The Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

John 15:12-17

Chosen to Bear Fruit

Jesus has been telling us this whole time that if we love him we will keep his commandments.  Now, he now does us the favor of stating what that commandment is, and it is no different than what we have heard from him before: “This is my commandment, that you love one another,” and then adds, “as I have loved you,” as the perfect example of such love.  Jesus said on another occasion, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40).  But it seems to me at least that now this love even takes on a greater depth, because he applies it to the family of faith.  It is the disciples, the people of God themselves, who are to love one another with an all-encompassing love (John 13:35; Galatians 6:10).  And the greatest expression of this love is laying down one’s life for one’s friends, which, of course, is what Jesus will do for them.

And to the extent that we keep this commandment – loving one another – to that extent are we his friends.  He calls us not his servants but his friends.  And he calls us friends not because we’re such agreeable people, but because he has revealed the Father to us, so that we may know the Father’s will to do it, and thereby abide in His love.

Then Jesus tells his disciples something upon which this entire discourse is predicated, and it had to be a great consolation for them.  After all, how do we fulfill his commandments?  They are too hard for us.  If we offend in one, we offend in all (James 2:10).  We are so imperfect at loving our brothers; indeed, some of them we struggle to love.  It’s the law all over again.  How shall we be saved?  And then come Jesus’ words, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  And that’s true.  If you remember, Jesus said to one, “Follow me,” but to another, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58).  But then he returns to the theme, “and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”

So we are comforted to know that he chose us and that our salvation depends on his choosing and not on our doing.  But he quickly drops the other foot which is that he chose us so that we may bear fruit, and that by keeping his commandments, which is to love one another.  Jesus doesn’t save us to put us on his mantle; he saves us to bear fruit for his Kingdom.

Saturday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

John 15:7-11

That Our Joy May Be Full

We have discussed in previous devotions that obedience, understood as keeping our Lord’s commandments, is the measure of our love for him.  Moreover, it is by keeping these commandments that we abide in his love.  This is no works-righteousness path to earning God’s love; after all, we love Him only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  But it is by bearing much fruit that we prove that we are his disciples, and the only way we can do that is by abiding in him, abiding in his love, which we can only do by keeping his commandments.  Some would have us believe that we may abide in his love even if we continue living in sin.  Yet, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6).  Of course, we shall never reach sinless perfection, but we must always strive for that.  Abiding in his love is the way.

Today, rather than saying “commandments,” Jesus says, “If my words abide in you.”  Perhaps this is a more palatable word for some, but it really shouldn’t be.  At any rate, Jesus declares, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  Note that whatever we wish is predicated on his word abiding in us.  That is, if his word abides in us, we shall ask only for that which will cause us to bear much fruit, and thereby glorify his Father – which was always Jesus’ primary concern.  There is no other way to parse this.  Jesus plainly says: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  And then he adds,
“Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  As I said yesterday, Jesus asks nothing of us that he has not done already.  Indeed, there are many things he did that he does not ask of us simply because we could never do them.

And if we abide in his love, his joy will be in us and our joy shall be full.  And this is the reward for abiding in his love, for keeping his word, his commandments – fullness of joy, and not just any joy, his joy.  Joy is the second of the fruits of the Spirit, and the first fruit of love, which we prove by obedience.  The joy of the Christian is not based upon a vital prayer life, spiritual experiences, uplifting worship services, or what have you; the joy of the Christian is based upon keeping his word, keeping his commandments, whereby we abide in his love, whereby we abide in him.  There is no joy for the Christian outside of obedience to his Lord and Savior, and anyone who thinks he has such joy while walking in darkness deceives himself (James 1:22).  Joy comes in the morning, but it lasts all day long through obedience.

Saturday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

John 15:7-11

That Our Joy May Be Full

We have discussed in previous devotions that obedience, understood as keeping our Lord’s commandments, is the measure of our love for him.  Moreover, it is by keeping these commandments that we abide in his love.  This is no works-righteousness path to earning God’s love; after all, we love Him only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  But it is by bearing much fruit that we prove that we are his disciples, and the only way we can do that is by abiding in him, abiding in his love, which we can only do by keeping his commandments.  Some would have us believe that we may abide in his love even if we continue living in sin.  Yet, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6).  Of course, we shall never reach sinless perfection, but we must always strive for that.  Abiding in his love is the way.

