Monthly Archives: November 2018

Today’s Scripture – November 29, 2018

John 16:23-28 (NIV)
“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

The disicples had depended on Jesus for their connection to God for more than three years. They had relied on the connection that He had to ensure that they had all they needed each day. But now Jesus was going away.

This could have been devastating. How then would they get what they needed? Would they have to go back to fishing or collecting taxes to provide for themselves? How would they even know what they needed in order to do the tasks that God was calling them to do?

The solution was quite simple, even elegant: when Jesus left and sent the Holy Spirit to live in the disicples, each of them would have their own direct connection to God. They would need no intermediary. They would no longer need to ask Jesus for what they needed and then wait while He presented their requests to the Father.

Instead, as they continued to work Jesus’ mission, the mission of growing the kingdom of God by making disicples of all nations, they would have the privilege of asking God directly for whatever they needed to accomplish that task. Asking “in Jesus’ name” simply means that they would be acting as His proxies, asking for what Jesus Himself would ask for if He was in their position.

If they approached the throne of God “in Jesus’ name,” then they could rest assured that the Father would hear their prayers, and that they would receive everything they asked for. It would be that simple.

This promise is still in effect for the people of the kingdom. All God’s children who are engaged in the work of God’s kingdom can approach His throne directly; we need no intermediary, human or divine, to bring our request to the Father. And as we make our requests as Jesus’ proxies, acting in His name, requesting what we need to accomplish His mission of the growing the kingdom, asking for exactly what Jesus would request in our place, we can rest assured both of God hearing our prayers and His willingness to answer.

Father, it seems that many of us have gotten off track in this area, somehow believing that we can’t come to You directly, but that we need someone to ask on our behalf. But that is clearly denied by Jesus’ words here. Of course, the qualifier that we ask “in Jesus’ name,” ask for what He would ask for in our position, keeps our requests focused on necessities instead of mere wants. Help me, Lord, to come before You expectantly, not fearful of rejection, but in the assurance that as long as I am asking for what I need to fulfill Your calling on my life, my requests will be welcomed and answered by You. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 27, 2018

John 16:12-15 (NIV)
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

The disicples were starting to catch on to what Jesus was telling them, but what He was telling them was not easy to grasp, and what they were grasping wasn’t pleasant. The more they understood, the more distressed they were becoming. So, Jesus stopped where He was for the time being.

Jesus knew that when the Holy Spirit came on these men in just a few weeks they would remember all that He had told them, and the Spirit plus the things that would happen between now and then would help them to really understand what He was trying to get across to them, as well as what it all meant.

Notice that, even though the Holy Spirit is a full member of the Trinity (see Acts 5:3-4) and not just some “power” or “force,” in His role as Counselor and Teacher His actions are not about Himself but are to serve to glorify Jesus and support His teachings. That is an aspect of the Trinity that is often unconsidered: none of the persons of the Trinity is focused on Himself. Jesus lived to glorify the Father with every thought, word, and deed. The Father worked to glorify the Son constantly. And the Holy Spirit receives glory through His purification and empowerment of God’s people, and by helping them to really understand who God and Jesus are and what their intentions are. No competition, no jealousy, no conflicting or competing agendas.

That is precisely how it is to be among God’s people. Our focus should never be on gaining glory for ourselves. Instead, we must stay focused on glorifying Jesus, doing the will of the Father, and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit to grow the kingdom of God by His power. No competition, no jealousy, no conflicting or competing agendas.

Father, it is easy to see how Jesus lived this out each day. And I must admit that things would be a whole lot simpler, and we would be a whole lot more effective if we lived out our faith with this kind of single-mindedness. Help me, Lord, to do exactly that, so that I can glorify You, the whole Trinity, every day, with every thought, word, and deed. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 28, 2018

John 16:16-22 (NIV)
“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Jesus wasn’t being trying to be enigmatic or mysterious by saying, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,” although the clear meaning of His words didn’t make sense to His disciples. They were still so focused on His sad statements about His upcoming departure that they couldn’t see past that.

Jesus knew that His arrest, trial, and execution were going to be devastating to His followers, so He was trying to show them a reason for hope and joy in the events that would happen on the other side of all that. Jesus’ crucifixion would happen in less than twelve hours, His death in less than eighteen. But His resurrection was less than sixty hours away and would last forever.

After Jesus’ arrest, death and burial, the disciples were going to be without him for a time. But Jesus was trying to help them understand that that short period of darkness was not to be a period of despair, but one of hopeful, expectant waiting for the fulfillment of His prophecies.

