30. Jesus the Overcomer

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 30. Jesus the Overcomer

Jn 16:33b “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So we come to the end of this discourse where we might expect a final word of encouragement, and what do we find? “You will have trouble”! But therein is reality and I find Christians are often not very good at reality. We need reminding again and again that we live in a ‘fallen world’ where Sin has its impact both on individuals and on the physical planet. Things ‘go wrong’ illnesses occur, accidents occur, and often people are  ‘not nice’!

So, a final word about the reality of this existence within ‘The Big Picture’. First you WILL have trouble because as we’ve just said it’s a fallen world, don’t deny it. But this is not to mean that we should go around expecting the worst and anticipating things going wrong; they probably won’t, it’s just that sometimes they do.

In a world that is running amok we need to remind ourselves that we are part of ‘another kingdom’, one where peace, joy, goodness and blessing prevail. THAT is the truth. Now in our verse above, Jesus says ‘take heart’, take comfort, regain your confidence, i.e. don’t scabble around in the gutter of gloom and doom in the world. Why can he say that to us?

Jesus has overcome the world: he’s about to take the worst they can throw at him, he will turn it to good as he satisfies justice on our part, and he will rise from the dead! He IS in control!!!! Get that well and truly anchored in your understanding. And then “take heart” i.e. be picked up by that truth, be encouraged and strengthened by it. If sometimes life seems momentarily like being in a storm on a lake, that’s all right, we’re designed to ‘walk on water’ when we need to!!!!!!!! HE is in control; rest in that. So remember some of the things we have picked up on in these chapters.

We’re called to be humble and servant-hearted, having a sacrificial love for one another, being confident in God’s love for us because He knows the worst about us and still loves us, so that when we let him down, He restores us and draws us near to Him again; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all working on our behalf to enable us to live fruitful lives as we seek to remain close to Jesus, seeking to catch his heart and the Father’s will as the Spirit prompts, empowers, reveals, teaches and guides us. And above all, facing the Cross, Jesus knew the ‘Big Plan’ and committed himself to us, however tough it was going to be. His example, his grace, his commitment, all stand there for us to follow and emulate. May it be so.

29. Peace!

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 29. Peace!

Jn 16:33a  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”

Time is running out. We are almost at the end of Jesus talking to the disciples. He is about to pray and then they will go out to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane and then it all starts. So as we near the end Jesus sums up why he has been speaking to them about these things. (I am very much aware that we have only skimmed some of the surface of this discourse and so would encourage you to go back to the beginning of chapter 13 and read it all again, seeing what in particular may stand out to you.)

He doesn’t do a summary as we might do when giving a talk. No, Jesus actually teaches in ways that some of the world’s teachers might suggest are quite unorthodox. He doesn’t do neat little three point sermons (which can be good and can help us remember the main points being shared) but seems to just speak naturally out of his heart in ways that spontaneously flow out. No, he doesn’t seem bothered about structure for there has been an ebb and flow of various subjects. It is almost as if he is content to leave it with the Holy Spirit who, he had said, would bring all things to remembrance – and John at least forty years on remembering it all, is a living proof that that works!

So, yet again Jesus expresses his desire for his disciples and that includes us – peace. They are about to go through tumultuous times, times that will test them to failure but before it all breaks loose, he wants them to be at peace.

So how does that peace come? It comes, John shows us, from being aware that Jesus is in complete control, he knows what the future holds, and he knows what we can handle, and even when we appear to break, he knows we will (with his help) cope and hang in there despite all that is happening. So that is that starting place. But it also comes by offloading all your anxieties to Him (Phil 4:6,7) and yet that is simply an act of submission to Him and recognition that He is in control. That’s what we said before – the Father and Son are totally in control and although they may not make everything happen that does happen (in this Fallen World things just ‘go wrong’) they ARE there working their ultimate goal into it all the time – your maturity as a child of God and your destiny as an occupant of heaven to be with them eternally. Awesome! Let the truth of that fill your understanding and be at peace because of it! Remember, first, declare his sovereignty in all things then, second, share with him those things that concern you and which threaten your peace. Then, be at peace. 

