Jesus’ work of redemption did not cease at Calvary. 1 Jn. 2:1 says that He intercedes with the Father for us. Every time we have been tempted and succumbed, He says to the Father, “I understand and I have died for them, and I pray for them”. O, Jesus knows the pain of sin and the temptations thereof, and He still loves us. What an awesome truth. Being made in the likeness of men, being found in appearance as a man, Jesus is like us in every way except one – He didn’t have a sin nature. We have a sin nature. I think our nature was affected by Adam, that is what Rom 5:12 does say. Man is basically evil, and unless Jesus changes the very essence of man, our hearts are evil continuously. He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on a cross (cf. Phil. 2:8). Deut. 21:23 intimates His manner of death when it says, “…cursed is the one who has been hanged on a tree…”. I think the reason why the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus crucified and not stoned is because they wanted this Old Testament curse to fall on Him. They reckoned that, Jesus claims to be the Messiah, if they could get God to curse Him, it will prove He’s not the Messiah. Hardly did they know this is exactly the plan of God even from eternity past. Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life a ransom for many” (i.e. Mark 10:45). Jesus came to die. Jesus came to take the curse (cf. Gal 3:13). He took that which was against us and nailed it to the cross (cf. Col. 2). What was that which was against us? The Old Testament says, “The soul that sins, it will die”. Everyone of us deserves to die. The Word of God is a death sentence over every one of our heads, and Jesus came and took that curse; that death sentence, and bore it on Calvary for us. He really did take our place. He really became one of us for the specific task of being the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Do you know Jesus? Do you know Him?
BE READY, BE PRAYERFUL, AND BE FAITHFUL
There are numerous passages in the Bible that deal with the whole subject of eschatological events or end-time happenings, or the 2nd Coming, and probably one of the fullest is found in Matthew chapters 24 and 25. The New Testament just like the Old Testament looks at the end of history by using contemporary occurrences. Jesus is going to use the destruction of the temple by the Roman general Titus to foreshadow the typical events of the end times. This chapter is so difficult to understand because Jesus answers 2 questions at the same time (cf. Matt. 24:3), and never really tells us where the 2 are separate. He talks about His own body being destroyed and He’ll rebuild it in 3 days (cf. Jn. 2:19; Matt: 16:21). But the context here seems to be that the temple itself is going to be destroyed and those events are going to happen soon after His death. But then he also talks about the events that will precede the end of the world, and both of these are kind of mixed together, where it’s very hard to know which event occurs at which time. This whole passage in the Bible is apocalyptic and prophetic language which is always difficult to interpret, e.g. the sun turned into blood; stars fell are (cf. Matt: 24:29) apocalyptic language. The whole book of Revelation is apocalyptic language; a lot of numbers, a lot of animals, and a lot of colors. 1st and 2nd Thessalonians parallel Matthew 24 and these are all apocalyptic literature.
There are 3 major things that all of these passages seem to tell us: Number 1, the exact time is uncertain, but the event is certain. Jesus is coming again. He is coming in bodily and physically. I don’t know when but I know He’s coming again. Number 2, we can know the general time, but not the specific time. Number 3, the event is going to occur when it is unexpected. Now, that tells me it’s not going to occur right now because everybody is speculating about end-time events. There’s an anticipation in the world right now about the second coming of Christ, therefore that is not when He will come. He will come just at the moment when no one (including believers) are expecting Him. He will come extremely suddenly. The New Testament words are like the “fluttering of a gnat’s wings or the blinking of an eye. Because of the suddenness and unexpectedness of that event, the Bible relates several things that we ought to be doing as believers. One of them is quit predicting/speculating when He will come, just be ready. Number 2, be prayerful; and lastly be faithful to your assigned tasks. BE READY, BE PRAYERFUL, AND BE FAITHFUL.
