighbor” to “one another.” This leads to the question: Why does Jesus command disciples to love other disciples? Why not exhort disciples to love the world?16 For Jesus, it is a matter of priorities.17 Jesus is first concerned about believers that have a unique and special relationship with Him.18 God loves His kids more than He loves children of the world.19 Jesus also realizes that we can’t truly love the world until we first love fellow believers. Finally, as we shall see in John 13:35, Jesus knows that when believers love one another as God intends the world will sit up and take notice. This can result in many being drawn to Christ.
The commandment is new because of its object, but also because of its measure. The measure of this love is, “as I have loved you.”20 Earlier in chapter 13, Jesus gave His disciples a new standard of love. He did this by washing their feet (13:4–17). In doing so, He humbled Himself and served His disciples in an intentional and tangible way. Jesus is calling us to love others as He did.21 This sacrificial love also reaches out to Judas as he’s about to betray Christ. Jesus wants you and me to sacrificially love other believers to death if necessary. It is a vastly greater love that gives up one’s own life for another, that sacrifices self-interest to promote the interests of another (15:13). The sacrificial work of Christ on the cross is the “new” standard for the Christian’s love for fellow-believers. In 13:34–35, the word Jesus uses for love is the Greek verb agapao and its noun form agape. Of the four words for love in the Greek language, this one is the capstone. 22 Essentially, it means to seek the highest good of another. Agape love sacrifices for others. It is an act of the will. It is a decision, a commitment. Love is not about your needs or my needs; it’s about God’s will. When Jesus says “as I have loved you,” He sets Himself up as the standard by which His disciples are to forever measure their love for one another. He is telling them, “I left the splendors and comforts of heaven because I loved you. I called you to be Mine, knowing full well your faults. I taught you, even when you were stubborn and closed-minded. I corrected you when you stepped out of line. I washed your feet on the way to my death. When you denied me and betrayed me, I loved you with an everlasting love. All this was for your highest good. My interest was not in myself, but in you.23 Like Jesus, we can say: Look for love in the right place.
It is interesting to note the obvious—the command to love other believers is called a “commandment.”24 This is not an elective class. We understand the difference between required and elective classes. Jesus is making it clear that love is a required 101 class; it is not an elective. Without specifically commanding His disciples to love one another,25 there existed the very real possibility that this essential activity would be neglected. It seems that we are much better at and much more apt to deal with love as a noun or an abstract concept than as a verb. We prefer talking about love to demonstrating it. When it comes to love, “When all is said and done, there is far more said than done.” Yet Jesus wants you to love with this kind of supernatural agape love.26 This means you can love your spouse regardless of how he or she treats you. You may say, “I don’t like my wife.” Well, you don’t have to. There’s a difference between like and love. You are not commanded to like your spouse; you are commanded to love your spouse. There may be some people in our church you can’t stand. That’s okay. However, Jesus is commanding us to love one another.
In 13:35, Jesus declares that when we love each other we will become a magnet to the world. He says, “By this all men [people]27 will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”28 Jesus is giving the world the right to examine our credibility. The world can see if we’re for real. If you and I love one another everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. The word translated “know” (ginosko)29 does not refer to a theoretical knowledge but to a knowledge gained by first-hand, rub-of-the-shoulders observation.30 How can you reveal to the world that you are Jesus’ disciple?31 By demonstrating love for fellow believers! When people see this kind of uncommon love exemplified in the Church they are naturally curious. They begin to wonder if the gospel could be true. They begin to believe that Christ DOES bring transformation. On the flip side, when we fail to show love we invalidate the message. People don’t believe there is real transformation in Christ. We make the idea of Christian community very unappealing. People ask, “Why would I want more stress and conflict in my life?” I don’t need Christ or His church!
It is important to notice that there is an “if” (ei) involved in 13:35. Believers can violate the love command. Failure to love does not mean I am not a Christian,32 but it means the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian.33 Therefore, if we expect unbelievers to know that we are Christ’s disciples, we must show the mark.34 The early church displayed the mark. Tertullian, a church father who wrote a century after the gospel of John was written said that unbelievers saw Christians loving one another and commented, “Behold, how they love one another.”35 Even today, nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. There are many places you can go and find communities of shared interest. There are many places you can go to find people just like yourself, who live for sports or music or gardening or politics.36 But true agape love is hard to find. Ultimately, it can only be found in the church. Look for love in the right place.
So how can we grow in our love for one another? Here are some practical suggestions.
Chapter 13 concludes with three verses that seem a bit misplaced. In fact, many commentators include these verses with chapter 14. Yet, I see these verses fitting rather nicely with 13:31–35. John’s concern is that you and I don’t assume that we can pull off agape in our own strength. Naturally, John brings up another episode with Peter. Look at 13:36a: “Simon Peter said to Him [Jesus], ‘Lord, where are You going?’” I want you to notice that Jesus spoke some of the most profound words about Christians loving each other, and Peter did not hear a word of it. He asks a question that skips over that whole subject entirely (13:34–35), and he goes back to what Jesus had said about going away for a while (13:31–33). That was what got his attention, and he heard nothing else. You’ve got to love Peter! He’s so much like you and me. “Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later’” (13:36b). In other words, “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Jesus acknowledges that Peter will eventually go the route of suffering. Church history tells us that Peter was crucified upside down. Regardless, Jesus makes it clear that Peter’s time has not yet come. But Peter responds to Jesus with some audacious words: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You” (13:37). Peter assures Jesus, “I’m your main man. When everyone else leaves you, I’ll be by your side. I’m not a flaky disciple. You can count on me, Jesus.”
Now before we come down too hard on Peter, we need to remember Peter was an example of faith. He was often a spiritual stud.
However, in this particular instance, Peter inadvertently expresses his impatience and self-reliance. As a result, Jesus follows up Pete’s claim with some sobering words: “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (13:38). This is brutal! Jesus takes a spiritual 2x4 upside Peter’s head. His point is: Peter you can’t be faithful to me in your own strength. You can’t acknowledge me publicly or live what I have taught you unless you abide in Me.
This word is so relevant for you and me as well. After reading this sermon, you will most likely get into some “intense fellowship” (i.e., a fight) with your spouse. Instead of exhibiting agape, you will pour out your wrath. This evening, your children will push your buttons and you will likely become angry instead of exercising patience. This week, you may learn that someone in your church has been gossiping about you or even slandering you. Your temptation will be to respond in kind and give this individual a piece of your Christian mind. These are all natural fleshly impulses that we all feel. Yet God is calling us to live a supernatural life that is dependent upon His strength. John is informing you and me that we can’t live the Christian life on our own for even an hour. We are weak and susceptible to sin. The only way that we can exude agape love is by constantly abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, will you make a commitment of your will that you will obey Jesus’ new commandment and display agape? If you do, you will be able to say to others: “Look for love in the right place. You can look at my marriage, my family, and my church. My passion is to glorify Jesus by showcasing the love that He has instilled in me. Look for love right here, right now…in me.”
Our family goes to the Lacey Timberland Library on a regular basis. As we approach the library from our home, there is a Quality Inn & Suites located on the corner of College and Martin. This hotel has a large sign with the words, “Free Hot Breakfast.” Now I must tell you, I am a huge breakfast lover. Whenever I go to a restaurant where breakfast is offered 24-7, I choose breakfast, regardless of the time of day. Well, every time our family drives by this Quality Inn, I want to drop in and say, “Yes, I would like a ‘free hot breakfast.’” Unfortunately, I recently learned that I would have to pay between $70–110 a night to enjoy their hot breakfast.
This past week as our family drove past the Quality Inn I said, “Let’s pull in and get a ‘free hot breakfast.’” (I confess, I use the same old, stale jokes on my family over and over. I’m the kind of dad that teenagers would call “lame.”) As I spoke these words for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me that the church should have a proverbial sign that reads “Free Agape.” The difference is—there should be no charge for our services. You don’t have to put money into the offering. You don’t have to promise to serve. You don’t have to be particularly lovable. You just have to be a person created in God’s image with dignity, value, and worth. If the church is to make a difference in its culture, we need to love one another and then extend love to a world that desperately needs Christ. Then, and only then, can we honestly say: Look for love in the right place.
John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
John 15:17 “This I command you, that you love one another.”
Romans 12:10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”
Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
1 Corinthians 16:14 “Let all that you do be done in love.”
Galatians 5:14 “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”
Ephesians 5:2 “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
1 Thessalonians 4:9 “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”
Hebrews 10:24 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”
Hebrews 13:1 “Let love of the brethren continue.”
James 2:8 “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”
1 Peter 1:22 “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.”
1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
1 John 3:23 “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”
1 John 4:21 “And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”
2 John 1:5 “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.”
All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
1 Corinthians 13:4–8a
1 John 2:7–10; 3:16–17; 4:7–11
1. How did Jesus view His death (13:31–32)? How do I view my death? How is Christ’s perspective on life and death different from mine? What can I do to ensure that I view my eventual death as a means of glorifying God? Read 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17. What do I have to look forward to as I prepare for passing into Jesus’ presence? Read 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 and Philippians 1:21–23.
2. How is it ironic (providential) that Jesus gave His new commandment in the midst of knowing what Judas and Peter were about to do (13:34–35: cf. 15:12–13)? How must Jesus have felt? When others disappoint me or hurt me, how can I respond with love and grace?
3. Why is actively loving other Christians such an effective way to evangelize non-Christians (13:35)? How has Jesus loved me? How can I love someone this week with this same love? Who will I intentionally love this week? In what practical ways will I show this person my love?
4. How can I express my love for my church family? What does this look like? What can I do to avoid discouragement from other Christians? Who can encourage me to persevere in my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ?
5. What can I learn from Peter’s mistakes (13:36–38)? When have I struggled with spiritual pride? What happened as a result? How can I cultivate absolute dependency and humility upon Jesus? What has occurred when I have fully submitted myself to Christ?
2 E.g., love (348), loves (70), loved (95), and loving (4). This is based on the NASB Update.
3 Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Encountering Biblical Studies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 149.
4 Many scholars see John 13:31–38 as the first unit of the Upper Room discourse, but it is more likely that it is a summation of the introduction. See Gerald Borchert, John 12–21. New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 2002), 96.
5 John uses the title “Son of Man” in John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34. The OT background is from Ezek 2:1 and Dan 7:13.
6 Charles R. Swindoll, Following Christ . . . The Man of God: A Study of John 6–14 (Fullerton, CA: Insight for Living, 1985), 78.
7 William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to John: New Testament Commentary, vol. 1-2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953–2001), 2:251.
8 This is the only place where teknia (“little children”) is used in John’s gospel, but John used it seven times in 1 John mirroring Jesus’ compassionate spirit (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; cf. Gal 4:19).
9 There is a hina (“in order that”) clause in John 13:34 that is clarified by the dash in the NET rendering: “I give you a new commandment– to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
10 See John’s uses of agapao (“love”) in John 13–17 (13:1 [twice], 23, 34 [thrice];14:15, 21 [four times], 23, 24, 28, 31; 15:9 [twice], 12 [twice], 17; 17:23 [twice], 24, 26
11 See John’s uses of allelon (“one another”) pertaining to love in John 13–17 (13:14, 34 [twice], 35; 15:12, 17).
12 The phrase entolen kainen (“new commandment”) is in the emphatic position. This “new commandment” is also explained in John 15:12–17.
13 “The idea that love is a “commandment” is interesting. In the OT, the Ten Commandments have a setting in the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai; they were the stipulations that Israel had to observe if the nation were to be God’s chosen people. In speaking of love as the new commandment for those whom Jesus had chosen as his own (John 13:1, 15:16) and as a mark by which they could be distinguished from others (13:35), John shows that he is thinking of this scene in covenant terminology.” See NET study notes. It is also worth noting that the new commandment is part of a new covenant that Jesus would ratify with His blood (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). In that covenant God promised to enable His people to love by transforming their hearts and minds (Jer 31:29–34; Ezek 36:24–26). It is only by God’s transforming grace that we can love one another as Jesus has loved us.
14 Gk. kainos often denotes what is qualitatively new as compared to what has existed until now. This is one of two places in John’s gospel where kainos is used. It is also used in John 19:41 of the “new” tomb in which He was laid. There is another Greek word for “new” (neos) that means “recent.”
15 R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.
16 Carson puts it well: “At the risk of confounding logic, it is not so much that Christians are to love the world less, as that they are to love one another more. Better put, their love for each other ought to be a reflection of their new status and experience as the children of God.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 485.
17 Gal 6:10: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
18 1 Tim 4:10: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
19 Of course, the Godhead does love the world as well (see John 3:16).
20 Comfort and Hawley write, “The newness of Jesus’ commandment rests upon the reality that because our hearts have been changed by experiencing the love of Jesus, we should reach out in reciprocal fashion by all those touched by the same love.” See Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1994), 227.
21 1 John 3:16–17; 4:7–11: We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? . . . Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Burge writes, “That the disciples are to love one another is nothing new (Lev. 19:18). That they are to love each other with the sort of love modeled by Jesus is something dramatic. Love characterizes Jesus’ relationship with God (14:31), and love characterizes God’s relationship with Jesus (3:35; 15:9 – 10). Jesus’ love is manifested in his obedience to the Father’s will (“the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me,” 14:31). Therefore disciples are to reflect the sort of love known to Jesus — a love expressed through committed obedience.” Gary M. Burge, John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 376.
22 The NT only uses three of the four words for love (eros, phile, and agape). It is worth noting that phile/agape phileo/agapao can be used interchangeably, but in certain contexts, it does seem that agape and agapao do have intensified meanings.
23 Swindoll, Following Christ . . . The Man of God, 79–80.
24 The theme of commandment recurs frequently in Jesus’ final discourse and in the Johannine Epistles.
25 There is no imperative in the Greek text; rather John uses indicatives and subjunctives. However, Jesus assumes that His disciples will take up this “new commandment” and love one another.
26 Wilkins writes, “Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person, a commitment I give myself to in order to bring the relationship to God’s intended purpose. Michael J. Wilkins, In His Image: Reflecting Christ in Everyday Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 170. Love has lost its significance because we have emptied it of its biblical definition, which is not primarily an emotion but an act of the will by which we seek the highest good for others.”
27 The phrase “all men” (NASB, NIV) is more accurately rendered “all people” (ESV, HSB) or “everyone” (NET, NRSV). Although the gender of the pronoun touto is masculine, it is collective and includes people of both genders.
28 See 1 John 3:23; 4:7–8, 11–12; 19–21.
29 Gk. ginosko, cf. John 13:7, 12, 28, 35; 14:7 [thrice], 9, 17 [twice], 20, 31; 15:18; 16:3, 19; 17:3, 7, 8, 23, 25 [thrice]; 1 John 2:3 [twice], 4, 5, 13, 14 [twice], 18, 29; 3:1 [twice], 6, 16, 19, 20, 24; 4:2, 6 [twice], 7, 13, 16; 5:2, 20; 2 John 1:1; Rev 2:23, 24; 3:3, 9.
30 Swindoll, Following Christ . . . The Man of God, 80.
31 In John’s gospel, a disciple is indentified in three ways: A disciple continues in Christ’s words (8:31); expresses love toward other believers (13:34–35); and produces spiritual fruit (15:7–8).
32 It is also important to know what Jesus does not say by this. He does not say that failure to love means we are not His disciples. He also does not say that mutual love convinces Him and the Father of our status as disciples. Finally He does not say that mutual love makes us disciples. See Garry Derickson & Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker: What Matters Most to Jesus (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 83.
33 Ron Kincaid, A Celebration of Disciple-Making (USA: Victor, 1990), 88.
34 Schaeffer writes, “The point is that it is possible to be a Christian without showing the mark, but if we expect non-Christians to know that we are Christians, we must show the mark.” Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1970), 8.
35 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 485.
36 Burge, John, 387.
37 Jay Dennis, The Jesus Habits (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 75.
Which of God’s commandments would you say is the most difficult for you to obey? Perhaps you would say, “The commandment, ‘Do not lie’ is most difficult because when I’m in a tight spot and I can twist the truth just a little, it seems harmless.”1 You might say, “The commandment not to covet is really difficult to obey in a materialistic society.2 If somebody I know gets richer or they achieve a status that I want for myself, it’s hard not to be jealous of them.” Perhaps you might point to Jesus’ command not to lust as one being very difficult to obey in a sensual society.3 Or what about Paul’s commandment: “Do all things without grumbling?”4 Maybe you have thought complaining is your spiritual gift. There’s no way you could obey that commandment, right?
Indeed, there are many difficult commandments. I think one of the hardest commandments to obey is: “Do not let your heart be troubled” (John 14:1a). There’s so much to be troubled about: potential war and terrorist attack, political corruption, crime and violence, and economic pressure. If you weren’t feeling troubled, you probably are now. On top of the various national and international troubles, there are many “what if?” scenarios. What if I get cancer? What if I’m in an accident? What if my spouse leaves me? What if one of my children dies? What if I lose my job? What if I lose my friends and am rejected at school? All this and much more can bring on heart trouble. That’s why some pundits have said that we live in “The Cardiac Age.” Everyone seems to have heart trouble.
However, your heart trouble may not be based upon national or international concerns or “what if” scenarios. Your worry and fear may be intensely personal. You may be a single mother wondering how to be a good parent and provider. You may be a parent or grandparent agonizing over the rebellion of your children and grandchildren. Perhaps you’re recently divorced and facing life with one income, twice the obligation, and a lot of loneliness and rejection. You may be barely making ends meet and are feeling overwhelmed with your financial obligations. You may be a student standing on the horizon of the future wondering what direction to go. Or perhaps you’re dealing with chronic health problems and you’re weighing the myriad of options for treatment.
Today, if your heart is troubled and you’re feeling confused, concerned, and overwhelmed, you’re in good company. In John 14, Jesus’ disciples felt the very same way. At the ripe young age of thirty-three, their Lord is leaving them. The disciples were not expecting this. They were counting on Jesus being around for a very long time. They were anticipating Jesus to set them free from Roman oppression, and they were preparing to rule and reign with Him. Now it finally begins to dawn on them that Jesus is going to die, and their hearts are heavy and deeply troubled. Fortunately, Jesus addresses His disciples’ heart trouble with some heart-to-heart words. He says to them and to us: “Believing leads to seeing.”
In 14:1a, just a few hours before Jesus goes to the cross, He issues a difficult command to His disciples: “Do not let your5 heart be troubled.”6 This phrase is a present tense imperative that can be translated: “Stop being troubled!” This implies that the disciples are already anxious.7 This command also suggests that heart trouble is something to be conquered. Of course, if you’re like me, you’re expecting Jesus to give a “silver bullet” solution to overcome heart trouble. Jesus gives the cure for heart trouble in 14:1b: “believe in God, believe also in Me.” Yep, that’s it, belief … no more, no less. The grammatically balanced structure shows that Jesus is claiming equality with God. He is also commanding8 His disciples who are already believers to believe.9 Jesus knows that many disciples who believe in Him for salvation struggle to believe in Him in the course of their day-to-day lives. As a result, many disciples suffer unnecessarily with heart trouble. So Jesus says: You must believe that I will never leave you. You must believe I will never stop praying for you. You must believe in My sympathy. You must believe in the comfort of the Holy Spirit that I will give you.10 When (not if) you have heart trouble, it is simple belief in the right object, Jesus Christ, that will sustain you. Believing leads to seeing.
Jesus knows that His followers will be controlled by what they gaze at. So He turns their attention to the glories of heaven. In 14:2, Jesus declares, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places;11 if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”12 Many people who read these verses have assumed that Jesus has been working for 2,000 years getting heaven ready for us. It has been facetiously suggested that since Christ was a carpenter on earth, He’s been exercising the same skill in glory and He’s working to finish the rooms in time for our arrival. As magical as this notion may sound, this type of thinking is completely erroneous. Jesus clearly says that there already “are many dwelling places” in heaven (14:2a). There is no more need for further construction—the Father’s house is prepared. Jesus is simply saying that through His death, resurrection, and ascension the way to these “dwelling places” will be prepared completely for us.13
The reality of our heavenly home can help guard us from heart trouble. No matter how badly things may be going in your life today, Jesus has promised you a glorious eternity. Do you frequently dwell on Jesus’ your eternal dwelling? When we plan family vacations, do we just drive off with no prior preparation? No way! We obtain brochures, we talk to our friends, we examine maps and pack our bags. How much more we should prepare for eternity, for our heavenly home will be wonderful beyond words.14 This week, when you think about your weekend, your upcoming vacation, or your holiday schedule, think about your heavenly home. Discipline your mind to ponder the wonder of heaven. Although this is difficult to do, it will help you with earthly heart trouble.
The guarantee of heaven is confirmed by Jesus’ promise: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” In the Old Testament there are over 1,800 references to the return of Christ. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to the Lord’s return—one out of every thirty verses. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books give prominence to this subject. For every prophecy in Scripture concerning Christ’s first coming, there are eight prophecies about Christ’s second coming.15 In our fallen world, we can gain relief for our troubled hearts from the fact that Jesus is going to take us to be with Him. Often, this may be the only thing that will carry you through.
Christ’s words reveal that our destiny involves both a place and a person. The place is the Father’s house, a place which will contribute to happiness; but being there comes from knowing a person—Christ Himself. Today, if you are uncertain of your eternal destiny, trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior. He is the right person, who will take you to the right place. Believing leads to seeing.
In 14:4, Jesus assures His disciples: “And you know the way where I am going.” Having revealed the beneficial importance of His departure, Jesus uses a mysterious statement to “bait the hook” and draw the disciples into further discussion.16 He basically says: Men, after all the time I have spent with you, surely you know that I’m going to the cross. I’ve repeatedly spoken of being lifted up, of being betrayed, of dying so you must come to grips with the fact that although I now speak of going to My Father, I am going via the cross.17
Almost before Jesus could get the words out of His mouth, Thomas blurts out: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (14:5). The one who would become “Doubting Thomas” is uncertain here as well.18 He contradicts Jesus’ statement that the disciples know where He is going and wants to know how they should know the way. Yet, Thomas did know these facts, but he was unconscious of it and never utilized the information. This is a great example of the educational principle of the law of use and disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it. This is why so many people can attend church all their lives and never grow in Christ.19 Such individuals have knowledge in the deep recesses of their minds, but have not been able to effectively articulate it or translate it into obedience.20 But before we’re too hard on Thomas, to his credit, he’s not afraid to admit his ignorance and take it to the light. This is impressive, and the church needs to welcome those who have spiritual questions.
Jesus doesn’t hesitate to enlighten Thomas. In 14:6 He declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus’ response reveals once again that heaven is not so much a place, but a Person (the Father), and the way to that place is another Person (the Son). Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus is the truth of all we find in the Father. Jesus is the life that is given to us by virtue of our access to God.21 Put simply, Jesus is the only way a person can have a relationship with God and spend eternity in heaven. This is an exclusive claim that goes against the grain of our society. Hence, John 14:6 has been called, “The Scandal of Christianity.” So controversial and so significant is this statement that my next sermon will focus on the ramifications of this verse. But for now, please understand that Jesus insists that He is the only way to God. Believing leads to seeing.
In 14:7, Jesus continues His response to Thomas; however, His words are not directed to Thomas alone. John uses plural verbs to show that Jesus is speaking to all of the disciples. After all, Thomas is the courageous spokesman for all the disciples. Jesus says, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also;22 from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Three times in this one verse, Jesus uses the verb “know” (ginosko).23 The word is used in the Old Testament sense, which speaks of intimate personal relationship, not cognitive knowledge (cf. Gen 4:1; Jer 1:5). Jesus is saying to His saved disciples: You’ve never come to really know Me. Since you lack intimate knowledge of Me, you don’t really know the Father. However, in the prologue of this book John writes, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [exegeted] Him” (1:18). This is why Jesus can confidently say, “from now on you know Him [the Father], and have seen Him.” Jesus is God! Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus claims this again and again and again.
Amusingly, at this point, the disciples use a tag-team approach.24 In 14:8, Philip chimes in, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Can you say open mouth and insert foot? Jesus just finished saying that He has shown the disciples the Father (cf. 14:7). But Philip is not yet satisfied. Here we see the longing and need in men to get a glimpse of God and experience His reality. “Show us God and we will believe” is what Philip is saying. Philip is a materialist who wants something more tangible than metaphysical distinctions or theological abstractions. He wants to see some concrete evidence.25 Philip does not understand that no one has seen God. It is beyond the human capacity. Even Moses’ request on Mount Sinai was refused (Exod 33:18-23). This desire in man to see God is why humankind is so prone to various forms of idolatry and the pursuit of things we can see and touch and hold (cf. Rom 1:18-32).
Yet Jesus, always the patient and gracious God, answers Philip’s request with some impassioned words: “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (14:9-11). Jesus is the perfect image, the exact replica, of the Father. To see the Lord Jesus is to see and experience God the Father. Thus, Jesus urges His disciples to believe in Him because of His words. But if they cannot believe because of His words alone, He urges them to believe because of the works He does. Believing leads to seeing.
John closes this section in a very surprising way. If I had been writing this gospel, I would have been tempted to tell my readers to identify their personal heart trouble and assure them that Jesus will provide a cure. But John records words from Jesus that deal with fruitful ministry and Christ’s kingdom agenda as a means to comfort disciples who are struggling with heart trouble. This is a brilliant approach! In 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he [she or anyone] who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” Jesus proclaims that His disciples will perform even “greater works” then He has. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? I don’t recall the disciples turning water into wine, feeding thousands, or raising anyone from the dead. Hence, the “greater works” here do not refer to greater in degree, but greater in the sense of extent and effect.
As to extent, Christ’s ministry was limited to Palestine, but through the church, His work went forth not just in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, but to the farthest parts of the known world (Acts 1:8). As to effect, multitudes from all over the world would come to believe in Christ and be placed into the church. When we examine the early chapters of Acts we find that from a numerical standpoint, the works of Peter and the other disciples surpass those of Jesus in a single day. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon and 3,000 people believed in Christ (Acts 2). On that day more are added to the church than had become followers of Jesus during the entire three years of His earthly ministry. All of this occurs through Jesus’ power because He goes to the Father. Jesus releases the Holy Spirit to accomplish great exploits in and through the church.
What I love most about this verse in the midst of a discussion of heart trouble and anxiety is that John and Jesus are saying: As difficult as your troubles and trials are right now, please know that the church is going to accomplish God’s eternal purposes. If you’re feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, observe the kingdom work of the church. The church is touching lives not only in this county, but in our country, and throughout the world. When everything that could go wrong seems to be going wrong and your heart is hurting, please know that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church and God’s kingdom will advance. As difficult as your individual heart troubles are, they are momentary (2 Cor 4:16-18). God assures you that as you take your eyes off of your own troubles and focus on Christ’s work in His church, you will be strengthened. Believing leads to seeing, specifically seeing God work in and through you and His people.
Jesus concludes in 14:13-14 with these words: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”26 After reading these verses, you may be wondering if the TV preachers are right after all. Like Aladdin’s lamp, these verses have suffered centuries of misuse. All too often, Christ has been looked on as a magic genie; and prayer, the fervent rub of the lamp. So many times, our prayers are like a stanza from “Old MacDonald’s Farm”: “a gimme gimme here and a gimme there … here a gimme … there a gimme … everywhere a gimme gimme.” But the verse is not a carte blanche to gratify our every desire.27
So what are we to make of these verses, which appear to be a promise to grant any request so long as it is asked in Jesus’ name?28 Two observations are very important. First, the key to understanding these verses is context, context, context. The pronouns “whatever” (14:13) and “anything” (14:14) you ask Jesus for are specifically related to ministry and the works of Christ. There is no promise for your individual desires to be met. Second, this apparently blank check type promise has a condition that we often overlook: “in My name.” We overlook this condition because many Christians think it means simply making our request and then adding the phrase “in Jesus’ name” at the end. Yet, to ask in Jesus’ name is to ask in His will, because it is to be in union with Him.29 This further develops the union between Jesus and God the Father in 14:10-11. Jesus is saying that every request you and I make should be attuned to His will with a desire to see Him glorified. That means the request must be consistent with the character of Christ. To do something in the name of another is to act as his representative. As an ambassador speaks in the name of the king, so we must be subject to the will and purposes of Christ.30 The main purpose of prayer is not to get us out of bankruptcy or to lessen the pain of an inflated tumor. God is interested in these problems and often does do just as we ask. But His primary purpose goes beyond our immediate needs. It is His glory that is of primary importance.31 Jesus is promising His disciples that their requests concerning fruit bearing would be answered because this would bring glory to God. Jesus is not promising that every request made in His name would be fulfilled.32
What do you want God to accomplish in and through you and your church for the sake of His kingdom? What are the “greater works” you want God to bring about? Do you have vision to dream big dreams for Him? Do you have faith to pursue God sized goals? If so, God is yearning to answer your prayers because they are about His kingdom and His glory.
It’s been said, “Confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation.” True as this may be, I’m here to tell you that I understand to some degree what it is to experience heart trouble. Let me just share with you on a very personal level that I often feel like I am not the husband that I want to be. There are times when I don’t love Lori like Christ loves the church. This hurts my heart and grieves me deeply. As a father, there are times when I am not the spiritual leader that I need to be for my three children. When I see them growing up so quickly and recognize that I am losing opportunities to influence them, I can’t help but have heart trouble. There are times when the task of pastoring is overwhelming. At times I feel like I am failing in the goal of bringing people to maturity in Christ. I feel at times that this church needs someone whose skills are different from my own. There are times that I am so confused about which way to go that I am almost paralyzed.