Jesus used the image of a woman in labor to help His followers understand that their pain, understandable though it would be, was not only NOT going to be the last word on the issue but would soon be forgotten in the joy that they would experience afterwards. And that joy in seeing the resurrected Jesus would never be taken from them; it would become a permanent reality that was going to transform the world.

The reality of the resurrection should still inform every event in a Christian’s life today. That reality lies behind Jesus’ statement: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV) And it lies behind Paul’s statement that “our light and momentary troubles (which, in Paul’s case included such things as persecution, beatings, and imprisonments) are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV) When we experience the reality of the resurrected Jesus, everything else in our lives, all our trials and even persecution and suffering, lose their sharp edges and become far less significant in the light of His glory.

Father, this is a really good reminder. So often the events in our lives can overwhelm us and drive us to despair, pushing aside the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and our sure salvation because of it. Help us to always keep Jesus front and center in our lives, so that, despite the problems that we will surely face, our joy in that reality will be our assurance, a solid place to stand, and our guiding star. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 26, 2018

John 16:5-11 (NIV)
“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

Jesus knew that the hearts of His disicples were sad. All this news of His departure, of betrayal and death, and of impending persecution had sucked them dry of the festive spirit with which the evening had started. They were now both tired and discouraged. But Jesus also knew that if He didn’t tell them what was going to happen, if He let the coming events hit them unaware, it would be doubly devastating, a blow from which some of them would not recover.

Jesus also wanted to give them a few rays of hope. He was going away, true. But if He didn’t go away, He would not be able to send the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, which would be with them and be able to guide them, teach them, and help them to bear witness to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit would work on the people of the world as well, to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit had been in the world before this time, “coming on” people to empower and inspire them. But now He would dwell in God’s people, live in them, work in them, and act and speak through them 24 hours a day. And as He works and speaks through them, it results in conviction of those not living in the kingdom about sin, righteousness, and judgment.

He convicts the people of the world abut sin, because they do not believe in Jesus. They will see the holy lives of those who do believe in Him, and realize that those people have something in their lives that they themselves lack: victory over sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

He convicts the people of the world regarding righteousness because Jesus is returning to the Father and is no longer on earth. As far as righteousness goes, right actions stemming from a right relationship with God, it was easy for the people of Jesus’ day, especially the religious leaders, to write Jesus off as a fluke, the kind of person that would only appear once every few centuries. But those people were going to suddenly find themselves awash in Christians (“little Christs” in the day’s vernacular) and realize that such righteousness was NOT in Jesus alone, but was the new normal for the people of God’s kingdom.

And He convicts the people of the world of judgement because satan himself has been defeated. The religious leaders and their exorcism rituals were largely ineffective against demonic forces. But the Holy Spirit, working through the people of the kingdom, was able to cast out demons infallibly with only a word.

All those actions of the Holy Spirit that Jesus would send from heaven to live in His people would serve to convict the people of the world, and open their hearts to true repentance, leading to faith in Jesus, and ultimately to salvation and their own filling with the Holy Spirit.

Father, it is safe to say that the unpowerful, sin-filled, similar-to-the-world lives that most professed Christians live have nothing about them that will convict anyone of anything. In the absence of that kind of real power and holiness, we train people to use words, and perhaps Bible verses, to try to provide conviction in the hearts of the targets of our evangelistic efforts. But only the living, active presence of the Holy Spirit can actually produce that kind of holy conviction. Forgive us, Lord, for trying to do even this divine work in our own strength. Help us instead to ask for and receive Your Holy Spirit in all of His fullness Your promise (Luke 11:13). Then You will be able to effectively use us to convict the hearts of those around us, who will see the reality of what we profess in how we live, so that they can be saved. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 23, 2018

John 16:1-4 (NIV)
“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.”

Jesus had not only told the disicples repeatedly over the last few months about His departure, which was now upon them, but had also just given them the encouraging news that He and the Father would send the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to be with them in His place. That was good news as far as it went.

But now the picture turned several shades darker. Not only was Jesus a target for His enemies, but after His departure, the disicples would be as well!

This upcoming persecution would often take milder forms, such as being put out of the synagogue, basically what we now think of as being excommunicated and kicked out of the community. This was a fearsome thing to anticipate: having to choose between Jesus on one side, and family and friends on the other.