28. The Big Picture

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 28. The Big Picture

Jn 16:28 “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Jesus’ clarity in respect of who he actually was, is sometimes quite staggering and is often missed. We are aware of the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus that John remembered and included in his Gospel, each one of which has an echo of Ex 3 – “I AM WHO I AM” or “I AM THE I AM”. It is clear from the response of the crowd of traditional Jews who wanted to stone him, that he was equating himself with God, and of course in Jn 6 we see Jesus a number of times referring to himself as the bread that came down from heaven. Later when he prays we see him praying, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5). With the passing of the years and plenty of time to reflect on those three wonderful years, John had picked up on all those incredible things Jesus had said that the earlier Gospel writers had omitted in their eagerness to get the basics covered.

Now in our present verse we have this twofold awareness – he had left heaven and the Father to come to earth in human form, and shortly he was going to leave the earth and return to his Father in heaven. It is quite clear cut.

But again we emphasise, this is Jesus in control, Jesus aware. As we near the end of this series, see it so clearly, Jesus’ total awareness of who he is and what is happening – he came from the Father in heaven, he’s done what he was sent to do and is about to complete it, and then will be returning to the Father. That is the Big Picture. I have referred to this ‘Big Picture’ more than once because I believe it is important that we see the whole picture, not just bits of it. Now you and I are part of that same Big Picture (even though we may sometimes lose sight of it in adversity) but the end is guaranteed for the Godhead neither makes mistakes nor will fall short of the completion of it – and that does include you and me.

I referred in an earlier study to Rodney Stark pointing out the uniqueness of Christianity that has the revelation that God is going somewhere with a purpose in mind. God didn’t just start the world off and leave it to aimlessly go where it will, He has an end goal in sight. When the time is right – and only He knows when that will be – He will wind everything up by creating a new heaven and a new earth and a new city where He dwells with His people. There is a school of thinking that says He is taking us in a steady flow towards this but that ignores the crisis of Rev 19 when Jesus returns. Crisis before climax. Hallelujah!

27. More on Joy

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 27. More on Joy

Jn 16:22 “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

I suspect if we were given the power to dictate the sort of lives we were allowed to live, most of us would opt for pain-free, worry-free, and upset-free. Those of deeper spirituality declare that maturity comes with pain and upset, and I begrudgingly agree with it. I don’t like it but I do believe I am a more understanding person because of the bumps in life I’ve been through. I wish I hadn’t been through them because if they weren’t caused by me the pain was often my inadequacy at coping with them. Whether we like it or not, the Cross did involve pain, lots of it, physical, emotional and spiritual.

At this point in time in history when Jesus spoke in that upper room at what we call the Last Supper, Jesus reiterates what he has already said, that they will grieve (v.20). What is going to happen to him will be a source of grief for them. The trouble with the paragraph of v.19-24 is that it is a mix of talking about grief that runs into assurance about asking things of him. (v.23,24) At first sight that feels odd but when we look more carefully we see that three times Jesus uses the word ‘joy’. In other words they will come through this time of grief into a time of joy when after the resurrection all becomes clear and when the Spirit comes they will be an army that goes forth to take the kingdom, and part of that will involve interaction with heaven when they ask things of God (e.g. Acts 4:29,30) and the Father answers.

So to recap, living in this fallen world grief can be guaranteed – sometime. But we must hold on to this truth: it will be limited. We may seem to lose sight of Jesus in the midst of our grief sometimes, but he is always there and we will sense him again and then be able to rejoice once again, and when that happens, it doesn’t matter what others may say, that joy will be sure and certain and will act as a resource to carry you on. Resurrection life WILL follow apparent death, and the joy will come with it.

Did you take in the certainty that comes at the end of our verse today: “and no one will take away your joy.” Having struggled through the arrest-trial-crucifixion phase in deep anguish, the joy came when they were confronted by the risen Jesus, joy – yes mixed with amazement (Lk 24:41) – a joy that could never be taken away. They knew the truth – he was alive! – and that truth, fuelled by the infilling of the Holy Spirit brought immense joy, especially as they ministered in his name (e.g. Acts 8:9) even in the face of opposition (e.g. Acts 13:52) and saw lives changed (Acts 16:34). The new day is a day of joy. Hallelujah!