I share these things with you for a reason. I want you to know that I know some of the heart trouble that you feel. What gets me through is what God is doing in the world in and through His church. May you and I take our heart trouble to the Savior and pray that He helps us take our eyes off our concerns and put them on His work. Believing leads to seeing.
John 5:21-40; 6:33-63
Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27
1 Peter 2:4-10
1. What troubles my heart most about living in Jesus’ absence (14:1a)? Do I strive to believe in Jesus in the midst of life’s challenges and uncertainties (14:1b)? How do I choose to trust in God when everything within me wants to worry and stress over my circumstances? What have I learned during those times when I have either trusted Christ or disregarded Christ? How would I explain these experiences to a younger believer?
2. Is the promise of heaven a significant motivation for me (14:2-3)? Why or why not? How prepared am I to go to the place Jesus has prepared for me? What can I do to increase my anticipation for my heavenly home? Are there specific pursuits, pleasures, or possessions that are keeping me from adopting an eternal perspective? If so, how can I eliminate these distractions? Read Colossians 3:1-3 and 2 Timothy 4:8.
3. Why is it so difficult for the world to accept that Jesus is the only way to God (14:6)? Do I struggle with this teaching? How can I explain this “hard to swallow” biblical teaching to my neighbors, coworkers, students, family, and friends? How has Jesus revealed Himself to me as the way, the truth, and the life? Will I share what Jesus has done in my life with those in my sphere of influence?
4. How would I describe my personal relationship with Jesus Christ (14:7-10)? How would those who know me best describe my relationship with Christ? In what specific ways is my intimate/experiential knowledge of Christ lacking? What am I willing to do about it? Who can I call this week that has a dynamic walk with Christ and can help me press on in my spiritual maturity?
5. Do I genuinely believe that God wants to accomplish greater works through His disciples (14:12-14)? What works does God want me to perform? Am I available to obediently pursue those works? Do I pray prayers of faith expecting God to accomplish great things through my family, my church, and me? This week, will I begin to pray for God to increase my faith in what He can do in and through His people?
1 Col 3:9: “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (cf. Eph 4:22, 25).
2 Exod 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (cf. Rom 7:7; 13:9).
3 Matt 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
4 Phil 2:1:14: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (cf. 1 Cor 10:10; 1 Pet 4:9).
5 Jesus is no longer talking to Peter (John 13:36-38); He shifts to the plural to include all His disciples in 14:1.
6 On three previous occasions we learned of Jesus’ deeply troubled feelings (tarasso): when he faced Lazarus’ tomb (11:33), when he contemplated the cross (12:27), and when he reflected on the betrayal of Judas (13:21).
7 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 565.
8 Jesus’ answer can be read either as an indicative (“You [already] believe in God and you believe in me”) or as an imperative (“Believe in God! Believe also in me!”), since the Greek forms for the indicative and imperative are identical in this case. The imperative for both verbs seems preferable (as it is in 12:36; 14:11) since Jesus is charging his disciples to hold fast in light of the upcoming crisis. Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 390.
9 Borchert is likely correct: “Trust may be better than believe.” Gerald Borchert, John 12-21. New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 2002), 103.
10 Revised from Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 217.
11 The Greek word monai (“dwelling places”) was translated “mansions” in the KJV. This rendering occurred because when Jerome translated the NT into Latin he used the word mansiones, and the KJV translators adopted the English word with the most similar meaning. But the Latin word means “lodging-places” (similar to the NASB’s “dwelling places”). Unfortunately, the translation “mansions” gives the impression that these “dwelling places” are palacious houses, which is deceptive. The noun mone is found only here and in John 14:23 in the NT. It is connected with the verb that means ‘to abide, dwell,’ which is used quite often in John 15. It points to places to stay, nothing more nothing less.
12 Alcorn writes, “The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history. Australian aborigines pictured Heaven as a distant island beyond the western horizon. The early Finns thought it was a distant island in the far away east. Mexicans, Peruvians, and Polynesians believed that they went to the sun or the moon after death. Native Americans believed that, in the afterlife, their spirits would hunt the spirits of buffalo. The Gilgamesh epic, an ancient Babylonian legend, refers to a resting place of heroes and hints at a tree of life. In the pyramids of Egypt, the embalmed bodies had maps placed beside them as guides to the future world. The Romans believed that the righteous would picnic in the Elysian Fields, while their horses grazed nearby. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said, ‘The day thou fearest as the last is the birthday of eternity.’ Although these depictions of the afterlife differ, the unifying testimony of the human heart throughout history is belief in life after death. Anthropological evidence suggests that every culture has a God-given, innate sense of the eternal—that this world is not all there is.” Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton: Tyndale, 2004), xix.
13 Burge, The Gospel of John, 405.
14 R. Kent Hughes, John. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.
15 Robert Jeffress, As Time Runs Out (Nashville: Broadman, 1999), 10.
16 Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 99.
17 D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 26.
18 See John 20:24-25. Yet, note that Thomas is also portrayed as a man of faith, who urges the disciples to join him in being willing to die for Jesus (11:16).
19 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 101.
20 What a great reminder to take the knowledge we hear and act upon it. As James, the half-brother of Jesus says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jas 1:22).
21 Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 232.
22 John places the verb ginosko (“known”) at the beginning and the end of John 14:7a for emphasis.
23 Borchert, John 12-21, 112: “The question that could be raised is: When will the disciples truly come to know Jesus?”
24 Borchert, John 12-21, 113: “We might not be too quick to judge the disciples because if we had been walking in their sandals, we might have been even slower in perception.”
25 For more on Phillip, see John 1:43-48; 6:5-7; 12:20-22.
26 This is a good example of the need to consult parallel passages before making dogmatic statements on biblical subjects. One must balance “whatever we ask” with (1) “in My name” (John 14:13-14; 15:7,16; 16:23); (2) “keep on asking” (Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8); (3) “two agreeing” ( Matt. 18:19); (4) “believing” (Matt. 21:22); (5) “without doubt” (Mark 11:22-24; James 1:6-7); (6) “not selfishly” (James 4:2-3); (7) “keep His commands” (I John 3:22); and (8) “according to God’s will” (Matt. 6:10; I John 5:14-15). See Bob Utley, John and I, II & III John: http://freebiblecommentary.org/pdf/EN/VOL04.pdf, 134.
27 Charles R. Swindoll, Following Christ … The Man of God: A Study of John 6-14 (Fullerton, CA: Insight for Living, 1985), 87.
28 Similar statements appear in John 15:7, 16; 16:23, 24, and 16:26. Jesus repeated this promise probably because it is so great that it is almost unbelievable.
29 Elsewhere John writes, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
30 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 45-46.
31 Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, 46.
32 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 233.
What is the mother of all politically incorrect statements? Are you ready? Here it is: “Jesus Christ is the only way to God.” Even the mere hint of this conclusion causes most Americans to cringe and shudder. Many Americans become irate over this declaration. They will spew forth accusations such as “intolerant,” narrow-minded,” “arrogant,” “hateful,” and “bigot.” It quickly becomes apparent that the greatest atrocity in today’s culture is not theft, rape, or murder. It is intolerance. People are willing to tolerate any viewpoint, except one that claims to be uniquely true. Today, a scant 12% of Americans claim that their religion is the only true faith.1
It should not be surprising that unbelievers reject absolute truth along with the claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. What is shocking is that a 2008 poll of 35,000 Americans showed that “57% of evangelical church attenders said they believed many religions can lead to eternal life.”2 Now, this is disturbing! It’s not even a foregone conclusion in evangelical churches that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Is it any wonder that most of our churches are so anemic? Seriously, if Jesus is just one of many possible options, it should be no surprise that Christians aren’t sharing their faith. Why bother? We don’t have to sweat sharing the gospel with our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, friends, and family. They can just believe in “God” or in some other worldview and be saved.
But what does the New Testament actually say about this? In John 14:1–6, Jesus informs His disciples that He must go away and prepare a place for them through His death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus assures His men that they know where He is going. But Thomas objects, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Then in 14:6, Jesus declares the mother of all politically incorrect statements: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”3 This statement could be called “the singular solution.” Here, Jesus props Himself up and drops all His competition. Notice the definite article “the.” Jesus doesn’t say, “I am a way, and a truth, and a life.” He insists, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” But Jesus is not only saying He’s the way to heaven, He’s also saying He’s the only way, that you can’t get there any other way, because they all fall short. You can’t get there by being good. You can’t get there by being religious. You can’t get there by being sincere. You can’t get there by ceremony or knowledge or pedigree. There’s no other way than through Him. In John 14:6, Jesus doesn’t merely point the way, He is the Way. Jesus does not just teach us truth, He is the Truth. He does not represent one avenue to life, He is the Life. This is an exclusive claim that cannot be compromised. In a word, the human quest for God ends in Jesus Christ.4 There I said it. Now, you can call me an intolerant, narrow-minded bigot.
John 14:6 is more than sufficient to prove the point that Jesus claimed to be God, but one could ask, “What about the rest of the New Testament?” In Acts 4:12, Peter, the one who denied Jesus several days earlier tells the Jewish leaders: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Now that is an exclusive claim! Peter uses phraseology like “no one” and “no other name.” Clearly, Peter believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. In 1 Tim 2:5–6, Paul writes, “For there is one God, and one mediator [i.e., bridge] also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom [i.e., the exchange price] for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” Paul also believes that the only way humanity can have a relationship with God is through Jesus. Finally, in Matt 7:13–14, Jesus declares, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Christianity is narrow because salvation is spelled DONE not DO. It is all done through Jesus Christ.
No reasonable, impartial person can deny that Jesus claimed to be God. But can we believe this claim, and on what grounds? The following historical facts support the notion that Jesus Christ is God and can be trusted for information on salvation.
Of course, many skeptics and cynics will object that these arguments involve circular reasoning. They are right! However, these arguments are necessary more so than ever since the church is biblically illiterate and ignorant. It is critical, therefore, that we know what we believe and why we believe it. Furthermore, the Bible is a supernatural book that changes lives. Human logic and argumentation often fail to persuade people whose minds are already made up. But God’s Word can break through the hardest heart and draw a person to faith in Christ. So it is imperative that you and I still rely upon the Scriptures to argue for Christianity.
It is likely that you agree with what you’ve read thus far. Your challenge is not in believing these facts about Christ; your challenge is articulating this message in a culture that completely rejects your views. My goal in the following pages is to provide you four principles and several arguments and illustrations that will help you to boldly and respectfully share Christ with your unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, friends, and family.
1. Establish absolute truth. Unless you can establish a common point of agreement, absolute truth, there is no discussion. While our culture vehemently rejects this notion, if you are patient and gracious, you can persuade nearly anyone that they adhere to absolute truth. If you enter a phone booth, you cannot dial any set of numbers and get your home. Every residence and business has a separate number that must be dialed to reach that location. If you want to drive your car to California, you can’t drive down any road that strikes your fancy, make any turn you want, get on any interstate that looks appealing, and arrive at your intended destination. If you have a headache, you cannot take any medicine you want to find relief. Some pills might help; others might kill. There is not a single area of life in which you can make any choice you want from a wide array of options and achieve the same result or experience.6 “Two plus two equals four” is a very narrow statement. But truth is narrow. When I’m on an airliner, I want my pilot to land on the runway, not on the freeway; right side up, not upside down; and when he is told, neither sooner nor later.
Suppose a teacher returns to her students an exam she has graded over the weekend. One of the students answers every question correctly, except question number ten: “What is the capital of New York?” His answer, “New York City,” is marked incorrect. When he challenges the teacher, she reminds him that the correct answer is Albany. But he isn’t satisfied. He turns to his classmates and asks, “How many of you thought the capital of New York was New York City?” Half the students in the class raise their hands. The student then turns to the teacher and says, “So, what makes you think your opinion is more valid than our opinion? You’re being intolerant. Aren’t all opinions equally valid?” Obviously, there is only one right answer to that question regardless of how many incorrect opinions exist. But now let’s suppose that the same student says to the teacher, “I think it’s too hot in here. Would you turn down the thermostat?” The teacher says, “The temperature is just right; we’ll leave it where it is.” Whose opinion is correct? Obviously, both opinions are equally valid since there is no objective standard for the “right” temperature.
Most major religions attempt to answer the question, “How can a person have a right relationship with God?” But our culture is attempting to move the answer to that question from the arena of objective truth (such as state capitals) to the arena of opinion (such as comparable temperatures). This means that anyone who tries to shift answers from the realm of opinion back to the realm of objective truth will be regarded as being as intolerant as a person who tries to impose his opinions about the temperature, music, or politics on others.7
Nevertheless, I still maintain that unbelievers can and will acknowledge the legitimacy of absolute truth. I find one of the greatest ways of helping people understand this is by appealing to their children. Believers and unbelievers alike love their kids and will do anything for them. So I find the following approach helpful. Imagine that your child develops a terrible disease. As a loving parent, what would you do? You would take your child to the doctor. Now imagine if your doctor said, “There are hundreds of potential cures to your child’s condition. Every treatment is a viable option. I have studied all of these possibilities and I recommend each of them for your consideration. I will not prescribe a path to your child’s recovery because that would be arrogant and intolerant. There are plenty of medical journals that would dispute my recommendation. I would also offend many of my colleagues. So, you will have to come to your own conclusion because in the end any medical treatment is going to lead to your child’s health and healing.” What would you say to your doctor? The unbeliever would have to acknowledge, “I would get up in his face and scream, ‘Are you crazy? I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life! Doc, you’re supposed to help me. Stop this ridiculous pluralistic and relativistic mumbo-jumbo and help me see my child get well!” At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, we all hold to absolute truth.
It’s a good thing that deep down humankind recognizes absolute truth because the world religions contradict one another.8 Islam says that Jesus was not crucified. Christianity says He was. Only one of us can be right. Judaism says Jesus was not the Messiah. Christianity says He was. Only one of us can be right. Hinduism says God has often been incarnate. Christianity says God was incarnate only in Jesus. We cannot both be right. Buddhism says that the world’s mysteries will end when we do what is right. Christianity says we cannot do what is right. The world’s mysteries will end when we believe what is right. Obviously, these views cannot all be true for we would be dealing with an absolutely schizophrenic God. Hence, we must return to the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, not 3 or 5. Again, if we patiently and graciously establish absolute truth and demonstrate that all people recognize the reality of truth, we will be laying a compelling foundation for discussion.
Let’s suppose that researchers at the University of Washington this very week discovered the cure for cancer. After years of research, they developed a treatment that could instantly cure all forms of cancer. The treatment is painless, one-time, and 100% effective. Would it be arrogant for them to say, “This is the only treatment for cancer you will ever need?” Or would that be the most loving thing they could ever say?9 I would guess that many unbelievers who have cancer would be more than willing to receive the cure and go through the treatment. I don’t think very many people would complain, “What about all the other potential cures?” When it comes to healing our bodies, most people are looking for a “silver bullet” solution. Similarly, the Bible and human experience teaches that humanity has the spiritual cancer of sin. This disease needs to be cured. Absolute truth in spiritual matters demands that we discern a solution. Christianity provides both the diagnosis and the remedy.
2. Affirm Christ’s claim about Himself. Christians don’t affirm the necessity of faith in Christ alone because they are bigots, but because He left us no option. To say less than He said is to be disloyal to Him. To say something contrary to what He said is to be disobedient to Him. When coworkers, classmates, neighbors, family, and friends object to our belief in Christ alone, we must gently insist, “Your argument is with Jesus and the Bible, not me. I am a mailman or a mailwoman. I just deliver the mail. I don’t write the mail or send the mail. I simply deliver it.”
Suppose you receive a memo from your employer saying all employees are to report to work the next morning one hour early. Anyone failing to do so will be docked a day’s pay. A coworker of yours is home sick the day the memo arrives, so you call him on the phone and say, “I thought you would want to know that you need to be at work tomorrow one hour early or you’ll lose a day’s salary.” Your friend rants and raves about how unfair such an expectation is. “You don’t have any right to tell me to come in an hour early. You’re not my boss,” he argues. How do you reply to such an outburst? You tell him you are simply reading a memo from the boss. This is not your decision; it is your boss’s decision. You’re just relaying the information out of concern for your coworker.
We must tell people that Jesus Christ claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). This message is not going to be popular, but we must still affirm Jesus’ claim about Himself. Since we have staked our eternal destiny on Jesus’ words and works, we must love people in our lives enough to tell them the good news of the gospel. Will they reject us and potentially persecute us? Yes, but remember the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:10–12). Persecution will come, but so will reward, and in the end, being bold for Christ will be more than worth it.
3. Learn from religious devotees. How many ears do you have? How many mouths? It is likely that you should listen twice as much as you talk. Yet, too many Christians seem to be all mouth and no ears. We talk, but we don’t listen. Or we listen just to have an excuse to talk some more. While we appear to be listening we are thinking of what we’re going to say next. We need to recognize that the only way we will be able to influence people of other worldviews is by showing kindness and building rapport. We need to ask questions, seek understanding, and find whatever common ground we can. We aren’t compromising our Christianity by showing kindness to followers of other religions. But we may see God open doors that otherwise would not be open.
This year on my way to England, God sat me next to a devoted Hindu. We talked for hours. I asked him as many questions as I possibly could. I learned a great deal about Hinduism. I affirmed him in every way that I possibly could. He eventually began asking me all kinds of questions about Christianity. He allowed me to present the gospel to him and even leave him with some gospel literature. I don’t think this would have been possible if I had not sought to intentionally draw him out and express interest in his faith. So acknowledge whatever degree of truth exists in other religions. Affirm the Jew or Muslim for his or her adherence to a single, personal Creator. Express to a Buddhist that you appreciate his or her ethical appeal to honesty, charity, and service. Tell a Mormon that you respect his or her marriage and family. Let a Jehovah Witness know that you respect his or her zeal, and you wish that Christians were as zealous. Show respect for people of other faiths.10
4. Refuse to be intimidated. Christianity has been given a terribly bad rap. While we may be exclusive in our claim that Jesus Christ is the way to God, many other faiths are exclusive as well. Muslims cannot tolerate disagreement with the Koran. Buddhism does not accept the Hindu scriptures and the Hindu caste system. Hinduism does not accept views of life that do not include Karma and reincarnation. Atheists cannot accept any belief in God. Of course, only Christianity is persecuted for its “intolerance.” Many Christians are bothered by this, but this is one of the reasons we know that Christianity is true. Satan knows that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and that no one comes to the father but through Him. Consequently, he is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to destroy Christianity.
In Matt 10, Jesus sends His believing disciples out to proclaim Him as the Christ. He warns them, “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues” (10:17). He then states, “Therefore do not fear them [the men who will persecute you, 10:17], for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” In these verses, Jesus exhorts His disciples to proclaim Him as the only way to God. He assures them that if they boldly preach His words and works, nothing will befall them that He doesn’t ordain. The worst case scenario is the disciple dies a martyr’s death, immediately enters Jesus’ presence, and is rewarded for eternity. Jesus then explains that those disciples who publicly confess Him will experience His approval; those who shrink back and deny Him will lose out on His approval and the rewards that come from being a bold witness (10:32–33). Don’t make the mistake of succumbing to the temptation of pleasing men; you will forfeit God’s pleasure. Pray that God grants you the grace to boldly proclaim Jesus Christ as the only way to God.
This message can be boiled down into one statement: Only Jesus and Jesus only. Only Jesus and Jesus only.11 When everything is said and done, Christianity is about Jesus. Emmanuel Bible Fellowship is known for its biblical preaching, dynamic worship, and children and teens ministries. But are we known for Jesus? If all of these other ministries were to fall away, would Jesus remain?12 My ministry needs to be focused on the supremacy of Jesus. If I fail to boldly proclaim Jesus, give me my walking papers and send me packing. Find another preacher that fearlessly preaches Jesus. This is all that really matters. Life’s biggest decision is what you do with Jesus and how you proclaim Him to a lost and dying world. Only Jesus and Jesus only.
Acts 4:12; 10:42–43; 17:30
1 Timothy 2:5–6
1 John 5:12
1. Why are various world religions, worldviews, and cults so appealing? If I was not a Christian, which worldview would I likely adopt? What makes this faith relatively intriguing? What faith system is in my background? What did I learn from my religious upbringing or lack thereof? Do I know some people from a similar religious background that I can share my faith in Christ with?
2. Are all religions really the same? How do the various world religions contradict one another? What about sincerity? Is it enough to be sincere in one’s convictions? Why or why not? Why is it so difficult to proclaim Christ as the only way to God in the marketplace? How have I successfully been able to do this? Why is it so important to speak graciously and truthfully (John 1:14)?
3. What is significant about the claims that Jesus Christ made concerning Himself (John 8:19, 24, 28, 58; 14:9; 18:5)? Did the Jews of Jesus’ day understand the implications of His claims (Mark 2:6–7; 14:61–64; John 5:18; 10:30–33)? How did the apostles affirm Christ’s unique claims in their writings (John 1:1–4; Acts 4:12; Rom 6:23; Gal 1:8)?
4. What does Jesus Christ have to say about possible alternative routes to heaven (John 3:18; 8:24; 14:6)? If Jesus is the only way to God, what about those who have never heard about Him (Rom 2–3)? How have I attempted to answer this question when I’ve been asked?
5. What can I do to become more knowledgeable in my understanding of Jesus Christ’s person and claims? Where is my knowledge weak? Where is it reasonable? Who do I need to boldly share Christ with this week? How can I do this?
1 Christine Wicker, “How Spiritual Are We?” Parade Magazine, 10/04/2009:
3 That expression “the way, and the truth, and the life” was commonly used by religious teachers of the day to describe the Torah, the Law. It meant that the Law provided a person with everything they needed to know about life, God, and eternity. Jesus intentionally included those three words to emphasize the sweeping scope of his claim, but His emphasis was on “the Way.” And notice that He’s not just claiming to know the way or show the way, but that He Himself is the way.
4 Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 392.
5 There have been crazies that have claimed to be God or the Christ, but these individuals do not enjoy the respect or credibility of the various leaders of the world religions. Besides, Jesus predicted, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them” (Matt 24:23–26). As the day of Christ’s return draws near, more and more of these antichrists will creep up onto the scene (cf. 1 John 4:1–3).
6 James Emery White, A Search for the Spiritual (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 94–95.
7 Robert Jeffress, Hell? Yes! … And Other Outrageous Truth You Can Still Believe (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2004), 27–28.
8 The five major world religions differ significantly on major issues such as salvation and the afterlife. Hindus are pantheists or polytheists who worship more than 300 gods. Hindus see humankind as fundamentally divine, but trapped in this world due to ignorance and bad karma. Deliverance comes from changing beliefs about reality and true identity. This entails sentencing oneself to an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The only way to break this cycle is through the spiritual development that is achieved through the practice of four yogas. Buddhists are pantheists or atheists. Buddha, a dissatisfied follower of Hinduism, decided to develop his own name-brand religion built on the premise that humankind’s basic problem is the desire for pleasure and status as well as the necessities of life. According to Buddhism, the only way we can ever stop our cravings and enter into the restful state of nirvana is by following the Noble Eightfold Path. Muslims are theists and Unitarian. Muslims believe humankind is weak but not sinful in nature and are under God’s judgment for disobedience to Allah’s laws. Salvation comes from his laws. Judaism claims that obedience to Yahweh and the OT Law is the only path to righteousness. Christians are theists but Trinitarian. Christians believe that humankind is alienated from God and salvation can only come through faith in Jesus Christ.
9 Pritchard, “Is Jesus the Only Way to Heaven?” (John 14:6): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2005-07-31-Is-Jesus-the-Only-Way-to-Heaven/.
10 Before we know it, we will be outnumbered by other faith systems in America. Christianity has the slowest growth among religions in America. Between 1990 and 2001, Christianity grew only 7%, Mormonism grew by 112%, and Humanism by 169%. Islam grew by 210%, Buddhism by 270%, and Hinduism by 337%. The Wiccan religion grew the fastest: 1,675%. Nearly 1 out of 5 young people age 18-22 now self-identify as atheists. Gateways 8/9/09 quoted in Church Leaders Intelligence Report 10/9/09.
11 Pritchard, “Is Jesus the Only Way to Heaven?”
12 Wilkins states this well, “Christianity claims to be the truth. We differ about many things, from the right style of worship, to the right lifestyle, to the right time Jesus will return. Christianity’s claim to being right must stay centered in the essential truths of historic Christianity, not trivial issues. The important issues are that Christianity claims to be the true way to know God, salvation, and eternal life.” Michael Wilkins, “Why do you claim Christianity is the only way?” Moody (March/April 1999): 28.
Hezekiah 6:1 says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Can I get an amen? Perhaps a “Preach it, brother?” No? Why not?! “This is not a biblical citation,” you reply. You are correct. Despite what many Christians think, “God helps those who help themselves” is likely the most often quoted phrase that isn’t in the Bible. This saying is usually attributed to Ben Franklin, quoted in Poor Richard’s Almanac (1757). Franklin and his contemporaries adapted it from one of Aesop’s Fables—Hercules and the Waggoner (6th century BC). In the story, a waggoner’s heavy load becomes bogged down in mud. In despair, the waggoner cries out to Hercules for help. Hercules replies, “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.”1 It’s rather ironic that a polytheistic tale appealing to Greek mythology has now made its way into what many believers think is in the pages of Scripture.2
“God helps those who help themselves” is not merely extrabiblical; it is also unbiblical. It is polar opposite of the message of Scripture. The Bible insists that God helps the helpless.3 Today, if you are feeling helpless and hopeless, don’t despair. If you are feeling lonely and discouraged, don’t lose heart. Jesus has a word for you. In John 14:15–31, on the eve before His death, Jesus imparts to His distressed disciples His final words. In these waning moments, He declares: God helps those who help themselves to Him. This is the message of John 14 and the whole Bible. In every area of spiritual life, from beginning to end, God only helps those who help themselves to Him.
This passage begins in 14:15 with a “hinge” verse. John links the previous section (14:1–14) with this section (14:15–31). Previously, Jesus taught about His relationship to the Father. Now He explains His relationship to the Holy Spirit.4 He says, “If you love Me, you will5 keep My commandments.”6 Jesus doesn’t command His disciples to love Him, but to obey Him.7 Love and obedience are linked throughout this passage.8 This is because John’s use of “love” (agapao) isn’t an abstract emotion, but something intensely practical that involves obedience.9 Whenever I read this verse, I think of the notorious line that many men use on women, “If you love me, you will…” I think one of the best comebacks to this pathetic line is: “If you love me, you will keep Jesus’ commands.” In the heat of the moment, you may also need to remind yourself, “If I love Jesus, I will keep His commands.” This is a motivating verse because Jesus conditions our love for Him on our obedience. In what specific area of your life is Jesus seeking obedience from you? Will you obey Him today?
Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t expect mere raw determination or dogged discipline from us to pull off His commands. Instead, He seems to say: As you attempt to obey Me, I will give you My enablement—the Holy Spirit.10 Jesus puts it like this: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (14:16). Jesus promises a “Helper” that will be with us forever.11 The Greek word translated “Helper” is parakletos, or for smoother English, paraklete.12 Not parakeet, paraklete. We’re not talking about a colorful little bird that sits in a cage and sings; we’re talking about the Holy Spirit—the third member of the Trinity. Paraklete is very difficult to translate into English.13 Most English versions render the term “Helper” (NASB, ESV, NKJV), “Counselor” (NIV, HCSB),14 “Comforter” (KJV), or “Advocate” (NET, NRSV, NLT).15 Perhaps the ambiguity of the word emphasizes that the Holy Spirit helps us in many different ways.16 It’s not just that He consoles us in our sorrow, but He also makes us strong in the face of opposition.17 The term Paraklete is like a diamond; it means something slightly different depending on how you hold it toward the light and view it.18 Yet, since you are probably hoping for the Cliff Notes® version, “Helper” is the most all-encompassing translation.19 The only real drawback to “Helper” is the term can suggest a subordinate rank. I immediately think of Hamburger Helper®, which implies that you can accomplish a great meal if you just use their handy-dandy mix. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is not just looking to help you out when you’re in a pinch; rather, He wants to consume you and take over your life. Remember, God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps those who help themselves to Him.
As a father I always tried to help my three kids learn to ride a bike without suffering too many scrapes and bruises. First there would be training wheels and a steadying hand on the handlebars. Then would come the day the training wheels came off, and I would run alongside the bike, one hand under the seat, giving instructions—“Now relax. Keep your wheel straight. Steady! I’ve got you! You’re doing great!” Crash! I would then pick up my child and encourage him or her to try again. Similarly, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us, encourages us, holds us up, picks us up, dusts us off when we fall, and gets us going again.20 The Holy Spirit’s eternal patience and encouragement with us ought to give us the same heart for our children when we are teaching them how to ride a bike or drive a car or anything else. I know, that application hits a little too close to home. Yet, this point is critical. The Holy Spirit is continually grieved and quenched by our behavior,21 but He still persists in love and care for us. What an amazing God!
