20. Fruitfulness

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 20. Fruitfulness

Jn 15:5 “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

The focus in chapter 15 appears as ‘fruitfulness’ – the word ‘fruit’ appears 8 times! Of course it is not talking about apples or pears or pomegranates or any other of that sort of fruit, it is referring to the outworking of our lives that produces something of value, something that is good; the very concept of fruitfulness infers producing good. Perhaps an interesting question to provoke all of us would be, “what is the good your life is bringing into this world?”

At the very beginning And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Gen 1:28) Note He blessed them, He decreed good for them to enable them to have children, to multiply and grow in order to take control of the earth. God’s intent is that we have impact on our world for good – not merely the planet itself but also the people on it. I hesitate at this point (we may in a later study) to consider what the fruit is, for there is another emphasis in this verse we need to first consider.

The key to being ‘fruitful’, says Jesus, is abiding in me, being one with me, and this is so much the key if you want to bear fruit – and I want you to – that without me you will achieve nothing.

I wonder how often our lives and service is based on ‘my intellect’ or ‘my effort’ or ‘my trying’, whereas Jesus says that living as one with him means you will automatically ‘bear fruit’. So how do we ‘abide’ in him? Well imagine, he says, I’m a vine and you’re my branches. That’s a fact. Now set in your mind that truth – you ARE joined to me so keep you heart and mind focused on me every day, as you pray, as you listen, as you read. Abide, rest, remain, stay close to me. Now only the other day I heard a preacher speaking about the Holy Spirit and he said we should think on Him all the time – 24/7! Now that, I am afraid, is unrealistic preaching that leaves the listeners either feeling guilty that they do not do that, or they sit there thinking how unrealistic and ignore the rest of the sermon.  

So I want to avoid that here. There are times for all of us when our minds are full of the complexities of life, may be the technicalities of our jobs, and so we have to be utterly focused on the issues of the job before us. When your mind has to be taken up with such things, Jesus understands you cannot focus on him at the same moment, but this is about general attitude that underpins how I think about my life. When I have time to pause, yet my awareness of my faith, my relationship with Jesus, IS there in the background – that is abiding and out of it will come fruit.

19. For Poor Memories

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 19. For Poor Memories

Jn 14:26 “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit …. will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Yesterday we started thinking about the Holy Spirit as an ‘advocate’, one who stands alongside us, speaking up on our behalf, sometimes defending us, sometimes just being a voice for us (in heaven). The thing about an advocate is that they have to know more than we do if they are to stand up for us, if they are to be able to plead for us. They must know the law and how it can help us. Is it any surprise then that the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus as our ‘advocate’?

In our present verse Jesus says the Spirit will do two things for us. First of all He will teach us everything we need to know – “all things”, The apostle Paul wrote, We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his willthrough all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that (i) you may live a life worthy of the Lord and (ii) please him in every way: (iii) bearing fruit in every good work, (iv) growing in the knowledge of God, (v) being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that (vii) you may have great endurance and patience,and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” (Col 1:9-12) Do you see the things that are outworkings of the knowledge that that Holy Spirit brings here?

I remember a teenager we knew many years ago who said to me plaintively, “I’m not clever and I struggle with reading and understanding the Bible.” I encouraged her and reminded her that the Spirit was there to teach her. She heard it and has grown into a godly woman with a godly family. She let the Spirit teach her each day as she opened the Word.

The second thing He does is remind us of all that Jesus said and did. That’s why we now have the Gospels! Have trouble remembering His word? Pray and let Him remind you of all He has said. He’s with you and for you as a teacher and also as one who reminds. And it’s all free! No fees for this course of study. Now I wonder if you notice a progression here? The Spirit stands up for us but as He does so He imparts to us the knowledge of God’s will, what God wants for us and as we take that in and He expands on it in our lives, we are changed. The Spirit comes to change us, change the way we think and thus change the way we act, and all the time He is teaching us to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to become more like Jesus, a transformation that comes from the Spirit (read 2 Cor 3:18).

18. An Advocate?

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 18. An Advocate?