26. Grief into Joy

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 26. Grief into Joy

Jn 16:20 “I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”

As the month is rapidly nearing an end, we now jump on into chapter 16. This is not such a comfortable chapter. It starts, All this I have told you so that you will not fall away,” (v.1) and “now I am going to him who sent me.” (v.5) There is some comfort, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (v.13) He speaks about going and coming again, and they are confused (v.16-18) and then comes our verse above.

Even as chapter 13 was about Jesus’ awareness and Jesus being in control, so is this chapter. After they leave this room there is coming a time of great anguish for them. Many in the world around them will be rejoicing but for them it will be a time of anguish, of fear and of failure, but if they hang on and remain steady in it all, joy will come with the morning. Look past the weeping, it is only temporary, joy will come with the morning. When it appears dark, remember night is always a limited period.  He will bring joy in the morning.

Whoah, let’s go over that again more slowly. There seem four phases in this verse. First, there is the overall sweeping statement: “you will weep and mourn.” That does not sound good, that sounds bad. Then comes the context – the world will be rejoicing. Then comes the reiteration, you will grieve. Finally, there is hope – “your grief will turn to joy.” It is, we can now see with the hindsight of history, what will soon come about – his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death – and they will mourn and grieve. It will be a horrible time. The religious leaders and the people bribed and egged on by them will be rejoicing. For the religious hypocrites, the thorn in their side will have been removed. They can return to the normality of their powerless, ritualistic religion once he is gone. His provoking and prodding will have been brought to an end.

Oh yes, for them a time of rejoicing (for the time being.) But for the disciples behind their locked doors, it will be a time of guilt, shame, self-recrimination, grief, anguish and wondering. Yes, this has got to come. It is part of The Big Plan. You can’t have the redemption of the world without all these things. But then, as always, there is a word of hope. Even in the days of the prophets of old, there may have been strong words of condemnation and judgment, but there was always the hope for a faithful remnant. Now, for this little faithful remnant, hidden away, that grief and anguish will be replaced by an incredible joy. However tough the present, watch for the joy the Lord WILL bring. Be patient.

25. Chosen for Fruitfulness

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 25. Chosen for Fruitfulness

Jn 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit.”

We’re back eye-balling this subject of fruitfulness again. Back in Study No.20 when we started in chapter 15, we commented that much of this chapter is about fruitfulness. The chapter started with relationship – Jesus, the vine, us the branches, and from the word go there was the reminder that branches bear fruit (v.2,4). Indeed branches that don’t beat fruit get cut off and thrown away (v.6) because the purpose of fruit is to glorify God (v.8).

But then he spoke of the nature of this fruit-bearing relationship – love. As we saw yesterday there is a flow: Father to Son to disciples (v.9), a sacrificial love which is now to flow between us (v.12), expressed as obedience to Jesus’ commands (v.10) which brings forth joy (v.11). So what do we now see in this present verse?

Purpose and identity. This is what we find here. Purpose: called by Jesus to be fruitful. Identity: a sinner called, redeemed and saved to be a servant and then a friend and, all the while, a child of God. Purpose again: called to be part of The Big Plan that is about changing the world. Moi?  Definitely! Identity again: a disciple, gifted and empowered in order to follow the Master into the darkness where we are to bring light. Wow, what a calling!

Sorry that was a bit compressed, let’s take it more slowly.  First, Jesus chose us. So often you hear people say, “I found Jesus.” Well no, actually he found you, had his eyes on you and his Spirit moved in you to bring conviction and all else that followed. Second, he chose you, not to sit in a pew and look nice, but to be changed to bring forth the fruit of a transformed life now in his service. That’s not only fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23) that means character change, but also the fruit of goodness, righteousness and truth (Eph 5:9), so that as love and knowledge work together they bring glory to God (Phil 1:9-11).