But perhaps you’re still not satisfied. You may feel that the Holy Spirit is the third-string member of the Trinity, following God the Father and God the Son. Before you start feeling like you’re receiving inferior care, note the phrase “another Helper.” Two different Greek words can be translated “another”—allos (“another of the same kind”) and heteros (“another of a different kind”).22 The word Jesus uses to describe the coming Helper is allos, which means another helper just like him! Jesus is comforting His disciples by assuring them they don’t need to be troubled at His leaving because He is sending a “Helper” just like Him. There will be no loss in the exchange.23 If you’ve ever wanted to walk and talk with Jesus like the first disciples, you can experience something even better—the Holy Spirit! Unlike Jesus when He was on earth, the Holy Spirit is always present and will be with you forever.
In 14:17a, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is also called “the Spirit of truth.” He is “the Spirit of truth” because He communicates and bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of Truth” is an important title given to the Holy Spirit and is also used in 15:26 and 16:13.24 This emphasis upon “truth” reminds us that the primary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is a commitment to interact with God’s truth. Jesus says that “the Spirit of truth” is a Person “whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (14:7b). Jesus states that the world “cannot receive” the Holy Spirit because they do not have a relationship with Him. In June 2009, America moved to Digital TV. In the wake of this change, our family was left in the dark because we still have an analog TV with no cable or satellite. Consequently, we’ve lost all of our TV stations. The reason that we cannot receive these stations is because we have rejected the technological solutions. If you have believed in Christ, the Holy Spirit abides with you and is in you. This means that the best help you have for whatever problem you face is inside you, not outside you. One fundamental reason many Christians don’t get the help they need when they are afraid, lonely, or weary is that they go to the wrong person first.25 Instead, as Christians, we must learn to ask the Holy Spirit to encourage us, comfort us, and strengthen us. God helps those who help themselves to Him.
In 14:18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans [lit. “fatherless”]; I will come to you.” This verse affirms the biblical doctrine of adoption, which may be the most healing and comforting doctrine in the entire Bible. In our society, parents have been known to abandon their children. New mothers have left their babies in alleys or on doorsteps or even walked away from older children at home. In contrast, Christ doesn’t abandon His children. When you’re a member of His family, you’ll never be an orphan; you’ll never be lost in a child custody battle. In fact, Christ is saying to His disciples, “I’ll be closer to you than ever before!26 When people hurt you and disappoint you, I will be there for you. You can count on Me. I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6; cf. Josh 1:5; Heb 13:5).
In 14:19–20, Jesus continues: “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” It seems best to take Jesus’ words to be a reference to His resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples.27 The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection will increase the disciples’ faith that He is God.
Jesus returns to His emphasis upon love and obedience in 14:21–24: “‘He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot)28 said to Him, ‘Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.’” These verses appear to state that Jesus loves us more when we obey Him and that He loves some believers more than others. This requires some clarification. Your obedience doesn’t make God love you more than He would otherwise. God’s love for all people is essentially as great as it can be. However, in the family relationship that Jesus is describing, your obedience allows God to express His love for you without restraint. When there is disobedience, God doesn’t express His love as fully because He must discipline you (cf. Heb 12:4–11). Without question, some believers love Jesus more than other believers do. This results in some believers obeying Him more than others and enjoying a more intimate relationship and greater understanding of Him than others enjoy.29 I have three children whom I love equally. However, if any of my children are rebellious and disobedient, I have to discipline them. This doesn’t affect my love for them—it is simply another expression of my love. But if their rebellion persists, we may not be able to be as intimate as I would like. I may not be able to give them some of the privileges or rewards that come from obedience. My love for my children doesn’t change, but our fellowship may change. If you have a wayward teenage or adult child, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.
Three other observations are in order. First, the verb “disclose” (emphanizo) in 14:21 means that Jesus will make Himself known to obedient believers through the Holy Spirit.30 Second, the word translated “abode” (mone) in 14:23 is the same word translated “dwelling places” in 14:2. Jesus is preparing a dwelling place for us, but He and the Father also dwells with us to the degree that we obey Him. Third, all this emphasis upon obedience is for our own good. When you do what you want to do instead of what Jesus wants you do, it always turns out bad, at least in my experience it does. I have never regretted one occasion of obedience to Jesus, but I have regretted countless episodes of disobedience.
In 14:25–26, Jesus shares with His disciples another role of the Helper: “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,31 whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”32 If you ever wanted to know how it was that the New Testament came to be written, your answer is right here. The disciples didn’t walk around Galilee with little note pads waiting for Jesus to say something so that they could take notes and then negotiate a publishing contract. They had absolutely no intention of writing anything. They never expected Jesus to leave. But later—much later for some of them—the necessity arose to preserve the things that had happened so that those of a new generation could know about them. That was when they began to write. However, I think that by extension we can see a valid application of the text. The reason the Holy Spirit would put these things into the minds of the apostles was because He wanted to put them into our minds. It is the Spirit who puts the words into Scripture, and it is the Spirit who helps us recall what we have read when we need it.
If you were a Christian when you were in high school or college (and maybe even if you weren’t!), you probably got serious about prayer just before a big test. You may have prayed, “Oh God, help me remember the things I’ve studied.” My prayer was a little different than that. I used to pray that He’d help me remember things I never studied. I didn’t just want reminders, I wanted direct revelation.33 Yet, in most cases, the Holy Spirit didn’t remind me of something I never bothered to learn. So if you’re looking for spiritual recall, it’s critical that you immerse yourself in God’s truth. There are many reasons for reading the Bible, going to church, and being a member of a small group. But one major reason is that it gives the Holy Spirit something to bring up, some truth to work with. Yes, He is the Spirit of truth, but He doesn’t drop truth on you unless you’ve been studying the truth.
Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘I don’t really care about my Bible recall. I can take it or leave it.’ Whoa! Right now you may not feel like you need it, but I can assure you there will come a time when you will need it, and you will wish you had saved away some Bible on the hard drive of your mind. Most of the time when I suddenly find myself faced with a crisis, I don’t have the opportunity to say, “Um…could I get back to you in a week or so? I’d like to do some homework on this, then I’ll figure out what we’re supposed to do here.” Sometimes you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment, don’t you? You have to decide what you’re going to do. You have to choose Response A or Response B, and putting it off isn’t an option! How do you prepare yourself for those moments?34 By immersing yourself in the Word.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have shown that the brain can learn simply from listening to different types of music. ‘It turns out that mere exposure makes an enormous contribution to how musical competence develops,’ said Henkjan Honing, one of the researchers. In the past, experts believed that the only way to shape musical abilities was through intense training, but this research suggests that exposure to music can similarly change the brain. Just as listening to music can shape our brains, exposure to God’s Word can change our souls. With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit changes us. We become more receptive to God’s message to us, and we gradually become more like Christ as we seek out God in our lives.35
When your life is saturated with Scripture, you will experience the peace of Christ. Jesus exclaims, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (14:27). Jesus promises His disciples peace, but not just any peace. Jesus offers His very own peace. The phrase, “Do not let your heart be troubled” harkens back to 14:1a. But Jesus now adds the phrase: “nor let it be fearful,” because He is about to depart and His disciples are becoming increasingly anxious. As a result, they desperately need the peace He offers. It is worth noting that the Greek’s notion of “peace” was absence of war. The Jews’ notion of “peace” was blessing and unity. Jesus’ bestowal of peace accords with the Jewish view.36 In other words, Christ’s peace adds something to life rather than subtracts something. We are used to thinking of peace as the absence of conflict, or the absence of stress, or the absence of worry. However, Christ’s peace includes the absence of distress but it also includes the presence of blessing. In fact, maybe we could go so far as to say that the absence of distress is the result of God’s blessing. Jesus is offering a peace that is a settled sense of well-being and security. What is your situation today? Whatever it is, if you have the Holy Spirit you can have peace in the midst of it because He lives within you. So don’t allow anxiety, worry, and fear to rob you of Christ’s peace. Instead, spend some time this week meditating on John 14:27. This is a verse that’s also worth committing to memory. Just write this Scripture down on a 3x5 card and tape it to your bathroom mirror, the steering wheel of your car, or your desk. As you read this verse several times a day, it will become committed to memory. Everyone needs peace, and you can find it in Christ. Just remember: God helps those who help themselves to Him.
In 14:28, Jesus utters a fascinating verse: “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Previously in 10:30 Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” In this verse, He was speaking of His essential coequality with God (as one sharing the Godhead with the Father).37 Here in 14:28, Jesus is merely referring to His voluntary position as servant under God (as one sent by the Father). Jesus is saying that He is the humble, submissive Son who submits Himself to the authority of His Father.38
The words Jesus spoke to His disciples: “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father” are rather relevant to us. Although God has given us people and things to enjoy, it’s important to hold them with a loose grasp. Someday, God may choose to take them from your hands, and the loss will be less painful if you’re not clutching them so tightly. What are you clinging to? A job…a person…your family…material possessions…the past? Always remember, the Lord not only gives but He may someday take away that which He has, for a time, entrusted to your care.39 If He does, your possessiveness could find you in a tug-of-war with God.40
This passage closes in 14:29–31 with these words from Jesus: “Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.” There are some interesting tidbits in these three verses. First, in 14:29, Jesus tells the disciples that He has told them all these things before they happen, so that when they do happen the disciples may believe. This does not mean they had not believed prior to this time; over and over John has affirmed that they have (cf. 2:11). But when they see these things happen, their level of trust in Jesus will increase and their concept of who He is will expand.41 We too must pray that our faith in Jesus continually increases. Pray: “Lord Jesus, increase my faith.” Second, in 14:30, Jesus declares, “the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”42 This phrase constitutes an idiomatic rendering of a Hebrew expression frequently found in legal contexts with the sense “he has no claim on me.”43 The expression, therefore, means not, “he has no power over me,” but “he has no legal claim or hold on me.”44 Christ will not capitulate His mission to be obedient to the His Father (cf. 14:31).45 We, too, must seek to obey Christ and fulfill His will in our lives no matter what. Third, Jesus and the disciples most likely leave the Upper Room and embark on a nocturnal walk that would lead them to Gethsemane. Perhaps they even passed vineyards on the way, which would provide a fitting backdrop for Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15).46 The language is deliberately spiritual and alludes to the trial and the attack from Satan which awaits Jesus and the disciples.
If I were to take out a pen and begin writing, I could record anything I wanted to record. But if I removed my hand, the pen would simply fall on the paper and lie there. My pen has no life of its own. My pen contains all the raw materials I need to write with, but it has no writing ability on its own. In order for this pen to function, it must be joined to the life in my hand. When that happens, my pen can form letters it could never form by itself. It can compose clauses and phrases and put them together to make sentences because it is in my hand, and my hand is alive. When you connect your life to the life of the Holy Spirit, He can write things that you could never write on your own. He can achieve things you could never achieve on your own. But if you live in the flesh and rely upon your own power, you’ll drop like a discarded pen because there is no spiritual life in your flesh, your unredeemed humanity.47 God helps those who help themselves to Him.
John 15:8, 12
1 John 2:1; 5:3
1. Which of Jesus’ commandments are the most difficult for me to obey (14:15, 21)? Why is this particular commandment so difficult? How have I sought to obey this command or battle the temptation to break this command? How would I presently rate my love for Jesus based upon my level of obedience? Do I consciously obey Christ by yielding myself to the Holy Spirit?
2. How do I rely upon “the Helper” in the course of my daily life (14:16)? If the Holy Spirit was taken away from me, would I even recognize His absence? How would I function? Would there be any notable difference in my life? If so, what would be identifiably different?
3. Why does God promise to dwell with obedient believers in a unique way (14:21–24)? What does this promise mean to me? Am I satisfied with my present intimacy with Christ? If not, what area of my spiritual life needs to be improved? How can I prepare myself for greater intimacy in the eternal state?
4. Martin Luther once said, “The simple maid studying the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit’s grasp is better than the greatest scholar studying without the help of the Holy Spirit.” How has the Holy Spirit taught me the Word and reminded me of biblical truth (14:26)? Why is it so difficult to rely upon the Spirit in my Bible study?
5. Do I currently sense Christ’s peace in my life (14:27)? Am I restless? If so, what area of my life needs the peace of Christ? Why is it so difficult to trust in the Lord? What role should 14:18 play in my perspective? Do I believe that Christ loves me and cares for me?
2 Brad Wheeler, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?” Accessed 16 October 2009:
3 E.g., Prov 28:26; Jer 17:5; Rom 5:8.
4 Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 122; cf. NET Study Notes.
5 There is a textual variant which allows for either a future indicative or aorist imperative. Most English versions opt for the former, while the NKJV prefers the latter and translates this phrase, “keep My commandments.”
6 See also 1 John 5:2–3: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” In John, “obey my commandments” is used interchangeably with “keep my word” (8:51; 14:23, 24; 15:20; cf. 17:6; 1 John 2:5). Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 434.
7 Köstenberger writes, “Jesus’ words echo the demands of the Deuteronomic covenant (see Deut. 5:10; 6:5–6; 7:9; 10:12–13; 11:13, 22).” Köstenberger, John, 434.
8 The word “love” (agapao) occurs ten times in 14:15–31.
9 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 655.
10 There are five passages in the Upper Room Discourse that speak of the Holy Spirit: 14:16–17; 14:26; 15:26–27; 16:7–11; 16:12–15.
11 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 125, write, “Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit will be with us forever can be combined with Paul’s description of the sealing ministry of the Spirit in Eph 1:13–14. There He is described as the guarantee that we will receive our inheritance in heaven. We can see from these two key passages that the doctrine of eternal security is implied by this permanent indwelling of the Spirit in believers.” Eaton argues that this phrase cannot be used as a reference to the eternal security of the individual believer because it pertains to the corporate church (the word “you” is plural). Eaton does hold to eternal security, but suggests, “We go to other Scriptures for that teaching.” Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 225.
12 The verbal form of this word, parakaleo, literally means to call alongside and, therefore, to encourage or to strengthen.
13 “Titles like Comforter, Helper, Counselor, or Consoler fit the context of John 14; but none of the titles fully expresses the Paraclete because he does more than comfort, help, counsel, and console—he also advocates, exhorts, and teaches.” Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 234.
14 Carson writes, “[The] NIV’s ‘Counselor’ is not wrong, so long as ‘legal counselor’ is understood, not ‘camp counselor’ or ‘marriage counselor’ and, even so, the Paraclete’s ministry extends beyond the legal sphere.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 499.
15 The NLT adds several alternative renderings in a footnote: “the Counselor, or Comforter, or Encourager, or Advocate.” Some versions even transliterate the term as “Paraklete” (NJB).
16 Parakletos is used in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; and 1 John 2:1.
17 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 55.
18 Doug McIntosh, “The Mystery of the Spirit” (John 14:15–31): http://www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/UpperRm/UpperRm04.pdfwww.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/UpperRm/UpperRm04.pdf.
19 BDAG s.v. parakletos: “one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper.” In common Greek outside the NT, parakletos was used generally of a “helper” or “one who appears in another’s behalf” and the technical use of the term for a “lawyer” or “attorney” was rare. Herick writes, “John appears to use the term in both a negative and positive light. With reference to the world the Paraclete has a negative function; to expose (eglecko) the guilt thereof for sin, etc (16:7-11). This context is somewhat forensic and like a courtroom. But, such is not the case in the other passages. In these, the Paraclete performs several essential functions: 1) teaching and reminding (14:26); 2) testifying about Christ (15:26); 3) guiding into all truth; revealing the future and making the things of Christ known to the disciples as well as glorifying Christ (16:13, 14). With this in mind and since all these functions can be summarized out of a helping type role, parakletos is best understood as a ‘helper’ in terms of whatever the disciples need in God’s plan. In this sense He will do what Christ did for them, but He will also do it differently, that is, from within (cf. v. 17).” Greg Herrick, “The Theological Message of John 14:15–31”: http://www.bible.org/www.bible.org. Burge suggests that “Advocate” is the best translation, but this seems to lean too heavily on the legal emphasis in 1 John 2:1. Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 395–96.
20 R. Kent Hughes, John. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.
21 See esp. Eph 4:30 and 1 Thess 5:19. In the former, the Holy Spirit is grieved by our sinful speech; in the latter, He is quenched when we despise prophecies.
22 Carson sees this distinction as well. D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14–17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 50.
23 They are so much the same that in Rom 8:9 Paul calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Christ.”
24 Harris writes, “Since according to 16:13 it is the Spirit who reveals truth to the disciples after Jesus’ departure, it is best to see the genitive here as descriptive of a characteristic: it is the Spirit who produces or communicates truth to the disciples” (his emphasis).
25 Evans, The Promise, 21.
26 Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, 53.
27 See Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, 62; Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 235–36; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 579; Gerald Borchert, John 12–21. New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 2002), 126. However, Köstenberger, John, 438, argues that Jesus is referring the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2.
28 Köstenberger, John, 439: “This Judas is the ‘Judas of James’ mentioned in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13, not Jude the half-brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3).”
29 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on John,” 2008 ed.: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdfwww.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf, 216.
30 BDAG s.v. emphanizo 2: “to provide information, make clear, explain, inform, make a report.” Emphanizo and its cognates are used in the NT to refer to resurrection appearances (Matt 27:53; Acts 10:40), to the exposing of people’s motives and intentions (Acts 23:15), and to refer to making something known to someone (Acts 23:22). It is used in the OT in Exod 33:13, 18 where God makes Himself known to Moses according to Moses’ request. Since Jesus says that He will disclose Himself to everyone who keeps His commands, it seems that Jesus is referring to a spiritual disclosure and not to a physical appearance of the risen Lord to the disciples before His ascension.
31 The title “Holy Spirit” occurs only infrequently in the OT (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:9–10).
32 Köstenberger, John, 440: “On the Spirit’s teaching ministry, see the parallel in 16:13. Both verses together (14:26 and 16:13) echo Ps 25:5 (cf. 25:9). See also Neh. 9:20 (cf. 1 John 2:20, 27).”
33 Jeremiah, God in You, 100; cf. Evans, The Promise, 25.
34 Jeremiah, God in You, 101.
36 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 237.
37 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 238.
38 See 1 Cor 11:3; 15:28.
39 Job 1:20–22 is a case in point.
40 Charles R. Swindoll, Following Christ...The Man of God: A Study of John 6–14 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1987), 93–94.
41 See NET study notes. The confession of Thomas in John 20:28 is representative of this increased understanding of who Jesus is (cf. 13:19).
42 The double negative in the Greek (ouk … ouden) is emphatic: “he does not have anything on me at all.”
43 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 508–9.
44 Cf. John 8:46; see Morris, The Gospel According to John, 585; Köstenberger, John, 445.
45 Borchert, John 12–21, 135.
46 Burge, The Gospel of John, 402; Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 323–25; Köstenberger, John, 445. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 479 mentions another possibility: Jesus may have expressed His intention to depart, but then launched into further teaching. Anyone who has entertained people in their home knows that it is very common for guests to say they are leaving and then stay quite a bit longer before really departing. Why would John have recorded this remark if it did not indicate a real change of location? Perhaps he included it to show Jesus’ great love for His followers.
47 Tony Evans, The Promise: Experiencing God’s Greatest Gift the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 215.
My wife Lori enjoys gardening. Over the years, she has planted all kinds of fruits and vegetables. As an observer, I can tell you there is a science and an art to what she does. She must cultivate the soil, plant the seeds, and nurture the crops. Yet, no matter how well Lori does, she can lose a crop to spring rains that rot the seed, slugs that eat new shoots, and deer that devour everything. She may even lose a crop because of a sudden burst of extreme heat. (I know this can seem unlikely in Washington State, but it does happen.) On account of all of these variables, Lori never knows whether her garden will be fruitful or not.
Do you ever feel this way in your daily life? You work hard at your job, yet there’s no guarantee that you will succeed. You may get demoted or even lose your job. You work hard at being a godly spouse, yet your marriage is mediocre or filled with grief. You work hard at raising godly children, yet your children are lukewarm or even rebellious. You work hard at your ministry, yet you always lack volunteers or feel discouraged. You work hard with your finances, yet, your portfolio may still plummet or the American dollar may become worthless. You work hard to stay physically fit, yet there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to keep the weight off or avoid cancer or Parkinson’s. These scenarios can all be incredibly discouraging. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guarantee of success in your life? Wouldn’t it be great to know that there’s at least one area that you can count on?
In John 15:1-11, Jesus states that if you abide in Him you’ll experience spiritual success. It’s guaranteed! So the only pursuit in your life that is guaranteed, the only area that you can truly count on is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Fortunately, there’s no greater measure of success than to succeed where it matters most. In these eleven verses, Jesus teaches His disciples the spiritual art of fruit bearing, which is the purpose of our earthly existence and the definition of spiritual success.1 The key to fruit bearing is found in the theme of abiding in Jesus. In this context, “abide” means to stay, remain, or continue with Jesus.2 Back in 1982 when I was eleven years old, one of my favorite songs was “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by a punk band called The Clash. This song dealt with the pros and cons of remaining in a romantic relationship. In John 15, Jesus beat The Clash to the punch line: Be sure to stay as you go. In other words, you and I must go and be Jesus’ disciples, but we must also stay in fellowship with Him at all times.
Jesus is in the final evening of His life. He has been sharing with His disciples what matters most to Him. Jesus and His disciples are walking by torch light toward the garden of Gethsemane (cf. 14:31). Jesus most likely leads His disciples into a vineyard outside the city walls. There, Jesus pauses and says, “I am3 the true vine” (15:1a). Notice He doesn’t say, “I am a true vine.” He says, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is saying there is only one true vine. You can’t choose your vintage. It’s not a wine tasting to see which variety you prefer.4 Jesus often used a grapevine to describe the nation of Israel.5 The Old Testament writers also used the term “vine” to describe Israel.6 But it was used to denote her sinfulness, not her fruitfulness. They were sour grapes. Here, Jesus uses the figure of the vine to remind Israel of her past failures and to indicate that He is the one faithful Israelite—the “true vine.”7 In contrast to Israel, Jesus is saying: I will be the one true source of rich and deep blessing.
In keeping with the viticulture (i.e., grape growing) metaphor, Jesus rightly assumes that no vine will produce good fruit unless someone competent cares for it. So Jesus states, “My Father is the vinedresser”8 (15:1b). The original disciples, and you and I, have the world’s greatest vinedresser—God the Father. He’s the one who cares for vines that are connected to Jesus. In John’s gospel, Jesus is never portrayed as independent from His Father; rather, the Father and Son are always cooperating with one another in every activity (cf. 5:19-23). If this is true of Jesus, the Son of God, how much more so should this be true of you and me? In the various areas of your life, are you dependent upon God the Father and God the Son? Who is in control of your family relationships, your ministry, your work, your health, and your finances? Who bears the overall responsibility for their success or failure?
In 15:2a Jesus says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit [i.e., have love for other believers],9 He takes away.” Jesus’ disciples are branches connected to the “true vine” and cared for by the master “vinedresser.” The phrase “in Me” is used sixteen times in John’s gospel.10 In each case it refers to a life of fellowship or a unity of purpose.11 In John’s gospel a person “in Me [Christ]” is always a Christian.12 This also finds support in the fact that the branches of a vine share the life of the vine. Jesus is speaking of a Christian who is in fellowship with Him who is not yet producing fruit.13 This may refer to a new convert or an immature or struggling believer. In any case, Jesus says that God “takes away” or “cuts off” (NIV) every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. The Greek word translated “takes away” (airo) can also be translated “lifts up.”14 Since the focus here is fruit bearing, the rendering “lifts up” is preferred.15
It is important to understand that Jesus is teaching His disciples in the spring when vinedressers did what He describes in this verse.16 Even today, if you go to any vineyard, you’ll find grapes tied to poles or posts called trellises. If the vinedresser doesn’t do this the grapes may be stepped on and smashed into grape juice! A good vinedresser will prop the vines up so that they can receive the maximum amount of sunlight possible. The vinedresser does not “cut away” (contrary to the NIV) a vine because it has no fruit but gently lifts it up to sun so it has an opportunity to bear fruit in the future.17 In the same way, God’s first step is not judgment but encouragement. God encourages new believers. He answers prayers. He performs miracles. He brings someone or something into their lives to lift them up.
Jesus now mentions another type of branch, one that “bears fruit” (15:2b). Jesus explains that God “prunes” this fruit-bearing branch “so that it may bear more fruit.” It is important to recognize that there are two different types of pruning: the spring pruning, which takes place here, is for cleaning purposes. The fall pruning that takes place after the grapes have been harvested will be discussed in 15:6. They are not synonymous. The word for “pruning” used here is kathairo,18 from which we get the English word “catharsis.” It means to cleanse. As it relates to viticulture, it describes cleansing the branch of insects, diseases, and parasites. This would have been the ancient equivalent of using insecticides, as is done today.19 This pruning also includes cleaning or pinching off little “sucker shoots” from the branch—sprigs that draw away resources from the production of big, juicy grapes.20 Left to itself, the branch will favor more leafy growth over more fruit, so the vinedresser has to prune or clean away unnecessary shoots and extraneous growth to promote even greater fruitfulness.
What does this pruning represent in the life of a believer? I believe the bugs, diseases, and unwanted sprigs represent things like bad habits, wrong thinking, unimportant activities, and lesser priorities—anything that distracts us from being completely fruitful, anything that hinders us from loving others to the fullest, the way Christ loved us. As we abide in the Vine, the Vinedresser removes these things from our lives to promote more fruit. Maybe you’re too busy. In fact, maybe your busyness is veiled selfishness. Maybe you’re packing your schedule with socially acceptable things that make you look good, all the while avoiding the harder work of loving others who are difficult to love, like your spouse or your children, or fellow believers in your church family. Maybe your busyness must be pruned. Maybe you’ve got a secret. Maybe you’ve been nursing a secret sin. Maybe it involves substance abuse, or compulsive spending, or pornography on the internet. Maybe it needs to be removed from your life. Maybe it’s a selfish drive for control in your marriage. Perhaps it’s neglect of leadership or running from conflict. Maybe it’s excessive time spent on things that count for nothing. Maybe it’s laziness or a bad attitude. The Vinedresser may want to prune any number of things from your life.
In 15:3, Jesus reminds His disciples, “You are already clean [katharos, cf. 15:2] because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Jesus is reiterating to His disciples that “the word” He spoke to them in chapters 13-14 cleansed them for fruit bearing. The disciples are spiritual clean, and they are ready to produce fruit. Jesus is optimistically calling them to a task. If you get a new job, you don’t sit down and say, “Ah, I’m so glad that I have a job.” That’s when the work really begins. In the same way you have been made clean to bear fruit.
Jesus continues His emphasis on fruit bearing and shares how to abide in 15:4-5: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”21In 15:4-10, the word “abide” (meno) is used ten times in seven verses. Jesus’ first use of the verb “abide” (15:4) is an imperative. He doesn’t assume that His disciples are abiding, so He commands them to abide. The act of abiding is not true of every believer;22 it’s also not true of every believer all the time. We can earn a living, raise a family, and practice generosity without abiding. It’s possible to pastor a church or serve without abiding. We must recognize that there’s a difference between work and fruit. It’s possible to perform a lot of work for Christ that isn’t necessarily fruitful. It’s also possible to do many things without Christ. It’s possible to do many things for Christ. However, anything of lasting value can only be done through Christ, by abiding in Him. This is why Jesus says we’re not called upon to produce fruit, but simply to bear it. Bearing fruit is a natural outcome of being in Christ and letting Him live His life through us. Notice the progression from “fruit” (15:2) to “more fruit” (15:2) to “much fruit” (15:5).That’s what God wants from us. A detached branch in the physical or spiritual realm can’t live on its own. Be sure to stay as you go.
Maybe your life is filled with stress. You’re a teenager living in a dysfunctional home and you can’t seem to find a safe haven. Or you may be a mother up to her eyeballs in children. You need a break, but you can’t seem to find one. Perhaps you’re performance driven and all you want to do is work and perform. Maybe you’re independent and it’s hard for you to rely on anyone. Regardless, if you want fruit that will last for all of eternity, you must abide in Christ. What’s the primary reason unbelievers don’t come to Christ for salvation? They don’t recognize their need. What’s the primary reason believers don’t come to Christ for sanctification? Exactly the same reason—we don’t recognize our need. When we read our Bibles without bothering to ask for God’s enlightenment, we don’t recognize our need. When we make plans and decisions without genuinely waiting to hear from God, we don’t recognize our need. Pray that the Lord will help you to abide in Jesus. Be sure to stay as you go.
In 15:6, Jesus mentions the consequences of not abiding: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” In order to understand what Jesus is getting at here, you have to remember that this entire passage is filled with figures of speech. Jesus has been speaking metaphorically (e.g., vine, branches, fruit), so it’s not necessary to interpret terms like “thrown away,” “fire,” or “burned”23 as referring to hell.24 A branch that doesn’t remain attached to the vine withers, and out of necessity, is thrown away.
