Friday, February 20, 2015

Reading Through the Gospel of John #3 (13-21)

John ChartI am continuing to read through the Gospel of John accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today,edited by John Stott. The 4th volume is entitled The Message of John: Here Is Your King!, by Bruce Milne (as always his quotes are in blue font below). There are two major sections of the Gospel within this reading. In chapters 13-17, Jesus spend his final night with the disciples teaching them about the kingdom will work after the ascension. The main point of the section is the need to stay in intimate contact with Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The final section proclaims Jesus as king, through the Passion events, with the authority to commission and empower his disciples for subsequent ministry. If you would like to discuss the post or make a comment please join the discussion on my Facebook page.

The teaching section of the Gospel is framed by Jesus’ example and instruction that humble love is the only proper motivation for ministry in chapter 13 and his prayer for the unity of the disciples and the church in chapter 17. He explains that he will be going away, but will provide comfort by sending the Holy Spirit to empower ministry. The mission will proceed from an intimate connection with Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus washing of the disciples feet and subsequent teaching showed that love for one another is the mark of real discipleship (both Judas and Peter fall short of this standard). (13.1-38) Jesus, as the Lord and Master washed the feet of the disciples to show that loving sacrificial, service is the mark of the disciple and shows that he has received blessing from Jesus. He predicts recognizes that not all who appear to be disciples really are and those who appear the closest, Judas, can be betrayers. The mark of true disciples is to follow Jesus and love one another and Peter will temporarily fail to keep this standard.

Humility is a universal Christian virtue to be expressed through sincere and costly service of others in Christ’s name. Christian churches and fellowships are possible only where this attitude is expressed. They have no promise of permanence where it is lacking. 13.1-17, 199.

The love of Jesus Christ, in its sheer graciousness, necessarily imparts to its recipient a sense of being uniquely chosen and blessed by it. Rather as the reflection of the setting sun on the surface of the ocean appears to stretch a golden pathway to our feet alone, so the love of Christ as it beams into our lives confers at moments an overwhelming, personal sense of privilege. 13.23-30, 202.

If Jesus in his purpose used the dark forces of chaos convulsing within the cauldron, which was Jerusalem that Passover feast-time, he can still master and harness the darkness which daily threatens our personal lives. In handing all over to him, we need not exclude the darkness in our past or that which threatens us in the present and future. He is still the Lord of the night, who can make darkness the vehicle of his praise. 13.18-30, 204.

Jesus is going to the Father but comforts the disciples by promising to return and bring them into relationship with the Father and a part in its glory and blessings. Jesus is the one with the ability to bring one into the presence of the Father and its attendant blessings. 14.1-14

The way to heaven is Jesus himself. Faith in him shatters the barrier of sin and death, and blasts open the road to the eternal life of the kingdom of God. It is ‘the road that leads to life’ (Mt. 7:14). He is also the truth and the life.The reality and truth of God are incarnated in Jesus Christ, who embodies the indestructible life of the ever-living God. 14.6, 211–212.

Jesus promises that he will send his spirit to enable the disciples to understand the truth, live in an obedient relationship with God, love one another, experience peace and interpret Jesus to the world. He promises to send the Spirit to indwell the disciples so that they will know the truth, to reveal himself to the disciples and put them into relationship with the Father through the sending of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will come alongside the disciples so that they will be able to understand Jesus and his work and teach others. 14.15-31

The human spirit, however, reaches beyond these lesser expressions for an inner tranquility of spirit, not abstracted from the world of responsibility and relationships, but nourished and expressed in the midst of it. Such is the peace Jesus offers: MY (my emphasis) peace I give you, in the very face of unspeakable suffering. It is a peace born from a living personal relationship with Jesus, and deepened through a growing surrender of life to his gracious rule.  14.27, 217.

This is the center of the chiasm in 13-17 and the main teaching of the passage. Jesus says that the disciples will be enabled to have intimate, deep connected relationship with Jesus so that they can love Him and each other with the result that they will be friends of Jesus but persecuted by the world. The vine and branches parable pictures discipleship as intimate living contact with Jesus that enables them to persevere in joy and love.Discipleship is, essentially, loving one another as Christ gave the example and enables through relationship with him. Disciples will do the work of Jesus and, like Jesus, will be hated and persecuted by the world. 15.1-25

To seek the glory of God will therefore imply a commitment to mission, and, not least, world mission. As elsewhere in the New Testament, worship and evangelism become one. Further, it is by involvement in mission and becoming ‘fruit-bearers’ that we show ourselves to be authentic disciples (8). ‘True grace is never idle.’ John 15.1-17, 220.