Jn 14:16,17 “another advocate to help you … the Spirit of truth…. you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

There is something deep within each of us, I believe, that yearns for someone to speak up on our behalf, whether it be a big brother to support us, a loving father to provide for us, or a loving mother to patch us up when the world cuts or bruises us. Sometimes we may want someone to defend us, even to stand against those who are hostile to us. The Holy Spirit does all these things.

On the dark side of the world there is an accuser (Rev 12:10). On the side of light is the Holy Spirit who comes as an advocate to declare before the courts of heaven, “These ones are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 5:9) He is the expression of the Son who is himself described as our advocate (1 Jn 2:1) who comes to remind heaven that he has been our atoning sacrifice. (1 Jn 2:2). It is for this reason that John could reveal in his incredible prophetic experience, For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” (Rev 12:10) He is cast down in the sense that all his accusatory might has been brought to nothing, for justice has been satisfied. Thus Son and Spirit both testify to the Father the truth – they are redeemed!

In these chapters there is so much about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. Back in lesson no.14 we listed a whole lot of things He does in us. As we said, an advocate is one who speaks up for you, is there alongside you to help you. I don’t know if you have ever realised but he speaks in two directions.

First He speaks to the Father on your behalf as we’ve seen above and also declares, “They need help! They are asking for, and need, your forgiveness,” etc. (1 Jn 2:1)

But, second, He speaks to you for your good, as He teaches or brings conviction, the certainty of the need to change.  He pleads with the Father for you, and He pleads with you to take the Father’s leading, and He always speaks truth. If He says this is what you need – you need it!

In this one verses Jesus rolls out so much: “another advocate to help you … the Spirit of truth…. you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Look he says, “he lives with you.” He was there, the unseen force working through the Son. “and will be in you”. There is the next promise – He’s not just ‘out there’ but ‘in here’, in me, a claim found in no other religion. Personal, private, intimate, power, revelation!

17. Love Revealed

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 17. Love revealed

Jn 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands.”

We have been venturing in recent studies into metaphysical meanderings, seeking to go ‘back-stage’ so to speak, to ponder on the wonder of what the Bible teaches us about God who is on one hand Almighty and therefore all-powerful, unlimited and infinite, but on the other hand personal in such a way as to be able to interact meaningfully with other personal beings – us, mankind.  Now the big thing that should flow out of all this knowledge is that if God designed us, that design must include how we ‘work’ best.

I know that sounds a little like us being machines but actually, in the same way as machines, we have been designed so that we function best in certain ways and, I would suggest, that is what Israel found in the Law of Moses and you and I find in the New Testament. Moreover our Designer has the right to instruct us how we can ‘work’ or ‘function’ best. And that, of course, is what we find Jesus doing in these chapters. He started by establishing a context of servant-hearted humility which is to be the outworking of love. 

Now love is the unique ingredient that does not appear in all the other world religions as the breath of those religions as it is in Christianity. It was at the heart of the Law (Mt 22:37,39) AND it is at the heart of our faith (see Jesus’ teaching – Mt 5:44, 10:37) an expression of God (1 Jn 4:8,16) that we see between Father and Son (Mt 17:5, 12:18). Jesus assumes his disciples will love him but the way they will show that love, seen in our starter verse, is by obeying him.

How easily we bandy Jesus’ words around. “You know that I love you.” (Jn 21:16) These words obviously stuck deep in John’s mind for decades later he was to write, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.” (1 Jn 2:3) The commands? Well, why not when you are reading your Bible, write in pencil the letter ‘C’ next to every verse you spot that is a command. We’ve already seen some in 13:4,34, 14:1,11 and there are more to come. The measure of our obedience is the measure of our love.  Wow! Another challenge. Don’t be put off by this, just take it as a learning challenge. But remember there is nothing harsh about Jesus’ ‘commands’, they are not negative or detrimental to us in any way. To the contrary, whatever Jesus ‘commands’ us to do will be for our blessing, The Father and the Son are, amazingly, always working for our good (Rom 8:27), always working for our blessing in the same way that loving parents are always working for the blessing of their young children. Think how you do that if you have children. God does it more!