Grapevines, in contrast to other types of wood, don’t have many uses. Their total value is that they can produce grapes. Vines don’t yield timber from which people can make other things (Ezek 15). They are good for either bearing or burning, but not for building. Similarly, a Christian who loses contact with Christ becomes useless and fruitless.25 If I offered you a chewed up piece of gum that had been sitting out for several days or weeks, would you chew it? No! If you touched it at all, you would throw it into the nearest wastebasket! It would be dry, hard, and flavorless, not to mention, gross. Jesus is saying the very same thing about believers who don’t abide in Him. Your purpose in life is to bear fruit. It’s not to earn a decent living. It’s not to be a happy. It’s to abide in Christ and bear fruit. As far as God is concerned, there’s no reason for you to live, except to bear fruit. If you’re not fruitful, you are useless to Him.26 He might as well just take you to heaven right now. But instead of doing that, He brings divine discipline upon useless believers. Fire is a common symbol in the Bible for God’s temporal judgment on His people.27 God lights a match under us and begins to burn us with fiery trials. His purpose is to draw us back to the vine. He may use depression, loneliness, and financial trouble. We think we’re just unlucky, when in truth, God is the one burning us. God will not let the fire go out until we reattach ourselves to the vine. God takes His relationship with us very seriously, so when we stop abiding or pursuing intimacy with Him, He will do whatever it takes to get our attention, and it could get hot. When I was growing up and I misbehaved, my Dad used to tell me, “I’m going to heat up your backside.” Although it did feel like fire, the point that my father was trying to make was he was going to discipline me.28
In addition to temporal judgment, Jesus will judge believers in eternity. John 15:6 and 1 Cor 3:15 both use “fire” in connection with the judgment of believers.29 Believers who do not abide in Christ or build well on the foundation of Christ will suffer loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Thus, it matters in this life and the life to come whether or not you abide in Christ. Be sure to stay as you go.
In 15:7-11, we’ll discover four benefits of abiding in Jesus.
54% of Christian students surveyed confessed to “neglecting important areas of their life” due to spending too much time on social media sites.30 Not long ago, young people were glued to their computer screens, checking e-mails and online games. Now e-mail is the new snail-mail, and few teenagers bother with it. It’s all about cell phones, texting, tweeting, and instant messaging. Studies show that the average teenager sends and receives over 2,270 text messages a month. What if we had a relationship like that with our Bibles? If we stayed in touch with God’s Word as frequently and tenaciously as we text and touch base with our friends, we’d have a much healthier spiritual life and a stronger grasp of the Bible. The best texting is studying the biblical text.31 Today, will you recommit yourself to studying God’s Word and ensuring that you are abiding in Christ? Will you make Jesus the priority that He yearns to be? If so, you may see Him provide you some of the answers and assistance that you’ve been longing for.
Bearing fruit by loving believers is something that you can do the rest of your life. I have always thought golf and tennis are great sports. What I love about both of these sports is that you can play them all of your life. I’ve also observed that many times older folks can spank the younger generation in these sports. I’ve seen seventy-five year old obese men beat younger men at tennis. I know men in their eighties who are still golfing up a storm. It’s not necessarily about raw skill and athletic ability; it’s experience that counts. God wants you to take your spiritual experience in Christ and depend upon Him for everything. He wants your best years to be future. How will you show love to the body of Christ?
Today, Jesus wants you to recommit yourself to abide in Him. He desires a moment by moment relationship with you. Will you submit yourself to Him? Will you say, “Jesus, I’m inadequate, incompetent, inferior, and insufficient for every task. I can’t. You can. Please help!” When you call out to Jesus like this, He shows up in your life in a mighty way. Be sure to stay as you go.
John 6:37-40; 10:28-29
John 8:31-32; 15:10
1 Corinthians 3:15
2 Timothy 2:11-13
1. How has God “lifted me” up to bear fruit (15:2)? At what points in my Christian life have I struggled to bear fruit? Why were these seasons so difficult? How did God eventually enable me to bear more fruit? What can I learn from these situations to ensure that I remain fruitful in the future?
2. What does it mean to be “clean” (15:3) in relation to my sin? Am I confident in my salvation? Why or why not? Why is Jesus’ “word” so important to my salvation? How have I worked through doubts regarding my own salvation? What would I tell a Christian who is struggling with his or her own assurance? What Scriptures would I use to explain assurance and eternal security?
3. What does it mean to “abide” in Christ (15:4-5)? How have I been able to abide? Do I really believe that apart from Jesus I can do nothing? Why is it so easy to be self-reliant? How can I cultivate greater dependency upon Jesus?
4. How has God disciplined me in the course of my Christian life (15:6)? How did I initially respond to His chastening? What have I learned from God’s disciplining hand? How would I explain God’s discipline to others? Read Hebrews 12:4-11 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-34.
5. Which of the abiding blessings (15:7-11) have been particularly meaningful to me? In what area have I grown the most? Where do I need the most improvement? Who do I know who exudes this abiding blessing (e.g., joy, 15:11)? Will I ask this person to help me grow in this discipline?
1 It is important to recognize that Jesus is not addressing unbelievers or even a mixed audience. He’s speaking to those who have already believed in Him (see John 2:11). The context, therefore, is service rather than salvation.
2 See also BDAG s.v. meno 1: “remain, stay.”
3 This is the last of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in John’s gospel. In each of these statements, Jesus claims to be God. In 6:35 Jesus told hungry people, “I am the bread of life.” In 8:12, Jesus told people in the darkness of their sin, “I am the light of the world.” In 10:7, 11, He told people who were lost and leaderless, “I am the door of the sheep and I am the Good shepherd.” In 11:25, He told those at the grave of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In 14:6, He told His fearful disciples who were unsure of their future, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
4 The word “true” (alethinos) is emphasized throughout John’s gospel (see 1:9; 3:33; 4:23, 37; 5:31-32; 6:32, 55; 7:18, 28; 8:13-17, 26; 10:41; 17:3; 19:35; 21:24).
5 Cf. Matt 20:1-16; 21:23-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 13:6-9; 20:9-16.
6 See Ps 89:9-16; Isa 5:1-7; 27:2; Jer 2:21; 12:10; Ezek 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Hos 10:1-2. Cf. Matt 20:1-16; 21:23-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 13:6-9; 20:9-16.
7 See D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 513; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 593.
8 The NIV translates geogros as “farmer.” This is what the word means but in this context, “vinedresser” is the preferred translation.
9 The word “fruit” (karpos) occurs six times in John 15:2-8 (15:2 [thrice], 4, 5, 8). Karpos also occurs in 15:16 (twice). However, John only uses it elsewhere in John 4:36; 12:24; and Rev 18:14; 22:2 (twice). This gives us a clue to the theme of this text. See S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “Abiding in Christ: An Exposition of John 15:1-17,” Emmaus Journal 4.2 (Win 1995), 143. In the NT, karpos is often used rather specifically. It can refer to: (1) literal fruit/vegetation (Rev 22:2), (2) a human offspring (Luke 1:42), (3) the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), (4) new converts (John 4:35-38), (5) financial giving (Rom 15:28), or (6) a praise offering (Heb 13:15). In John 15, it seems natural to understand “fruit” as our love for believers (cf. John 13:34-35).
10 Cf. John 6:56; 10:38; 14:10 (twice), 11, 20, 30; 15:2, 4 (twice), 5, 6, 7; 16:33; 17:21, 23. Other than the first occurrence (15:2), the verb meno always accompanies it. Thus the phrase “abide in Me” occurs five times.
11 This is somewhat different from Paul’s emphasis. While Paul did occasionally use the phrase “in Christ” (not “in Me”) in this way, he more often used it in a forensic sense to refer to the believer’s position in Christ (e.g., 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 1:7) or to organic membership in Christ’s body (e.g., 1 Cor 12:13). John, however, never used the phrase in that way. For him, to be “in Christ” meant to be in communion with Him. Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 158.
12 The Greek preposition en is used “to designate a close personal relation.” It refers to a sphere within which some action occurs. So to abide “in” Christ means to remain in close relationship to Him.
13 Jesus taught that some believers in Him don’t bear fruit (cf. Luke 8:14). Fruit bearing is the normal, but not the inevitable consequence of having divine life. This is true of grapevines too. Grapevines have branches that bear fruit, but they must also have branches that presently bear no fruit but which are growing stronger so that they will bear fruit in the future. There can be genuine life without fruit in a vine, and there can be in a Christian as well. The NT teaches that God affects many positional changes in the life of every person who trusts in Jesus as Savior. Fruit is what a plant produces on the outside that other people can see and benefit from. It is the visible evidence of an inner working power.
14 Interestingly, BDAG provides six possible categories of meaning for airo. The first option is: “to raise to a higher place or position, lift up, take up, pick up” (see BDAG s.v. airo 1). Dillow notes that airo is used this way in at least eight of its twenty-six occurrences in John’s gospel (5:8-12 [five times]; 8:59; 10:18, 24). See also Matt 14:20; 27:32; John 1:29. See Joseph C. Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 147:585 (January-March 1990): 50.
15 Harrison states that fallen vines were lifted into position with meticulous care and allowed to heal. R.K. Harrison, s.v. “Vine,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (4 vols. Revised ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986): 4:986. James M. Boice, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 4:227-28. John Mitchell, the founder and beloved teacher of Multnomah University (my alma matre), wrote, “Many expositors believe verse 2 means the Lord takes the branch away in judgment. I do not accept this…The primary meaning of the Greek here is ‘to raise up,’ not ‘to take away.’ Verse two should read this way, ‘Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He raises up.’ What is the purpose of the husbandman? He goes through the vineyard looking for fruit. But here is a branch on the ground, not bearing any fruit. What does he do? Cut it off? No. He raises it up, so the sun can shine upon it, and the air can get to it. Then it will bear fruit. Some Christians don’t bear fruit. What’s the matter with them? They need to have the Son shining on them. When a believer is out of fellowship with God and is occupied with the things of the world, he is not bearing fruit. The husbandman must come along and lift the branch, raising it up and bringing the individual believer back into fellowship in order that he or she might bear fruit. God’s purpose is to gather fruit, not render judgment.” John G. Mitchell, An Everlasting Love (Portland: Multnomah, 1982), 286-87.
16 See Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996): 34-52.
17 Morris writes, “We should be clear that Jesus is here referring to conditions of fruitfulness, not to eternal salvation. We should not understand the passage to mean that God will remove from the number of the saved those who are not fruitful. Eternal security is not being discussed here (see, rather, 10:28-29). Jesus is talking about the saved and about what will happen in order that they may be the most effective servants they can be.” Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 516.
18 Most scholars believe that there is a play on words between airo and kathairo (John 15:2). E.g., Carson, The Gospel According to John, 515; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 450.
19 Boice, The Gospel of John, 4:228.
20 Radmacher & Derickson, The Disciplemaker, 155.
21 There is a strong double negative in John 15:5b of the Greek text: “Apart from Me you can do nothing (ou…ouden).”
22 Earlier, Jesus had presented abiding in Him (in contrast to departing from) as a real possibility for His believing disciples (cf. John 8:31-32; 15:10). He did not speak of abiding as the inevitable condition of believers. Jesus described His relationship with believers as more or less intimate depending on their love and obedience to Him (14:23-24).
23 The verb that is used in John 15:6 to express the burning is not the strong intensive verb, but a weaker one. There are two words for burning that are found in the NT: one, the verb kaio and the other, katakaio. The second is an intensive word; it is not the word found here.
24 “Fire” (pur) is quite often used figuratively in the NT (e.g., Rom 12:20; Jas 3:6; 1 Pet 1:7; Jude 23).
25 Jesus used similar terminology when He spoke of tasteless salt that “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matt 5:13).
26 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1987), 68.
27 E.g., Gen 19:26; Lev 10:2; Num 11:1; Deut 4:23-24; Isa 5:24; 9:19; Ezek 15:1-8; 1 Cor 3:10-15; Heb 6:7-8; 10:27; 12:28-29; Jude 23.
28 Tony Evans, Totally Saved (Chicago: Moody, 2000), 265.
29 Surprisingly, Boice writes, “Burning is not always used of hell, as the passage in 1 Corinthians about works [1 Cor 3:10-15] proves. And it is its association with the destruction of useless works rather than with the loss of salvation that is most appropriate in this passage.” Boice, The Gospel of John, 4:238. Dillow writes, “It seems mere quibbling to say that since the fire in 1 Corinthians 3:15 is applied to believer’s works and the fire in John 15:6 refers to the believer himself, therefore those two verses could not be referring to the same event. Paul wrote that the believer is the building and that the building is built up with various kinds of building materials and that the fire is applied to the building. The apostle obviously saw an intimate connection between the believer and his work. To apply the fire of judgment to the believer is the same as applying it to his work.” Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship,” 53.
30 Church Leaders Intelligence Report 10/21/09.
31 David Jeremiah, “66 Texts,” Today's Turning Point, 10/22/09.
32 See the excellent insights of Radmacher & Derickson, The Disciplemaker, 186-90.
33 Joy is an evidence of true discipleship (cf. John 16:20, 21, 22, 24; 17:13). This also recalls the purpose statement of 1 John: “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1:4). It would seem that this section in the Upper Room Discourse is expanded in 1 John.
34 Brad McCoy, “The Secret to Joy in the Christian Life, Isn’t…” (John 15:7-11), Tanglewood Bible Fellowship Sermon Notes, 9/6/2009.
35 Quoted in R. Kent Hughes, John. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.
What do you want from a church? If you’re like most people, you want dynamic preaching, awe-inspiring worship, and great ministries for children, teens, and adults. You want the whole kit and kaboodle. Yet, most Christians have a pet preference in what they want from a church. For me, it’s preaching. When I was eighteen years old, I began listening to Dr. Tony Evans preach expository sermons.1 As a result, I fell in love with God’s Word and biblical preaching. When I have looked for a church in the past twenty years or have visited other churches, I am always interested in the caliber of the preaching. I have learned over the years, however, that many Christians don’t share my preference. They deem worship, programs, and even facilities as more important. Now, we can quibble about what area of ministry is most important, but it may very well come down to personal preferences.
Nevertheless, there is a church priority that we can all agree on: friendship. During my tenure at Emmanuel, there have been three key turning point experiences for me. First, when I came to Emmanuel, we used to bring our new members on stage and introduce them to the congregation. Whenever we would ask a new member why he or she decided to become a member, the person didn’t say, “I just love the preaching.” “The worship is amazing.” “There are great kid’s programs.” Quite the opposite, nearly every single new member would say, “I love the friendliness of this church, and I’ve made some great friends.” It began to dawn on me that friendships are incredibly important. Second, several years ago our elders were revising our Discover Emmanuel membership manual. We were seeking input from some of the trusted leaders in our church. The great Sean Vincent, otherwise known as “The Church Phantom” because of his behind the scenes service, weighed in on this project. He mentioned that the word “friendship” was missing from the values and convictions section of our manual. He indicated that this is one of the most important values of Emmanuel. On account of Sean’s recommendation, we added, “We value Christian friendship and accountability.” Over the past few years we have tried to live out this value. Finally, whenever I am ever tempted to prematurely leave Emmanuel, I think of the friends that my family has made and the love that we have for this body. The thought of telling certain people that we are leaving the church is honestly beyond my comprehension.
When everything is said and done, deep down, all of us value friendship and community. We can’t deny it, we can’t suppress it, and we can’t shake it. God wired all of us with a need for friendship. Jesus’ words in John 15:12-17 apply to everyone—to those who have friends and to those who feel they don’t, to the extrovert and the introvert. As we seek friendship with Jesus and one another, we can develop deeper and deeper relationships. Friendships make the church go forward.
In 15:12-13 Jesus says, “This is My commandment,2 that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” There are three observations worth noting in these two verses. First, Jesus focuses on the priority of love. John brackets Jesus’ words at the beginning (15:12) and the end (15:17) with the command for Christians to love one another. John’s emphasis in this passage, and the whole Upper Room discourse, is love for believers (cf. 13:34-35). Therefore, I will not be discussing love for your unbelieving neighbors or coworkers. Instead, I will be emphasizing the importance of loving the family of God.3
Second, Jesus commands disciples to love one another. Jesus doesn’t issue a suggestion or a recommendation. He commands His disciples to love one another, because Christian love isn’t a feeling; it’s an act of the will. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “This is My commandment, that you like one another.” That isn’t a choice. Let’s face it, there are some Christians you like, and there are some you don’t like. You don’t like their personalities, their preferences, or their priorities. You don’t have any chemistry. That’s okay. You still can love them even though you don’t like them because love is a choice to seek their highest good. This is an issue Jesus can command us to do, because it is a decision of the will.
This type of love goes against the grain of our society. Love, we are told, cannot be turned off and on like a water faucet. You either love someone or you don’t. Yet, agape love can be turned on like a water fountain. If I am thirsty, I can leave our auditorium and walk down the hall to our water fountain, turn the handle, and drink. It’s a decision of my will. Likewise, love seeks others’ greatest good and God’s highest glory. Today, will you practice agape love with those in your family and church?
When I do marital counseling, I give the couple a legal pad and pen and ask them to write down their expectations of one another. People often look at me with a smug expression that suggests, “I have an unconditional love for my spouse.” Of course, in as gentle of a tone as possible, I say, “You’re lying to yourself.” All finite, sinful humans have expectations of others. We even have expectations of God. When God doesn’t do exactly what we think He ought to do in our personal lives, we get mad at Him, or at the very least disappointed with Him. This is especially true in our relationship with others. You and I have expectations of those we love, and when they don’t meet our expectations, we become frustrated. So I have couples write down all their expectations of one another, and then I say, “If your spouse fails to meet all of these expectations, will you still love him or her?” Will you exhibit agape love to other believers in your life (e.g., your children, your siblings, your parents, and your fellow church members)? Friendships make the church go forward.
Third, Jesus has demonstrated love through selfless service. In 13:1-17, Jesus selflessly washed the disciples’ grimy, grungy, grotesque feet. On the one night of all nights that they should have put Jesus first, He served them in memorable fashion. Jesus’ entire life consisted of putting others first. In 15:13, Jesus refers to His death—the ultimate expression of His love for the disciples.4 So Jesus lived and died as a selfless, sacrificial servant. He’s the example that we are to follow. Interestingly, most people of character would willingly lay down their lives for their spouse or children. But honestly, this isn’t too terribly impressive. Unbelievers and believers alike are willing to demonstrate this momentary act of courage and bravery. For the believer, this means immediate entrance into Jesus’ presence, so there is ultimately no loss5 … he would even die as a hero, to boot! It’s far more difficult to die to yourself on a daily basis for those whom you love. True sacrifice isn’t just dying for a loved one, but more importantly, living for that loved one. Sacrifice is essential to genuine friendship and love.6
Dr. Robertson McQuilkin was, for many years, the president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. In about 1980 Dr. McQuilkin began to see signs of memory loss in his wife, Muriel. For the next decade he watched as his wife’s career of conference speaking, radio shows, and television began to erode and disappear. In the mid 1980s she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her deterioration continued to advance rapidly. This situation naturally posed a crisis for Dr. McQuilkin. As president of a thriving college and graduate school, how could he meet the needs of both his wife and his job? Many well-meaning Christian friends and colleagues encouraged him to put Muriel into an Alzheimer’s unit, but McQuilkin couldn’t bear the thought. As Muriel’s condition worsened, he made a decision that was “a matter of integrity” (his words). He resigned from Columbia to care for his wife full time. Some people thought McQuilkin was choosing this task at remarkable social and professional cost. They felt like he was throwing away his career—one that God had provided. But McQuilkin found tremendous joy in serving his wife who had unselfishly demonstrated forty-two-years of love for him.7
Would you choose to care for your spouse in a case of long-term sickness? Would you be willing to sacrifice your career or your interests? Would you turn down a promotion or even quit your current job in order to spend more time with your children and grandchildren? Would you choose to say no to some of your teenage social activities in order to spend more time with your siblings and parents? Would you selflessly step out of the ministry limelight and let another brother or sister occupy your church position? When you carry out these types of selfless and sacrificial acts of love, God’s program moves forward, because friendships make the church go forward.
Friendships are important to everyone, but they’re especially important to Jesus, the creator of friendship.
In 15:14 Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus is speaking to His eleven disciples. In short order He will use these men to change the world (just read the book of Acts). Jesus is seeking intimate friendship with His disciples, so He gives His closest friends the condition for friendship—obedience—primarily to love other believers.8 This has nothing to do with the disciple’s salvation; but it does have to do a lot with their sanctification (i.e., Christian health and growth). “Friend” is just another experiential term such as “abiding” or “fellowship.”
Jesus is a friend to us by His grace. He has removed the enmity that separated us from God through His death on the cross for our sins. Those who place their faith in Jesus’ work experience His friendship. But this does not mean that Jesus considers you a friend to Him. We are a friend to Jesus by living a life characterized by obedience.9 Although no one is perfect, as we grow in our obedience to Christ we experience different degrees of friendship. We all have different types of friends. A person can be a casual friend, a social friend, a close friend, or an intimate friend depending on his or her love and loyalty. Likewise, all believers are God’s friends in one sense, but abiding believers are Jesus’ friends on a deeper level because they seek to obey Him consistently (cf. Ps. 25:14).10
Jesus fleshes out this theme of friendship further in 15:15: “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.” Jesus said that He no longer calls His disciples slaves, implying that He had done so in the past. One of the common titles God used for the prophets in the Old Testament was “my servants the prophets.”11 There is nothing wrong with the description “servant” or “slave” (doulos). Jesus and the New Testament writers use this term frequently of believers.12 However, there is something intimate about the title “friend.” In the Old Testament, only Abraham was called “the friend of God.” Abraham was declared justified in Gen 15:6, but he was “saved” earlier.13 Yet, it wasn’t until Gen 22 when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac that he was called “the friend of God.” Abraham had walked with God for about thirty-five years before He passed this spiritual test.14 Clearly, this was not salvation, which Abraham already had; this act of obedient faith was true friendship with God. As a result, Christians, Jews, and Muslims identify Abraham by the title “the friend of God.”15
Like Abraham, we have the same privilege of friendship with Jesus if we yield to His will in our lives and remain occupied with Him. The result is intimacy. In former times God had not revealed His mind fully to His people.16 However with the coming of Jesus He revealed His plans, as to friends rather than as to slaves.17 A slave is expected to do what his master instructs him to do, whether or not he likes it, and whether or not he understands why he is commanded to do it. The best analogy today would be found in the armed forces. The change would be from the status of a “private” in the army to a “pal” of the sergeant. When new recruits are sent to boot camp, it is to train them to be “slaves.” That is, it is to train these men to obey orders, instantly, and without question. If the sergeant orders a private to dig a hole four feet square, the private is to do it. If the sergeant then orders the private to fill the hole back in again, he is to obey without hesitation. The private is virtually the sergeant’s slave. The private would never think of expecting the sergeant to explain his reasons for giving any order.18 But that same private may become a “pal” to that sergeant. They may become drinking buddies or workout partners. The sergeant may share things with his pal that he would not share with other privates.
Similarly, as we become Jesus’ friends, He will disclose His plans and purposes to us. He will share His thinking, His goals, and His motivations for doing things. As a result, we will come to know His heart and mind. We will experience a greater degree of insight into the Scriptures. We will hear the voice of God more clearly. Our thoughts will become more like His thoughts. We will carry out His purposes on earth as they are in heaven. He will express His love to us in new and fresh ways. On account of our obedience nothing will block the flow of fellowship and friendship. Our intimate friendship with Christ will make the church go forward.
This builds up to Jesus’ powerful words in 15:16: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” In Jesus’ day, a would-be disciple chose the rabbi under whom he wished to study and sought acceptance as one of his followers.19 Rabbis didn’t take the initiative to choose and pursue their disciples. This would have been considered beneath men of such position. However, Jesus broke all societal norms and chose His disciples and then called them to follow Him. Clearly, the implication is that Jesus chose His disciples for salvation. So whenever you hear anyone claim, “I found God,” remind such a person that God found him or her! We were all running away from God, but He (“the hound of Heaven”)20 chased us down and captured our hearts. As a result, we believed in Jesus for salvation. But God is never content to let us sit on our salvation; He expects us to fulfill His purposes. First, we are appointed to go and bear fruit. Jesus uses Great Commission language, “Go.”21 In this context, to “go and bear fruit” refers to loving other Christians. As we fulfill the Great Commandment,22 the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples. Evangelism will naturally and inevitably take care of itself. The result will be fruit that remains for all of eternity. The second purpose in our service is to pray for fruitfulness. Asking the Father through prayer in Jesus’ name is necessary for fruit-bearing to happen. Jesus linked prayer and fruit-bearing in a cause and effect relationship. Prayer plays an essential role in the believer's fruitfulness.23
The final verse of this section (15:17) once again hits the familiar theme of love and friendship. In case we have forgotten, Jesus says, “This I command you, that you love one another.” Again, the command goes forth: We are to love one another. Friendships make the church go forward.
This past week, I was reading an article on my favorite baseball player, Albert Pujols, the first base for the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols is arguably the greatest baseball player in the world. He is also a Christian gentleman who strives to share the gospel with every player who reaches first base. Albert has one year left on his contract and the Cardinals would like to offer him an extension. But Pujols is encouraging them to sign Matt Holiday and other free agents first! Pujols is a selfless man who puts the needs of the team first. Even though he could command all kinds of money and make himself the top priority, he wants the best for the Cardinal organization. In our day and age of athletes holding out, renegotiating contracts, wanting more and more money and more and more guarantees, Pujols is a breath of fresh air. He reminds us that sports are not about me, myself, and I … they are about team.24
My son Joshua loves Christian heavy metal. He is caught up with all kinds of different Christian bands. I always have to remind him that these bands break up as frequently as we change our clothes because most bands are concerned about more money, more touring dates or record sales, and even a possible solo career. Most bands don’t last because they are not loyal and committed to the team.
Missionaries devote their lives to fulfilling the Great Commission. Most go to Bible College and even seminary. Many have to go to language school. Nearly all have to raise their own financial support. Yet, research indicates that most missionaries who return to the States and discontinue mission work do so because they can’t get along with other missionaries. Sadly, some missionaries put their own goals, personalities, and philosophies ahead of God’s kingdom agenda of teamwork.
Typically, people who leave churches don’t depart because of the preaching, the worship, or the programs. Instead, they leave because they don’t sense the church is a team, or better yet, a family. What they want are friends. We are all responsible to take initiative and show love for one another. As we do so, we provide the greatest witness for Christianity. Friendships make the church go forward.
1 John 3:10-24
1 John 4:7-21
1. Why does Jesus have to command me to love other believers (15:12, 17)? Why do I find it so difficult to love other Christians? When have I particularly struggled loving a particular Christian? What did I learn through this challenging relationship? Did I eventually come to the place where I was able to obey the love commandment?
2. How have I experienced Jesus’ sacrificial love in my own personal life (15:12-13)? When do I struggle the most to receive Jesus’ love? How can I learn to accept His unconditional love for me? How does knowing Jesus’ forgiveness and grace help me to extend love to others? Read Matthew 5:43-47 and Romans 5:8-10. How does Jesus’ love for His enemies challenge me to love my fellow Christians?
3. Would Jesus consider me one of His friends (15:14-15)? Why or why not? How would I rate my obedience to Jesus on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest)? What area of my life is holding me back from greater obedience? What can I do to obey Jesus in this area? Who can help me grow in my friendship with Jesus?
4. How important is fruit bearing to Jesus (15:16)? How does fruit bearing relate to my purpose in life? In what areas of my life am I especially fruitful? Where am I lacking in my fruit bearing (e.g., marriage, family, work, church)? How can I further submit this area of my life to the Lord?
5. Would those believers who know me best characterize me as a loving Christian? What would my spouse say? What would my children say? What would my siblings say? What would my parents say? How can I more effectively express my love for these individuals?
2 Jesus repeated this theme often (cf. John 13:34; 15:17; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7-8, 11-12, 19-21; 2 John 2:5).
3 In Gal 6:10 Paul writes, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
4 Jesus models the pattern of friendship by laying down His life. It is a rare thing for a man to die for a friend. But Christ goes beyond such an expression of sacrifice and gives His life for His enemies—even for those who crucified him (Rom 5:7-8).
5 See 2 Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:21-23.
6 Jesus never asks Christians to do things He has not done. Jesus’ sacrificial love was also evidenced by His death on the cross. In 10:18 and 14:31 Jesus spoke of his death on the cross as a commandment he had received from his Father, which also links the idea of commandment and love as they are linked here. Cf. John 13:1: “Jesus loved them [His disciples] to the end.” This constitutes a reference to Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf; the love they are to have for one another is so great that it must include a self-sacrificial willingness to die for one another if necessary.
7 Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 382-83. Robertson McQuilkin, “Living by Vows,” Christianity Today 35 (Oct. 8, 1990): 38-40. The full story is also in A Promise Kept (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1998).
8 Cf. John 14:15, 23-24; 15:10; Luke 6:46. Contra Carson who writes, “This obedience is not what makes them friends; it is what characterizes his friends.”
9 Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 241.
10 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on John,” 2008 ed.: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdfwww.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf, 229.
11 E.g., Jer 7:25; 25:4; 29:19; et al.
12 E.g., Luke 17:10; Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 4:5; Col 4:12; Jas 1:1; 1 Pet 2:16; and Rev 1:1.
13 Clearly, Abram believed in the Lord and was declared righteous when he left Ur (Heb 11:8; 11:31-32). The syntax of Gen 15:6 and the form of the word “believed” show that Abram’s faith didn’t begin after 15:1-5. Wenham states, “The verbal form (waw + perfect) ‘he believed’ probably indicates repeated or continuing action. Faith was Abram’s normal response to the Lord’s words.” Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15: WBC (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 329. Moses probably recorded Abram’s faith here because it was foundational for making the Abrahamic covenant.
14 There was a 24-year time-gap between Genesis 12:4 and 17:1. Another year passed before Isaac was born. Now Isaac is perhaps ten years old or more (21:8). Michael Eaton, Preaching Through the Bible: Genesis 12-23 (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 1999), 117.