But the persecution had potential to run much deeper than that. Jesus also saw a time went the disciples would even be killed for their faith in Jesus, while those who killed them felt no regret, even believing that they were acting on God’s behalf.

Jesus’ point in sharing this with the disicples was not to freak them out (although this news definitely did), but to tell them clearly what would happen to them in the future, so that when it did happen, they would remember His prophecy, see how clearly and precisely it was being fulfilled, and deepen their faith in Him.

Jesus didn’t give a precise timeline for the fulfillment of these prophecies, so after Jesus was arrested and executed, the disicples went into hiding (John 20:19), afraid that these things would come to pass immediately.

But the time was not yet. The persecution would begin shortly after Pentecost, still several weeks in the future. And the deaths of the disicples would not begin for a few years. James, the brother of John, would be the first of the inner circle to die for His faith (Acts 12:1-3). Eventually all but John would die at the hands of those who needed the gospel.

When the persecution began, the now Spirit-filled disciples did indeed remember Jesus’ words, and took comfort in the fact that this was all foreseen. And they also took comfort in the fact that they were at the same time experiencing the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to be with them every step of the way (Matthew 28:20).

Father, when we experience negative consequences of following You, it is easy for us to grow discouraged or fearful. But both promises, both about the presence of the Holy Spirit and about the fact that we will suffer at the hands of those who need the gospel, are true for us as well. Help us, Lord, when the tide turns against us, to remember not only the promise of persecution, but also the promise of Jesus’ ongoing presence with us, and to take comfort and stay strong. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 20, 2018

John 15:26-27 (NIV)
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

Jesus knew going into the events of the next few days, His arrest, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, where this was all headed. He knew that the ultimate goal of all this was not just salvation for His followers after they died or at some point in the distant future.

Instead, He had come to not only live out the kingdom of God in His own life, but to make it a living reality in the lives of His followers, present and future. To do that, after He ascended to heaven He would be sending the Counselor, the Holy Spirit who lived in Him, to live in each and every one of His followers.

The Holy Spirit, when He came on the day of Pentecost, still a little more than six weeks in the future, was going to testify about Jesus, settling the disciples’ hearts and minds about who and what He truly was. He would remind them of everything Jesus had taught them during their three years together (John 14:26) and help them to understand those things. And He was going to equip and empower the disciples to be witnesses themselves, so that they could testify about Jesus and the kingdom that He had brought into being.

The words witness and testify are important in this concept. A witness is one who has experienced something, and their testimony is their relating what they have experienced. Someone who tries to testify about something that he or she has not experienced personally, or about something that someone else has experienced, is not a witness. Instead, they are guilty of presenting hearsay evidence, which is not admissible in court, and which is rightly classified as mere gossip outside of strictly legal circles.

These eleven remaining disicples had lived life with Jesus for more than three years, and so could authoritatively testify about all that Jesus had said and done during that time. And with the power of the Holy Spirit boosting their memory and putting superhuman power behind their every word, their testimony was going to be a powerful force in expanding the kingdom of God.

Father, thank You for Your Holy Spirit, present and active in our lives even today. Lord, sometimes we are tempted to share our theology rather than our testimony, to share a “canned” presentation of Scriptures instead of our own experience with You. And we wonder why we are so much less effective than we want to be, why there seems to be no power in our “testimonies.” Help us to instead share our own story of transformation, a story that You can empower to penetrate even the hardest of hearts, so that we can have an abundant harvest every day. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 15, 2018

John 15:22-25 (NIV)
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”

Jesus had spent more than three years among the people, teaching them about God’s kingdom and doing astounding miracles among them. These public miracles included healing the sick and casting out demons, as well as even more spectacular things like raising the dead and healing a man born blind.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had been dogging Jesus’ steps nearly from the beginning, trying to figure out who or what He was. Their representatives were present in the crowds wherever Jesus went, and they had seen Jesus’ miracles first-hand, and had closely investigated those that they had not personally witnessed. They knew that Jesus was no phony, but that the miracles, even the most spectacular ones, were indeed real.

But despite that overwhelming evidence, these leaders rejected Jesus. This was partly due to jealously. Jesus drew larger and more passionate crowds than they could, and Jesus, whom they taught was wrong in many key areas, could do amazing miracles consistently, while they, who supposedly had it right, were powerless.

This might have been passed off by many as a mere difference of opinion, a case where both sides were responding faithfully to their worldview. But Jesus saw it differently. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law did not have a “live and let live” attitude. Instead, they were actively plotting to take Jesus out. Since they couldn’t best Him in power or in the arena of ideas, they were plotting to murder Him. And in less than 24 hours, they would succeed.