16. An Amazing Offer

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 16. An Amazing Offer

Jn 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Sometimes in scripture things are said that leave you gasping – assuming you take time to read them and then think about them. Sometimes there are promises or offers made that seem almost too good to be true. Sometimes – perhaps mostly – they come with conditions; they need us to play a part.

So look at today’s starter verse:You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Anything??? Well check the context. whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” Ooops! 

So often this promise about asking and receiving is just handed out freely by preachers but actually the condition behind it is that we be given over to Jesus to serve the Father so that the Spirit may flow in and through us so we do what Jesus did – “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, set the oppressed free, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) IF we are doing this, THEN we can ask anything in his name and he will do it. That’s a bit of a challenge, a bit of a learning curve, isn’t it? Something to think, pray and act on.

But step behind the enormity of this for a moment and notice something else we’ve been starting to observe in recent studies – this is all about interaction with Almighty God, the God who exists and who caused everything else to exist. If this is the real description of a personal Supreme Being then He has to be limitless in space and in power and in wisdom. You can’t have one description  – He’s Creator – without the other things being true as well.

Now if you take the Star Wars mystical pan-everything description of ‘The Force’ the one thing that lacked was personality and out of personality, direction and purpose. If you believe Richard Dawkins and his like, then we are – and indeed everything else is – the result of an inexplicable ‘big-bang’ which, given a long enough time, means you can make anything out of anything. Now the big thing about that is that it is purely a chemical reaction, to reduce it to its most basic, and although we don’t usually talk about one chemical plus another chemical equals a third chemical as an accident, it is certainly not with purpose and meaning for such things only occur with personality. The point we make is that this Creator God who is not a mere force, creates us with personality invites to interact with Him in such harmony that we can sense His purpose and join in with it, so when we ask, He acts, and the world changes. That is OUR wonder. 

15. Proof

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 15. Proof

Jn 14:11 “at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”

The wonderful thing about faith is that it is built on facts. I referred to historian Rodney Stark the other day who points us to the fact that because we have the Bible we can have ‘theology’, the study of the divine in personal form, the Almighty Being who reveals Himself as Creator and Redeemer. When thinking about God, remember both those things.

First the fact that He is the creator of all things. It doesn’t matter the way He brought them into being – short period or long period, natural flow of progress or interventions – the fact is HE brought them into being. The evidence is of a wonderful world, tailor-made for us which, in its original state was perfect, and incredible provision for the human race.

But then He is also a Redeemer, He is redeeming the fallen human race that, in its folly of following free will down the wrong path, meant self-isolation and self-destruction. Through Jesus we see Him working to redeem whoever will hear and respond to Him. The evidence is of millions of transformed lives, lives taken out of darkness and made light, full of goodness that transforms them.

We don’t have a ‘blind faith’ – we leave that up to unbelievers. No, our faith is built on what has been shown to us through the word of God, the Bible, and how we see it worked out in history. The evidence is threefold: it is in the Book, it is in the experience of those who respond to it (Him) and in their history that followed over two thousand years. It is all there to be observed! As we read The Book, the Spirit speaks to us and the one who listens finds faith growing in them. The evidence is there. Luke spoke of those who were eyewitnesses (Lk 1:2) while John declared he was an eyewitness (1 Jn 1:1-3), we have as evidence these eyewitness accounts. They make sense, they have as J.B.Phillips wrote as he worked on a new translation in the mid-twentieth century, “a ring of truth” about them.

As we read them, as we hear, we find, with the two Emmaus walkers, “our hearts burning within us” (Lk 24:32). Each of our responses to His word is unique, each of the ways that we work out these experiences that follow as we respond to the prompting of His Spirit, is unique, yet there are similarities. When we surrender and seek forgiveness we all find it coming and our lives being transformed. The evidence of so many transformed lives responding to Jesus is phenomenal, only rejected by the blind. The works of Jesus are clear in the Gospel, and they are still clear today. Hallelujah! 