15 See 2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; and Jas 2:23. God also spoke to Moses like a friend speaks to a friend (Exod 33:11). Similarly, David was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) and Daniel was “highly esteemed” by God (Dan 10:19). In the NT, Jesus refers to “Our friend Lazarus” (John 11:11).
16 See 1 Pet 1:10-12.
17 Carson comments, “In times past God’s covenant people were not informed of God’s saving plan in the full measure now accorded to Jesus’ disciples. Although there is much they cannot grasp (16:12), within that constraint Jesus has told them everything he has learned from his Father. The Paraclete whom Jesus sends will in the wake of the cross and resurrection complete the revelation bound up with the person and work of Christ (14:26; 16:12-15), thereby making Jesus’ disciples more informed, more privileged, more comprehending than any believers who ever came before (cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12).”
19 Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 524.
20 Expression from C.S. Lewis and a Francis Thompson poem.
21 See Matt 28:19-20.
22 See Matt 22:37-40.
23 Constable, “Notes on John,” 230: “The NIV translation is misleading. It implies that answers to prayer will be the disciples’ reward for effective fruit-bearing. In the Greek text there are two purpose clauses each introduced by hina: ‘that you should go and bear fruit,’ and ‘that whatever you ask the Father … He may give you.’ These purposes are coordinate, but logically praying precedes fruit-bearing (cf. 14:12-14; 15:7-8).”
24 See Pujols says he wants to stay with Cards: http://www.spports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=4605910www.spports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=4605910; accessed 29 October 2009.
Life is filled with choices and every choice has consequences. In grammar school, a student who befriends an unpopular boy or girl will lose friends and be made fun of. In high school, a student who refuses to give up his or her virginity will lose dates and be laughed at. In the workplace, if you live a life of integrity you’ll be passed over for a promotion. In the senior years, if you invest your time and money in the church you’ll miss out on various memories and material possessions. In the political realm, if you’re vocal about your favorite candidate, there will be those who disagree with you. In the spiritual realm, if you follow Jesus Christ, you will be hated. That’s right: HATED! Whether you like it or not, the Bible is clear that Christians will be hated and rejected by the world.
In John 15:18-16:4,1 Jesus explains why the world hates Christians. Naturally, I recognize that this will not be welcomed as a “feel-good sermon.” However, it does feel good to know that Jesus warned us in advance. As you reflect on Jesus’ words, ask yourself: Have I adopted a cultural Christianity or a cross-centered Christianity? Today, Jesus will say: It’s better to be loved than liked. In other words, it’s better to experience Jesus’ unconditional and eternal love than to win a popularity contest and be liked by the world.
In 15:18 Jesus declares, “If the world2 hates you, you know that it has hated Me3 before it hated you.”4The particular form of the word “if” (ei) assumes something is true. Jesus is saying, “If the world hates you—and it does.”5 There is a certainty in Jesus’ words: “You will be hated! You can count on it!” Jesus then reminds His disciples that the world hated Him first. The NASB margin note offers a better rendering: “Or (imperative) know that.” Jesus is commanding His disciples to remember that He was hated from the time of His birth to the time of His death. Think about this: Jesus’ life began with King Herod attempting to kill Him. Jesus’ life ended in a death of sheer hatred. He was crucified at the wishes of His own people—the Jews. Thus, we must not be surprised by hatred.6 The word “hate” (miseo) is used seven times in the first eight verses (15:18-25).7 It is the dominant word in this passage. Jesus’ point is: Friendship with Me comes with a hefty price tag—the world’s hatred.8 Jesus wants you to be forewarned. In some circles, you will be public enemy number one.
There are three main reasons why the world hates Christians. First, we are no longer identified with the world. In 15:19 Jesus says, “If you were of the world [and you’re not], the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Jesus insists that His disciples are no longer “of the world.” They may be “in the world,” but they are not “of the world.” Those who are “of the world” are loved by the world. But the world’s love is fleeting. You can be “loved” one moment and rejected the next. Just stop and think about all the people that the world has loved: O.J. Simpson, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Mike Tyson, and George W. Bush. These were household names. They were popular and influential, but now they are nothing. That’s how the world’s love is; it grows cold, oh, so quickly.
The world’s love is also conditional. If you want to be “loved” by the world, you need to do what the world does. When I was in high school, my jock buddies always tried to trick me into adopting their lifestyles. One time I was offered a can of Coke only to find out that it was straight Jack Daniels. Another time I was invited over to watch a taped basketball game only to find out that it was a porn flick. On another occasion, a young woman invited me over to spend some time with her relatives. When I arrived, I discovered that she set me up and she was actually all alone. Through God’s grace and protection alone, I was able to survive these temptations relatively unscathed. But the reality is the world wants to watch Christians falter and sin. When we participate in their behavior, it makes them feel better about their sin. However, Jesus insists that He chose us out of the world for the purpose of salvation and service.9It’s better to be loved than liked.
A second reason why the world rejects Christians is we are identified with Christ. In 15:20 Jesus says, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Jesus calls His disciples to “remember” (mnemoneuo) that they will follow in His sandals. As followers of Jesus, we can’t expect to have an easier time than He did (cf. 15:18). When our lives truly reflect His character and calling, we will experience either rejection or acceptance from people around us. As Paul says, we will smell either as the aroma of death or life (2 Cor 2:14-16).10 For most people, we will be aroma of death.11 Nevertheless, there will always be a remnant that loves Jesus and will love us.
It is worth pointing out that many Christians assume they are being persecuted for Christ, when in reality they are just “Christian jerks” who invite persecution by being obnoxious offensive, and argumentative. We need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to be angry (Jas 1:19). We need to truly listen and not interrupt people. We need to talk less. We must especially avoid becoming belligerent with people. Many Christians are not sensitive or respectful. Hence, we bring on a lot of our own persecution. In this passage, Jesus is speaking about disciples who are persecuted for His name.
A third reason why the world rejects Christians is they are ignorant of God. In 15:21 Jesus says, “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” The world will persecute Christians because they don’t know God. There is a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Our persecutors don’t know the one true God. They persecute us on account of their hatred of Christ. Jesus is saying, “Don’t take it personally—persecution is not your fault! Persecution is ultimately directed against Me. Instead of becoming angry with unbelievers, we need to pray that we would have compassion for them. Do you realize that many unbelievers have never read the Bible? Many unbelievers don’t even own a Bible. Do you understand that many people only know the name of Jesus Christ as a curse word? Did you know that your neighbor, classmate, and coworker may never have heard a clear presentation of the gospel? The reason that they don’t know God is because they are ignorant. (I do not say this in a disparaging way.) Although the world may choose to reject Christ, we are accountable to share Christ with them. Sadly, many Christians tend to verbally chastise unbelievers for godless living and then look the other way when believers are guilty of godless living.12 This is completely backwards.13 Unbelievers are not held to the same standard that Christians are. Unbelievers are supposed to sin; it’s a part of their job description! If I was an unbeliever, I would be sinning to my absolute heart’s content. I would be a world-class sinner. I would live for myself. But I would certainly hope that someone would love me enough to share the good news of Christ with me. While I would most likely rebel against the message, it would be helpful to know that someone cared enough to share it with me. May we seek to be more tolerant of unbelievers and ratchet our expectations for professing believers. The world doesn’t want the church to judge them; the world wants the church to judge their own. Gandhi once observed, “I might be persuaded to become a Christian … if I ever met one.” Gandhi was impressed with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and he wanted to see evidence of a Christian living out Jesus’ teachings. May our lives showcase Christ.
Having mentioned the world’s ignorance about God, Jesus spends the next four verses explaining why the world doesn’t know God. In 15:22-23 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His words. Jesus puts it like this: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.”14Jesus isn’t saying that men and women would have been innocent if He had not come or spoken to them. The world was already sinful and rebellious before He appeared in the manger at Bethlehem. Christ’s coming highlighted sin in human hearts; He pointed it out so people had less grounds to claim ignorance. Therefore, to reject Christ and His words brings greater condemnation.Ever since the Fall, the world has been sinning against Light, but never had the world sinned against so much Light! The world is robbed of its excuses when it confronts Christ.15
In 15:24 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His works. Jesus says, “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Jesus performed all kinds of miracles. He healed the sick, He cast out demons, He fed thousands, He calmed the sea, and He raised the dead. Yet, the world rejected His works. In some cases, the world even attributed Jesus’ works to Satan (cf. Matt 12:24). No matter what Jesus said or did, the world chose to ignore Him and rebel against Him. Sadly, even the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have not persuaded most people that Jesus is God. Consequently, the world stands condemned for the rejection of Jesus (John 3:18, 36; Rom 1:18-3:20).
In 15:25 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected the Old Testament. Jesus says, “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’” The ultimate reason for the world’s rejection of Jesus and His revelation of the Father is found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus quotes from Ps 35:19 or 69:4. The latter is the more likely source for the quoted words, since it is cited elsewhere in John’s gospel (2:17 and 19:29) in contexts associated with Jesus’ suffering and death. Furthermore, Ps 69 was widely regarded as messianic.16 Jesus is saying: The world has rejected the Old Testament and My very words and works. This has resulted in their rejection of God.
Jesus’ words could prove to be overwhelming, so He brings up the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,17 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”18In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection, the Spirit provides comfort, encouragement, and strength. Jesus teaches the disciples that they still have a responsibility to provide a witness to the love and truth found in Christ alone. Although it is important to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44), it is also critical to proclaim Christ as well. Christians need to exhibit both life and lips.
This past Friday, our outreach ministry served coffee at the employment office in Olympia. We were received warmly by most people. For the first hour we did whatever was necessary to glorify the Lord. We were then told that we could not mention God or Jesus in any way. Our outreach director, Ernest Stukes, challenged our team to be salt and light and display Christ through our lives. However, he was also wise and creative enough to station one of our people outside the building. This person was able to bless those individuals who left and to mention the name of Jesus. Our church believes it is crucial to provide a witness with our lives and our lips. After all, our lives are not godly enough to persuade anyone that we are different from Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and moral people. This is why a verbal witness is so critical. As we work for the State and teach in public schools, we must find creative ways to proclaim Christ. This can be as simple as hosting an off-campus Bible study or inviting students or coworkers into your home. If you want to share Christ, there are always ways to do so.
In 16:1-4, Jesus discusses the topic of persecution. However, these verses don’t refer to worldly people in general, but to hostile religious leaders. In other words, the biggest enemies of Christians are not atheists, agnostics, humanists, or liberals. Those who are seeking to persecute and kill Christians are religious zealots and leaders. In 16:1, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.” “These things” refer to Jesus’ words in 15:18-27.19 The only other instance of the verb “stumble” in John’s gospel is 6:61 where it includes the idea of no longer following Jesus. It appears to have the same sense in this context. Jesus did not want His disciples to stumble (skandalizo) in their discipleship after His departure because the events that would follow took them completely by surprise.20 Jesus’ point is that, apart from His warning, their faith would be shattered and they would give up in defeat. Remember, they were still going to be scattered that very night (cf. Luke 22:31).21 While they may have stumbled initially, the Book of Acts demonstrates that the disciples did not fall away; instead, they became emboldened to preach Christ.
Jesus informs His disciples of the consequences of persecution in 16:2-3: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.” Those who will expel Jesus’ disciples from the synagogue are referred to in 15:21-25.22 Being put out of the synagogue means more than merely lacking a place to worship. It means the loss of the entire circle of friends who attend the synagogue. It is a social persecution. But, even death will be the lot for some of these men. In fact, we know what did happen to them. Ten of the eleven were killed for their faith. Paul was murdered by Nero; Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down; and James was beheaded. These deaths were performed by leaders who claimed to be doing God a favor. All except John, it appears, died martyrs’ deaths. John, the writer of this gospel, died in exile for his faith. These verses were fulfilled in the days of the early church when the Jews believed they were on God’s side, though they put Christ to death and persecuted the disciples. However, these verses also seem to have an extended relevance to today. Throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted and martyred by zealous Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The reason that religious folks persecute and kill Christians is because they don’t know God. Their religious motives do not spring from devotion to the one true God, but to their religion.23
Jesus concludes in 16:4 by saying, “But these things24 I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes,25 you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” The way Jesus states this verse makes clear that future persecution is a certainty, not merely a possibility.26 Jesus spoke these words to prepare His disciples for inevitable persecution. Rather than destroy their faith (cf. 16:1), persecutions had the potential of deepening the disciples’ trust, if they remembered Jesus’ prediction.27 Over the course of His earthly ministry, persecution intensified. By the time Jesus died and raised, persecution was at an all-time high. This type of persecution has continued in many parts of the world today. Undoubtedly, intense persecution will come to the United States, most likely in my lifetime, certainly within my children’s lifetime. We must remember the words of Jesus and guard ourselves from growing spiritually soft. If we don’t strengthen ourselves, we will be swept under the tidal wave of persecution. So be bold, be strong, and trust Christ. It’s better to be loved than liked.
So how can we counter the hatred and persecution of this world order? How do we prepare ourselves to stand strong for Christ in the days to come? The following three principles will help us apply this passage to our lives.
It is also important to express love for our fellow believers. One of the reasons that Jesus exhorts believers to love one another is because we will need each other’s strength to combat the world system.29 Unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends will turn against us on account of our faith in Christ. When this happens, we will need the strength and security of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to “spur one another on to love and good works” (Heb 10:24 NET). This will enable us to persevere in our Christian fruitfulness.
A soldier goes to Ranger School in the Army in order to become a member of the Army’s elite corps of shock troops who spearhead the attack on the battlefields. To be able to meet the rigors of combat the soldier is put through intense training that pushes him to the very limits of his strength and will. When he comes out of those weeks of suffering and stress he is a different person. He is a Ranger. None of the process is pleasant or easy. But all of it is necessary. The same is true for believers. We are God’s shock troops in a hostile world. To serve in His army we must have strength of character which cannot be gained by reading books. It must be learned by living it. Thus, persecution and suffering have been proven historically to be blessings from God. It has been through this that faith has often grown stronger and more souls have been won to the Lord as Christians have responded with the boldness of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness all the way to death.31
Centuries ago, a wealthy, young Christian was in love and engaged to be married. He had everything going for him. But he lived in the Roman Empire and the emperor had declared Christianity to be an illegal religion. Saying, “Caesar is Lord,” like everyone else, would have made him politically correct, but he would not say it. Instead, he said, “Jesus is Lord.” He was, by virtue of his faith in Jesus, guilty of treason.
As the story goes, this young man was arrested in a crackdown against Christians. While awaiting execution in the arena, he wrote love letters to his fiancée. They were beautiful, passionate letters assuring her of his great love for her. But the two were never married, for in A.D. 269, the young man was put to death for being a Christian. His name was Valentine, and the day of his execution was February 14.32 Valentine’s Day is not about chocolates, hearts, roses, and jewelry; it’s about a man of God laying down his life for Christ. St. Valentine understood: It’s better to be loved than liked.
John 3:19-20; 7:7
1 John 2:15-17; 4:4-6
Matthew 10:19-20, 24-25
2 Corinthians 2:14-16
2 Timothy 3:10-12
1. Do I expect to be hated by the world (15:18)? Why or why not? How can I prepare myself to encounter hate and rejection? How can I cultivate a soft heart toward those who reject my faith in Christ (15:19-22)? What do I need to keep in mind when others despise me?
2. How many times have I been ridiculed because of my Christian witness (15:23-25)? Do I love Christ more than the opinions of men? When was the last time I chose to blend in with the crowd rather than follow Christ? Why did I cave to the pressure? What can I do to stand for Jesus the next time I am in that situation? Read Galatians 1:10.
3. When was the last time I reflected on the rewards that accompany adversity and persecution? Read Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17; James 1:12; 1 Peter 3:13-17; and 4:12-19. How can I adopt an eternal perspective in the midst of my suffering?
4. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in dealing with Christian opposition (15:26-27)? How can I rely upon His power and grace when I am facing persecution? Have I expressed gratitude to God for His Helper? Will I make a conscious decision to affirm the Spirit today?
5. How have I been persecuted for my faith (16:1-4)? How did I deal with this persecution? Read Matthew 10:16-25; Luke 6:40; and 2 Timothy 3:12. Do I pray for the persecuted church? Why or why not? Will I set aside some time to look at the Voice of the Martyrs Web site: http://www.persecution.com/www.persecution.com and pray for those who are facing persecution today? Will I pray for boldness to follow the example of my persecuted brothers and sisters?
1 Various commentators agree with this section break (John 15:18-16:4 or 16:4a). See Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here Is Your King! (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 224; Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 252; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 463.
2 Jesus mentions the term “world” (kosmos) directly thirty-six times in John’s gospel and indirectly fifteen times in the Upper room. See Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 204. Kosmos is used in several different ways in the Johannine literature of the NT: The material universe as the object of creation (John 1:10); Satan’s system of priorities and thought focused upon the temporal (1 John 2:15-16); humankind (and the earth) as the object of God’s love and redemptive plan (1 John 3:16); and the mass of unbelievers who are hostile to God’s plan as a result of succumbing to Satan’s system of priorities and thought (John 15:18).
3 The pronoun “Me” (eme) is emphatic (cf. John 7:7). This reveals the world’s opposition to God, His Messiah, and His people (cf. 17:14; 1 John 3:13).
4 Keener finds another micro-chiasm in 15:18-25, with 15:20ab (a servant is not greater than his master) at the center. The six conditional clauses in 15:18-24 represent warnings pertaining to the future (or present) of the Christian community in relation to the world. Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John. 2 vols (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 1019.
5 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 696; Gerald Borchert, John 12-21. New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 2002), 154.
6 See 1 John 3:13: “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”
7 John 15:18 (twice), 19, 23 (twice), 24, and 25.
8 Morris writes, “It is significant that the disciples are to be known by their love (cf. 13:34-35), the world by its hatred.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 678.
9 Some prefer to distinguish between an election to salvation and an election to service. However, I believe that an election to service includes an election to salvation. They are part and parcel.
10 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 207.
11 Lutzer writes, “A Christian who is popular with the world is a contradiction in terms. If we have not attracted the scorn of the world, it may well be because we have muddled our Christian witness.” Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 99.
12 “The greatest criticism of the Church today is that no one wants to persecute it: because there is nothing very much to persecute it about.” George F. MacLeod, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 4.
13 In 1 Cor 5, Paul is far more concerned about the behavior of believers than he is unbelievers. In 5:12, he writes, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?”
14 John puts “Me” and “My Father” into emphatic positions in the sentence by placing them before the verbs where they would normally have followed the verbs like it is translated into English.
15 Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, 93; D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 526; Köstenberger, John, 465.
16 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 527; Köstenberger, John, 465.
17 The verb here is a form of the Greek word martureo and it can be interpreted in either the imperative or the indicative mood since the case endings for both moods is the same. In the imperative mood it should be translated, “He must testify of Me,” whereas in the indicative mood it should be translated, “He will testify of Me.” In either case, the Holy Spirit is seen as providing testimony of Jesus in a future period.
18 In these verses, we find the third of five descriptions of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel to the disciples. In the first (14:15-18), Jesus described the Holy Spirit as another “Helper,” Who would abide “in” the disciples forever. In the second (14:26), Jesus promised that the Spirit would teach them and remind them of all things that Jesus had taught them. Our passage in this lesson is the third description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In 16:7, we find the fourth description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit where Jesus indicates that He will send the Spirit to them and describes His convincing ministry. Finally, in 16:13-14, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.
19 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 530.
20 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on John,” 2008 ed.: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdfwww.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf, 233. According to Matt 26:31, the first words that Jesus spoke after going from the supper to the Mount of Olives were, “This night you will all fall away [skandalisthesesthe] because of me.” For Johannine parallels, see John 6:61; 1 John 2:10; Rev. 2:14; cf. Did. 16:5. Köstenberger, John, 467.
21 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 216.
22 On being “put out of the synagogue,” see John 9:22, 34 and 12:42-43. See also the references to “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” in the Book of Revelation (2:9; 3:9).
23 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 217.
24 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 532; cf. John 13:19; 14:29.
25 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 532.
26 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 615.
27 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 532; Morris, The Gospel According to John, 616.
28 Kent Crockett, The 911 Handbook (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 23.
29 Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, 92.
30 Preaching Today citation: An Amish bishop quoted in The Economist (July 22, 1989). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 16.
31 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 218-19.
32 N. Allan Moseley, Thinking Against the Grain: Developing a Biblical Worldview in a Culture of Myths (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 106-7.
Have you ever been on a long family road trip? I have. When I was growing up, my family took a great many road trips. The two most memorable were six week cross-country jaunts across the US. Yes, that’s right: Our family of four packed into a small Subaru wagon … and not once but twice. My parents planned the trip and would pack food, clothing, and everything else we needed. I didn’t pack anything except my Sony Walkman and a few books. My Dad was the driver and my Mom was the navigator. I didn’t do a thing except frequently ask, “How much longer?” As a boy, I didn’t really have a care in the world. I depended upon my parents for everything.
I discovered that there were many advantages for a kid traveling with his parents. I never worried about how we would get from Wyoming to Wisconsin. I never worried about where our next meal would come from, or if we would run out of gas. I never worried about traveling in the darkness during heavy rainstorms or where we would spend the night. I knew my parents would take care of everything.
For most of us, life is more like a long road trip than a short vacation. There are long days of steady driving; there are times of driving down dark and lonely roads. There are some nice hotels and some absolute dives. Today, you may be at a dark point in your journey. You may be stuck in heartbreak hotel. You may be discouraged, depressed, and even defeated. Perhaps you’re on the verge of calling roadside assistance. Jesus wants you to know that He has given you a Helper who can provide you countless advantages. Most importantly, He can guide you through your earthly life and then take you to your eternal home. Jesus will say: The Holy Spirit is a God send.
In John 16:5-15, Jesus is talking to His disciples on the night before He is crucified. The disciples are heartbroken to hear that He is leaving. They are scared to death. They are shocked and baffled, confused and disoriented. Their Master, their Lord, the miracle working Son of God, is going to be taken away from them. He is going to suddenly disappear and go back into heaven. They understand nothing. It makes no sense to them at all. They huddle like scared sheep around their Shepherd in the blackness of night. They are scared to leave Him. They are waiting for an explanation. In these stressful moments Jesus says, “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks1 Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled2 your heart” (16:5-6). Once again, Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to His Father. At this point, however, the disciples don’t dare ask Jesus any questions. In their minds, ignorance is bliss. In 16:6, Jesus explains the reason the disciples don’t ask where He is going: They are sorrowful because of what He has just shared. The phrase “these things” pertains to what Jesus has just spoken of—coming persecution (16:1-4). The cause of the disciples’ grief, lamentably, is largely preoccupation with their own fate. This caused them to miss the positive implications of Jesus’ departure, both for themselves and for the continuation of His mission.3
Jesus is seeking to engage His disciples in a discussion about His own suffering and departure, but they are too preoccupied with themselves. There is a principle here: When you and I are consumed with our own problems, it is impossible to focus upon another person’s dilemma. Yet, we have been called to live a supernatural life where we take our eyes off of ourselves and care for others. In what way are you hurting today? Do you have a physical sorrow (e.g., migraines, back pain, cancer)? Reach out to someone who has a physical sorrow and extend care. Do you have a marriage or family sorrow (e.g., rocky marriage, disobedient kids)? Reach out to someone who has a family sorrow and extend care. Do you have a vocational sorrow (e.g., loss of job, low salary, difficult boss and coworkers)? Reach out to someone who has a vocational sorrow and extend care. When you reach out to others and bear their sorrows, you will discover that you don’t really have it so hard. Furthermore, you will realize one of the reasons God has allowed you to experience sorrow: to comfort others (see 2 Cor 1:3-4). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is a God send.
Unfortunately, the disciples haven’t yet learned this important principle. They are caught up with their own sorrows. Consequently, they don’t realize that Jesus’ departure and their own suffering is the best thing that could happen. This is often true in the spiritual realm. What seems like the worst thing may actually be the best thing. In 16:7, Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage4 that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper5 will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Why is it better for the disciples to have the presence of the Helper than the presence of Jesus Himself as they do now? Because the Holy Spirit will not only be with them as Jesus has been, but in them as well (cf. 17:23, 26).6 We tend to think that it would have been more advantageous to have lived when Jesus lived, to have seen Him, touched Him, and heard Him. But it’s actually to our advantage that He left and sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus,7 and He dwells within everyone who believes. Clearly, these are the best days to be living in. Through the Spirit, Jesus is here inside each and every believer right now. The Holy Spirit is a God send.
However, if the Holy Spirit is to serve as an advantage in your life, you must ask the Helper to help you. This really isn’t so tough. In your daily life, you ask others to help you, right? If there’s a jar you can’t open, you ask for help. If you’re climbing a ladder, you ask someone to steady it. If you run into computer problems, you call someone who knows computers to help you. If you’re driving and you discover that you’re lost, you ask for help (at least most women do). To succeed in life, you need to ask for help. If you don’t, you will continually fail because no person has all the necessary skills to pull everything off in life. Similarly, in your walk of faith, you need help. You can’t do it by yourself. You ought to be continually calling on the Holy Spirit to help you to live this life. Not in the “Hamburger Helper” sense of help, where you throw together a meal with the “help” of Hamburger Helper. Rather, God is looking to “help” you in the sense that He takes over and consumes you. He wants to do His work in and through you.
In the remaining verses, Jesus speaks of two major advantages of the Spirit’s coming: He convicts the world (16:8-11) and He communicates to believers (16:12-15). First, Jesus focuses His attention on how the Holy Spirit convicts the world. In 16:8, Jesus says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Verse 8 summarizes the Holy Spirit’s role in the world. Interestingly, this is the only place in Scripture where the Spirit is said to perform a work in “the world.”8 The word “convict” (elegcho)9 comes from the drama of a courtroom trial. It refers to what the prosecuting attorney does when he argues his case. He puts the defendant on the witness stand and begins to pile up the evidence. Fact upon fact, witness upon witness, truth upon truth, slowly, inexorably, irresistibly building his case until finally the enormity of the evidence is so overwhelming that the judge is forced to say to the defendant, “I find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not only that, this word means to present the evidence in such an overwhelming fashion that even the defendant is compelled at the end of the trial to step up and say, “I admit it. I confess. I am guilty.”
Jesus expounds on 16:8 in 16:9-11. In these verses, Jesus explains what it means to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. First, the Holy Spirit will convict unbelievers of their sin. In 16:9, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.”10 Jesus is not saying the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin in a general way (though He does that). He is talking here about a very specific sin because He says, “they [humankind] do not believe in me.” What is the greatest sin? Is it murder? Is it theft? Is it adultery? Is it dishonoring your parents (I wish!)? Is it cursing God? Is it coveting? Is it extortion? Is it racism? Is it hatred? No. None of those things would be called the greatest sin in the world because there is one sin which, in its effect, is greater than all the rest. It is the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus is saying in 16:9. “I will convict them of sin.” Not sin in the general sense, but, “I will convict them of the greatest sin of all because they have not believed in Me.” Until people see themselves as sinners they will never see their need for a Savior. However, one’s personal sin is not the focus; Jesus has already paid for sin. The focus is the acceptance or rejection of Jesus. What will you do with Jesus? This is the question that we must pose to people.
The second reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world is because they need to understand their lack of righteousness. In 16:10, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning righteousness,11 because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” The Holy Spirit will convince the world of its need for God’s righteousness by making the world realize the poverty of its own righteousness.12 In Isa 64:6 of the Greek Old Testament, Israel’s “righteousness” (dikaiosune) is likened to a menstrual cloth. The Holy Spirit needs to convict unbelievers of their need to believe in Christ and not trust in their own righteousness, which is like filthy rags.
The third reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world is because of the reality of judgment. In 16:11, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” At first glance this might appear to be a reference to some future judgment. But this text is not talking about future judgment. It’s talking about past judgment. Notice the phrase “has been judged.”13 Jesus is saying Satan “has been judged in the past, continues to be judged, is now judged, and will continue to be judged into the future.” The judgment is past, present and future. Satan may be a great power in this world,14 but he is already a defeated foe. This will be fully realized when sinful mankind, fallen angels, and Satan himself stand before the righteous God (cf. Phil 2:6-11).
The Holy Spirit will fulfill His responsibility to convict the world, but He also expects and commands you to fulfill your ministry to unbelievers (cf. 15:26-27). When it comes to sharing the gospel, there are three important principles to keep in mind. (1) Pray for those in your life who have yet to believe in Christ. Keep sharing Christ, but remember that only God can change a human heart. Your first step should be to pray by name for your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, friends, and family members who have yet to believe in Jesus. It’s as simple as writing these people’s names down on a 3x5 card or post-it-note and putting it inside your Bible cover. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict these individuals of their sin and their need to believe in Jesus. When you drive in and out of your neighborhood, pray for your neighbors by name. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and draws them to faith in Christ.
