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What He Said Week 10

Study Ten:  LOVE IS A VERB

 

TAKING IT IN:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

GETTING AT IT:

Of course, love is a noun describing an emotion. . . better yet, a commitment.  But love needs an object, and that makes it a verb.  And love must express itself in action.  John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”  The world is the object of God’s love.  The gift of Jesus to save the world is God acting out his love.  And that is commitment. 

Similarly, a disciple’s love is focused on the Savior, the object of our love; and that love must express itself.  Worship is one way in which we express our love for Jesus. Shortly before his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus patterned a disciple’s love on the love he has for his Father.  Two dimensions of that love are emphasized.  The first is to stay so close to the One we love that we are inseparable from him.  The second is obedience, voluntarily choosing to be and do what the Savior asks of us.  And Jesus characterizes that obedience, above all, as loving each other. This is a disciple’s commitment.

God’s love for us is at the heart of the Gospel.  Our love for him is the motive and nature of the Christian life.  And love for each other is how that Christian life expresses itself for the world to see. 

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

Here is another of the “I AM” metaphors Jesus used to describe himself and his mission.  A vineyard was a common object lesson in Scripture.  Psalm 80:8-16 and Isaiah 5:1-7 are examples, where the vineyard is God’s chosen people.  Jesus used the vineyard illustration as an indictment of his unfaithful people (Matthew 21:33-45).  When he calls himself here the true vine, he may be contrasting himself with Israel, for he is faithful.  If these words were spoken in the upper room, his reference might be to the “fruit of the vine” with which he instituted the Lord’s Supper.  And if he spoke these words on the way to his capture in the garden, he and his disciples may have passed the gate of the temple which was adorned with a golden vine.  He, not the temple, is the true vine that connects people with their God.

 

These are the roles in Jesus’ metaphor.  God the Father is the gardener, whose role is to prune branches in order to make them more productive and to cut off unproductive branches that are in reality dead.  Jesus is the vine, which creates and keeps the branches, providing the nourishment that enables them to bear fruit.  Disciples are the branches, who are to cling to the vine and produce increasing fruit. In Scripture, “fruit” means both acts of love and service (Matthew 7:16-20) and the virtues of Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23).  Fruit is the result of being saved by Jesus.  Hebrews 6:9 uses the expression “things that accompany salvation.”  It is worth thinking about the fact that branches simply express what they are in bearing grapes.  It is in the nature of Jesus’ followers to bear Christian fruit.

 

Here are the lessons in Jesus’ metaphor:

  • There is no such thing as a fruitless Christian. In whatever form and to whatever degree, Christians serve God and others.  No fruit at all means no Christian.  (verse 2)
  • Pruning may hurt, but it is necessary to our purpose in life. Pruning includes the hard lessons of repentance, the trials that are a part of life in a fallen world, and the hardships that may come as a result of confessing Christ.  We become more godly and more effective in our witness as a result of such pruning.  (verse 2)
  • The sins that would separate us from Jesus the Vine have been cleansed away by the Gospel of his perfect life and redeeming death for us. (The word translated “prune” is also translated “clean.”)  (verse 3)
  • While we don’t choose or decide to be a branch connected to Jesus by faith, remaining with Jesus is a choice. (verse 4)
  • On our own, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that pleases God. Good works, acts that honor God, are a fruit of faith.  (verses 4-5)
  • Becoming more fruitful, growing in our faith and its expression, is Jesus’ intent and our goal in life. (verse 5)
  • The decision not to remain connected to Jesus by faith and not to bear fruit ends in flames, eternal flames. (verse 6)
  • When we remain with Jesus in faith and know his Word, our prayers are answered according to Jesus’ will – which is for us to grow and serve. (verse 7)
  • The Christian life has two chief goals – to give glory to God and to witness to Jesus. (verse 8)

 

 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

Jesus now helps his first disciples and us to understand what the commitment of discipleship means.  Again, bullet points may be the best way to apply his words.