Jesus’ point was that these religious leaders were not acting out of ignorance. They had all the proof they needed of Jesus’ identity in the miracles they had seen Him doing; miracles that they had investigated and had to admit were genuine. Thus, their rejection of Jesus, and their consequent rejection of the God who had sent Him and whose power lay behind the miracles, was a grave sin, one that would cost not only them, but the whole Jewish nation that they led and were responsible for.

These leaders, by their hatred and plotting were also unconsciously fulfilling a prophecy from Psalm 35:19: “They hated me without reason.” Jesus had shown them the truth about God and about themselves, and they hated Him for it enough to kill Him.

Father, it is mind boggling to think about how someone could hear Jesus’ words and watch His miracles and be so hard-hearted that their response was hatred and jealousy instead of worship and surrender. But I guess that is the result of an impenetrably hard heart. Lord, help me to never allow my own heart to grow hard or cold toward You so that I end up betraying You and turning away from the truth. And help me to have the same winsomeness and gentleness as Jesus, even if those around me reject me and hate me for Your sake, so that I can reach those whose hearts are still soft with the good news of Your kingdom. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 14, 2018

John 15:18-21 (NIV)
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.”

Jesus was always painstakingly honest with His disicples, even when they weren’t able to process all that He was telling them. He knew that eventually the Holy Spirit would bring back to their minds all that He had taught them and would help them to understand it (John 14:26).

Jesus knew that after He ascended to heaven, after the disicples had been filled with the Holy Spirit and launched into ministry, they would be persecuted and maligned, just as He had been. He needed to clearly communicate that to them so that when it happened they would remember His words and not get dismayed or lose faith.

Jesus painted the issue as that of two kingdom that were incompatible with each other, and thus would always be at odds with each other. One was the kingdom of God, which John had come to announce (Matthew 3:1-2), and which Jesus had come to make real. Jesus had called his followers into this kingdom and was teaching them how to live in it. The other was the kingdom of the world, the kingdom to which the vast majority of the people of the world belonged. Ironically, even the Jewish religious leaders belonged not to the kingdom of God, but to the kingdom of the world, demonstrated by their persecution of Jesus.

Jesus knew that these two kingdoms would not, could not, peaceably coexist. The oppression and violence were never to come from the people of the kingdom of God. The tools of God’s kingdom are not swords and spears, but light, and love, and grace. But He knew that the people of the world’s kingdom would try to silence the people of the kingdom of God just as they had been trying to silence Jesus, even going so far as to torture and kill those who refused to be silenced.

Note that Jesus traces this persecution to its source: ignorance of God. The people of the world, despite their protestations that they see clearly and are behaving rationally when they persecute the people of the kingdom, are actually wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17), they simply don’t realize it. Their hearts are depraved because they are deprived of a relationship with God, are walking in the dark, and have been mastered by the enemy of people’s souls.

The only hope for those who are in the dark is for the people of the kingdom of God, the bearers of the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16), to not back down when persecution flares up, but to double down on their work of taking the light into the darkest places of the world, and freeing the prisoners of darkness from its grasp.

Father, we need this word just as much today as they did back in Jesus’ day. The kingdom of this world is still working to silence the people of the kingdom, to pressure us out of the public square, and urging us to put our lights under a bowl for our own safety, or to avoid offending others. This is exactly in line with what Jesus predicted for us, not some anomaly. But even in this, we are instructed to stay the course, as Jesus did; to let our lights shine in the world, as Jesus did; and to stay faithful to our mandate (Matthew 28:18-20), just as Jesus did to Your mandate for Him. Thank You for this reminder, this encouragement, and Your promised presence to carry us through. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 12, 2018

John 15:5-10 (NIV)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given 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. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

The key theme of this section is the word “remain.” If a branch remains in the grapevine, firmly connected so that the nourishing sap flows through it, it will produce fruit – it won’t be able to help it. But if the branch doesn’t remain in the vine, if the connection is severed so that the sap can’t flow, the branch dies; it dries up and can produce no fruit and is thrown into the fire.

It is the same with those who want to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. If they remain in Jesus, firmly connected so that the power and purity of the Holy Spirit flow through them, they will produce fruit – they won’t be able to help it. But if those disciples do not remain in Jesus, if the connection is severed so that the power and purity of the Holy Spirit can’t flow, their spiritual lives will dry up and will produce no fruit and, according to Jesus’ explicit word, are thrown into the fire.