Our unsaved family members and friends are like the wasp that landed on a sandwich and began eating the juice of the jam. The wasp was so busy enjoying the sweet stuff it didn’t even notice that the person on whose sandwich it had landed had picked up a knife to slice the sandwich in half. In other words, the wasp was suddenly in great peril. But you know something? He kept right on eating. An unredeemed person is so busy eating the jam of this world order that it takes a disaster to get his attention. In fact, many people are believers today because God first got their attention in some unique way. They were indulging themselves and enjoying the jam of this world until God sliced through their lives. Then it dawned on them that this world wasn’t as tasty as they thought it was. This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. His job is to get our attention so that we take seriously the things of God.15
(2) Proclaim Christ as the only way to God. Let’s suppose that you and I are standing 50 feet away from the edge of a cliff. If you fall off, you will drop 1800 feet before you hit the jagged rocks on the canyon floor. There are no guard rails to keep you from falling. As we stand there chatting, we see an old man walking slowly toward the edge. As he nears the edge, we realize that he is blind and has no idea the danger he is in. Suddenly, he calls out, “Which way should I go?” What would you think if I yelled out, “It doesn’t matter? Go any way you like?” Would I not be criminally negligent when he falls to his death? If I care about him at all, I will call out, “Don’t take another step. I’ll come and get you.” And then I would take him by the hand and lead him to safety. Love compels me to speak the truth and to do what I can to save his life. I recognize that most people throughout the city of Olympia would laugh at the notion that not believing in Jesus is sin. They would say, “We believe in tolerance, diversity, pluralism. Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me. That’s your way of thinking, that’s not my way of thinking. Don’t lay that Jesus stuff on me.” But if you claim Jesus’ words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” (John 14:6) you will tell them the truth.
(3) Share the bad news before you share the god news. When I sit down to eat, I like to eat my vegetables first so that I can enjoy the rest of the meal. It has become commonplace and even fashionable to offer the gospel of Christ to the world as a solution to an inconvenience. We are told we need to believe in Jesus because if we do it will give us purpose in life. It will give peace in our hearts. It will help us make sense out of the world’s chaos. Now as desirable as those things are, they tend to trivialize the gospel. After all, a person might gain a sense of purpose through landing an excellent job that helps people. He might gain a sense of peace from a pill or a bottle, albeit a short-lived one. The Holy Spirit is concerned for more than those things. He does what no job and no bottle ever could do: He awakens lost people to their lostness and that has to happen before they are ever found. The Holy Spirit is a God send.
The gospel of Jesus Christ must be faithfully shared. It is the most important message in the world. A Mercedes-Benz TV commercial shows one of its cars colliding with a concrete wall during a safety test. Someone then asks a Mercedes engineer why the company does not enforce its patent on their car’s energy-absorbing car body. The Mercedes’ design has been copied by almost every other car maker in the world in spite of the fact that it has an exclusive patent. The engineer replies in a clipped German accent, “Because in life, some things are just too important not to share.”
So the first major advantage of the Spirit’s coming is His involvement with the world. The second major advantage of the Spirit’s coming is that He communicates to believers (16:12-15).16 In 16:12, Jesus says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus informs His disciples that He’d like to share more with them; however, at this juncture of their spiritual maturity they’re not able to bear His words. They are distracted and disillusioned. This is equally applicable for you and me. Jesus has so much truth and insight that He longs to share with us, but He will only do so as we are able. One of your goals should be to be an eager receptor of Jesus’ words. Pray for a spiritual sensitivity to God’s Word. When you hear it, obey it, so that God will impart more truth to you.
In 16:13, Jesus says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” This is not a promise to the church at large. This is a promise to these eleven men, which benefits the church at large. The text literally says, “He will guide you into all the truth.” There is a particular body of truth that Jesus has in mind. This is not a promise to guide people generally in their exploration of physics and horticulture or atomic energy. The truth is the truth about God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the truth with which the Holy Spirit concerns Himself.17 But, God’s Spirit doesn’t only show us the future in a prophetic sense … He tells us what is to come in a practical sense. He guides us in our decision making. God’s Spirit gives us guidance when it comes to practical matters. In Acts 15, the Spirit brought peace to a troubled church as they had to adjust their style of ministry to reach a new group of people. The Spirit also helps us in the selection of a college, choosing a job, finding a mate, and making investments. But we must have ears to hear. Moreover, we must first obey His revealed will before He reveals His explicit truth.
Nine years ago, when our family accepted the call to Emmanuel we lived in a townhouse in Lacey. Our townhouse was adjacent to the Lacey Train Station. In fact, I like to say we were on top of the train tracks because the train would drive through our master bedroom and shake our bed several times in the middle of the night. Initially, this caused us many sleepless nights but after a few months I never heard the train in the middle of the night. (This was not true for my wife.) I just slept through the shaking and the whistle blowing. It’s not because the noise was no longer there … I just tuned it out. That’s what has happened to many believers. We have silenced the Spirit’s whispers so many times that we don’t hear them any longer. We have read God’s Word and chosen not to obey it. We have listened to countless sermons, but have ignored the Spirit who was seeking to apply the Word to our lives. When we continually tell the Spirit “no” or “not now,” we eventually stop hearing from Him.
If you want the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth, you have to listen. You have to obey when you’re prompted to turn from wrong behavior. You have to follow through when you’re “moved” to talk to someone about Christ. You have to move forward when you sense a need to visit someone. You have to obey when you sense God’s call to serve in a certain capacity. You have to respond when you feel overwhelmed by a mountainous task.
The Holy Spirit communicates to believers by exalting Jesus. In 16:14 Jesus says, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” The Holy Spirit’s primary job description is to glorify Jesus. When you hear a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost, you can be sure that there is a foul spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t attract attention to Himself; instead, He points people to Jesus. When the Spirit is moving mightily in revival and in various ministries, Jesus is the center of attention. Our goal must be the same. Like the Holy Spirit and John the Baptizer, we must decrease and Jesus must increase (John 3:30). Our personal lives and ministries must not be about our glory and our accolades; we must point people to Christ.
This passage closes with a critical truth. Jesus says in 16:15: “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Here the Spirit is seen in complete submission to and in harmony with the Son and the Father. He does not act or speak from Himself. Nothing originates from Him; all comes from the Son, and all is done to glorify the Son. Just as the Son did not do anything from Himself, but only that which He heard and received from the Father, so the Spirit never acts independently from the Son. The Spirit’s function is to reveal the Son in all that He is to believers. Yet, in revealing the Son, the Spirit is actually revealing the Father because all that the Son has comes from the Father. Thus, the Spirit reveals the Son, who, in turn, expresses the Father. It is a clear revelation of the mutual interdependency of the Trinity.18
Another emphasis in 16:15 is that the Holy Spirit discloses Himself through the Scriptures. This means you and I must be in the Word in order to hear the words of the Father and the Son. Have you ever walked in the dark along an unfamiliar path without any illumination except a flashlight? A flashlight allows you to see a few feet—not a few miles—ahead of you. It provides just enough light so that you can see clearly to take the next step. In the same way, God rarely provides us with enough light to see every step we need to take in the future (perhaps so that we are not tempted to run ahead of Him). But He promises to give us enough direction to take the next step. This is why the Psalmist says God’s Word is a “light” (Ps 32:8) not a “floodlight” to my path.19 In like manner, who among us really wants to know what the future holds? If God were to reveal our future, many of us would be aghast at what calamities and/or diseases await us.20 We must walk with God in His Word step by step. The Holy Spirit will enable us to do this for He is a God send.
When I was growing up, my dad functioned like the Holy Spirit in my life. On our road trips and throughout my life he protected me, he provided for me, he guided me, and he cared for me. In the same way, the Holy Spirit will protect you, provide for you, guide you, and care for you. All you have to do is ask for His help. He will then empower you to live the abundant life here on earth (10:10), and then He will take you on a journey to a Heavenly destination. All it takes is the faith of a child to believe in Him and place your trust in His ability to take you home. The Holy Spirit is a God send.
John 5:21-30; 8:16, 26; 9:39
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
1 John 2:27
1. When do I tend to lose heart and become sorrowful (16:5-6)? What typically brings about these emotions? How do I usually seek to deal with these feelings? In what way is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit more desirable than Christ’s personal presence in my life (16:7)? How can I communicate the significance of the Holy Spirit without drawing unnecessary attention to Him instead of Christ (cf. 16:14-15)?
2. In my attempts to share the gospel with others, have I spent too much time trying to convince someone and too little time seeking the Spirit’s convicting power (16:8)? Who has been resistant to the gospel in my life? Am I asking God to work through His Spirit in their lives? How frequently do I pray for such individuals? How can I become more dependent upon God to do His work and bring forth a harvest?
3. How can I more effectively discuss with others humankind’s greatest sin—the rejection of Christ (16:9)? Will I strive to keep the main thing the main thing and make the ultimate issue belief in Christ? How can I explain the concepts of “righteousness” and “judgment” to an unbeliever (16:10-11)?
4. How does the Holy Spirit minister to me in my spiritual walk (16:13-15)? Do I truly believe that when it comes to guidance, the weighing of options, seeking of counsel, and reading books cannot yield the degree of guidance that comes from seeking God in the Bible and in prayer? Am I facing a big decision? Have I asked for God’s help? Why or why not?
5. Have I relegated the Holy Spirit away to a corner of my life? Am I trying to combat the world, the flesh, and the devil in my own strength? How can I cultivate a more intimate and dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit? How can I follow His example and point people to Jesus?
1 Comfort and Hawley write, “It is important to note that the verb for ‘asks’ is present; otherwise, the statement would contradict 13:36 and 14:5. The disciples had asked (past tense) where Jesus was going. In this verse Jesus is asking for an immediate reaction to his words about his departure.” Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 259.
2 The perfect active verb pepleroken (“to fill”) “indicates that there was room for nothing else” in their hearts. J. Carl Laney, John. Moody Press Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 287.
3 Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 468.
4 The term “advantage” (sumphero) meant “expedient” and is also used in John 11:50 and 18:14 in connection with Jesus’ death.
5 The term parakletos can be translated “advocate,” “comforter,” or “helper” (cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26). It was used in Greek literature for a defense lawyer called alongside to render aid.
7 See Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19; and 1 Pet 1:11.
8 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 618–19.
9 Burge writes, “In the New Testament, elencho occurs seventeen times and in most cases describes an instance where someone’s sin is exposed (leading to the related idea “to convict”). Thus John the Baptist exposes and convicts Herod of sin (Luke 3:9). Similarly, prophecy has the power to convict (1 Cor. 14:24), and we are charged to convict or rebuke sinners (1 Tim. 5:20; James 2:9; Jude 1:5) and antagonists to the faith (Titus 1:9). Therefore the meaning of the verb has to do with exposing sin and its guilt.” Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 437. The same word that is translated “convict” (elegcho) here is applied to believers in the non-judicial sense of “reprove” in 1 Tim 5:20; Titus 2:15; and Rev 3:19.
10 See John 3:19 and 12:37.
11 “Righteousness” (dikaiosune) occurs only here in John’s gospel.
12 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 105.
13 The Greek word kekritai is a perfect passive from the verb krino (“to judge”).
14 Cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 1 John 5:19.
15 Tony Evans, The Promise: Experiencing God Greatest Gift the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 139.
16 These verses begin the fifth and final paraklete passage in the Upper Room Discourse (14:16–17, 26; 15:26–27; 16:7–11, 12–15).
17 Doug McIntosh, “The Mystery of Conviction” (John 16:1–15): http://www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/UpperRm/UpperRm07.pdfwww.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/UpperRm/UpperRm07.pdf.
18 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 262.
19 Robert Jeffress, I Want More! (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook. 2003), 85–86.
20 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 261.
This past week I attended a conference in New Orleans (or as the natives call it “Naw-lins”). Yesterday afternoon, my return flight out of New Orleans was delayed. By the time we finally took off for Dallas/ Fort Worth we were over an hour behind schedule. I was pretty confident I wasn’t going to make my connecting flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Seattle. We touched down in Dallas/ Fort Worth at 4:15. By the time I finally got off the plane it was 4:30—the exact time my flight was supposed to depart! Fortunately, the flight attendant announced that my connecting flight was departing from gate C-21. Since I was coming out of gate C-6, I began to hope that I might actually be able to make it. After all, I could have had to travel to gate A or gate B. I rushed off the plane shouldering a travel bag packed full of books that I couldn’t even zip closed. I dragged behind me the cheapest rolling suitcase money can buy. As I made my way off the flight, I was practically running roughshod through people, stiff-arming slowpokes in my way. I had only one thing on my mind: I had to get to gate C-21.
I looked at the signs for directions to gate C-21. The first sign told me to take a left out of terminal. So I took off running. The directions to C-21 took me up the longest escalator I’ve ever seen. They say, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” but this was a proverbial “stairway to heaven.” I thought, “I am either on Candid Camera or I am a contestant on Amazing Race.” After I got off the escalator, the next sign directed me to take a tram. After I got off the tram, the arrow to C-21 took me down another long escalator. This dropped me off at C-29. I thought to myself: I just have to make it to gate C-21. This can’t be too far, perhaps a few yards? Well, I ended up sprinting a long-distance, what you might call “Texas yards.” I arrived at C-25 and was worn out. I could see gate C-21 in the distance, but I was hot, sweaty, and bothered. So I slowed to a walk! But then I thought to myself: I may still have a chance. I can’t stop now; I’ve got to sprint to the finish line. I don’t want to be turned away because I missed the flight by a matter of seconds. So I went back to my all-out last leg sprint for the finish line.
I arrived at the gate and was greeted by an African-American gentleman who said, “What’s your name?” Practically panting, I said, “Keith Krell.” He exclaimed, “My man, why didn’t you just turn right out of your terminal and walk to your flight? You would have been here in no time.” All I could do was aimlessly stare at him and dejectedly reply, “I was just following the signs. I did the best I could.” I then walked onto the plane as the scoundrel. Yes, that’s right, the very last passenger who had held up the flight. As I walked down what seemed to be a mile-long Texas aisle, I could feel the eyes of my fellow passengers burning holes through me. Naturally, I tried not to make eye contact with people, but it was pretty hard to avoid their irritated eyes and furrowed brows. All I could think about was inconspicuously getting to my seat as fast as possible. When I finally arrived at my seat, I opened up the overhead compartment and found it full of suitcases. I began frantically checking the next several compartments, which were also full. I finally had to humble myself and ask a flight attendant if there was any available space for my suitcase. She took me into first class were I was able to secure my suitcase. This meant I had to once again walk all the way back to my seat. When I sat down, I then couldn’t get my other carry on bag to fit underneath my seat. It was Murphy’s Law at its best.
As I sat down in my seat, it immediately dawned on me that many times I do this same thing in my spiritual life. I take the long way around my personal problems and my ministry messes. I do my best to do everything right. I strive to follow all the right steps. I read all the right books and talk to all the right people. But somewhere in the midst of my hard work and frantic rush, I forget to cry out to Jesus and depend upon Him. If I would just stop and listen to Jesus, He would tell me, “Just take a right and save yourself some precious time. Cling to My cross and rely upon My resurrection.” In John 16:16-33, Jesus talks to His disciples about the challenges that will await them after His departure. He offers an essential reminder that the resurrection is a life-changing truth that empowers you and me to live the Christian life. He says: Times of trouble are times for trust.
In 16:16-19, John reveals that you’ll experience perplexity in the crises of life if you fail to appreciate the implications of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus says, “‘A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.’ Some of His disciples then said to one another, ‘What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?1 So they were saying, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about. Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” You’re probably thinking: What a bizarre series of verses, right? I’m with you. This is a peculiar exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Verses 16, 17, and 19 contain an identical refrain (“a little while”) that concerns first, not seeing Jesus shortly, and second, seeing Jesus shortly.2 It sounds like an ancient game of peek-a-boo: “Now you see Me; now you don’t.” Naturally, the disciples have no idea what Jesus is saying so they converse among themselves. Their confusion is somewhat understandable. In 16:10, Jesus has said that He is going to the Father and they will not see Him any longer. Then He says that they will see Him, and it won’t be long. What does this all mean?3 Quite simply, Jesus is saying that His time on earth is drawing to a close. His disciples will only see Him for another few hours. But in three days, they will see Him again when He rises from the dead (cf. 20:17-23).
It’s a lot easier for us to see Jesus’ intended meaning since we have the full counsel of God’s Word. The disciples, on the other hand, are expecting a Messiah that will rule and reign, not die and depart.4 So they began discussing what Jesus means. The verb tense5 in 16:18 that is translated “they were saying” denotes that the disciples were continually speaking among themselves, so we get the picture that there is a considerable amount of discussion going on. Nevertheless, I appreciate their willingness to admit their ignorance instead of pretending to be spiritual know-it-alls. Sadly, they didn’t take their questions to Jesus. Instead, they tried to figure things out for themselves. So here they are talking amongst themselves when they should be listening to Jesus.6 Stop right now and say, “Note to self: Don’t try to figure out the Bible myself. Rather, ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit for revelation. Don’t attempt to neatly categorize and systemize the Bible.” There are some biblical tensions. One of the reasons Jesus included these in Scripture is so that we would have to depend upon Him and ask Him for insight. Similarly, our church needs to be a safe place that welcomes questions from those seeking to understand the Bible. We must do what we can to help people feel comfortable enough to ask spiritual questions. In our day and age, most people (including many Christians) know very little about the Scriptures. We must help each other grow in our understanding of His Word.
In 16:20-24, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite your crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:20-22 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you7 will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”8You’ve got to hand it to Jesus; He always tells His disciples the truth in advance. In these verses, the noun “sorrow” and the verb translated “be sorrowful” appear four times, while words with similar meanings (“weep,” “lament,” and “anguish”) appear three times. The noun “joy” and its verb “rejoice,” appear five times.9 Each time a word associated with sorrow is used, it is contrasted with joy.10 Jesus’ point: The greatest spiritual progress often follows the greatest sufferings. The greatest blessing that would ever come to these apostles—the gift of the Holy Spirit—would follow the greatest trauma they had ever experienced.11 It has been observed that Jesus does not tell His disciples that their sorrow will be replaced by joy, but rather that their sorrow will be turned into joy. There is a very significant difference. Many wish to have joy, but they want to have it without sorrow. If joy is sorrow which God has transformed into joy, then we must endure the sorrow to experience the joy. Remember, times of trouble are times for trust.
I must confess, I got a kick out of Jesus’ illustration about childbearing in 16:21. I could never get away with using such an illustration! I’d be feathered and tarred and run out of town. But Jesus, the Son of God, can say whatever He likes. I do smile a bit, though, because Jesus spoke these words in the presence of eleven men. Even though He could have gotten away with these words, He didn’t speak them in the presence of any women. I would also add that it is likely that Jesus is using hyperbole when He refers to a woman who no longer remembers the pain of her labor.12 I suspect most women remember the pain for a relatively long time. Perhaps just reading these words causes you pain. You will never forget all that you went through. But the pain of childbirth is turned into joy as you behold your child. Likewise, our temporary trials will be turned into joy (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18).
In the last clause of 16:22 Jesus says, “. . . no one will take your joy away from you.” I love this! No matter what kind of earthly success you experience, it is temporary. You may be smart, successful, strong, popular, and good-looking, but these blessings can fade like a breath. The joy that Jesus offers is eternal. It is good for this life and the life to come. As the old adage says, “Happiness is the result of happenings, whereas joy is the result of Jesus.” Today, will you choose joy regardless of your circumstances?
In 16:23-24, Jesus transitions to the topic of prayer. He does so because He recognizes that prayer is essential when one encounters troubling times. Jesus says: “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”13After Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of the disciples’ questions will be answered. Furthermore, Jesus’ death and resurrection will open for them the way to prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name (cf. 14:13; 15:16).14 I’m not referring to what you hear on Christian television: “In Jeeeeeeesus name.” Nor am I speaking about how our children often conclude their prayers with a rapid-fire, slurred version of “InJesusNameAmen.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray that Jesus’ will is accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. It is to pray that His plan, program, and purpose are accomplished. When you pray according to His will, your prayers will be answered.15
It is significant that the joy Christ promises is connected with prayer.16 Although prayer is designed for God’s glory, it’s also for our good. The purpose clause at the end of 16:24 reads: “so that your joy may be made full.” So, why is the church lacking in joy? Why are you lacking in joy? What is it that Jesus Christ has already done that you are trying to do? Jesus wants you and me to pray to Him. He wants us to cry out to Him. He wants you to come to the end of yourself. He wants us to cry out, “I can’t . . . you can . . . please help.” Times of trouble are times for trust.
In 16:25-33, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite life’s crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:25 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” Explicit predictions about future events would have overtaxed the disciples’ weak faith at this point (cf. 16:12-13), so Jesus spoke to the disciples in figures of speech.17 He then immediately follows up his figure with two more verses on prayer: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father” (16:26-27). With small variations, this promise is repeated six times in this discourse.18 The reason: Disciples are often guilty of being prayerless. In these verses, Jesus emphasizes God the Father’s great love for the disciples. Despite their unfaithfulness, God had a deep love for them because they love Jesus. Consequently, Jesus’ death will afford the disciples a deeper and more intimate relationship with His Father. They will now have the opportunity to pray to the Father 24-7. Jesus would no longer need to pray on their behalf in the role of an earthly priest, but He will intercede for them as a heavenly priest.19 What a privilege to experience direct communion with the God of the universe!
Yet, the sad truth is most Christians are more concerned with God’s blessings than they are with God’s presence. In other words, many Christians are seeking a God who provides secrets and solutions to better health, a better career, a better marriage and family, or more money. What about you? Do you see prayer as a “request-line” or as a “life-line?” Jesus wants you and me to be in love with Him. He wants us to deeply desire Him above all else. Today, will you respond to the Father’s love and begin to communicate with Him? He wants to hear from you. Maybe you are intimidated because you assume that you’ll have to pray two or three hours a day. Don’t worry about the duration of time. Simply take a baby step and make a commitment to begin talking to God. When my children want to talk with me, even if it’s just a sentence or two, I want to listen and hear from them. My oldest son Joshua will be a teenager in six weeks. From what I’ve been told as my children move into the teenage years, I may relish even a simple sentence of conversation. Did you know that God feels this way about you? He wants to converse with you. He wants you to pour out your heart to Him—your dreams, your hopes, your interests. While He already knows all of it, He still thoroughly enjoys fellowship with you. I know this is mind boggling, but it’s true. God loves you and desires intimacy with you through prayer.
The reason that God can have unconditional love for you and me is found in 16:28. Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” This verse is a summary of the whole visit of the Son to the world. It includes His mission, nativity, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Everything that Jesus is and all that He has accomplished makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God and to be recipients of His love.
In 16:29-32, John records a surprising exchange. Jesus’ disciples say, “‘Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” The overconfidence of the disciples is startling! Apparently now, everything is crystal clear. The light switch has been flicked on. Yet, Jesus humbles them with a question with thinly veiled skepticism, amounting to a mild rebuke: “Do you now believe?” Jesus is speaking with a bit of irony and sarcasm. However, Jesus’ words do not imply that their faith in Him is non-existent; they have believed that He is the Messiah (cf. 2:11). He is merely saying that at the present time their faith is inadequate. After the resurrections occurs, the disciples will come to believe that He is both Lord and God (cf. 20:28). You and I continue in the Christian life the same way we began, by believing in Jesus. The more we learn of Christ, the more we have to believe. The more we place our trust in Jesus, the more we receive. The more we receive, the more we can accomplish for His glory.20
Jesus proceeds to allude to Zech 13:7.21 As predicted, all the disciples (except Peter and John, 18:15) abandoned Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even though He was abandoned by His disciples, Jesus wasn’t completely alone—the Father is with Him.22 And important principle emanates from Jesus’ words: People (even disciples) are fickle, but God is faithful.23 The truth is your spouse will disappoint you. Your children and grandchildren will disappoint you. Your coworkers and neighbors will disappoint you. Your pastors and elders will disappoint you. There will be times in your life when it seems like everyone has let you down and you’re all alone. Yet, Jesus wants you to know that God will never leave you nor forsake you (cf. Heb 13:5). I believe God often allows people to disappoint us so that we have no one to look to but Him. If people always meet our needs and never disappointed us, we would never choose to look to God. We could be satisfied in all of our horizontal relationships with other people. Ultimately, God wants us to be satisfied with Him alone. He yearns for our vertical relationship to be the most important pursuit in our lives. Will you prioritize God today because you’re grateful for His faithfulness, not because everyone has left you high and dry? He wants your love and gratitude. Times of trouble are times for trust.
Jesus’ final words in this passage are also His final words to His disciples on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Chapter 17 begins Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer to the Father. So Jesus has been building up to an important word in 16:33. He says: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage;24 I have overcome the world.” The phrase “these things I have spoken to you” refers back to all that Jesus has said in the Upper Room Discourse. What Jesus has been building up to is a single word: PEACE. Jesus wants the disciples to experience His peace. He knows that they are anxious and frightened over His departure so He offers them peace. First though, He assures His disciples that they will have “tribulation.” This is one Bible promise very few “claim” today. The word “tribulation” (thilipsis) doesn’t point to some minor irritation, but to very real hardship. It is used, for example, of the treading of grapes.25 Perhaps you can relate to this. Do you ever feel like you are being squished and squashed? Do you ever feel like your insides are being sprayed all over the place? Today, are you feeling pressure to the breaking point? The world offers pressure; Christ offers peace. He is available to you today.
Jesus says, “I have overcome the world.” Notice, He doesn’t say, “I will overcome the world.” Instead, he uses a perfect tense verb which refers to a past act with abiding results.26 The verb translated “overcome” is the Greek verb nikao. The noun form is nike, which means “victory.” I’d like to believe that the Nike Corporation chose their name based upon Jesus words in John 16:33, but this may be wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the reason that you and I can experience peace in this world is because Jesus has already overcome the world. In eternity past, the Trinity gathered and determined that God would be most glorified by providing a way for humankind to enter into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. True peace occurs when you and I cling to the cross and rely upon His resurrection.
Perhaps, you’re dealing with a daunting besetting sin that is laying waste to you. Have you stopped to reflect on the fact that Christ’s resurrection has resurrected you and has given you all the power you need to overcome your vice? Maybe you’re spiraling downward in depression over your marriage and family problems or your work circumstances. Did you know that Christ’s resurrection power can soften hearts and change circumstances? You may be feeling utterly hopeless because of your physical challenges. Yet, Christ’s resurrection promises you a new body with no more weakness, sickness, or death. The resurrection can raise you up in the midst of your trials and frustrations. Many times we’re looking for a “silver bullet” solution and Jesus is saying: “Won’t you please just return to the tried and true fundamentals of the faith. I want to give you hope, I want to minister to you in your time of need. But I want you to depend upon Me. Call out to Me today. Ask Me to come and meet your needs.” Times of trouble are times for trust.
I have read of an artist who wanted to paint a picture of peace. He chose, of all things, a storm beating against a rocky coast and depicted the waves, mountain high, crashing against the mighty rocks. He put a shipwreck in his picture, with a great ship driven up against the rocks and in the process of breaking up. In the water nearby there is the body of a drowned sailor. He has made it obvious that there is a wild storm beating against the coast and that this storm means danger and even death to people caught in it. But in the foreground there’s a mighty rock with a crack in it, and in the crack a dove has built her nest and is sitting in it, secure. Underneath, the artist has written the one word: “Peace.”27
Jesus promises you peace because He has overcome the world. As you cling to His cross and rely upon His resurrection, you will experience His victory even in life’s most difficult circumstances. Times of trouble are times for trust.
2 John 4
3 John 3-4
1 John 5:13-15
1. The disciples always struggled to understand Jesus’ words (16:17-18)? What practical steps can I take to ensure that I understand His words? Am I actively seeking out a more knowledgeable and obedient believer to help me understand and apply God’s Word?
2. Must a Christian always be happy (16:20, 22)? Why or why not? How do I distinguish between happiness and joy? What are some of the ways I can experience the joy which Christ promised? How can I challenge other believers in my life to exude Jesus’ joy?
3. Why shouldn’t Christians be fearful or anxious at the prospect of persecution (16:20-24, 32-33)? How have I been bold in the face of ridicule and persecution? What can I do to increase my courage under fire? Who will I encourage this week that is under attack for his/her faith in Christ?
4. In what ways might 16:28 be designated “a nutshell biography of Christ?” How would I want my biography to read? If I was writing an autobiography, what would I say about myself? What baby step can I take this week to live this kind of life?
5. What are the two spheres in which believers operate (16:33)? What is characteristic of each? Can a Christian be assured of ultimate victory in this life? Why or why not? What is the scriptural basis for a believer’s victory? How does Jesus overcome the world?
1 Utley observes, “It is characteristic of John that he uses dialogue to reveal truth. In John there are twenty-seven conversations with or about Jesus.” Bob Utley, John and I, II & III John: www.freebiblecommentary.org/pdf/EN/VOL04.pdf. 153.
2 The phrase “a little while” occurs often in John (cf. 7:33; 12:35; 13:33; 14:19). There have been several theories of what this idiomatic phrase means: (1) the post-resurrection appearances; (2) the Second Coming; (3) Jesus’ coming in and through the Holy Spirit; or (4) a reference to the church age. In the light of the context, the post-resurrection view is the only possibility (cf. 16:22). It is notable that the “little while” in 16:16a was only a matter of hours, the time between His present speaking with them and their last sight of him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hence the second “little while” is arguably also a short time, the two to three days until Easter Sunday evening and their “seeing” Him as the risen Lord. See D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 543; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 623; Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 440.
3 Burge, The Gospel of John, 440.
4 Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Commentary (Nashville: Nelson, 1999), 1351.
5 John uses the imperfect tense of the Greek word lego which has a basic meaning of to “utter in words” or to “say.”
6 Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 236.