  • Knowing that Jesus and his Father love you is essential to the Christian life. Insecurity and doubt rob us of the will and power to live as disciples.  We remain in the love of Jesus as we are continually reminded by his Word of all that his love means.  (verse 9)
  • Loving obedience to Jesus’ words, not slavish obedience, keeps the love connection to Jesus strong. The loving obedience of Jesus on earth to his Father in heaven is the pattern for our relationship with Jesus.  (verse 10)
  • Loving obedience brings ever-increasing joy, the kind of joy that Jesus experienced in his obedience to his Father. When we see life the way Jesus’ does, we find joy in living life Jesus’ way.  (verse 11)
  • Selfless love for other Christians, like the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, is the most apparent obedience to Jesus. (verse 12)
  • Jesus’ love was epitomized in his death for his followers. In times of persecution Christians may similarly choose death rather than betray their brothers and sisters in faith.  In 1 John 3:16 the apostle described love with these words: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  (verse 13)
  • Disciples are more than servants; they are Jesus’ friends, because he has revealed to them the whole of God’s mission on earth. They are insiders who “get it.”  They have bought into the Savior’s mission and are involved in its completion.  (verses 14-15)
  • While common practice in the first century was for a young person to choose a mentor and ask to follow him, Jesus chose his disciples. All who follow Jesus in faith are chosen by God.  We don’t choose him.  Like every other aspect of God’s grace, coming to faith is God’s doing in us, God’s gift to us.  (Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)  (verse 16)
  • The Savior’s purpose in choosing us, calling us to faith, is that we produce the fruit of faith – “life product” that has eternal significance. (verse 16)
  • When we understand our purpose and buy in, our prayers reflect this and are answered. (verse 16)
  • Boiled down, the will and command of Jesus is that Christians love one another. In John 13: 34-35, Jesus put it this way: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   (verse 17)

 

 SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

What does it mean to be loved by God?  How does that truth impact your self-image?  How does it answer your anxieties?  How does God’s love free you from the fear that you’ll look foolish or be criticized for living out your faith?  How does it affect your prayer life? 

What does it mean to be a “friend” of Jesus?  Think about the things that a human friendship adds to your life and ramp those up to what it means to have the Son of God as your friend.  The hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” can help your devotional thinking.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  As you discover the talents with which you were created and the spiritual gifts God has invested in you, talk about how that may inform the “fruit of faith” God designed you uniquely to accomplish in your life.  How does who you are direct what you do in the service of your Lord?

Discuss the connection between loving obedience to Jesus and joy in your life.  We become unhappy people when we disregard or disobey God’s will for us.  Think about the Ten Commandments as directions for joy.  Sin is the ultimate joy-robber.

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

Ask God to show you how he may be glorified in and through your life this week.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

Choose one act of love for another Christian that may be unexpected and that can cause that person to think about Jesus.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Spend time with 1 John 4:7-21 as you go deeper into an understanding of love.
 

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A Comforting Conversation

woman sitting on brown bench while reading book
 
18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”  Luke 24:18-24

At the start of this passage, Jesus asks the two men what they are talking about. I love that these two men tell Jesus everything that has happened these past few days and that all of it was about himself. If I was in Jesus’ situation I’m sure at exciting parts I would’ve been saying, “No way!” or asking, “Well what happened next?” just to have some fun with the situation. At the end I might even say, “Yeah I know. I was there.” But Jesus doesn’t. He chooses to stay silent until they are finished telling him everything. By the time they’re done speaking they seem defeated. They are in a difficult situation and they haven forgotten that Christ is going to return to save them.

We can suffer from this same fault. We get in a situation that is difficult for us and we get scared. We worry about what we need to do about it and all the while forget that Jesus is right there with us. We get so worked up we don’t think to turn to him and look for where he is in that situation. However, no matter how bad things get he is still right there with us. And when we do come to him, he doesn’t stop us saying, “I know. I was there.” Instead he listens to what we have to say. Jesus wants us to come to him and talk to him. It’s why he asked the men what they were talking about. It’s why he tells us to pray. He wants us to remember that he is there and that he has already won the most important victory for us. Our salvation is not something we need to fear about because Jesus has already claimed it for us. So when you’re afraid, remember who is with you and go to him to tell him about what you’re facing so he can comfort you like he did these two men.

Prayer: Jesus, thank you for listening to us. Thank you for being there with us. While at times we may struggle to come to you with what is weighing us down, remind us of the need to talk with you. Continue to strengthen us so that we look to you in every situation and come to you to talk at all times. Amen.
 
 

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The Gift of Peace

woman sitting on sand
 

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  So shall (the priests) put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”  Numbers 6:24-27  (ESV)

Familiar words – the benediction Aaron and his priestly descendants were to speak to God’s people.  Is this a pious wish or does it convey something significant?  First off, these are God’s words and God’s directive to speak them; so familiarity should not diminish their impact. This is God putting his name on his people.  He did that in your baptism, and he renews that truth with the benediction when you meet him in worship.  You belong to him.  This is your God promising his blessing and his protection from evil.  He is smiling at you and reminding you of his grace – the very reason he sent his Son to be your Savior. And he is giving you peace.