Today, rather than saying “commandments,” Jesus says, “If my words abide in you.”  Perhaps this is a more palatable word for some, but it really shouldn’t be.  At any rate, Jesus declares, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  Note that whatever we wish is predicated on his word abiding in us.  That is, if his word abides in us, we shall ask only for that which will cause us to bear much fruit, and thereby glorify his Father – which was always Jesus’ primary concern.  There is no other way to parse this.  Jesus plainly says: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  And then he adds,
“Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  As I said yesterday, Jesus asks nothing of us that he has not done already.  Indeed, there are many things he did that he does not ask of us simply because we could never do them.

And if we abide in his love, his joy will be in us and our joy shall be full.  And this is the reward for abiding in his love, for keeping his word, his commandments – fullness of joy, and not just any joy, his joy.  Joy is the second of the fruits of the Spirit, and the first fruit of love, which we prove by obedience.  The joy of the Christian is not based upon a vital prayer life, spiritual experiences, uplifting worship services, or what have you; the joy of the Christian is based upon keeping his word, keeping his commandments, whereby we abide in his love, whereby we abide in him.  There is no joy for the Christian outside of obedience to his Lord and Savior, and anyone who thinks he has such joy while walking in darkness deceives himself (James 1:22).  Joy comes in the morning, but it lasts all day long through obedience.

Friday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

John 15:1-6

Without Him We Can Do Nothing

Jesus and his disciples now leave the upper room where they celebrated the Passover (now reinterpreted in the light of Christ) and make their way to the Kidron Valley where the Garden of Gethsemane lies.  But before that agonizing prayer in the garden, Jesus still has more to say.  And what he says has to do with walking with him in a continuing relationship that is so close as to be not only spiritual but organic.  And to illustrate this, Jesus uses a pastoral image the disciples would have known quite well: a vine, its branches, and a vinedresser.

So on the way to a garden, Jesus paints this scene of a vineyard.  Perhaps there was such a vineyard in Gethsemane.  Now every vineyard has a vine with branches that are supposed to bear fruit.  And every vineyard has a vinedresser who looks after the vineyard to see that the branches of the vine are bearing that fruit.  Jesus discusses two kinds of branches: those which bear fruit, and those which do not.  There is no problem with the vine, which Jesus identifies with himself.  The vine is doing all that it must do that the branches may bear fruit.  But, nevertheless, some branches rebel against the vine.  And what happens to those branches?  They are taken away, gathered, and thrown into the fire.  To ask what this implies about the doctrine of eternal security is to miss the point.  Yes, there are those who are not truly saved who will not bear fruit, such as Judas Iscariot.  But the point of the passage is to make us understand that the only way to bear fruit is to abide in the vine, in Christ, for without him, we can do nothing.

It is only by abiding in Christ that we may bear much fruit.  Jesus also tells us that “every branch that does bear fruit [the Father] prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  Pruning is the act of cutting away that which is superfluous for the health of the branch, that it may bear more fruit.  So God works in our lives that we may be fruit-bearers.  This is why we experience trials and tribulations, and why Paul can even rejoice in them (Romans 5:3-5).  It is through them that we grow those virtues, or fruits, in the Christian life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  These fruits are necessary for both our own growth in godliness and for our witness to others as we show them the fruits that we could never produce in ourselves.  Christians are called to look different from the world, to be peculiar.  And we can be, but only if we abide in him.  And that abiding is here illustrated in an organic way.  We live by him and for him, but only if we abide in him.

Thursday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

John 14:27-31

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Jesus is going away.  He is going to come back (for just a short time before his ascension), but he is going away.  Yet, he tells his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  He said the first clause of that verse in the beginning of the chapter when he told them that he was going away to prepare a place for them.  Now he says this because as he goes away, he will leave them with peace.  And he has also spoken previously of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Helper and Comforter, who will be with them and lead them into all truth by reminding them of the words of Jesus, which came directly from the Father.

But Jesus gives them another reason so that their hearts may not be troubled, and it calls for the disciples to exercise great selflessness, and it is simply this: Jesus is going to the Father, and they should rejoice with him for that.  Rejoicing is a great antidote to anxiety, especially rejoicing over heavenly things.  Jesus tells them that, if they truly loved him, they would rejoice that he is returning to his rightful place, that place beside the Father whom he loves in an infinite and eternal way that we will never comprehend, whom he gladly serves at every moment such that he is willing to sacrifice himself in a painful death to bring many sons and daughters to salvation.  We rejoice at the homecoming of a serviceman returning to teary-eyed family members at airports having a sense of the anxiety that poor mother must have endured during the absence of her son.  We should be just as teary-eyed that our Savior returned to his Father, the plan of salvation being accomplished and his painful task complete.  Yes, there is a sense in which the Son in his divine state never left the Father.  But Jesus makes it plain here that he was returning to his Father, implying some kind of “spatial distance” because of his humanity.  Yes, God is omnipresent; yet, we understand that there is a difference between being with God while on earth and being with him in heaven, which we all long for.  It was that immediate presence with the Father (and now with his embodied humanity) that our Lord craved and over which he asked his disciples to rejoice with him.