WHY APOCALYPTIC SPECULATION IS INAPPROPRIATE
In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, the apostle Paul specifically addresses a specific issue related to the 2nd Coming of Jesus and the day of the Lord. Somebody in the Thessalonian church community had been spreading wrong information in Paul’s name, saying that God’s final act of justice on human evil, the day of the Lord was upon them, and has actually returned. These people had likely been predicting dates about the end of all things, and they were frightening and confusing other Christians, and you can see why. Due to the intense persecution, they were vulnerable to somebody claiming that Jesus had already returned like a thief in the night, they’ve been left behind (cf. 2 Thess. 5:2)! Maybe He abandoned the Thessalonians to their suffering. This kind of talk really ticks Paul off. It’s misrepresenting his teaching. THE RETURN OF JESUS SHOULD NEVER INSPIRE FEAR AND CONFUSION, BUT RATHER HOPE AND CONFIDENCE. Paul reminds them of everything he taught them about Jesus’ return back when he was in Thessalonica. And he gives a short summary here, it’s actually too short. This chapter has lots of puzzles and problems of interpretation, but what’s clear is that he cites the well known theme from the prophets Isaiah and Daniel (cf. Isaiah 13-14; Daniel 7-12) that the kingdoms of this world will continue to produce rulers who rebel against God like Nebuchadnezzar or the King of the North did in the past. These leaders had exalted themselves to divine authority, and for Paul, these ancient kings and prophecies; they give us images, they set out a pattern that he saw fulfilled in his own day in the Roman emperors, Caligula and Nero. And he expected that it would be repeated again, that history would culminate with such a rebellious rule, empowered by evil itself someone who will wreak havoc and violence in God’s world, but not forever.
When Jesus returns, He will confront the rebel and all who perpetrate evil, and He will deliver His people. So Paul’s point here is not to give later readers fuel for apocalyptic prediction and speculation. Rather, he’s comforting the Thessalonians. He’s recalling the teaching of Jesus from Mark 13 who said that the events leading up to His return would be very public and obvious. so they don’t need to be scared, worried, and unsettled that they’ve been left behind, rather they need to stay faithful until Jesus returns to deliver them.
SIN IS NO LONGER A ‘MUST’ IN THE LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;”Romans 6:5-6 (NASB)
Essentially, this verse says that since we have jointly participated with Christ’s death, or planted together, we shall have fellowship with Him by sharing a death like His. That’s a strange way to put it, but really, not only are we dead with Him, but surely, we shall share a resurrection life like His. But we know that our old nature our former self, our body of sin, was crucified with him. What does that mean, “that I was crucified with Christ”? Well, it’s part of 2 very wonderful passages that we are so familiar with: the first one is Galatians 2:20, and the second one is Galatians 6:14. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). “But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). But alas, the obvious problem of majority of Christians today is not that “we have been crucified to the world”. The problem is, the world is alive and kicking in the lives of modern-day Christians. Our lives are characterized not by the things of God, but by the things of this world; the things of self, the things of possession, the things of ‘me and mine’, And God help us, as we should have been dead to sin. The problem is that, I’m not sure we know we have died to sin, and our lives do not reflect that we walk with Him. The only difference in our culture most of the time between those who claim to know Christ and those who don’t is their Sunday church attendance which is usually borne out of a sense of obligation, rather than real love for the Lord, anyway. And they wonder why they are individually powerless, and their churches are empty. And the reason is because we compromise with a world system. We claim to know Christ, we claim to trust Him, but out lives have no distinct quality of holiness. This is the balancing doctrine we call – Sanctification. The Bible teaches that when we’re saved, we’re both justified and sanctified (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Cor. 6:11). Both of those happened as an instantaneous act because of our relationship with Christ; we’re made right with God, and we are holy. This is saying basically, that because we are holy, we need to move onto personal holiness. Others have emphasized that when you’re saved by Christ, that settles it. No matter what you do, your sins are forgiven. And once you’re