Jesus explained that he must go away so the Spirit, as a link to Jesus, can be sent to enable the disciples to witness about Jesus and convict the world. The Spirit will enable the disciples to testify about Jesus which will result in persecution.He will be the counselor to the disciples and the judge that holds the sinful world to God’s standards. He will provide an intimate connection between the glory and truth of Jesus and the disciples. 15.26-16.15

‘So much popular Western evangelical religiosity is so shallow and selfish. It promises so much and demands so little. It offers success, personal happiness, peace of mind, material prosperity; but it hardly speaks of repentance, sacrifice, self-denial, holy lifestyle and willingness to die for Christ.’ Every reader of this commentary, along with its author, needs to face the question soberly—am I ready to die for Christ? It is not a theoretical question: Jesus has the clear right to ask it of us, and he gives no guarantee that he will not. Following Jesus is not a game.  15.18-16.4, 226.

The ministry of the Spirit is accordingly not a vague impartation of spiritual energy, but the specific ministry of proclaiming, and applying to the disciple community, the triumphant procession of Jesus through death and resurrection to the right hand of the Father. The ministry of the Spirit is the unleashing of the powers of the promised kingdom of God in the world. 16.5-16, 229.

Jesus then comforts the disciples that when he goes back to the Father he will connect them with the Father and give joy in persecution before he comes again.He teaches that his going to the Father will begin a difficult time for the disciples which will end in joy. But, during this time, the disciples will have authority to pray and receive what they need for kingdom work because he is at the right hand of the Father.They can rejoice in difficulty and persecution while Jesus is gone because his position assures that the world system has been defeated. 16.16-33

The enjoyment of his presence is bound up with mission in his name. At this point mission merges imperceptibly into celebration. Those who long for a deeper experience of the presence of Christ may find here the road to that blessing, a new commitment to serve the world in his name. He is the Lord of the mission and is to be found still at the frontiers where his people confront and minister to the wounds of the world. 16.16-22, 234.

The section closes with Jesus praying for the church that they may know God and His glory through Jesus, that disciples would be protected from evil people and systems so that they can be sent into the world and that they  would show God’s glory through their unity and love for one another. Thus, the section is framed by love and unity which should characterize the Spirit-filled, Jesus-connected church. 17.1-26

Our work and witness, in all their variety, are already, in advance, gathered up, healed, renewed and perfected by being gathered into Jesus’ holy response to the call of the Father. Thus the sin in our service—its unworthiness, its unbelief, its many disobediences, all its sordid self-promotion, its lethargy, cowardice and worldly compromise—is overcome. Mission becomes celebration. 17, 238.

Where the Holy Spirit has created the common life of the body of Christ among us, and agreement on the fundamentals of the revelation given through Jesus is present, it is unthinkable to pursue the mission of Jesus in isolation from, and even in competition with, those who are as truly the beloved objects of Jesus’ prayer as we are...The churches are already one in God. We need to allow that supernatural unity to find expression both in the local church and between the churches. 17.20-26, 249.

Evangelism is a community act. It is the proclamation of the church’s relationships as well as its convictions. 250.

The final climactic section of the Gospel describes the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection show that he willingly died and rose again to provide the ultimate sign that he is king and Passover lamb and give eternal life to those who believe and worship Him. 18.1-20.31

Jesus’ Jewish trial shows that he willingly gave his life for the nation as part of God’s plan and with faithfulness to the Father. His arrest shows that he gave his life willingly and provided safety to his disciples.He is brought to Annas’ for trial with the foreboding note that he was prophesied to be giving his life for the nation.Peter’s denials and Jesus’ faithfulness under persecution are intertwined to compare Peter’s faithless denials with Jesus’ faithfulness to his mission and to the truth. 18.1-27

No matter what dark threat hangs over us, it is less than him who fought and mastered it in his Easter victory. For ‘the devils we meet were all foredamned in the Satan Christ ruined. The devil is in the end a bull in a net, a wild beast kicking himself to death.’ John 18.1-7, 255.

In his denial Peter is being brought face to face with himself, his inner evil, and his moral helplessness. In that discovery, however, there is hope. So, when Jesus confronts him with it later, Peter no longer trusts in what he knows, but falls back upon what Jesus knows (21:15–18). The cross which brings Peter to an end of himself is the cross that raises him up to God and his purpose. In that moment of self-disillusionment, Simon, the inadequate man of sand, becomes Peter, the rock who is strong and dependable precisely because he has learned to depend utterly on Christ. 18.12-27, 262.