Jesus mentions that the devil (“ruler of this world”) is coming for him, but he’s not worried.  The devil has no rightful claim on the Sinless One.  He has obeyed everything his Father commanded him, and, as Jesus said, that proves his love for the Father, just as obedience proves our love for them both.  In other words, Jesus asks nothing of us that he hasn’t done himself.  Let not our hearts be troubled; instead rejoice: Jesus has gone to the Father.

Wednesday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

John 14:25-26

The Work of the Holy Spirit as It Relates to the Father and the Son

Yesterday, we covered that part of the passage where Jesus tells us that our love for him is proven by our obedience to his commandments.  And Jesus has already spoken both of the Father and Holy Spirit.  Here at the end of this passage, our Lord ties the three of them together in that perfect harmony that we shall one day behold in glory.  Today, we begin with some wonderful truths about the Spirit’s relation to the Father and the Son and what that means for us.

Jesus has said about as much as he can say in such a short time before his passion.  Did he miss anything?  Do not fear, for he tells us, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  This is a huge statement about how the persons within the Triune God work together.  The first thing we are told is that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name.  The second thing we are told is that he will teach the disciples all things by bringing to remembrance what Jesus said to them.  John 16:13 is even more explicit: “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”  This is all to say that the Holy Spirit speaks as Jesus spoke, who spoke as the Father spoke.  Or, to put this more bluntly, the Spirit says nothing in contradiction to the word of God which we now have in the Holy Scriptures.  No, this does not mean that the Scriptures are above the Holy Spirit; it means that the Scriptures are the words of the one Triune God who spoke them, and continues to speak through them.  Such an understanding of the Spirit’s role and ministry within the Trinity helps us to quickly nip heresy in the bud: That which is not in agreement with the Holy Scriptures is not spoken by the Spirit, no matter what someone else claims he heard from the Spirit.  As the Apostle Paul said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).  And when Paul says, “the one we preached to you,” he means the one he received “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12).

We worship a God who has revealed Himself in such a way that no man ever thought of.  The Father sends the Son who speaks the Father’s word, which is then applied to our hearts through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Our Triune God is beautiful beyond all that our minds could ever imagine.  Best of all, God still speaks–the Holy Spirit breathing through the Scriptures.

Tuesday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

John 14:18-24

How He Knows If We Love Him

Today’s passage is very convicting, at least for me anyway.  It tells us how we know whether or not we love Jesus, which invariably answers the question about whether or not we love the Father.  But first, to establish this truth, Jesus, here, states yet again, what he has said over and over throughout this gospel; that is, that there is no daylight between him and the Father.  He is in the Father and the Father is in him.  Though the two are distinct persons, they are one being.  And to know the one is to know the other.  Everything else in this passage is based upon this truth; indeed, everything in the New Testament and the Old as well, is predicated upon the reality of the Triune God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Any variation from this is contrary to the teaching of the Church as she has understood God’s holy word down through the ages.

The passage begins with Jesus’ comforting words to his disciples that he would not leave them orphans.  This is because they would see him again, presumably when he rose from the dead.  And since he shall rise from the dead, Christ then says, “Because I live, you also will live.”  In other words, our Lord’s resurrection is the foundation for ours.  So though Jesus is leaving, he tells them that they shall see him again, that they shall one day live with him, and, in the meantime, the “Helper” shall be with them.

Now for the part that is so convicting: Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  Judas asks how Jesus will manifest himself to them and not to the world.  Jesus answers, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.”  But then the other show drops: “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words,” which are the Father’s who sent him.  Love is not a warm fuzzy in the Bible, but an action, specifically, obedience.  Obedience is how we prove our love for our Lord.  Disobedience is how we show that we do not love the Lord, at least as we should.  It is the same with us.  A spouse does not only want to hear loving words but to see deeds of love.  Parents want not only to hear their children say, “I love you,” but want to see obedience in deeds of gratitude and respect.  And the reward for such obedience is that Jesus and the Father will “make [their] home with [us].”  And that’s how Jesus shows himself to us – through our obedience, which is our love.  And there is no greater reward than his making his home with us.