saved, you can’t be lost. Of course, that’s a wonderful truth about the freeness of salvation in Christ. It’s a wonderful summary of Romans 3:20 through 5:21, that everything we have, we have in Christ, and it’s a free gift of God, and whosoever will may come, and I love that. But friend, there is another major truth as equally important as the doctrine of assurance. And that is, if you know Him, you’ve got to walk in Him. If you know Him, your life has to be different. Your dreams, your plans, your goals cannot be the same after you’ve met Christ. There is going to a progressive Christlikeness where there was a positional Christlikeness. This passage is teaching us so wonderfully that we are not slaves to sin any longer because sin has been made inoperative, ineffective, and powerless for evil. The picture that the Bible portrays is that Jesus has potentially dealt with the Sin problem in the life of the Christian. Now, what this is saying is that Jesus has theoretically pulled the power source off your old sinful nature, thereby making sin ineffective, inoperative, and powerless. But God help us friend, you and I keep plugging in back in; not because we have to, but because we want to. Sin in the life of the Christian is not a must. It’s a willful open-eyed rebellion against the will of God for their life. And the problem of ‘once-saved-always-saved is that it seems to give us a license to do it. Every time we choose to rebel against God, there is a problem in our relationship with Him. And we continue to plug that old nature back in, and back in, and back in in our lives. Yes, I believe this chapter is teaching sinless perfection. Yes, I believe it is the will of God that Christians never sin. Yes, I believe that Sanctification is possible in the finished work of Christ, just as Justification is possible in the finished work of Christ. We’ve been so nervous about that, because we know we all sin, and we don’t know how to handle our sin. So, we claim that being perfect of Christlikeness is impossible. I submit to you that is possible! Now, Romans chapter 7 will teach us that practically speaking, all of us will struggle with sin until we die. But I want you to know the reason we struggle with sin is because of us, not because of the finished work of Christ. Potentially, we are Christlike in His finished work, just as we are potentially saved in His finished work. But we don’t like that because that puts the fear of sin right back on where it should be: on you and on me. Yes, we ought to preach assurance, and at the same time preach the goal for every Christian is Christlikeness. We may not reach it, but we have no right to abrogate the goal. Verse 7 says it in the strongest terms possible: “But we have been set free, we are no longer slaves to sin, we do not have to sin”. The fact is, we sin because we love it.
DOES GRACE ENGENDER ANTINOMIANISM?
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”Romans 6:1 (NASB)
The dialectical tension that is so obvious in most if not all Biblical truths is really picked up in this rhetorical question in verse 1. This question relates to the statement which Paul made in chapter 5 verse 20, where he says, “then law crept in to multiply the offense. Though sin has multiplied Yet God’s favor has surpassed it and overflowed it”. So, somebody thinking about this, that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, got the idea that therefore, if God draws enjoyment from forgiving sin, then we ought to really sin more to oblige God. Of course, this is antinomian or libertarian view. It’s a view that says, I want heaven, and I want to put it in my pocket. And I want to take it out, and look at it every now and then, and check it to make sure I have it. And then I want to live the way I want to live my life. What is our conclusion then? Are we to continue to embrace sin, so that His grace may abound? Often, Christians who believe the freeness of salvation in Jesus Christ tend to forget that, although it’s free, it cost God an unbelievably high price. And once we fully understand the price that God had to pay for our free salvation, our salvation takes on a brand-new worth – a brand-new cost. And so, here is someone who likes to say, “Well, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin, so therefore, now that I know that I’m a Christian because I prayed the sinners’ prayer, that I can go out and live any way I want to, and it won’t make any difference. And Paul’s only response to that is this very rare optative mode in Greek which says, “May it never be”! King James says, “God forbid”! There is something horrible about a Christian saved by the death of Jesus Christ could have that audacity, the impudence, the misunderstanding, and the absolutely bad attitude to think that now that he’s saved, he can really enjoy his life in sin.