7 Morris notes, “The word you is the emphatic pronoun and is saved up until the last place in the clause, which increases the emphasis. It means you—you of all people.” Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 551.
8 Köstenberger writes, “OT Israel knew that it is God who is able to ‘turn their mourning into gladness’ and to give them ‘comfort and joy instead of sorrow’ (Jer. 31:13; cf. Isa. 61:2-3; 2 Esdr. [4 Ezra] 2:27).” Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 474.
9 William G. Morrice has a book entitled Joy in the New Testament, in which he examines twenty-four words the NT writers used to convey this sense of joy, words that occur a total of 326 times. Quoted in Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John, 549.
10 In John 16:16-19, not beholding Jesus and seeing Jesus were paired. In this section, sorrow and joy are paired. Not beholding Jesus causes sorrow; seeing Jesus causes joy.
11 D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 161; Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 252-53.
12 J. Carl Laney, John. Moody Press Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1992),
13 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 628: The present tense of the imperative aiteite (“ask”) in John 16:24, conveying the continual nature of the asking. Note also the presence of two different words for “ask” (erotao) in 16:23 and aiteo three times in 16:23-24, whereby the former refers to the barrage of questions that the disciples had for Jesus prior to the crucifixion (cf. 16:5, 30), and the latter to prayer requests subsequent to his exaltation.
14 Burge, The Gospel of John, 442.
15 John summarizes his own prayer life in a verse in his first epistle: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
16 J. Carl Laney, Marching Orders (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 134.
17 Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 264.
18 See John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26; cf. also 15:7.
19 Rom 8:34 cf. 1 John 2:1-2.
20 Radmacher, Allen, and House, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Commentary, 1351.
21 Zech 13:7 is fully quoted in Matt 26:31 and Mark 14:27.
22 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 265.
23 Köstenberger, John. 479 n. 81.
24 The Greek word thareso, translated “take courage” is one that only Jesus uses in the NT (cf. Matt 9:2, 22; 14:27; Mark 6:50; 10:49; John 16:33; Acts 23:11). This word describes the attitude Jesus sought in the disciples during the Galilee storm (Matt 14:27; Mark 6:50). It was also the word given by the Lord to Paul in Jerusalem when he was surrounded by enemies (Acts 23:11). Jesus was the great encourager.
25 Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John, 563.
26 This is the only instance of the term nikao in John’s Gospel. The expression occurs several times in John’s first epistle (2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:4, 5) and over a dozen times in the Book of Revelation (esp. in the letters to the seven churches in chs. 2 and 3). The related noun nike occurs in 1 John 5:4. Other NT references to the victory won by Jesus (extended to believers) include John 12:31; Rom. 8:37 (hupernikao); 1 Cor 15:57 (nikos). The verb occurs rarely in the OT, with Ps. 50:6 LXX showing God as conqueror (cited in Rom 3:4). See also Köstenberger, John, 479.
27 Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John, 563.
Death Wish! What a great title for an action movie. (I wish I had come up with it!) Charles Bronson starred in the original Death Wish back in 1974. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is assaulted. Death Wish was a huge success and generated a movie franchise lasting four sequels, spread over a twenty year period. Bronson starred in Death Wish 1 at age fifty-three, and capped off Death Wish 5 at the ripe, young age of seventy-three. Obviously, this made for a rather unusual action hero. In Death Wish 2, a sixty-year old Bronson has a gun pointed at a criminal and utters this classic one-liner: “Do you believe in Jesus?” The criminal frantically assures Bronson that he does. Bronson then replies, “Well, you’re about to meet Him.” (I won’t tell you what happens next, but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Death Wish became a subject of parody for its over-the-top violence and the advancing age of Bronson. An episode of The Simpsons showed a fictional ad for Death Wish 9 consisting of a bed-ridden Bronson saying, “I wish I was dead.” While this spoof was amusing, it exposes the futility of personal retaliation and vindication.
I think the Death Wish movies epitomize the heart of our society. Our human tendency is to exclaim, “What goes around comes around. If you mess with me; I’m going to mess with you.” If someone takes something or someone away from us, we feel the irresistible urge to take matters into our own hands. After all, we need to avenge and vindicate ourselves. The underlying motive behind this type of thinking is a quest for our own glory. This is in direct contrast to Jesus Christ, who was driven by a desire to turn the other cheek, forgive wicked sinners, and glorify God. Instead of giving in to His own desires, Jesus lived for God’s glory alone. You could say His motto was, “No guts, no glory.”
On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus prays, what is likely, the greatest prayer in the Bible. John 17 nicely divides into three sections. In the first section (17:1-5),1 Jesus prays for Himself. The key word here is “glory.”2 Jesus requests the Father to glorify Him with the glory they shared from eternity. In the second section (17:6-19), He prays for His disciples. The key word is “kept.” Jesus asks the Father to preserve His disciples. In the third section (17:20-26), Jesus prays for the church.3 The key word is “one.” Jesus desires for His church to be one with each other.4 Each section forms a unified whole that reflects Jesus’ desire to glorify God. Nowhere is this clearer than 17:1-5.5
In 17:1 John writes, “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” In the opening line of Jesus’ prayer He looks for glory6 in the last place people would look for it—the cross.7 In this verse, the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father are one and the same because Jesus is God.8 The word “glorify” (doxazo) means “show honor” or “reveal the wonderful character of something or someone.”9 Jesus “glorified” God in His life and death. He revealed many aspects of God’s character: His power, His holiness, His compassion, His grace, His love, His wisdom—and so on.10 His life was the ultimate expression of glorifying God. “These things” refers back to all that Jesus has spoken in John 13-16.11 After sharing His heart with His disciples, Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven and launches into prayer.12 The term “Father” (pater) is used six times in Jesus’ prayer.13 Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Aramaic term was Abba, which means, “Daddy.”14 Jesus is intimate with God the Father and you can be too. But perhaps your earthly father has significantly sinned against you, and you now have an inaccurate view of your heavenly Father. God wants you to know that He can bring healing to your wounded heart. Today, will you call out to God as your Father and let Him care for you? This is a prayer that God will always answer. The phrase “the hour has come”15 shows that Jesus knows the purpose and timing of His ministry.16 He is not overtaken by unknown circumstances.17 The cross has been strategically planned from eternity past. The cross itself “glorifies” the Father and the Son.18 Thus, Jesus’ request is that He may be given the strength to continue to be faithful as He goes to the cross. Jesus is praying that He might die well. He wants to be faithful in the face of suffering and death.19
Have you ever contemplated the importance of glorifying God in your death? While it is important to live well; it is also important to die well. Today, whether you are young or old, will you ask God to prepare you to die well? Will you ask Him to be glorified in the way you accept your mortality? Will you begin to pray, “God, use even my memorial service to glorify You and bring many to faith in Christ?” To return to the opening illustration, Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey) lived a long life. Yet, his life was miserable. For him, there were always more sinners that needed be killed. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, lived a relatively short life, yet He died for sinners. Philosopher William James said that the value of life is computed not by its duration but by its donation. Except for the obvious necessity of the cross, Jesus could have continued performing amazing deeds if He had lived longer. But such deeds wouldn’t have enlarged His supreme donation—His life and death, which provided our great salvation. The work that He completed is still bearing fruit by His Spirit. It is important to remember that one’s harvest is not always reaped in this life. God’s work through our lives will continue bearing fruit long after we’re gone.20 This means it’s not how long you live, but how you live and how you die that matters. Remember, no guts, no glory!
You and I should be primarily concerned about God’s glory. There’s nothing wrong with being concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s hangnail or a sick pet. God cares about every detail of your life. Moreover, every request is small to God because He is a great God. However, God is ultimately most interested in His glory, and He wants you to share this passion. So when you pray for someone, please be sure to include God’s glory in your request. When you pray, “Lord, bless me,” you should quickly add, “so that I may be able to bless You.”21 This entails a motive check. It’s so easy to be preoccupied with ourselves—our marriage, our family, our work, our ministry. Spend time searching your heart this week (Ps 139:23-24). Ask the Lord if your life is driven by a yearning for His glory. Ask Him some penetrating questions: “Does my marriage glorify You?” If not, “What would it take to strengthen my marriage so that it glorifies you?” If you are contemplating marriage, ask the Lord, “Will my marriage glorify You?” If not, there’s no ultimate purpose in getting married. Ask the Lord, “Does my family glorify You?” If so, “What can I do to further enhance my family so that You receive more glory?” Ask the Lord, “Does my ministry glorify You?” If so, what can I do to ensure that this next year brings You even more glory? Ask the Lord, “Does my work glorify You?” If not, “What can I do to correct my faulty behavior or attitude?” Every area of your life is meant to exude God’s glory. This is why Paul says in 1 Cor 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” No guts, no glory!
In 17:2, Jesus reveals that God’s glory is revealed through the free gift of eternal life.22 Jesus prays, “[May the Son glorify You] even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” Jesus affirms that God the Father has given Him “authority23 over all flesh,”24 which is an awesome statement by a peasant carpenter.25 This phrase once again confirms that Jesus is God. But Jesus’ words are specifically targeted to all whom the Father has given Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him.26 This is incredibly profound! The Father gives believers to Jesus, and the Son gives these believers eternal life. Through and through, eternal life is a gift from God through Christ.27 If you have never received the free gift that Jesus offers, would you do so today? Jesus offers eternal life to anyone who will simply ask Him for it. In one of the clearest passages in the New Testament, John 6:37-40, Jesus says: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” In one of the final verses of the New Testament, Rev 22:17, Jesus says, “Come. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Please receive the gift of eternal life today. Trust in God’s Word, not your works; His promise, not your performance. As you do, you will experience the joy and assurance of being in a right relationship with God. There’s no greater confidence in the world.
Jesus now makes a somewhat parenthetical statement and defines “eternal life” in 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may28 know You, the only true God,29 and Jesus Christ30 whom You have sent.”31Most Christians assume that “eternal life” means to go to heaven when you die. This is certainly true—eternal life is a quantity (i.e., duration) of life. It refers to an unending life with God. But eternal life can also refer to a quality of life.32 In this context, Jesus is referring to a quality of life that brings about “abundant life” (10:10). He explains that this occurs through an intimate and personal knowledge of God the Father and Christ the Son.33 The word translated “know” (ginosko) is often used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and in the Greek New Testament to describe the intimacy associated with a sexual union. Ginosko can carry the idea, “to know by observation and experience—an intimate experiential knowledge.”34 Why is knowing God a key to experiencing eternal life? Because right thinking precedes right living. We cannot experience true intimacy with God (i.e., eternal life) apart from right living.35 So how can we know God and experience eternal life?
Jesus concludes 17:3 by affirming that He was “sent” by God.36 More than forty times Jesus speaks of the fact that He was sent. He had a mission to accomplish. We, also, have a mission to accomplish. When we are done, God will take us home.37 Make knowing God and Jesus the passionate pursuit of your life. Remember Jesus’ mentality: No guts, no glory.
In 17:4, Jesus imparts one of the greatest principles in the New Testament. Praying to His Father, He says, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given38 Me to do.” Jesus now looks back on the entirety of His earthy ministry and declares that He has glorified God by completing the work that God entrusted to Him. Jesus’ work was to reveal the Father,39 live a perfect life as a man,40 and redeem humankind.41 The work that God gave Jesus to do was focused on the cross (e.g., 12:23-24). When Jesus utters His final prayer, the cross still lies ahead, but by faith, He anticipates the successful completion of His mission.42 Jesus considers it a certainty because He had purposed to do the Father’s will. The verb translated “accomplished” (teleioo) is used earlier in John 4:34 where Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”43
Jesus reveals that God is glorified through the accomplishments of His obedient servants.44
What has God called you to do? If you’re a high school or college student, He most likely has called you to graduate. If you are married, He’s called you to fulfill your marriage covenant: “for better or worse, till’ death do you part.” If you’re involved in a ministry, He yearns for you to continue to serve Him for the rest of your days. In each of these scenarios, it is easy to become weary, impatient, frustrated, and angry. It is natural to consider giving up. But the Lord wants you to accomplish the work that He has called you to do. He has placed you in an area of ministry that is unique to you. Your relationships are ones that only you can have; He wants you to serve Him faithfully. No guts, no glory.
This section closes in 17:5 with Jesus saying, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” In 17:5, Jesus clarifies and elaborates on His request in 17:1. This verse alludes to Jesus’ existence prior to His birth in Bethlehem.45 Jesus claims that He existed before the world existed. This implies that the material universe is not eternal but was brought into being by God. Before that, nothing material existed. But God existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus demonstrates that He is God. Christ prays that His full glory will be restored, that His divine attributes will be fully displayed as a means of enhancing the Father’s reputation. He would enter into that glory in a new way—as the God-man, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is this glorified God-man we shall see in heaven.46 Jesus looks beyond His imminent suffering to future glory in the Father’s presence (cf. 17:24).
The reason that Jesus glorified God throughout His life and finished well is because He made prior commitments. Decisions in life must be made in advance. If you are making decisions based upon your emotions, you are not setting a course for your life that will result in the accomplishment of the Father’s will. When did Jesus steel His attitude to be one of total yieldedness to the Father’s will? Prior to the beginning of His public ministry He lingered in Jerusalem in the Temple discussing Scripture with the religious leadership of Israel (Luke 2:41-50). At the outset of His public ministry Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting (Matt 4:1-11). Several times during His public ministry Jesus retreated to be alone in prayer and meditation (Matt 14:13, 23; 17:1; 26:36). From the very beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, He made sure that He would carry out the Father’s will.
If you want to preserve your virginity until marriage, you have to make this decision in an advance before temptation strikes. If you want to remain married for the rest of your life, you need to make that determination before you even think about getting married. If you want to honor your parents, you have to make this a core conviction. If you want to stand strong and witness for Christ, you need to come to this conclusion before the world’s hatred hits. It’s very difficult to live for Christ when you’re hoping that things are just going to work themselves out. This rarely happens. The Christian who perseveres and overcomes is the one who makes up his or her mind before trials and temptations come. We are all weak and susceptible. We can all potentially give God a black eye and fail to glorify Him. This is why it is so important to make God’s glory your all-consuming passion.
When I was growing up, I used to enjoy Tombstone pizza commercials. You may recall they coined the slogan: “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Of course, the dilemma was: pepperoni or sausage? But the commercials would have a man being put before a firing squad or facing the death penalty and being asked his final wish, “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Today, on a far more serious note, I would like to pose the same question, “What do you want on your tombstone?”
This past week, while I was teaching at Ecola Bible School, one of the female students was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She just graduated from high school. I laid hands on her and prayed for her healing, but I recognize there is no guarantee that God will heal her in this life. I received a call last evening that a widow in our congregation is about to pass into the presence of Jesus. At any time, you could die. Whether you are a police officer, a soldier, a student, or a housewife, there’s no guarantee that you will live a full life. So the question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” is critically important. What I want on my tombstone is one thing: GLORY! I want God’s glory to be the topping of my life. In order to experience this, I strive to live a life sold out to Jesus Christ. No guts, no glory!
Romans 11:36; 16:27
1 Corinthians 10:31
Ephesians 1:6, 12, and 14
1 Peter 1:17-21
1. By what yardstick is my life measured (17:1)? Do I gauge my success by biblical values or worldly standards? Am I intentionally seeking God’s glory or my own renown? Can I honestly echo John 3:30? How can I ensure that my motives are as pure as possible? Read Psalm 139:23-24 and 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
2. What is the mission of my life? Am I distracted by too many pursuits? If so, are they truly eternally significant? D.L. Moody once said, “This one thing I do…and not these forty things I dabble in.” Can I be that specific? How can I cultivate this type of clarity? Who can help me narrow my vision and pin down my personal mission statement?
3. How am I actively seeking to know God (17:3)? What disciplines or characteristics give evidence to my pursuit of God? Am I more intimate with the Lord this year than I was last year at this time? Why or why not? How can I ensure that this next year will be my most fruitful year yet? It’s not too early or too late to begin setting spiritual goals. Start now!
4. Have I finished the work that God has for me (17:4-5)? What do I sense God has for me yet to accomplish? Have I spent substantial time asking the Lord to reveal His purposes for my life? Have I asked those I respect to help me indentify God’s calling upon my life?
5. How has God previously used me to advance His kingdom? What are my spiritual gifts and natural talents? What area of ministry am I most passionate about? How can I take my remaining years and invest my time, talents, and treasure in God’s work?
1 There is not a consensus on this first section break, most likely because John 17:1-26 is a unity. Most scholars propose 17:1-5. See D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 175; Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 267; and Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 634. However, several scholars break this section after 17:8. See Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 459 and Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina 4 (Collegeville: MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 461.
2 Morris writes, “Glory is frequently before us in this Gospel from John 1:14 on. John uses the noun glory eighteen times (which is more than in any other NT book except 2 Corinthians) and the verb glorify twenty-three times (no other NT book has it more than nine times).” Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 567.
3 Jesus’ prayer is very similar to Aaron’s high priestly prayer in Lev 16:17. There,on the Day of Atonement he made sacrifices for himself, then for his family, and finally for the nation.
4 John G. Mitchell, with Dick Bohrer, An Everlasting Love: A Devotional Study of the Gospel of John (Portland: Multnomah, 1982), 322.
5 It is important to note that Jesus’ words in John 17 are addressed not to the disciples but to God the Father. So, the essence of Jesus’ prayer for Himself in 17:1-5 is that the Father’s will and plan through Him would be fulfilled. In these verses, Jesus prays the real Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6 is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, but that prayer is actually “The Disciple’s Prayer.” The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Jesus responds, “When you pray, here’s how you should pray.” He then gives them a model prayer (6:9-13). It’s not a prayer that He would pray. Jesus doesn’t need to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass”; that’s for the disciples to pray. Instead, Jesus prays for the glory of God. Burge observes that Jesus’ prayer is similar to Moses’ farewell in Deut 32-33. As Israel listens, Moses begins by praising God: “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!” (32:3). Following the conclusion of this lengthy prayer, Moses turns to the Israelites and prays a blessing on them for their future (ch. 33). Burge, The Gospel of John, 459.
6 The phrase “glorify Your Son” always refers to Jesus’ death in similar terms in John (cf. John 17:4; 7:39; 12:23; 13:31-32). This term also relates to Jesus’ pre-existent deity (cf. John 1:14, 17:5, 24).
7 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 638.
8 In one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, Isa 42:8 (cf. 48:11), God affirms that He will not give His glory to another. Jesus’ sharing His Father’s glory, therefore, implies that He is God. See also Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 485.
9 BDAG s.v. doxazo 2: “to cause to have splendid greatness, clothe in splendor, glorify.”
10 Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 258.
11 Cf. John 14:25; 16:1, 4, 25, 33.
12 If Jesus prayed, how much more do you and I need to be people of prayer? For an excellent Bible study, work through Luke’s gospel and carefully note how frequently Jesus prayed (see Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:41-45; 23:34).
13 John 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25; cf. John 11:41; 12:27-28; Matt 11:25-27; Luke 22:42; 23:34.
14 Cf. Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; and Gal 4:6.
15 Contrast “the hour has come” with John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20—the time had not yet come. The divine plan of redemption was to be executed according to God’s timing.
16 Cf. John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1.
17 There is much teaching in John’s gospel about Jesus doing things at a very special time (see John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). Eaton, John, 256.
18 Hughes writes, “The cross displayed God the Father because, as John 1:18 says, Jesus is the explanation or the exegesis of God. What do we learn from the cross? We see the holiness of God in the cross as nowhere else. We see his love of holiness and his hatred of sin and his refusal to compromise it. We also see his love of justice in his condemnation of sin, even exercising his wrath upon his Son who bore our sins. Finally, we see God’s love for us in the vast cost he paid for our redemption. If Jesus had stopped short of the cross, that would have proved there is a degree of love to which God is not prepared to go for us. The cross proves there is no limit to God’s love.” R. Kent Hughes, John. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.
19 Earlier Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24).
20 Joanie Yoder, “When Life Is Cut Short” in Our Daily Bread (Nov 8, 1999): http://www.rbc.org/devotionals/our�daily�bread/1999/11/08/devotion.aspxwww.rbc.org/devotionals/our-daily-bread/1999/11/08/devotion.aspx.
21 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 129.
22 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 636.
23 Exousia is also used in John 1:12; 5:27; 19:10-11 and can be translated “legal right” or “power.”
24 Cf. Gen 6:12; Ps 65:2; 145:21; Isa 40:5; 66:23; Joel 2:28.
25 Cf. John 5:27; Matt 11:27; 28:18; Luke 10:22.
26 Cf. John 17:6, 9, 12; 6:37, 39; Rom 8:29-30; Eph 1:3-14.
27 cf. John 5:21, 26; 6:40, 47; 10:28; 1 John 2:25; 5:11.
28 The idea that Jesus seems to convey here is not one of content, but essence. In other words, Jesus is focusing upon the experiential aspect of believers who continue in faith to grow in knowledge and application. This is the reason Jesus uses the subjunctive mood - to indicate that it is a possibility for His disciples. Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 263.
29 The OT was unique in its assertion of the existence of one and only one God (cf. Exod 8:10; 9:14; Deut 4:35,39; 6:4; 33:26; 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kgs 8:23; Isa 37:20; 44:6,8; 45:6-7,14, 18, 21, 22; 46:9; John 5:44; 1 Cor 8:4,6; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 25.
30 It is also possible that the phrase “and Jesus Christ” could be regarded as a predicate accusative construction, which would render the phrase—“Jesus as the Christ.”
31 John 17:3 shows the two major truths of Christianity: (1) monotheism (cf. Deut 6:4-6) and (2) Jesus as divine Davidic Messiah (cf. 2 Sam 7).
32 In John 17:3, Jesus uses some interesting terminology in association with the phrase “eternal life.” The interpretation of this verse hinges in part upon one’s interpretation of the Greek phrase hina + the present tense, subjunctive mood of ginosko. The basic meaning of the Greek word ginosko is “to know.” Here, hina is used to introduce an apposition clause (i.e., a clause that explains another noun or noun clause). This would lead to an interpretation that would interpret hina as “in order that” or something to that effect. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 475.
33 J. Carl Laney, Marching Orders (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 143-44.
34 Morris writes, “There are two Greek verbs for ‘to know,’ and each of them occurs in John more often than in any other New Testament book. Knowledge matters for John, and it matters because Jesus has come to bring us knowledge and supremely, as we see here, because the knowledge of God and of Jesus is itself eternal life.” Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, 571.
35 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 254-55.
36 This emphasis on Jesus as “sent” from the Father is a recurrent vertical dualism in John (cf. 3:17, 34; 5:36, 38; 6:29, 38, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21).
37 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 265.
38 The repeated use of didomi (“give”) in this chapter should not be overlooked (see John 17: 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 22, 24).
39 John 1:14, 18.
40 John 13:31; 1 Pet 2:21.
41 Mark 10:45; 2 Cor 5:21.
42 Cf. John 19:30; see D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 557.
43 In the framework of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ report to the Father in 17:4 that he has completed his assigned work mirrors the statement at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at 4:34 by way of inclusio. These are the only two places in John where Jesus’ work (ergon) is referred to in the singular (see also 5:36; 14:31). Köstenberger, John, 486.
44 Laney, Marching Orders, 144.
45 This reality was expressed in John’s prologue (“the Word” [1:1, 14-15]) and reaffirmed throughout the gospel (“the Son of Man” [3:13; 6:62]; the “I am” preceding Abraham [8:58]; the one who came from the Father and is about to return to him [16:28]). Of all the Gospels, John’s most clearly affirms the preexistence of Jesus Christ. See also John 17:11, 13, 24; cf. 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3; 10:5-8.
46 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 273.
Have you ever heard a spouse say, “She’s a keeper” or “He’s a keeper?” Of course you have. This is a common expression. Parents will say the same thing about a child, “He’s a keeper” or “She’s a keeper.” The idea behind this expression is: I really enjoy my spouse or child. I think I’ll keep him or her around. Often this idiom is used by a person who has trouble communicating his or her feelings. So by stating, “She’s a keeper” or “He’s a keeper,” such a person is able to communicate love without having to articulate the phrase, “I love you.”
One of the ways that Jesus communicates His love to you is by keeping you. Jesus says, “You’re a keeper, not because of anything you’ve done but simply because I love you.” Jesus keeps you and me through His life, death, resurrection, and intercession. The old adage, “Finders keepers” is really true when it comes to Jesus. He finds us and He keeps us. This is why we can say that Jesus is “The Keeper.” In John 17:6-19, Jesus prays to the Father that He will keep the disciples safe in a hostile world and guard them from Satan.1 It is worth noting that Jesus prays for His disciples before He chose them (Luke 6:12), during His ministry (John 6:15), at the end of His ministry (Luke 22:32), and later in heaven (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25).2 Prayer was and is incredibly important to Jesus and should be to us as well. In these verses, Jesus makes three requests for His followers. First, He prays for security (17:11). Second, He prays for protection (17:15). Finally, He prays for sanctification (17:17).3
John records Jesus’ opening words in 17:6: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept4 Your word.” Jesus manifested God’s name to His disciples. The word “manifest” (phaneroo) means “to make visible or clear.” In this particular context, the word means “to make known by word of mouth.”5 During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He manifested God’s name (i.e., His character) with His lips. The manifesting of the “name” of God is an Old Testament theme (Ps 113:3; Isa 59:19; 66:19). Malachi prophesied with the words of God Himself when He stated “My name shall be great among the Gentiles” (Mal 1:11). Have you sought to make God’s name great with your lips? While it’s important to manifest God with your life, it’s equally necessary to manifest God with your lips. Are you following in Jesus’ sandals? Do people in your neighborhood, work, and school know that you’re a Christian? Have you clearly communicated this so that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind? Jesus made sure that His disciples understood how to have a relationship with God. He also emphasized how they could come to understand God’s character. Are you all about manifesting and revealing the Lord?
Jesus viewed the disciples as those whom God had given to Him out of the world (cf. 6:37; 15:19), not as those who had chosen to follow Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him.6 This viewpoint accounts for Jesus’ confidence as He anticipates their future. They belong to God, and therefore, God will protect them.7 Similarly, God will protect you if you belong to Him. It’s all made possible through God’s gracious gift. This is confirmed in the final phrase of 17:6: “they have kept Your word.” In John’s gospel, when Jesus refers to His “words” (plural), He is talking about His commands, but when He refers to His “word” (singular) He is talking about His gospel.8 Thus, Jesus is indicating that the disciples have responded to the gospel.9 While the disciples were often marked with selfishness and short-sightedness, they believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. While Jesus is certainly concerned about your obedience in response to the gospel, He is first and foremost interested in whether or not you have trusted in Him as your Savior. Today, have you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? If you were to die today, do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you would spend eternity with Christ? If there is any doubt in your mind, place your faith in Jesus Christ alone today. Remember Jesus’ words, “Finders keepers.” If you are found in Him, you will be kept for all of eternity.
Jesus continues His prayer in 17:7-8: “Now they [the disciples] have come to know that everything You [the Father] have given Me is from You;10 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.” There was much that the eleven disciples didn’t yet understand, but they did believe that Jesus had come from God and that His words were God’s words. Commendably, they accepted Jesus’ teachings even though they didn’t understand them fully, and what they understood they believed. Like the disciples, do you and I “receive” and “believe” God’s Word?
In 17:9-10, Jesus now explicitly begins His prayer for the disciples: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Jesus makes it clear that He is praying for His disciples, not for the world in general. On the last night of Jesus’ earthly life, He focuses on praying for those who are believers. Too often we pray for unbelievers until they accept Christ and then drop them from our prayer list. The point at which Christ and the disciples intensively begin prayer, we tend to stop.11 Have you stopped praying for a believer you used to pray for? Is the Lord prompting you to pray for this person once again? If so, please respond to His prompting. There’s likely a reason that the Lord is bringing this person to your mind. He may choose to use your prayers to take this person to the next level of spiritual maturity.
Jesus also indicates in 17:10 that He has been “glorified” by His disciples. He is referring specifically to the disciples’ initial faith in Him (cf. 2:11) and additional baby steps they have taken. Do you consciously consider Jesus’ desire to be glorified by your life? How can you seek to glorify Him more in your life? As a church, how can we prioritize the glory of Jesus Christ above all else?
In 17:11 Jesus declares, “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” In light of Jesus’ imminent departure, He prays for His disciples. The title “Holy Father” appears only here in the Bible and is a reminder that God is both pure and paternal.12 Jesus prays that His disciples will be kept in God’s name. In ancient times a “name” represented one’s character or reputation. This has some carry-over into modern culture. Perhaps your father or mother used to admonish you to do nothing that would bring dishonor to the family name. Your parent’s concern was that your activities not detract from the family reputation. Likewise, God has entrusted His reputation to Christ, who revealed it to the disciples. Now Jesus prays that the disciples may be kept true to that revelation. The purpose of this prayer is that the disciples might share a unity of spirit modeled after the unity shared by the Father and the Son in the Trinity.13 How is God’s reputation and character doing at your school or work? Are you an answer to Jesus’ prayer? Do you represent God well or does your life send mixed messages?
