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The Persecuted Vine

August 17th, 2018

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

It is essential to remember the context of these words. They were said immediately after Christ gave His well-loved vineyard analogy: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” The first part of John 15 includes some of the most precious and beautiful promises and analogies of the teachings of Christ, promises of His abiding life in us, of His friendship and election of us, of God’s answers to prayer, assurances of living constantly in love and in loving communion with others believers.

Then on the heels of the promise of being called and empowered to bear spiritual “fruit that will last,” is this word of future persecution. We are caught between two loves – the love of God and the love of the world. The love of God is sacrificial, redemptive, uplifting, and positive. The “love” of the world is fallen, convenient, marked by selfishness and anger, and negative. Christian love lifts others up to God. Worldly “love” drags others down to immorality and hardness. The world loves its own because they do not make it look evil, nor speak to the conscience, nor offer the hope and life of God.

It is perfectly logical, of course, that if we are called in Christ into a life of eternal love, if we have an experience of heaven touching us with its compassion and grace, if we are receiving the life of our Eternal Vine, if we are being called out of darkness and into light, then it is only logical to assume that the darkness and spiritual death that we are being called out of will unleash vengeance on us. The Christian experiences these two extremes: loving fellowship among believers and apathy, suspicion, or even angry vengeance from non-believers.

But it is the persistence of life under threat of death that gives its most potent witness to its power. On our balcony in our apartment in Germany, my wife has placed many plants and flowers – the presence of life on the otherwise austere concrete. But in the cracks of the stones have fallen many random seeds and they spring up in the European summer, even after we have repeatedly pulled them out, giving testimony to the potency of life.

Should we expect less from Christ in our life today, that His life in us will empower us to face and overcome all threats. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Wherever God has placed us as believers in Christ, there we are to grow – whether we are planted in the midst of rich Christian soil, surrounded by a loving community, or we are placed in the cracks of the stone-cold hearts of the world, feeling all alone. If you feel alone, remember, as Elijah did, that there are still thousands who also believe. And if you are planted in the midst of a rich and fertile Christian community, do not think too highly of yourself.

John 14-17, John 15

That We Might Not Stumble

December 10th, 2015

These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.

John 16:1

The intent of Christ in His teachings in John 15 was that we might not stumble in our hearts toward Him, that we might not become ensnared in temptations and in our lusts or pride, that we might not be caught unaware of the spiritual dangers that are around us.

The word translated “stumble” is skandalizo, from which we get our English word “scandal.” It means to put a stumbling block in someone’s way, to corrupt someone’s loyalty to God, to plant distrust and doubt. It could also mean to be offended, to see in another something negative and, in our relationship with God, it would mean to find something that would hinder our obedience, that would discourage us and influence us not to obey His authority.

The Primacy of Life in Christ: Christ’s teachings are fundamentally positive and the primary message is life in Him. Christ’s words about not stumbling related to the statements about persecution He had just uttered, because the following verses pick up the same theme. But, yet, He used them also to remind us of the strength of the presence of the Spirit. He said: “These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:4). While He was with the disciples in the flesh, there was no reason to talk about the hard days to come. His main purpose was not to prepare His disciples for persecution but to introduce them to true life.

He was with the disciples for three years and the focus of His time with them was righteousness and the kingdom of God. Yet He did not avoid the subject of persecution either. He knew that in times of persecution – no matter how fleeting they may be, especially in light of eternity – they can be very intense and cause a believer to feel completely abandoned by God. And we often will “feel” abandoned, and question where God is and what has He left us all alone, even when we deal with minor frustrations. The psalmists were quick to complain when they felt that God was no longer with them,

Psalm 28:1: To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock: do not be silent to me lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.

But the focus of Christ’s teaching here and throughout His ministry is positive in nature. He assures us that the blessings of faith and obedience to Him far outweigh the difficulties of persecution. So He spoke these principles of spiritual life – He is the Vine and we are the branches – so that we might know that our strength is not in our circumstances but in the spiritual life of the Spirit of God.

The Fellowship of the Spirit: Christ also did not teach them about persecution from the very beginning because when He was with them the persecution fell mainly on Him. “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will scatter” was the thinking of the opposition to Christ (Matt. 26:31). But He left them after the resurrection and ascended on high, and the Spirit of Christ came to indwell the church and to empower us. So His teaching of life also prepared the disciples and us to realize that the Spirit of God will be with us in all of our challenges.

Christ said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Our pattern of life is the same as that of Christ during His life. The Spirit of God has now come into the world and just as Christ lived by the strength of the Spirit, now we His followers also live in the same way.

Hebrews 12:3-4: Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

The Spirit guide us into all truth and applies in our lives the spiritual riches of Christ (John 16:13).

We have an enemy. The word in John 16:1 above, “be made to stumble,” is in the passive and this fact points out that there is some one in this world who seeks to cause us to stumble and fall away. Christ did not belabor this point in these verses, rather He only mentioned this reality – “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

There are two extremes we must avoid – denying the existence of Satan and attributing to him too much power. Both of these perspectives are lies. Satan does exist and we do battle with him. He is a force to be reckoned with, one that we should respect in terms of his power. Jude 9 points out that even Michael the archangel was careful in dealing with Satan and “dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!'” All our power against Satan and his kingdom comes from God.

But neither should we give him more power and more attention than he deserves. Christ mentioned the evil one in His prayer, but His prayer was not directed against the devil so much as it was directed to the Father. And this is the secret of life and of victory – praying to God, trusting in God, drawing near to God, and resisting or rejecting the devil. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:7-8).

Therefore: We are confident in Christ and in the presence of His life and His Spirit within us. We have a divine Source of life in our souls and we will always be with Him and He will be with us. Nothing can separate us from Him. We also have an enemy who will try to cause us to stumble, but we need not fear. Trust and receive God’s life, and do not worry about the devil. The Lord will strengthen us.

John 14-17, John 15 , , , ,