In verse 2, Paul describes what he feels like is the answer to this unbalanced truth when he says, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? And look at verse 6 which has the same idea where it says, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;”. Now look at verse 7, “for he who has died is freed from (the claims of) sin”. Now look at verse 12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,” for sin must not any longer assert mastery over you. This chapter is going to use the analogy of baptism to show what Paul believes is the way that Christians deal with sin. And of course, verses one through 14 have the present tense, “continue to sin” which speaks of our old nature in Adam; how do we deal with this old man who wants to become a new creature. What it’s basically saying is that we believe that the ideal of baptism has two pictures: the ‘washing away of sin’ is one big Biblical picture, but another equally big picture is that when you go into the water, it’s like you died to the old life, and coming out of the water is like you’re alive to the newness of the life of God. It’s a double picture. The picture that Jesus died for you and came back to life is a picture that somehow you participated in that death with Christ, and now you’re alive forevermore. So, Paul picks up on this idea of death to say that when somebody dies, he’s no longer a slave of anyone; that sin has no more claims on him. So, it comes to say that we have died with Christ, and so our relationship to our Adamic nature has been severed. I think it’s very true. From the previous chapters, we learn that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather, we sin because we are sinners. We have all been affected in Adam, and we are all rebels against God. But Jesus in His great love for us, died for us while we were yet sinners. And He offers to us as a free gift, complete forgiveness in His finished work. And so, the Bible presents it like this: the old man has passed away, and therefore all has become new (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). It’s saying there is a death to the old life. And what Paul is saying is, if there’s death to the old life, then we do not have to sin anymore. When before we were saved, we had no real choice; we could struggle with sin, we could pray about sin, we could even grieve over sin, but we had no choice other than to sin. We were locked into Adam, we were locked into sin, and our lives reflected that. But now that we’ve trusted Christ, now that we’ve symbolically been baptized into His death, we are no longer constrained of having to sin. We now have the option. We now have the freedom. We’ve been set free from the slavery and tyranny of sin and death, and we’ve been set free to serve God. And that’s the analogy Paul is drawing all the way through chapter 6.
THE FOCUS IS NOT YOU, IT’S CHRIST!
(read Judges 6:11-7:22) Gideon was one of the many judges God raised up in Israel during the time when the tribes were very loosely identified as they had no central shrine, and no central worship. They got into big trouble in the Judges period so God would raise up from this tribe, and that tribe charismatic kind of leaders. Gideon was one of them and he was first introduced to us in verse 11, when God called him while he was beating wheat in the winepress. But what was Gideon doing in the winepress? The truth is he was hiding from the Midianite raiders. God appears to this coward of a man and says, “…you, mighty warrior”, and it was a bit puzzling for Gideon how God comes to him when they were in great trouble. The Midianite raiders were all around. All the crops have been gone for seven years. Everybody’s scared to death. And God says, “things are great, Gideon”. Gideon says, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Have you seen what’s happening around here? Everything’s going bad. How can you say you’re with me? And how can you say things are great. How can you say I’m a great warrior? Haven’t you seen what’s happening around here? What’s the matter with you God? Where have you been? I’m hurting haven’t you seen all these problems?”
Does that sound familiar? How many days when you got up in the morning, and things looked so bad. Things looked so bleak. And you look around and say, “Yes God’s here. Sure, God’s here. I just can’t see. I know you’re here Lord. Everything’s working out great. You know my life’s falling apart, but I know you’re here God, i know You care about me”. But really many times, what we have is a mental understanding of God. ‘God loves me. God’s in control of things. God cares for me’, but when it gets down to the practical nitty-gritty of life, when we come down to brass tacks, we wonder where is God? That’s what Gideon is saying. “God it doesn’t look like You’re anywhere around here. It doesn’t look like things are going good. It doesn’t look like You’re in control. It doesn’t look like You care”. Now, what’s the deal? That’s the burning question. Do you think in a day like ours when you just pick up the morning paper and news scared you to death, and you’re almost afraid to go out at night some places. Have you ever wondered, is God really in control? Have you ever wondered the way your own personal life is going, and it seems you couldn’t get the victory over personal sin. During fits of anger, of passion, of despair, of depression, you say ‘where is God.? Do you realize that God was right with Gideon in the rest of his life all those seven years? Those Midianites took all their dreams, but God was with Israel all those years. They were down in bondage, but God was in control and He had a purpose.
