Daily Bible Study Tips –
The Gospel of John, Chapters 15 – 21
Overview of John
Comments on John Chapters 1 – 6
Comments on John Chapters 9 – 14
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
John 19:18-36, The death of the Lamb
John 20:1-18, Mary Magdalene
John 20:27, Reader Question
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John 15:1-8 (5/6/09)
The image of the vine to represent the Jews was thoroughly established by the time of Christ. The image carried a lot of freight. It contained the idea of having been brought out of Egypt by God's mighty hand during the Exodus. It contained the idea that God himself had moved his people to the Promised Land, where he nurtured them, increased their numbers, and made them into one of the most powerful nations in what is now the Middle East. It contained the idea that the Jews had been faithful to God and had produced the fruit of justice, mercy, obedience and a right relationship with God.
Unfortunately, it also contained the idea that very often the vine had produced the bad fruit of injustice, hard-heartedness, idolatry, and apostasy. The Jews had been through a number of cycles of apostasy, oppression, repentance, and return to fruitfulness, many of which resulted in reductions of the size of the kingdom. Only the faithful remnant remained.
When Jesus laid claim to being the "true vine," he appropriated the entire image. He was the true Israel, and he was producing the type of fruit that God wanted, in the persons of his faithful disciples. Grapes are pruned in the spring to force them to bear larger and tastier grapes and to take away all the dead or weakened wood. Jesus said his disciples would be pruned again and again – to make them more fruitful and to take away all signs of the bad fruit – but only the branches that stay attached to the him, the true vine, would have any hope of producing fruit.
There's a fairly new book out called "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It." I thought that was an intriguing title, so while I was at the bookstore buying yet another trio of science-fiction, fantasy, and murder-mystery novels, I picked this one up and read it for five minutes. The authors recommend that all businesses implement the "Results Only Work Environment," or ROWE. Their idea is that the only
thing that should count at work is whether the job gets done – not time on site, not meetings attended, not regulations followed. Now, I've noticed that in many jobs, time on site is an integral part of doing the job, attending meetings is an integral part of doing the job, following regulations is an integral part of doing the job; so I think the authors go a little overboard. But they are right about one thing: if you don't produce some kind of results, you haven't done the job!
To a very great extent, Christianity is a ROWE. If your faith doesn't result in love and obedience, you haven't done the job! In the Christian ROWE, time spent at church won't save you. Trustee meetings won't save you. Following the Law won't save you. Only
faith in Christ will save you. Now, as a matter of fact, worship, good works, and following the commandments are all integral parts of the Christian life. But the primary results that Jesus wants to see are love and obedience.
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
A couple of weeks ago I went to a funeral for a fellow church member. One of her grandsons gave a eulogy in which he spoke about joy she now enjoys in heaven. He suggested that when Jesus wept before he raised Lazarus, perhaps it was because he knew where he was calling Lazarus back from
. When I read today's passage, that thought come back to me. Jesus tells his disciples, "You're sad that I'm leaving, but you haven't even asked where I'm going!" The disciples were just like us: instead of being joyful for our friend or our child who is leaving for a new life and a new experience in a distant city or at college or in a new marriage, we feel sorry for ourselves because we won't have them with us any longer. Jesus assures his disciples that when he leaves – and only when he leaves – the Holy Spirit will come to them.
If there are scriptures that you don't understand, don't get discouraged! In both of the passages we read today, people are having trouble understanding what Jesus is saying to them. These were not ignorant people. Nicodemus (Ch. 3) was a Pharisee, which means he was a devout Jew who knew the scriptures, and he was a member of the Sanhedrin, which means he was a leader. Jesus called him "a teacher of Israel." The people Jesus is talking to in the Chapter 16 were his own disciples. They had spent 3 years in his company, listening to his teachings every single day. Even today, after 2000 years of scholarly and devotional study, there are some scripture passages whose meaning is not too clear.
Here's the important thing to remember. God's plan for salvation is not a secret. If you love God and want Jesus as your savior, the Holy Spirit will make sure you know everything you need to know. If the meaning of a passage is obscure to scholars and clergy, it's not important to salvation, because God's plan for salvation is absolutely clear. So study your Bible, ask questions, and read commentaries in order to understand the scripture better, but don't worry. See also John 3:1-17.
This passage is from Jesus' final prayer at the Last Supper, sometimes called the "High Priestly Prayer." In this passage, he prays for his disciples, and not only for those at table with him, but also for us: ""I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
John 17:6-19, Jesus is praying at the Last Supper (5/22/09)
The UMC prides itself on being a context church, not a proof-text church. This is a trait we get from John Wesley, who had several rules for interpreting scripture
. (Note that he never laid out all the rules in one place, so they seem to vary a bit depending on who is reporting them.) One of the rules is "Interpret the text with regard to its literary context." This is an especially good rule to remember while reading today's passage, which contains the startling statement, "I'm asking on their [the apostles'] behalf – I'm not asking on behalf of the whole world, but on behalf of these whom you gave me because they were yours" (vs. 9).