14. Father AND Son

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 14. Father AND Son

Jn 14:10“it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

We pondered yesterday on the wonderful fact that we follow a living God, a Person, a Being with personality, as distinct from those ‘religions’ that follow ‘the force’ or millions of gods, expressions of superstitious fear. Our God is not far off having given us rules to live by, not a God who sits there glowering at our failures and requiring awful judgments on us, but a God who comes to us in human form – still the Almighty One of heaven but who also expresses a little of Himself in the human form we call Jesus Christ. So, in him we catch sight of just a glimmer of what God is like – loving, kind, good, compassionate, all-wise and so much more.

Then as we look at Jesus in the Gospels we see a man who calls other men and women to himself, who delivers some from demons, heals many others and establishes a foundation of love through which to bless the world. Back in study no.10 we said a subheading for chapter 14 could be ‘The Reality of the Father & the Son’ and now Jesus presses home the truths embodied here: he and his Father are one and the Father lives in the human form that is the Son and expresses His will through him.

Where else in the world do we find something like this – the Almighty God who is, expressing His loving being in a human form, pouring out love, changing lives for the better. Perhaps as a separate exercise you might like to think about each of those named in the Gospels who became his followers and think about how the New Testament (because some of them appear in Acts or write epistles) shows how they changed for the good. I’m struggling to overcome the temptation to do it for you as names pop into my mind who were transformed – but I will!

The Son constantly pointed people towards the Father, just as the Spirit does to the Son. But there was also the recognition that all Jesus was able to do was because of the Father living in him, working through him. And that is a constant reminder for us: we are what we are because He lives in us, energizes us, encourages us, motivates us, teaches us, guides us, inspires us, envisions us, empowers us. Wow! Look at that list again – He does ALL these things in you and me, but I suspect we so often take it all for granted or don’t notice it and thus fail to give thanks for it. This is the Father & Son expressing themselves through the Spirit in us. Let’s ask Him today to make us more aware of His presence and His working on our behalf, aware of this list of things He does even today – in us. 

13. The Revealing Son

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 13. The Revealing Son

Jn 14:9 Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

What is God like, the little child asks. How can you dare talk about God so easily, the sceptical atheist demands of us? The answer is so easy – look at Jesus in the Gospels.  Jesus kept saying it (see also 14:7). Paul caught it as well: “The Son is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) and God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” (v.19)  What do we see in Jesus? Love in action. Compassion on the move. Yearning arms reaching out. Perseverance in the face of misunderstanding and even rejection.

You know, I think we take this truth for granted. Historian Rodney Stark in his book ‘The Victory of Reason’ starts by making the point that Christianity is unique among the world religions for a reason we mostly don’t think about. Some eastern religions talk about a “supernatural essence, and underlying mystical force of principles governing life but one that is impersonal, remote, lacking consciousness, and definitely not a being.” Some religions have an array of small gods. He comments, “The East lacks theologians because those who might otherwise take up such an intellectual pursuit reject its first premise: the existence of a conscious all-powerful God.” Comparing the three monotheistic faiths, he comments that for Islam, Muhammed indicates history is always decline after him, Jews portray procession, a straight line outworking, while Christianity alone reveals history as progress, God working towards a goal.

This is always the starting point to faith. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Not only does He exist, he says, but He interacts with people, rewards them, brings good to them. Islam conveys a scary holy God, Judaism a God who lays down a Law to be kept but Christianity – through Christ – a God who wants to draw near, become intimate with us, and wants us to address Him as ‘Abba’, daddy. Several times Jesus was almost stoned because he made himself equal to God (Jn 5:18, 8:58, 10:31) “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:33) The testimony is quite clear, God has come to the earth and revealed His love, His goodness, His patience, and His perseverance. God is not in the business of giving up on us and He just keeps on and on expressing Himself in love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Rejoice in that today, enjoy His presence with you and be blessed.  

12. Jesus our Security

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 12. Jesus our Security

Jn 14:6“I am the way and the truth and the life.”

So familiar, famous words. I am the guide for your walk, I am the reality in which you exist, I am the very life-source to enable you to walk it. I will walk this life with you, I will let you see it with my eyes, and I will share my experience of it with you. Unity. Intimacy. Closeness. Security. Harmony. Confidence. Wellbeing. 