God was with Jesus Christ when He was in the temptation experience. God’s with His people when they got dispersed in Jerusalem. God is With Paul when he got beaten and shipwrecked all those many times. Yes, God was there. You say, ‘but doesn’t He care? Yes God cares, but you see, the problem is, we have identified with our finite eyes and with our finite mind, peace comfort, happiness, security, everything’s going great, no clouds, always sunshine, bed of roses with God being with us. And that’s totally, totally not New Testament nor Biblical. How many times God uses the needs of your personal life and the circumstances you find yourself in to make you more like Jesus Christ? Let me ask you a simple question, when have you grown the most in your faith and your understanding of God? Has it been during good times, or in bad times? When have you drawn closer to God in your personal life? Has it been in the good times? or could it be in the hard times? Well, surely it’s been during hard times. It’s been those crisis situations, when you feel that God is a million miles away. But you know what? God’s always been there. But please, we’ve got to get our mind off the idea that God is always going to come through like some kind of a genie to get us out of trouble. It’s not like if you need any more money, just you pray, and God will send you some more money. If you get sick, just pray and God will heal you. Or if you are in a fix, just pray and God’s going to come right in just to change everything and life’s going to be rosy. But this just doesn’t work like that, does it? Sometimes you cry, sometimes those who know God the best, and love God the most, and serve God the deepest, and those who are the most committed to Him are the ones, you wonder what’s happening, things are falling apart.
So I want to say yes, God’s there, and God has a plan for your life, and things just don’t happen to you. And I don’t care how bad it seems to you. I want to tell you, God is still in control. For there is a bigger purpose in the plan of God, than your particular physical and mental happiness. And that is, that you be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And God will use the needs in your personal life to help you become more like Him. The focus is not you, but Christ!
CONFIDENCE TO ENTER THE VERY THRONE ROOM OF GOD
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,”.(Heb. 10:19)
When on Calvary where Jesus died, it says the veil in the temple – that’s the veil right before the Holy of Holies, was ripped in two from top to bottom, symbolizing the way to God had been opened. And the fact that it was ripped from top to bottom means that it was instigated by God and not by man. But what amazes me is that we no longer need to go to the holy of holies (where God’s feet symbolically dwelt) but through the blood of Jesus Christ, we enter the very throne room of heaven; into the central throne room of the God of all the ages in all creation. It’s a beautiful picture that through Jesus Christ we can approach God anytime our heart moves to prayer, worship, adoration, petition, we come right before His presence and He doesn’t say “what’s the matter with you?”, “what are you doing?”, “here are you back again, how come?”, instead He says, “I’m glad to see you son, how are you?”, “Let’s talk, come on up here.” That’s the picture of what Jesus has done. Interestingly, the word “confidence” or “boldness”, a key word in the book of Hebrews actually means a freedom to speak. That means we can come right before God through Jesus Christ, and tell Him exactly what we’re feeling. exactly how we’re feeling and what we’re going through, and we can do it any moment. We have an assured access; we have confidence; we have boldness in approaching God, and that’s because we know that Jesus, the Son of God Himself has done something on our behalf (cf. Heb. 3:6; 4:14-16; 10:19).#assured-access, #confidence
HEAVEN IS NOT FUTURE, HEAVEN IS NOW
(read Colossians 3:1-2) We are alive in Christ. As He was raised from the dead, so are we raised from the dead. Heaven is not future, heaven is now; it’s not some day out there (cf. Eph. 2:6). We have intimate, immediate restoration of the image of God damaged in the fall when we trust Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 3:10). We still have physical life. Thank God our heart still pumps, our lungs still breathe, life is good, but no matter what happens, regardless of the temporary circumstances that all of us find ourselves in, we have eternal life. We walk in the joy of eternal life because we look to who we are in Him and not to who we are in the world. Yes, we are citizens of this age, but we are much more so citizens of the Kingdom of God. The hardest thing for us to realize is that we hold 2 passports. We hold a passport to an earthly realm, and we happen to live in a country that has magnified the individual, magnified personal choice, and magnified materialism. We live in that context, and we have rights and responsibilities. But we’re also citizens of a spiritual realm, and we as Christians say that the spiritual realm is the ultimate of the 2 realms, so we must seek the things that are above so we can handle properly the things that are below. The tragedy is, we have been captured by the things that are below while giving lip service and peripherally to the things that are above. Paul commands us to keep seeking the things that are above. We are dead and we’ve been raised. Keep thinking of who you really are in Christ who is seated at the right hand of God.
OUR SIN FOR HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS – WHAT A QUID PRO QUO!