Wait a minute... Why doesn't Jesus pray for me? Well, he does; he just wasn't praying for me right that second. In his commentary on this verse, Wesley points out that you can't prove from it that Jesus does not pray for the world, and that in fact just a little later he prays for people who will come to believe through the word of the apostles (vs. 20) and indeed for the whole world (vss. 21 and 23). It's a good practice whenever people refer you to a specific Bible verse that supports what they are saying to read about 10 verses before and after. You may find even stronger support for what they are saying. You may find that the context means exactly the opposite of what they are saying. At the very least, you'll probably understand it better.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 54: John 19:4-16, Ecce Homo, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (8/13/15)
John 19:18-36, The death of the Lamb (4/8/09)
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo did more than one painting called “Ecce Homo,” or “Behold, the Man!” This one is in the Museo de Prado in Madrid, but apparently there’s a similar one in the El Paso Museum of Art.
Pilate was hoping that beating Jesus and humiliating him would satisfy the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, but it didn’t work. When he brought Jesus out to show to them, they started yelling, “Crucify him!” Murillo shows Jesus’ exhaustion and pain in his lowered head and drooping eyes and lips. He also shows the blood dripping down from the wounds caused by the thorns, which not all artists seem to do. Not my favorite topic, but possibly my favorite painting on this topic.
Previous Step. Next Step.
"Ecce Homo" by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, from the Gamble family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.
R-Rated for Violence: Skip to next paragraph if you don't want to read this. Now, one of the things you'd probably rather not know is that people who are crucified die of suffocation. In the Roman Empire, crosses had a little platform that the criminal could stand on to take the weight of his body off of his rib cage and thus delay the inevitable. For this reason, death by crucifixion typically took several days (see Mark 15:44). Throughout the Roman Empire the Romans left criminals hanging on the cross until they died – except in Judea. The Jews objected so strongly to having people on crosses on holy days that there the Roman practice was to break the femurs of the criminals early on the previous day, so that they could not support themselves, would die much more rapidly, and could be taken down. (Being taken down alive really wasn't an option.)
John, after decades in the company of the Holy Spirit, wrote a gospel and an apocalypse that give Jesus the name, "Lamb of God." John takes pains to point out that even though Jesus was crucified during Passover, on the day before the Sabbath, not one of his bones was broken
John never refers to himself by name in his Gospel, and usually he doesn't mention himself at all. A few times, when the narrative absolutely can't go on without him, he refers to himself as "the disciple Jesus loved." The love of Jesus shines through John's Gospel and letters with a brilliance that makes the other books of the NT seem pale. John's symbol is the eagle, because only the eagle can look directly at the sun without being blinded. John looked directly at God, and what he saw was love. See also 1 John 4:7-21.
John 20:1-18, Mary Magdalene 3/23/2008)
The first recorded appearance of the risen Jesus to anyone is to Mary Magdalene. This is the Mary whom Jesus healed of seven demons. You will very often read or hear that Mary was a prostitute, but that simply has no basis whatsoever in scripture. Demons are always associated with sickness, not sinfulness, in the scripture. (And by the way, "the devil made me do it" is a complete cop-out. You did it for your own reasons, you miserable sinner!) Where was I?
Much has been made of the fact that Mary Magdalene and others did not recognize Jesus when they first saw him. Various reasons have been proposed, but I think the explanation is very simple. How many times have you seen someone you know well, but out of context, for example, in a place you've never seen them before? I can rarely remember the name of the person when this happens to me, and sometimes I draw a complete blank on even knowing the person. Usually I recognize members of my immediate family no matter where I see them, but that's about it.
No one in the history of the earth has been so out of context as Jesus on Resurrection Day. Here's the context: Mary Magdalene saw him die. She saw him buried. She knew he was GONE. And now here she is at the tomb, confused, frightened, and crying, and some man speaks to her. If she had immediately recognized him, the whole story would have the flavor of an unbelievable fabrication. But she didn't, and that convinces me.
John 20:11-29 (4/9/09)
When I see someone out of context – a co-worker at a grocery store, or a Bethel student in a meeting at work – I usually don't recognize him or her right away. I have never gone to a funeral and later seen the deceased at the mall, but if I did, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't know who it was. It doesn't surprise me that Jesus' friends didn't recognize him immediately when they saw him after the resurrection. He was the most out-of-context person in the history of the world! They had seen him taken away for trial and execution. Some of them had seen him die on the cross. A few of them had been to his burial. I think that the astonishment, not to mention fear and disbelief, of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them is one of the most convincing proofs in scripture of the reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
I have a relative with whom I have no shared interests or common memories. We've never had a cross word, mostly because we have nothing whatsoever to talk about. I can't imagine being friends with her. On the other hand, I met a woman yesterday at work, and we not only had work in common, but it turns out we both have sons. We shared stories of the boys' childhood and sports experience. Instant friendship!
Some of the disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, and John, for example – had known each other and been friends all their lives. Others – Matthew, for example – were apparently strangers to everyone else. But for three years the disciples had shared the common experience of being in the company of Jesus. After the crucifixion, they shared the common experience of hiding out from the law and of seeing the risen Christ. They formed the core group of the early Christian community. Even when they disagreed, their common experience and solid friendship kept them in fellowship with each other. When we read about the experiences of the disciples, of Abraham and Moses, of Rachel and Leah and Elizabeth and Mary, we participate in these experiences and share them. At least in part, we are in fellowship with these people, and we believe because of what they saw.