Regardless, Jesus is committed to you. In 17:12 He prays, “While I was with them [the disciples], I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” Jesus makes it clear that He kept and guarded His disciples’ salvation while He was on earth. The only exception was Judas, “the son of perdition,”14 who was an unbeliever. In 6:64 Jesus said, “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” This is made clear in 6:70 where Jesus declares, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Later in 13:10, Christ said that Judas was not among those who were clean. Again, in 18:9 He reiterates, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” Although Judas was certainly one of Jesus’ disciples, he never believed in Him as his Savior. Therefore, to read into this account a loss of salvation is fallacious. It also contradicts Jesus’ own words that He did not lose any whom the Father had given Him.
Salvation for those who believe is secure because it’s a free gift. The Lord didn’t make the down payment for salvation and then expect you to keep up with the installments. If you cannot be saved as a result of your good works, you cannot lose your salvation as a result of your bad works. Salvation is of God. He desires to save those whom He has given to Christ as a gift. It is inconceivable that any one of them will be lost. Today, if you have wrestled with the assurance of your salvation, put your fears to rest once and for all. Trust in the promises of God’s Word. Jesus declares, “Finders keepers.”
In 17:13, Jesus gives the reason that He prays these great truths: “But now I come to You [Father]; and these things15 I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” Jesus wants His disciples to experience full joy once He leaves. Just knowing that Jesus had kept them and will continue to keep them ought to facilitate joy. Does the promise of eternal life cause joy to well up within you? Despite the challenges in your life, are you filled with Jesus’ joy?
Jennifer Rennie and Tasneem Torres are two ladies in our church who are filled with joy. Both of these ladies trusted in Christ as adults. Their lives were radically changed. Consequently, they have joy that is infectious. I suspect that those people who become Christians as adults (like the original disciples) have an easier time being on fire for Christ. Perhaps they are more aware of their sin since they lived without Christ throughout their teen and young adult years. Maybe they are more grateful for Christ’s saving work because it is new and fresh to them. Whatever the reason, those of us with childhood conversions should let their joy rub off on us. We must seek to surround ourselves with baby Christians. Their joy will prove to be infectious and will spread to the rest of the church family.
Jesus continues His prayer in 17:14-16 where He says, “I have given them [the disciples] Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus gives the disciples God’s Word, and the world hates them. The world hates Christians because we do not support their agenda. Instead, we follow Christ and His kingdom agenda. This quickly creates enemies! Yet, it is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t pray that disciples be exempted from evil. That prayer will not be answered until we receive glorified bodies and are in heaven. It’s significant that Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all prayed to be taken out of the world, but in no case was the request granted.16 The goal is not isolation, but insulation. Jesus prays that His disciples may be kept from the influence of the evil one.17
In 17:17, Jesus utters a classic verse on the authority of the Scriptures: “Sanctify18 them in the truth; Your word is truth.” In this context, “to sanctify” (hagiazo) means: “to set apart for God’s service.”
The Word is the sphere by and in which believers are sanctified. With the mind we learn God’s truth through the Word. With the heart, we love God’s truth, His Son (14:6). With the will we yield to the Spirit (of truth, cf. 14:17; 16:13) and live God’s truth day by day. It takes all three for a balanced experience of sanctification.19 The Bible is the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth! You cannot grow without a regular diet of Scripture. If the only biblical “meal,” you get is on Sunday, you’re not growing. Newborn babies don’t take six-day breaks between meals. In fact most newborns don’t even take three-hour breaks between meals. There are a lot of Christians who start off with a real growth spurt because they are so hungry for the Word. They can’t get enough of it fast enough. But then as time goes on, their biblical “feeding schedule” gets off because the Word becomes a convenient extra in their lives. They begin to get spiritually weak because they aren’t getting enough nourishment for their souls. So what do you do if you’ve lost your appetite for the Scripture? If you’ve lost your taste for the Word you need to force-feed yourself for a while. That’s what the hospital does when, for whatever reason, you can’t eat on your own. The doctors put a tube into you directly. In a sense, they force you to eat, because they know you won’t get better without nutrition. God knows you won’t grow or get better without the Word. Spiritually, many of us are losing weight that we can’t afford to lose. We are spiritually emaciated, because we have not been feeding on the Word regularly.
We must never underestimate the value of simply reading our Bibles. Charles Spurgeon said, “I can find ten men who will die for the Bible for every one who will read it!”20 Because the Bible is spiritual nutrition, we can be fed just by reading it, whether we think we’re getting anything or not. The Word is like taking vitamins. You may not feel an immediate benefit when you take a handful of vitamins; yet, when you take them consistently, the invisible work they do inside your body is staggering.21
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fill up on physical and spiritual “junk food.” I’m a cold cereal aficionado. I like cold cereal because it is quick, easy, and tasty. I will sometimes eat cold cereal three times a day! I typically crave sugar sweetened cereals (e.g., Cocoa Pebbles, Lucky Charms), but one bowl never satisfies me. I go after a second bowl, and sometimes even a third bowl. The reason is simple: There’s little or no lasting nutrition in the cereals I eat. Spiritually speaking, it’s all too easy to fill up on sports, television, music, social networking, hobbies, work, or maybe even pornography. Yet, God will not allow you to be satisfied with any of these substitutes. He has designed you to only be satisfied with His Word.
Today, will you become a student of the Word? I encourage you to read the Bible daily. Begin at the beginning of a book and read it all the way through. Start with the gospel of John or the book of Romans. Pray that the Lord reveals Himself to you in a powerful way. Read with a pencil and underline the things God will teach you. Then after you have underlined, be sure to obey. It’s really that simple. Don’t put off this discipline another day. Ask the Lord to change your life from the inside out today.
The mission aspect of Jesus’ words is clearly seen in 17:18-19: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” The key phrase in these verses is: “into the world.” Sanctification in John’s gospel is always for a mission.22 Sanctification’s mission is to bring truth, light, and salvation to the world. In 3:17, the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus now sends the disciples into the world to continue His mission after His departure. They are, in a sense, being commissioned. When Jesus speaks of sanctifying Himself on behalf of the disciples (17:19) the meaning is closer to the consecration of a sacrificial animal (Deut 15:19). Jesus is “setting Himself apart” (see NET) to do the Father’s will, that is, to go to the cross on the disciples’ behalf.23 Jesus is the perfect example of a sanctified person. He devoted Himself completely and consistently to God’s will for Him. Throughout His entire life, in every attitude, culminating in His death, Jesus lived for God. Similarly, the disciples should see their purposes for living as not their own, but shaped by God’s mission for them.24
The great evangelist D.L. Moody stopped a stranger one day on the street and asked him, “Are you a Christian?” The man was put off by the question, so he said, “Mind your own business!” Moody said, “This is my business!” The man looked to him and said, “Then you must be Moody.” Wouldn’t it be great to be known as “the person whose business is witnessing?” This is your business.25
Are you accomplishing God’s mission for your life? Are you looking forward or looking back in your life? Are you focusing on your potential or your past failure? Perhaps you’re drowning in your past failures. Your divorce continues to haunt you. The lack of time you spent with your kids when they were growing up grieves you. Maybe you deeply regret your rebellious years away from the Lord. I encourage you to put a sign on your mirror that says: “God looks at where He wants to take you, not where you have already been.” Let go of the past and look ahead! Jesus says, “Finders keepers.” He has found you and will keep you.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
2 Timothy 4:6-8
1 Peter 5:6-7
1. When did I first believe in Christ (17:6)? Since that time would Jesus characterize me as one who has kept His Word? If so, how have I specifically obeyed Him? When and where have I failed? What can I do about this? Who can help me grow spiritually?
2. How can I live in the world but not adopt the world’s standards (17:11a, 13-16)? What does this specifically look like in my life? In what areas will this be particularly difficult? What can I do to ensure that I live for Christ at work, school, and in my neighborhood?
3. To what degree do I experience joy (17:13)? How would those who know me best characterize my life? Would they say I have full joy? Why or why not? This week, what can I do to exude Jesus’ joy? Who do I know that serves as a wonderful example of joy? What can I learn from this person?
4. Am I sanctified in God’s truth (17:17)? What evidence leads to this conclusion? How have I grown in God’s Word in the last year? What can I do to grow further in this next year? Have I written down any specific goals related to Bible study?
5. What is my life mission (17:18)? How am I currently fulfilling it? What progress have I made in my personal mission? What goals have I achieved this year? Who has had the greatest impact in helping me fulfill these goals? Have I expressed gratitude to this person?
1 The length of this section of Jesus’ prayer suggests that He has greater concern for His disciples’ welfare than for His own (cf. John 17:1–5).
2 Edwin A. Blum, “John” in Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Scripture Press/Victor Books, 1983), 331.
3 This section of Jesus’ prayer cannot be easily analyzed into sections. The different themes in these verses are constantly weaved together. Michael Eaton, John. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, UK: Sovereign World Trust, 2009), 259. However, the most likely breakdown is as follows: Jesus spends the first half of this section (17:6–11a) describing the reason for His request on behalf of the disciples. The second half of this section (17:11b–19) is focused upon His request of the Father that He will enable their faith to survive in the midst of a hostile world.
4 Jesus uses the perfect tense which indicates a completed action with results that continue indefinitely into the future. More consistent with the meaning of the perfect tense, the disciples had believed (i.e. “kept” Jesus’ word) with results that continue indefinitely into the future.
5 BDAG s.v. phaneroo 2aa.
6 Cf. John 17:6, 9, 12; 6:37, 39; Rom 8:29–30; Eph 1:3–14.
8 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 559. It is also worth pointing out that the verb tereo (“keep”) here has a variety of meanings including “to keep watch over, guard someone or something, to not lose, to protect, to observe, fulfill, pay attention to.” Jesus’ usage is more consistent with the last sense of the meaning of the word as is made clear in the following verses.
9 Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 271.
10 The portrayal of Jesus in the present passage is reminiscent of the description of a prophet, like Moses in Deut 18:18. Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 490.
11 Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House eds., Nelson New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1352.
12 The word “Father” (pater) is used fifty–three times in this Upper Room discourse.
13 J. Carl Laney, Marching Orders (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 146.
14 The term “son of perdition” (ho huios tes apoleias, NIV “the one doomed to destruction”) could describe Judas’ character (cf. Isa 57:4) or his destiny (Ps 35:4–8). He had a damnable character and would end in perdition, but the second idea seems to be stronger in the context. Perdition in the NT usually refers to eschatological damnation (cf. Matt 7:13; Acts 8:20; Rom 9:22; Phil 1:28; 3:19; 1 Tim 6:9; 2 Pet 2:1; 3:7; Rev 17:8, 11). Constable, “Notes on John,” 247. The NET Study notes state: “A possible allusion to Ps 41:9 or Prov 24:22 LXX. The exact passage is not specified here, but in John 3:18, Ps 41:9 is explicitly quoted by Jesus with reference to the traitor, suggesting that this is the passage to which Jesus refers here. The previous mention of Ps 41:9 in John 13:18 probably explains why the author felt no need for an explanatory parenthetical note here. It is also possible that the passage referred to here is Prov 24:22 LXX, where in the Greek text the phrase ‘son of destruction’ appears.”
15 The reference to “these things” that Jesus spoke while in the world is probably to the entire farewell discourse. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 564.
16 Num 11:15; 1 Kgs 19:4; and Jonah 4:3, 8.
17 The genitive noun tou ponerou is ambiguous with regard to gender: It may represent “that which is evil,” or the “the evil one” (i.e., Satan). In view of the frequent use of the masculine in 1 John 2:13–14, 3:12; and 5:18–19 it seems much more probable that the masculine is to be understood here and that Jesus is praying for His disciples to be protected from Satan (cf. BDAG 851 s.v. ponhro,j 1.b.b and 1.b.g). See also the earlier references to the “ruler of this world” in John (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). See also NET Study notes.
18 Hagiazo (“sanctify”) is rare in John (10:36; 17:17, 19), and its adjective refers to the Holy Spirit (1:33; 14:26; 20:22), the Father (17:11), or God (6:69).
19 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton: Scripture Press/Victor, 1989), 1:370.
21 Tony Evans, What Matters Most (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 261–63.
22 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 566.
23 Jesus’ willingness to give his life on behalf of others in obedience to the Father is frequently reiterated in John’s gospel (John 10:17–18; 12:23–28; 18:11; 19:11, 17, 30) and not uncommonly involves the prepositions “for” or “in place of” (6:51; 10:11, 15; 11:50–52; 15:13; 18:14). Significantly, the purpose of Jesus’ self-sacrifice is that the disciples too may be truly sanctified, that is, set apart for their redemptive mission in the world. See Köstenberger, John, 495.
24 Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 467.
25 Evans, What Matters Most, 293.
In the sports world a common chant is: “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Various teams, cheerleaders, and fans will extend their index finger skyward and proclaim their own greatness. Such players and fans want everyone to know their team is the best team. The chant, “We’re number one,” fires up players and fans. Supposedly, it even intimidates the opposing team, who is usually chanting the very same claim. Of course, there can be only one true number one. This is especially evident during football season (i.e., college football bowl games and the Super Bowl). When the dust settles, there can only be one number one.
In the church of Jesus Christ, there can only be one. The goal of truly being “one” is incredibly important. But instead of chanting, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” we should be chanting, “We are one! We are one!” In John 17:20-26,1 Jesus shares His greatest burden for His followers . . . oneness . . . unity. When Christians are “one,” we provide a visible, tangible witness to the world. As we read these final seven verses in John 17, we can almost hear the chant: We are one! We are one!
In 17:20-21 Jesus prays, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone [my eleven disciples], but for those also who believe2 in Me through their word;3 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us,4 so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”5Jesus has prayed for Himself (17:1-5) and His original disciples (17:6-19). Now He prays for those who will believe His message through His disciples.6 This illustrates perfectly our vision of “transferring truth to the next generation.” One great way to build unity is to model Jesus’ heart. On the last evening of Jesus’ earthly life, He prayed for future generations of believers like you and me.
What about you? Are you praying for your children? Are you praying for your grandchildren or even your great grandchildren? Are you praying for the children and youth in our church? Are you praying for our daughter church and other churches that we may plant? Are you praying about the continuation of our church long after you leave this world? How future-oriented are your prayers? If the only prayers you pray deal with urgent and immediate needs, your prayer life is not all that it could be. As an individual Christian, your vision must transcend the present, reaching those who will come after you. As a church, our vision must transcend the present, reaching those who will come after us. We must be deeply concerned about future generations of believers. We must long for oneness and fruitfulness so that the world will believe in Christ.
It’s worth noting that Jesus makes three requests in 17:21 that begin with the conjunction “that” (hina). All these requests are sub sequential. The second request depends on the first and the third depends on both the first and second.7 The first request: “that they may all be one” is repeated in 17:11 and 22. This is the dominant emphasis of this entire chapter. In 1776, the Latin phrase e pluribus unum (“out of many—one”) was suggested by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as aptly describing the creation of one nation out of thirteen colonies. Since 1873, federal law has required that the phrase appears on every coin minted by the U.S. Treasury. We often see it with the emblem of the eagle, our national bird. The phrase e pluribus unum is a perfect description of the unity shared by the members of the body of Christ. While there are many members, we are joined into a spiritual entity—the church. We are not many but are one.8 The purpose of this unity is at least twofold: (1) that believers may be in the Father and the Son and (2) that the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus. Jesus prays that we may have the same oneness that He and the Father have. As we experience this God-like intimacy with one another, the world will believe that the Father sent the Son. In other words, Christian unity enables the world to see and understand that Jesus is divine in His origin and is God Himself. After all, one of the greatest miracles known to humankind is when Christians get along. Generally, this is so unusual that the world might die of shock! Instead, we need to ensure that they see this greatest possible witness —unified Christians.
In 17:21, Jesus asked us to be in the Father and Son. Now in 17:22-23, He asks that the Father and the Son may be in us. Jesus puts it like this: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me,9 and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” The “glory” (doxa) that Jesus received and gives to us refers to the servanthood of His incarnation—leaving the glory of heaven and coming to earth as a man. Jesus’ servanthood includes the cross and He invites us to share in His sufferings. This is the glory that He gives us.10 Jesus indicates that the purpose of our servanthood is that we may be “perfected” (teleioo)11 in unity. The Greek concept of “perfect” does not mean “flawless perfection”; rather, it carries the sense of maturity and completeness. This past week as I was talking to my wife about this passage she said, “I’ve always thought that I had to work hard to make Christian unity possible, but it really dawned on me that unity has been given by God.” Lori is exactly right! Ephesians 4:3 says that we must be diligent to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The key word is “preserve.” We must maintain what God has already instilled in the body of Christ. We don’t have to create unity, it is His Work. We are simply responsible to preserve what He has put into place. So while we possess unity; it isn’t “perfected,” unless grow in it.12
Along the coast of northern California are great forests of redwoods—the giant sequoias. Redwoods are noted for age, beauty, and fine wood. But one unusual characteristic of redwoods is their tendency toward unity. Two redwoods may grow up together several feet apart, and then after fifty or one hundred years the trees begin to touch. Quite often the bark begins to overlap and fill out so that the two trees ultimately become one. There are cases where a dozen trees have sprung up from the outer roots of a tree that has fallen and have formed a perfect circle. After several centuries these trees have grown together so that outwardly they appear as a single giant tree! In keeping with Christ’s prayer, the goal of the body of Christ should be to grow into such unity that the world will recognize us as one. The display of such unity in our individualistic society will be a testimony to the world of the divine Person and work of Christ.13
Unity is paramount! Unity will win the day! Thomas Manton (1620-1677), the great Puritan preacher said, “Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world.” The converse is also true: Unity in the church builds belief from the world.14 Is the unity that you are experiencing impacting your community? Can you tell your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends that you are one with your church? You I need to be able to say, We are one! We are one!
In 17:24, Jesus prays that we would receive another type of “glory” (cf. 17:22). He says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”15Jesus’ use of “glory” refers to the future glorification of believers when we shall see Jesus as He is (1 John 3:2-3).
Jesus wants us to see Him in all His glory. In Matthew 17:1-8, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’ glory when He was transfigured before them, but this was merely a dress rehearsal, a preview of eternity.16 The glory that Jesus desires to give us will not be momentary, it will be permanent. The word “given” is in the Greek perfect tense, meaning a past action with abiding results. In other words, Jesus has always possessed “glory,” but the unveiled expression of His glory is present now and will last for all eternity. Here, Jesus is deliberately contrasting His glory with the world’s glory which comes and goes.17 For the final time, He also emphasizes that we are those whom God the Father has “given” to Him. This is Jesus’ version of the unbreakable golden chain in Romans 8:30 where Paul states that God has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us. Since we have been given to Jesus from the Father, He will ensure that we are kept for glory. In that day, we will be given a new body and will be made just like Jesus. We will see the full expression of Jesus’ glory and we will fall down before Him, much like the apostle John in Revelation 1:17. What a day that will be! When we see Jesus in all His glory, we will worship Him like never before and truly be able to say: We are one! We are one! In that day, our unity will finally be truly “perfected.”
Verses 25-26 mark the final verses of this chapter and the entire Upper Room discourse.18 In these two verses, Jesus summarizes all that He has prayed in John 17: “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus uses the word “known” five times in these two verses. He closes His prayer with a vow to the Father, but it is also a promise to us. He will continue to make His name (i.e., all that He is) known to us and also will be increasing the Father’s love in us. That is His sovereign vow, and it will be our continuing experience. Jesus concludes with the phrase, “I in them.” At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promises His disciples that He will be with them all their days (28:20b), but here is an even greater promise: “I in them.”19We are one because Jesus is in us!
This past week, I’ve had a black eye. On Monday I was lifting weights alone in my neighbor’s garage. I did my bench presses and decline presses. I then moved to incline presses. For this exercise, the bar is set at a forty-five degree angle. As I prepared to unrack the bar, the bench collapsed like a speeding bullet. The velocity of the downward motion gave me an instantaneous headache. I was slightly dazed when I got up, but I decided to resecure the pin which had popped out of the bench. Since Mamma didn’t raise no fool, I used my hands to apply pressure to the bench to make sure that it would hold me. As I did, the bench collapsed again and I fell forward and cut my eye on the bar. This was a comedy of errors. Nevertheless, I jokingly threatened my dear friend and neighbor with a lawsuit for his faulty gym equipment. (But since his wife is a lawyer, I would probably lose the case.) Ted checked why this pin popped out and discovered something we had never realized. This particular pin requires a second step: you must twist it after it is through the hole. Although we have used this pin without twisting it for the last year, we were living on borrowed time. In order to have a safe and successful workout, both steps are required. Similarly, the ABC’s of Christian maturity and unity are B and A: (1) Believe in Christ—receive eternal life. (2) Abide in Christ—proceed in eternal life.20
Since today is Christmas Sunday, it’s important to ask, “What does Jesus want for Christmas?” I think after studying Jesus’ words it would be safe to say that Jesus wants unity—oneness among His followers. I would like to challenge us to give Jesus three gifts this Christmas. These gifts can be simple prayers or commitments that you make to Jesus.
Gift #1: I will focus on what unites rather than on what divides. When Lori and I were students at Multnomah University, President Joe Aldrich, would say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This is especially critical in the local church. We must major on the majors not minor on the minors. We must focus our hearts and our minds on Christian essentials. We must always remember that as Christians, we agree on far more than we disagree. Thus, it is helpful to identify those areas on which we do agree. A few examples will suffice: The Bible is God’s Word, Jesus Christ is God, salvation is by faith through Christ alone, and Jesus will return. These beliefs are worth dying for, but many others are not. E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), missionary to India, once said, “Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about Who you believe in and you have unity.” May we be a church that is all about Jesus and the essentials of our faith.
Gift #2: I will agree to disagree. It’s been said, “We can agree to disagree—until the Lord shows you that I’m right!” Seriously, I’m undoubtedly wrong in some of the non-essential tenants I believe. It is acceptable to disagree on issues such as baptism, eternal security, election, the structure of church government, the role of women in the church, the charismatic gifts, and timing of creation and Christ’s return. These are non-essential issues that we can discuss and disagree agreeably on until Jesus’ returns. While doctrine is important, we must recognize the distinction between membership and fellowship.21 Local churches can and should have doctrinal distinctives, but these distinctives should pertain to church membership. They should not result in breaking fellowship with any regular attendee or brother and sister in Christ in the community. After all, we are one!
In every biological family some family members will be closer than others, but all should be one. In the same way, we must come together as a spiritual family and declare to the world, “We are one!” If we are functioning in conflict and disunity rather than unity, God will limit His work in our lives. If we have time to be blessed but not be a blessing; if we are selfish saints who want things from God but don’t want to mess with being a functioning member of a local church; or if we are causing disruption in the church by our attitudes and tongues, then we are wasting our time getting on our knees and asking God to do something for us. If we don’t want to hang with His children, what makes us think that our Dad in heaven will support our rebellion?22
In Africa, a two-year-old child wandered off into the forest. The entire tribe spent the day searching for this youngster but could not find him. The next day, they decided to join hands and cover the entire area. They found the boy, but unfortunately, he was dead after having spent the night outside. The distraught mother cried, “Why didn’t we hold hands sooner?”23
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come together, join hands, and pursue a common kingdom goal. Since we are going to enjoy the same place, the same presence, and the same Person, we need to all learn to enjoy one another.24 When we cooperate in Christianity unity, the world will see Jesus clearly revealed through His bride.
Gift #3: I will validate not vilify. I want you to think about a believer with whom you disagree with doctrinally, philosophically, or practically. What are some positive things you can say about this person? This may require you to think hard, but this can be done. There are always positive things that we can say about other believers. It may take a conscious effort to think through a believer’s strengths, but we can all accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.
George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788) were constantly at odds over their theology. Whitefield believed that God alone was responsible for our salvation. There was nothing man could do to bring it to pass. He affirmed God’s absolute Sovereignty over every aspect of life. Wesley agreed that God made our salvation possible in a way we could never do. However, Wesley contended that the salvation of the individual rested on the choice of man. It was a sometimes strong disagreement (as it continues today).
One day Whitefield was asked by one his followers, “Do you think that when we get to heaven we shall see John Wesley there?” “No,” said Whitefield, “I don’t think we shall.” The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Whitefield added, “I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have a place so near the throne of God that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him.”25 Whitefield understood the words of Jesus. He knew that regardless of their disagreements on theology, they were brothers in Christ and he loved Charles Wesley. We are called to do likewise. We must not let denominational, theological, socio-economic, race or gender labels get in the way of our love for fellow members of God’s family.
If Christians are unloving, uncompassionate, selfish, argumentative, and divisive, they contradict the Lord they profess to serve. Nonbelievers won’t be convinced of Christianity’s claim to truth. Apologist Francis Schaeffer wrote, “In John 13, the point was that if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. In John 17, Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. The greatest testimony that we can possibly offer is not quoting Bible verses or providing some cutting edge outreach, it is loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and showcasing Christian community.
Spartacus is a classic movie that retells the historical account of the great Roman slave rebellion in 71 B.C. Spartacus was a highly trained gladiator who escaped and led other slaves to freedom. As news of his rebellion grew, thousands of slaves joined his cause and followed him through victories and defeats. Near the end of the movie, a massive Roman army under the command of Senator Crassus (Laurance Olivier) captures the rebels. Although Crassus does not know what Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) looks like, he suspects that Spartacus is among the prisoners under guard. In full Roman uniform, Crassus gallops up to the mouth of the valley where the prisoners are being held and shouts an offer to them: they can escape death by crucifixion if they turn Spartacus over to him. Spartacus studies the ground for a moment and then nobly gets to his feet, intending to turn himself in. But before he can do so, his comrade to the left stands and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” Then his comrade to the right also stands and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” As the real Spartacus looks on, comrade after comrade in his slave army rises to their feet and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” until there is a chorus of thousands united.26
As slaves of Jesus Christ, we need to stand as one and identify with our Lord Jesus even though it could mean our own end. Oneness can change the world. Will you promote Christian unity as your greatest witness? Chant: We are one! We are one! We are one!
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
1. What are some attitudes and actions that do not make for unity among believers in the local church (17:20-21)? How can these be avoided? Have I attended a church that has faithfully modeled unity? How was this church able to model such unity?
2. How does the Trinity experience unity (17:22-23)? How does this correspond to the unity that should exist in the church? Where is my church strong in exhibiting unity? What areas could be improved? Does my church have a positive reputation in the local community? Why or why not?
3. What influence does Jesus expect unity to have on the unbelieving world (17:21, 23)? Why is Christianity unity such a compelling factor in reaching unbelievers? How can I utilize the Christian community and unity that I am experiencing to share the gospel?
4. Can I agree to disagree on certain nonessentials with my fellow believers? When have I demonstrated a gracious spirit in a theological or philosophical debate/discussion? What was the outcome? How have I failed in this regard? What can I learn from this experience?
5. What practical steps can I take to promote unity among believers in my church (17:25-26)? In my home? In my Bible study? Who is a model of biblical truth and unity? How is this person’s personality and perspective different than mine? What can I learn from this person?
1 Comparison with John 17:20 shows that in 17:6-19 Jesus was praying specifically for the Eleven. However, we should not regard what He requested for the Eleven as restricted to them exclusively. The change that takes place in 17:20 is not from one group of believers to another as though they were in separate containers. It is rather a broadening of the field from the Eleven to those that would follow them. Thus, it is understandable that when Jesus prayed for the Eleven He would pray for some things that not only they, but their successors would need. Clearly all subsequent believers would need sanctifying by God’s Word so they could achieve their mission, as the Eleven did.
2 This is a present tense functioning as future. This refers to all subsequent believers and in 10:16, even to Gentiles.
3 Throughout John 17, Jesus has referred to “your [God’s] word” (17:6, 14, 17), but in 17:20 He transitions to “their [the disciples’] word.”
4 Burge writes, “Interpreters often point out that Jesus fails to refer to the Spirit in his prayer. But it is the Spirit (mentioned from chapters 14-16) who facilitates this intimacy. Later John will write in his first letter, ‘We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit’ (1 John 4:13).” Gary M. Burge, The Gospel of John. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 468.
5 The same concern was expressed in Jesus’ prayer at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:42; cf. 13:34-35; 17:23, 25). Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 498.
6 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 569; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2.
7 Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 275.
8 J. Carl Laney, Marching Orders (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 152.
9 The phrase “to let the world know that you sent me” (cf. John 17:21) is reminiscent of OT passages such as Zech 2:9. Köstenberger, John, 498.
10 D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 199-200; Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 596; Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 650; Köstenberger, John, 498.
11 The verb teleioo (“perfected,” “complete”) is also used in John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4; and 19:28.
12 Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, 199.
13 Laney, Marching Orders, 155-56.
14 Quoted in Hughes, John.
15 The Triune God was active in redemption even before creation. This phrase is used several times in the NT (cf. Matt 25:34; Luke 11:50; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8; 17:8).
16 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 149.
17 Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John, 596.
18 Jesus concludes His prayer, summarizing several of the main themes: (1) knowing the righteous (holy) God; (2) Jesus’ divine origin; (3) the revealing of the Father’s name; and (4) the unity of mutual love between the Father, Son, and believers. See Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Nelson, 1999), 1352.
19 Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, 277.
20 Brad McCoy, John 17:20-26 sermon notes (10/25/09), Tanglewood Bible Fellowship, Duncan, OK.
21 Tony Evans, What Matters Most (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 323.
22 Tony Evans, God’s Glorious Church (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 195.
23 Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 140.
25 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament Vol. VI (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951), 508.
26 Preaching Today citation: Spartacus (Universal Pictures, 1960), directed by Stanley Kubrick; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, CA.