(read 2 Cor. 5:16-19) The word “reconciliation” in Greek has the idea of an “exchange”, a ‘quid pro quo’ if you please. Believers have exchanged their sin to God’s Righteousness. They have been reconciled to God through the vicarious work of Christ. The enmity between man and God because of sin and rebellion had been removed. Jesus became believers’ reconciliation, now they must become the means of sharing the gospel of reconciliation with others. Believers share in Jesus’ death and likewise share in His ministry of reconciliation in (cf. v. 19). He truly is the only way to reconciliation and forgiveness (cf. John 14:6). If He is, then the gospel is the most important information people should ever, can ever hear! We must tell the truth; we must preach the Gospel; we must lift up Christ; we must offer a free salvation to a lost world. A lost world is not on the doorstep of a powerless, loveless God, but is on the doorstep of an apathetic, unconcerned church. We have the message; we have the keys of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:19; Rev. 1:18; 3:7). We have the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9,11; I Cor. 3:16; 6:19; II Tim. 1:14). We have the marching orders of Jesus (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). What will we do?
PERSEVERANCE IS AS A VALID BIBLICAL EMPHASIS AS ASSURANCE
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”John 15:4 (NASB 1995) read verses 1-10 of John 15
Some Christians have not realized in their lives all that God wants them to be, that somehow, they have compromised themselves with their own culture, and consequently, left the faith. I am sincerely concerned about these believers. But this text screams to me of the radicalness of the call of Christ, and carnality and periphery are no part of this call. Some denominational groups have so emphasized the ‘assurance’, that they have ignored ‘perseverance’. They have put so much hope in an initial salvation experience, that they have forgotten the Biblical thrust that salvation is primarily, daily Christlikeness. It’s not some religious ritual, no matter how meaningful that ritual may be somewhere in the past. “Abide in Me, and I in you…” – it’s an awesome thing. You know, John’s literary style is like he’s weaving a tapestry; it’s like a mosaic put together – the themes are woven together. Verse 1 of John chapter 15 is one of the great ‘I Am’ statements of Jesus. He’s made a lot of them. These ‘I Am’ statements seem to go back to chapter 4 verse 26, where, in speaking to the woman at the well, He uses the covenant name for God, ‘Yahweh’, and its English translation – ‘I Am’. And if she knew anything about Judaism, she knew that Jesus had unveiled Himself claiming to be deity. These ‘I Am’ verses continue through the chapters of John, and here in 15 verses 1 and 5, Jesus said, “I Am the True Vine”. What is He talking about, claiming to be the ‘True Vine’? You know, there are numerous places in the Old Testament where Israel is identified as the vineyard. As a matter of fact, in the Temple of Jesus’ day, was a huge gold grape vine symbolizing the nation of Israel. Every place in the Old Testament, Israel is identified as a vineyard, or grape vines. It’s a judgment passage, and the one that sticks to my mind the so strongly is Isaiah chapter 5 verses 1 through 7. You might want to look at it. It tells about the story of a man who bought the most expensive kind of hill available; a hill that faced the sun, a hill that was graded just the right way as the water would cascade. He built a guard fence and a guard tower, got all the rocks out, got all the weeds out, built a vat to collect the wine, and bought the most sarek grapes available in his day, planted them in this perfect hillside, sunlit and watered vineyard. He fertilized the plants and set back to wait for the grapes that were surely to come. But instead of the wonderful, sweet grapes of the sarek vine, came the wild stinking grapes of the wild olive branch. And the Prophet says to the people, ‘What shall the vineyard owner do with this hill?’ And the people cried out, ‘he should tear down its walls, and let the animals come in. Don’t water it, don’t prune it’. And the Prophet whirled on them and said, ‘you are the vineyard of the Lord’. ‘I’ve done everything for you’, he said. ‘I’ve sent you my prophets, I’ve given you my word, I’ve done everything for you. And instead of the people of God that you ought to be, you’ve become like disobedient pagans calling Me by My Name’. We see the same trend in the New Testament. And in Mark 12 verses 1 through 10 is the parable of the wicked vine tenants. Again, God is depicted as the owner of a great vineyard, where he buys the best field, and does everything just like Isaiah 5. And then he leases it out to a group of men, and he goes on a vacation, and they are to pay him from the grapes. But they won’t pay him, and won’t pay him. And he sent servant