A few days ago I rasped to my family, "I don't know much about the glorified body, but I don't think it will be catching colds!" My Grandma used to say that she sure hoped it was going to work better than the body she had. Today's scripture is one of a few that tell us a little bit about what to expect:
- You will still be recognizably you. (You won't be an angel – you will be a human being in a glorified body. This is probably a good thing, because the first thing real angels say is, "Don't panic!" Apparently they are very scary.)
- Any miscellaneous wounds will be miraculously healed, although you get to keep the scars.
- You will be able to go through locked doors.
I like Thomas. He wouldn't take anybody's word for the resurrection, saying that unless he saw the crucified and living Jesus for himself, he wasn't going to believe it, and that was flat. But when he did see Jesus for himself, he was the first person to address Jesus not only as "my Lord," but also as "my God." What a turnaround! What an insight!
John 20:24-31 3/30/2008)
I've always had a lot of sympathy for Thomas, because I like facts. The Internet originated as a means for scientists to transfer data to one another, so it's ironic that the main unintended off-shoot of the Internet is the speed and ubiquity of the spread of non-facts (also known as mistakes, fiction, and downright lies) through the medium of email. People send me amazing stuff every day that purports to be true. If I'm skeptical (usually) and not too lazy (sometimes), I go to snopes.com or do a Google search. This usually takes about 30 seconds. Nine times out of ten, the item turns out to be false. If I think the person who sent it is intellectually and emotionally able to bear the blow, I send back an immediate correction.
Thomas was in a similar position. There had been quite a number of false Messiahs recently. Jesus Himself had warned his disciples against believing too easily that the Christ had reappeared (e.g., Mark 13:21-22). Thomas knew for a fact that Jesus was dead and buried. So when the other disciples tell him a fantastic tale of seeing the dead man alive again, he doesn't believe it. Neither would we have. (Let's be honest here. Would you believe me if I said that last Sunday in church I talked to someone you knew was dead? No. You would edge away and have a private chat with my caretakers.)
But the flip side of all this is that Thomas is the first person recorded in the Bible as having acknowledged Jesus not only as Lord, which often means "sir" or "boss," but as God. There is no doubt that after Thomas addressed Jesus as "Lord and God" that the Church clearly understood "Lord" as we do today, and not as "sir" or "boss."
John 20:27, Reader Question: There's a story making the rounds on the Internet about the significance of the "folded napkin" in the empty tomb. What do you think?(4/12/08)
When readers first started sending this email along to me, I thought, "Hmm," but I was too lazy to check it out until someone actually asked my opinion. Now that I've done some work on it, here's my opinion: Some people should spend more time in Biblical study and less time on creative writing. This story belongs in a class on modern fiction.
I had never heard of this so-called custom before the emails, which means that it is in none of the commentaries I have read. Just to be on the safe side, I checked a few more references. It isn't there, either. Disregard it and hit your "delete" button; don't send it on. Scholars offer various explanations of the grave clothes, all mutually exclusive, so clearly we don't know why the linens were as they were. For me, the significance of the description of the grave linens is that John remembered even the little details of his and Peter's visit to the tomb. These details show that we are hearing from an eye witness.
I also checked two Internet sites that investigate emails and other electronic urban myths. Both sites seem to have done a pretty thorough job of investigating this one, and I vouch for their Greek. In summary, they say that both "folded" and "napkin" can be and frequently are interpreted differently, and so far no scholar has turned up who knows about this custom. This story apparently first popped up around 2007; see Truth or Fiction.
I have nothing to add to what these two sites say, except that it's always a good idea to check snopes.com and truthorfiction.com before forwarding anything. (Of course, you are always welcome to check with me or your clergy on the Biblical stuff. We like to know what's out there.) Naturally, I also found about 6 bazillion sites that accept and repeat the story with variations. I looked at a couple of these, and mostly the comments were on the order of "Isn't this cool?"
Well, I do have one other thing to add. We do not have to rely on a folded or rolled cloth or napkin to know that Jesus intended to come back. He said several times that He was coming back. After the Resurrection, about 500 people SAW that He had come back. Many people saw Him going away again, alive. The angels said again that He was coming back. Why on earth would He send a secret message by means of a scrap of cloth that could easily be overlooked, and which apparently was overlooked by three other gospel writers?
There are so many accounts of the actions of the risen Christ that we couldn't get them all in last week. Today's passage has two details that I love. One is that it gives the exact number of fish. This has got to be an eye-witness account by a fisherman, i.e., John. The second is that in verse 25, the word translated fish really means "relish," although often it was used for "fish." And the form of the question expects the answer "no." Jesus is asking, "Boys, you didn't catch anything good to eat, did you?" So then he tells them to cast on the other side of the boat, and afterwards he feeds them breakfast. Even when things are going badly, Jesus will make sure we are fed.
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