But note also the identity part. We are now called Jesus’ friends (v.14). We are more than servants (v.15) because we are now insiders who, with the help of the Spirit, are taught and now understand the nature of this calling, how it works and what it can achieve. In other contexts we are called children of God (Jn 1:12,13, 1 Jn 3:1) and elsewhere as sons (Gal 4:6) and the point of ‘sons’ is about those who grow up to inherit the Father’s business, learning the trade, so to speak. The purpose of a business? To make profit (fruit!) by applying knowledge and skills. Relationship develops into activity and activity is about bringing forth fruit. That’s what it’s all about.

24. Sacrificial Love

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 24. Sacrificial Love

Jn 15:12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

We first saw this command in Study No.8 in 13:34 where we read, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The word ‘love’ comes up 11 times in these chapters before we reach this one, and the word ‘loved’ another 8 times. In 13:34 the emphasis was on it being a new command, this level of sacrificial love. The present context is different though. Jesus, in the preceding verses has been talking about how the Father has loved him and he has loved them (v.9) and how they need to live in this environment (v.10) and when we do we know joy (v.11). So now he continues that flow: Father to Son to them, and so now them to each other.

It’s a sad thing that we have to be ‘commanded’ to love one another isn’t it, but yet that is the reality because we are redeemed sinners in a fallen world and love doesn’t come naturally. When we ‘try’ to love, it tends to be a self-serving venture. But this chapter has been about abiding and being one with God through Jesus. And of course God IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16) so when we abide in Him, love is the fruit of His Spirit (Gal 5:22), it is something that is naturally there, naturally being expressed, it’s part of the ‘abiding’ fruit. I know we’ve already seen this in Jn 13:34 but how did Jesus love them? He called them, accepting them as they were and he was about to die for them. Hah! It is a love that gives up self for others.

Perhaps this is so obvious that we forget it or simply have never understood it. Take that well-known verse, Jn 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The Father gave up His Son, and the Son gave up his life as demonstrations of their love for us. It wasn’t their fault we were sinners who needed redeeming – only in as much as they created us as sentient beings with free will. But instead of leaving us to get into an ever-deepening mess (and if you don’t believe that, check out Gen 6:5 – unrestrained earth) they created Israel as a people to start to reveal them to the world, and then sent the Son into that prepared environment to reveal the Father’s love and then die to satisfy justice on our behalf. Then they sent the Spirit. Everything about this is about giving as an expression of love. As we said, the Father giving up His Son, the Son giving up his life, both demonstrations of sacrificial love and THAT is the nature of our calling, the type of people we are to be. How often do we teach that, how often we call our people to account for that?  We should.

23. Joy

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 23. Joy

Jn 15:11“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

I wanted to add to that ‘vision’ I painted of the Church as we finished yesterday, ‘and when this happens one of the greatest things that will characterize this community of God’s people will be joy’. When the seventy-two returned from their ministry trip, we read, The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) seeing the power and presence of the Lord moving through them – being fruitful – brought them great joy.  Immediately afterwards we read of Jesus, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (v.21) The Father had enabled the disciples to be administrators of the kingdom of God and their joy in that brought joy to Jesus and the Spirit.  Jesus has joy when we are fruitful and are revealing the outworking of his calling and work on the Cross in our lives. We too share in such joy.

Anyone who says God is a killjoy has seriously missed the point. This ‘being fruitful’ is wonderful. Some prophets once prophesied over me, “The Lord will take you and use you in such a way, you’ll say ‘surely it can’t be this good.” Within a year I was ministering in a small group in America and prophecy was flowing and some way into this incredible evening, I found myself thinking, “Surely, I shouldn’t be feeling this, it can’t be this good.”  Incredible joy, that’s what you experience when his Spirit is flowing in and through you, heart knit together, oneness with the One, joy in abundance. Sense it in Jesus at Creation (Prov 8:30,31) and rejoice (have much joy) with him.