Only those who remain in Jesus can claim the promise that they can ask whatever they wish and receive it. That is because only those who remain in Jesus are actually His disicples. And only they, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit flowing through them, are able to ask for those things that are perfectly in line with the Father’s will. So, they will ask, just like Jesus did, and they will receive from God’s hand whatever is needed, just like Jesus did.

Verse 10 contains the secret to remaining in Jesus: obedience to all of Jesus ‘commands. This is one of the big reasons why part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is to teach those that we make disicples of to obey everything that Jesus commanded. And Jesus gave many commands to His disciples over the course of His earthly ministry that were captured by the gospel writers.

Jesus Himself was perfectly obedient to all of the Father’s commands, thus remaining in His love. And He requires that same obedience of His followers to his commands if they are to remain in His love and experience the power that will enable them to be effective witnesses to the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.

Father, Jesus’ illustration couldn’t be clearer. If we want to remain in Him and bear fruit, we must obey His commands. And that makes sense. To live in rebellion against what He commanded would distance us from Him and from the only source of our power and purity. Lord, help me to learn all of Jesus’ commands well, to internalize them so that they move me throughout my day. And give me all the strength that I need to obey those commands every day of my life. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!


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Today’s Scripture – November 9, 2018

John 15:1-4 (NIV)
“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, and I will 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.”

In this first section of Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches, He sets up the imagery: Jesus is the vine, His followers are the branches; and the Father is the gardener who tends the whole thing. The job of the gardener in a vineyard is to ensure that the vines produce grapes to their full potential.

It is significant that Jesus identifies Himself as the TRUE vine. If you would have asked anyone in Jerusalem that Passover night who or what the “vine” is, they would have unhesitatingly said, “Israel, the people of God.” This is based in large part on Psalm 80:8, where Asaph writes that God brought a vine out of Egypt, drove out the nations, and planted it, nurtured it, and caused it to grow, obviously referring to the people of Israel. Some of the prophets used this same imagery, often to show how the vine had gone wild instead of producing fruit for the one who planted it (Jeremiah 2:21, 6:9; Hosea 10:1; 14:7).

But by Jesus identifying Himself as the true vine, He is identifying Himself as the origin and root of the true people of God, and His followers, the branches, as the current core of that people. From the moment of Jesus’ appearance, the true people of God were no longer identified by their descent from Abraham (Matthew 3:9), but by their relationship with Jesus and their faith in Him (John 1:12). That relationship is pictured here as branches that are intimately connected to the vine, termed by Jesus “remaining” in the vine.

The clear understanding behind this parabolic illustration is that for a branch to be fruitful, to bear grapes, it must remain firmly connect to the grapevine. If it is detached, its fruit bearing days are over, and it quickly withers and dies.

Also understood is that, for the grape grower, the fruit is the goal. Showy leaves, no matter how lush, are of little value, and indeed they use up fruit producing sap in the process of growing. Any branches that don’t produce fruit, just leaves, are ruthlessly removed from the vine by the gardener. And any branches that produce leaves that extend beyond the fruit on the branch are ruthlessly pruned back, enabling the maximum amount of the plant’s resources to go into fruit production.

As Jesus points out with this illustration, even in the kingdom of God, the fruit, the saving of souls and the expansion of God’s kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20), is the goal. Leaves, scripted religious observations, empty rituals, good works done for show to attract the praise of the people, and these days showy buildings and worldly programs and activities that are not focused on reaching the lost, equipping the saints, and encouraging kingdom expansion, use the resources of the congregation to produce something other than the true fruit of the kingdom, and limit or even eliminate the potential for the true fruit to be produced.

But Jesus also cautions that the true fruit of the kingdom can’t be produced by people working in their own strength any more than a grape branch disconnected from the vine can produce fruit out of its own resources. Instead, if a branch is connected to the vine, the life-giving, fruit-producing sap flows through it, and fruit is the natural outcome.

Father, there is definitely more to this illustration than first meets the eye! It clearly points out that, if I am not producing the real fruit of the kingdom, the first place for me to check is my connection to Jesus, the true vine. And if I find that my connection has a problem due to sin, distractions, or other priorities that I have allowed to slip into first place, I need to repent, so that I can be reintegrated into the vine (Romans 11:23-24) and start producing fruit again. Thank You for this amazing picture. Amen.

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