When the boss looks up from the report detailing the problem for which you’re responsible and his face says “we’re good,” you breathe a sigh of relief.  If your spouse cups your face in her hands and looks at you with love, whatever was bothering you doesn’t seem so important.   Smile at your child after he’s done something wrong, and the forgiving love in that smile calms his anxious heart.  All that and more is what the benediction conveys.  The Lord lifts up his countenance upon you and gives you peace.

Here’s the thing about a gift like peace.  You just accept it.  Swallow your pride and quit telling God you can handle your problems yourself.  Drop the false humility that says, “I don’t deserve so great a gift.”  You don’t.  He gives you peace for his reasons. Stop the tug-of-war in which you alternate between enjoying God’s peace and agonizing over your troubles.  He really is God, and you’re not, so let him deal with stuff you can’t.  He really does love and forgive you, so quit agonizing over the past and stressing over the present.  Peace – it’s real, and the baby born to Mary grew up to give you that peace.  Let the tension in your life drain away every time you hear the benediction as you leave God’s house.  Peace be with you.
 
Smile on me, gracious Lord, that I may see you in the midst of my problems and feel your love when I don’t know what to do next.  Give me peace when others are giving me grief.  Make peace the gift I re-gift to those around me in this season of the Christ-Child.  Amen.  


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Jesus Is Present

Holy Bible on black wooden bench
 
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Luke 24:13-16
 
I wonder how these men reacted to Jesus coming up and walking alongside them. Have you ever had those moments where you feel like you know someone but you can’t place where from or what their name is? Or what about a person who introduces themselves and says that it is great to see you again, but you cannot for the life of you remember where you met them last time? I know I have. And I wonder if these two had any of those similar feelings. I wonder if he seemed familiar or comforting to them. While we don’t know if they did feel any of these ways, we do know that despite them spending time with him before, they did not recognize him now.
 
We do the same. We don’t always recognize Jesus at work in different situations. Sometimes we get so focused on other aspects of our life that we forget to look for him and see how he is at work. This is the problem the two men face. Despite Jesus being within arms reach of them, they didn’t even notice him but instead focused on everything else that had been going on.
 
The good news is, despite if we recognize that Jesus is there or not, he will still be there. Just like with the two men, they don’t realize who he was but he stays with them and talks with them. Jesus being present in our lives isn’t based on if we believe him to be there or not. He is there at every moment. What great comfort we can have then in the fact that the Son of God himself stays with us in our lives, no matter how good or bad a day it may be.
 
Prayer: Father, thank you for all that you have given us each and every day. While we may not realize it, thank you for your Son who stays with us through all the ups and downs in life. As we continue on in our lives continue to strengthen us and remind us to look for where Jesus is working in the situation we are in. Amen.

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Proof Positive

white petal flower beside picture frame

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:27-28)

 

And there it is! The proof that Thomas requested—what he needed—was right in front of him, beckoning him to come and touch.
 

The original language, in which the New Testament was written, gives the understanding that Jesus said to Thomas, “Bring your finger over here and see my hands. Thrust your hand into my side.” Now that’s an invitation. Since Thomas was asking for specific proof, Jesus is willing to give it. If Thomas wanted an “up close and personal” proof that Jesus was physically resurrected from the grave, that’s exactly what he’ll get.
 

I wonder if Thomas did it. If wonder if Thomas brought his finger to Jesus and touched the Savior’s loving hands that were nailed to the cross for our sins. I wonder if Thomas actually placed his hand up into the side of Jesus who was pierced by the Roman spear to assure His death.
 

I tend to believe he didn’t. I think that just the presence of Jesus was enough. Proof positive. No doubt. After all, seeing is believing!
 

But Jesus reminded Thomas and us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Ouch! I wonder how Thomas felt after hearing that. Embarrassment? Shame? Perhaps. If he did feel these emotions they certainly were swallowed up by the joy our resurrected Jesus brings to those who believe. Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

 

We believe. We believed that Jesus lived the perfect life for us. We believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sin. We believe that Jesus rose from the grave to open the door to heaven. Yes, we believe! We believe that the true Body and the true Blood of Jesus are present with the bread and the wine of Holy Communion. We believe Jesus is with us always. We believe that Jesus is coming again to take us and all believers to live with Him in the perfections of heaven. WE BELIEVE!

 

And this God-given faith swallows up the shame of sin and the dread of death and the fear of the future, as we hear, with the ears of faith, the resurrected Jesus say to us, “Peace be with you.”
 

Prayer: O Holy Spirit, I thank You that by the power of Your Word in the waters of baptism You have brought me to faith in my Savior, Jesus. I thank You that through the Holy Supper You strengthen my faith and connect me to the forgiveness of sins. Continue, by the power of Your Word, to strengthen me that I may always see Jesus with the eyes of faith. I pray this in the name of the resurrected Jesus. Amen.


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