I sometimes think I need to preach a sermon entitled, “Have you allowed the enemy to rob you?” How many of us, I wonder, are happy with a religion that requires us to turn up at Sunday services, Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings (all good in themselves) but that is as far as it goes. As a member of the body of Christ, you are plugged into the greatest power source in the world who has the greatest plans for your blessing if you will believe them. Pray, Lord, set your church free, release us from our blind religiosity and transform us into the living body of Christ you have designed us to be – so that you will be glorified, not only in heaven but also here on earth, and as that happens, your joy will fill heaven – and us. Be honoured, be glorified through our fruitfulness and may we and you know the incredible joy that goes with that. Amen.  

22. Glorifying God

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 22. Glorifying God

Jn 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

We may quite often quote the ‘first and greatest commandment’, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) and I have even been asked, how do you do this? Well, perhaps rather than focus on my emotions, which talk about ‘love’ often reverts to, instead consider what we think about God and how we respond in respect of what we think about him. Moses on Mount Sinai focused on God’s honour (Ex 32:11-14); Joshua did the same later on. Wanting to exalt the God who had revealed Himself to you through His unique Son, demonstrating His love for us, wanting to honour and glorify Him, THAT is a demonstration of love for Him. This, says Jesus, is what ‘bearing fruit’ will do.

This fruitfulness we spoke of yesterday – letting him bring about through you his purposes, when this comes from heaven, from Jesus seated at the right hand of his Father, then it will always bring glory to the Father – people will find Him, be blessed by Him, guided by Him, and empowered by Him – THROUGH YOU. That is the incredible wonder of this business of abiding and being fruitful, this is what real disciples do, listening to him, being guided by him, responding to him, and then achieving the things he wants (Jn 14:12). Hallelujah!

Now the word ‘glory’ often refers to the incredible brightness that accompanies God (e.g. Ex 16:10, 24:16 etc.), but it also very simply means – as here – fame or honour that evokes praise and worship. God has provided various means of His glory being revealed to mankind. For example, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psa 19:1, Rom 1:20) For the person with a heart open to the Lord, ‘nature’ reveals the wonder and the beauty of the work of a Creator. David was, I suspect, responding to an incredible night sky where there was no light pollution, but the same thing applies to nature at large.

But now Jesus says we who are his disciples have the capability of bringing honour to the Lord by our ‘fruitfulness’. A while ago I painted a vision of ‘church’: A spiritual community of God’s people that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life. Joy will be there – and honour to our Lord, the head of the body.”

21. Abiding

‘Last Supper Lessons’ Meditations: 21. Abiding

 Jn 15:7“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

We have, in the previous study, started to think about this subject of ‘remaining in me’ or, as older versions had it, ‘abiding in me’ and we saw it in the context of being fruitful. But Jesus goes on to explain more how that works.  We are fruitful by being in harmony with Jesus, looking to him as his disciples, and that involves talking to him about what we are doing, seeking both his guidance and his power. It is in this context that he talks about asking ‘whatever you wish’ and he will do it for us. We need to think some more about that.

Ask whatever you will and it will be done for you?????????? Amazing. Hold on, note the condition: IF you remain in me, if your heart is knit with my heart (e.g. David 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22), your mind seeking my mind and my Father’s will and His glory, then you will appreciate what I want to achieve and  so when you pray in order to do my revealed will, then it WILL be done for you. THIS is what it means to bear fruit, letting him bring about through you his purposes. Wow, that needs some thinking about doesn’t it!

Back in chapter 14 we saw something very similar: You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it,” (14:14) and we looked back a couple of verses and saw, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (14:12) Fruitfulness by another name! Actually it is fruitfulness in the name of Jesus.

Imagine you were employed in a high quality restaurant to serve the customers. The owner of the restaurant would first of all instruct you on the nature and quality of the restaurant and the very high quality of the service he or she expected you to provide. Thus in everything you said or did with the customers, you would have the owner in the back of your mind, their expectation of you and of the superb service they wanted for their customers. Not only would you carry out the practicalities of the job in a good manner, but the way you treated the clients would also be working to make them feel special and all-important. Everything about you reflects the owner. Now we are not employed by Jesus but surely the very nature of our calling, our salvation etc. would mean that everything about us reflects his love and concern for his Father’s will and for the people around him. Taking on his heart desires is part of what this subject of ‘abiding’ is about and what enables him to be able to say, “ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.”