And so, even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” (Psa 23:4) and should I unwisely go ahead, I will hear a voice behind me saying, “THIS is the way, walk in it.” (Isa 30:21) And when I let him yoke me to him, I will find rest for my soul because that yoke is easy and light. (Mt 11:29) What did we say? Unity. Intimacy. Closeness. Peace. Security. Harmony. Confidence. Wellbeing.   Awesome!

But as always, having seen the basics of this verse, I believe we need to get deeper into our thinking about it. First of all, put yourself into the shoes of the disciples. They are still lounging around the table of the Passover meal listening to Jesus and occasionally asking questions. Much of the time – and be honest about this – they don’t understand a lot of what he is saying. That we see by their questions in the previous chapter: “are you going to wash my feet?” (13:6) at a loss to know which of them he meant.” (13:22) “Lord who is it?” (13:25) “where are you going.” (13:36) “why can’t I follow you know?” (13:37) and they are going to continue in this chapter. They are questions about the meaning of what Jesus is both doing and saying, they are questions about reality and the future.

Now I present us with this thinking because I am sure we come to such well-known verses as this one but struggle to understand what it means. For example, in the first paragraph I have struggled to put meaning to it. I am the way, is easy – I am the path you must follow. But I am the truth? Not so easy. Similarly, I am the life. Perhaps that was easier – copy my life? Inadequate. I am the very source of all life. Better. But the point I make is that at the time I am sure the disciples heard words but really didn’t have a clue what Jesus was meaning. So here’s the simple lesson: if sometimes you and I struggle with what we read in God’s word, don’t be put off. Something I have learned through the years is that partial ignorance does not disqualify me as one of Jesus’ disciples. Often it was only as they were alone with Jesus that he could explain meanings of parables. Sometimes we simply need to ‘be alone’ with Jesus before the truth starts coming out. Rest in that. 

11. Jesus’ Preparation

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 11. Jesus’ Preparation

Jn 14:2 “I am going there to prepare a place for you”

When someone you have been close to for years says, “I am going,” it must surely raise questions as well as sorrow, questions about why you are going, when you are going and where you are going. All these things must have risen in the minds of the disciples. The context is important as always. Jesus has just told Peter he will deny him three times and, recognising that this will raise concerns not only in Peter’s mind but the minds of them all, he had said, don’t be troubled. Don’t be troubled??? But…. And then he adds this bombshell – “I am going”.

But then he gives the reason: “to prepare a place for you.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever meditated on this before because, if I’m honest I’ve always imagined it meaning him going to heaven and then coming back but that, surely, is not what he means. When he ‘leaves them’ it will be to go to the Cross where he will die for them and open up a way for them to be assured places in heaven with unique experiences there – ‘many rooms’ (v.2). Only his work on the Cross can guarantee that for them, so that must be what he is referring to here.

Now note a lesson here: it appears bad news to them – “I am going,” but it is in fact necessary and is thus good news. Very often from our limited human perspective we cannot see the reality behind what is happening and so although it looked bad news it is in fact good news.

I have a feeling that the year-plus of the Covid Pandemic, although it has appeared bad news to most of us, has in fact in the long-term plans of God, been good news. Yes, people have died but they do every day from a multitude of things that mostly we don’t take much notice of. Large numbers die of flu every year, or of a whole variety of cancers, but most of the time, most of us not affected by them don’t notice, after all they are not catching!!!! There are many things in life that appear bad news at the time but turn out to be good. Now, whatever else these words of our starter verse say to you, they say Jesus is going ahead of you to prepare for the days to come. Heaven, yes, but much more. Can you see these words as applying to next week – “I’m going ahead of you to prepare the days for you, for you to live, worship and work in. When you get there you can have a sense I’m already here, I’ve been here preparing this day for you.” Wow! Not only is Jesus in control of today but also all our tomorrows! Supposing a holiday-tour agent said to you, “I’m going ahead of you to prepare your hotel, your activities, I’ll be there when you get there.” That is assurance that brings peace in today. Be at peace in the knowledge that Jesus goes ahead of you all the time.