Jesus’ Roman trial showed that he truly was the king of the Jews but was rejected by his own people and convicted unjustly by the design of God, not Rome. Pilate recognized Jesus as king of the Jews, though the Jews rejected their king. He condemned Jesus to crucifixion to please the Jews, not because he was guilty of a crime. 18.28-19.16

In Jesus we have a God who enters into our sufferings and shares them with us...When such moments sweep paralysingly across our hearts and we collapse inwardly in a hidden torment of shame and confusion, or when the tapes of yesterday’s humiliations and shames begin to whir in our minds, there is a ‘fellowship of his sufferings’ which is wonderfully releasing and reassuring. He is indeed our ‘fellow sufferer’. He knows and he can share. 19.1-6, 274-275

The crucifixion and death of Jesus portrayed him as the Passover lamb, the innocent sufferer, a loving son and the King of the Jews who gave his life to complete God’s kingdom plan. (19.17-42) There is an interesting chiastic structure to this section…

  • Jesus crucified with a Roman proclamation that he was the king. 19.17-21
    • Jesus portrayed as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 22. 19.18-24
      • Jesus portrayed as a loving, dutiful son.  19.25-27
      • Jesus portrayed as completing the Father’s plan. 19.28-30
    • Jesus portrayed as the Passover lamb who gives his life, but will return as conqueror 19.31-37
  • Jesus buried by prominent people who recognized him as a king. 19.38-42

'As long as a man does not know Christ he does not know the true God, the God hidden in sufferings.’This hiddenness needs to be acknowledged. There are times when we are called to believe, not ‘because of’, but ‘in spite of’. At this point the ‘health and wealth’ gospels of our day stand exposed in their hollowness. To follow Jesus Christ is to take up a cross, and that means there may be moments when life’s circumstances contradict our claims as surely as they did for Jesus at Calvary. 19.16-30, 279.

It is sobering to remind ourselves again that those chiefly responsible for the death of Jesus were profoundly religious men. As Niebuhr observed, ‘religion is not, as is frequently supposed, a fundamentally virtuous human quest for God; it is rather the final battle ground in the struggle between God and human self-esteem.’ 19.31-42, 284.

In truth, Jesus died and was laid away in a tomb. The contradiction of his claim to be Son of God was total. He enters into the full reality of death, not merely walking with us right up to the door only to pull back at the final second, leaving us to walk the dark valley on our own. He comes all the way with us right into the grey, after-death world of funeral parlours and the making of arrangements for the disposing of the body, the world of strained faces, hushed voices and tear-stained eyes. He takes his place within the world of the receding past where death’s destructive power is so real and irreversible; dead … buried … gone. But in the midst of all that, the claim asserts itself; he is the king, even here. 19.31-42, 286–287.

The resurrection is the ultimate sign that Jesus is the Creator God so that people would believe and worship Him. 20.1-31

This failure to recognize the risen Jesus immediately is not surprising. Jesus has not just been resuscitated, like Lazarus. He has passed through death and is now part of a new order in the glory of the Father’s presence... Mary’s problem, in common with all the disciples, was that she did not hold a large enough view of Jesus; she is searching for a corpse instead of seeking a victorious Lord; though it is fair to ask, would we have acted differently? 20.10-18, 291–292.

The challenge is evident. As Jesus is defined by the mission of the Father, so the church is defined by its mission to the world. The same conclusion is arrived at by another route when we recognize that if God is in this sense a missionary God, the summons to be like him assumes a precise focus. The degree to which individuals and churches are committed to mission, both locally and throughout the world, will be a measure of how God-like (or how godly) they are. John 20.19-23, 298.

In the Epilogue, Jesus invites the disciples who betrayed him back into relationship with him and commissions them to follow him into a persecuted ministry of bringing others into a discipleship relationship. 21.1-25 Of course it ends with another chiasm…

  • Jesus provides and eats breakfast with his disciples to demonstrate that he is in fellowship with them and that he will enable their future ministries. 1-14
    • Jesus brings Peter back into relationship with him and commissions him to a difficult ministry of bringing others into fellowship with God.15-19
    • Jesus commands Peter to focus on his own responsibilities not those of others. 20-23
  • John validates that his witness about Jesus is reliable and true and in fact he could have related many more similar stories. 24-25

Following Jesus and loving Jesus mean accepting responsibility for Jesus’ people, a truth which is in need of rehabilitation at the present time. Commitment to Christ involves commitment to the church of Christ. Jesus Christ is not a ‘single’ person in the sense that he comes to us without other attachment. He is a ‘married’ person; he comes to us with a bride, whom he loves and for whom he sacrificed himself (Eph. 5:25). 21.15-17, 318.

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