after servant, and they beat the servants, and they even killed one servant. And then the landowner said, ‘I know what I’ll do; I’ll send my son, surely they’ll respect my son’. And these wicked tenant farmers said, ‘here comes the heir, if we kill him, the vineyard is ours’. So, they killed the son of the owner. And God’s judgment falls on Israel for that, which obviously is a reference to their rejection of the Messiah. Now the question is, when this text begins to talk about pruning and cleansing, and some branches not bearing fruit and being burned, who in the world is it talking about? Is it talking about Israel? Real possibility it is. The thing about the analogy that hits me so firmly is, these Jewish people, you ask them, they would say, ‘certainly, I’m right with God. I’m a descendant of Abraham, I’m of the tribe…, I’m a Hebrew of the Hebrews. I follow the Mosaic Law, certainly, I’m right with God’. And they were not. Some say, this ‘pruning’ and ‘cleaning’ has a play on the word, here on verse 2. Basically, it’s the word ‘cleanse’, not the word ‘pruned’. You don’t use the word ‘cleanse’ for pruning grape vines. It’s obviously a word play here; He’s not talking about grape vines anymore. Some would say, because of the context, particularly verse 6, that He’s talking about Judas Iscariot. Remember John 1 3:10, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” It’s obviously a word play here, and He’s talking about Judas. It’s a way of encouraging them that only Judas s going to fall away. Earlier in chapter 15, which is the same context, and same discussion, Jesus talking Peter said, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you”. Maybe He’s talking to Christians about ‘continuing sin’ in their life (cf. 1 John 1:9). I’m not sure about that, but it’s possible. Or maybe it’s a warning to believers, and it’s really scary. You know, I do believe in ‘assurance’, but ‘assurance’ was never meant to be a license for godless living, apathetic living, indifferent living, and lazy living on the part of blood-bought children of God. God’s mercy is meant to cause our lives to overflowing gratitude, and we use it so that we can live godless lives, and hope to get to heaven when we die, because we did some little something, somewhere, sometime.
1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us;” ‘they were in there, but they went out, which really shows they were not of us’. The Parable of the soils in Matthew 13, talks about seeds that fell on 4 kinds of soil; 3 of them germinated, only one of them bore fruit. And this passage seems to imply that even though those other 2 received the word with joy, that when problems and pressures of this world came, the plant died. That’s scary for us! It looks like that fruit-bearing is the evidence of salvation, and not germination. This text is exactly that same basic metaphor and motive expression, ‘fruit-bearing is the evidence, not profession’. You see, I think we have preached to people, “only believe, only believe, only pray this prayer, only do this little act”, in such a manner that we have neglected the concept of ‘abiding’ in Christ. I am not, in any way, depreciating the initial need of response, but for God’s sake, the need for initial response must be matched with an ongoing response of faith and repentance. It’s hard for me to come to grips with this text, as I’m not exactly sure who it’s talking to. I’m not exactly sure what ‘abiding’ is, but this is a serious text. And it cannot be blown away from our lives easily. It swirls around us in haunting melodies, that somehow, we’ve not just got it yet. What does ‘abiding’ do? You know, the word ‘abide’ is a major word of John. While the word is used 112 times in the whole New Testament, it’s used 40 times in John’s Gospel, and 26 times in John’s letters. He likes this word. He talks about Messiah abiding, he talks about all kinds of things abiding, and now, he comes that we must abide. “I Am the real vine…” – implication, Israel is not the real vine. I think this a strong text on the Church being the spiritual Israel (I am not in any way espousing Replacement theology). If we are spiritual Israel, we have an awesome responsibility of ministry (cf. Eph. 2:12-13; Gal. 3:7).
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” – Every cultivator of plants and trees will tell you about the necessity of trimming and pruning so that plants will blossom more, and trees will grow big, and bear more fruit. Of course, this whole idea of pruning and trimming looks like it’s hurting the plant. Oh my, does God do that to His children? Does God prune that we might bear more fruit? Was Jesus perfected by the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8)? Why are we surprised when fiery ordeals come upon us, as though some strange thing s were happening to us (1 Pet. 4:12)? Those verses tell me that God does prune us, hence, we only enter the kingdom of God through suffering.