A Promise of Better Things

It’s hard to see through painful things.

When we realize that someone dear to us is about to be taken away from us, it’s like our tears distort our vision of the circumstances. We only see the hurt that’s right in front of us and not the comfort, peace, or joy on the other side.

In this extended account of Jesus’ teaching in John 14-16, Jesus is trying to prepare his followers for His pending departure. And the biggest preparation He made was to promise them something better.

Jesus begins this lesson by explaining some things:

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. (John 16.4b-6)

They really didn’t need to know these things while He was sticking around, but, now that He is about to return to the Father, they seem more upset that He is leaving than curious as to where He is going. He knows their hearts are heavy.

But look at the important words He speaks next:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16.7)

Do you see it? Jesus is trying to get them to see beyond their feelings of loss. He points to the better things to come. So… what is that?

It’s the Holy Spirit that will come and live within each of their hearts in a very powerful way. But the promise cannot be fulfilled until Jesus has gone away.

But still… He assures them it will be better than what they know.

Jesus loves these people that have walked with Him so very many miles. He Has seen them struggle for understanding and wrestle with some very hard truths. He has seen their eyes filled with wonder as they reached back into the basket again and again until all of these thousands of people were completely satisfied with their meal. They had helped pull the grave clothes from Lazarus and tasted the wine at the wedding.

But he assures them of more.

He is leaving, but He will leave with them a promise of better things.

I don’t know what the pain in your life may be today. Maybe it’s the painful reality of a loved one soon departing. Maybe it’s the inevitable end of something you’ve fought so very hard to retain. Maybe it’s just the crashing in upon you by the reality that those sweet moments you have shared simply cannot last forever in this life.

But for you—if indeed you are a follower of Jesus—there is always this great promise of better things yet to come.

It doesn’t make the hurt go away. But it does remind us that the hurt is, even at its very worst… temporary.

Stay, Grow.

Abide.

Just stay. Live. Abide.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about living in this relationship with Him and the Father. He was trying to recenter their understanding, to open their eyes to the relational reality that He had come to usher them into in this personal knowledge of Him.

In John 15, the word abide occurs 10 times in the first 10 verses. Maybe it’s important.

[Read John 15.1-17]

Jesus begins to build this understanding by painting a word picture that is familiar to these men from mostly rural areas. You couldn’t walk around Judea much in those days without passing by or through a couple of common things—vineyards full of grapes and groves full of olives.

He paints a picture of a grapevine and identifies Himself as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser (the one who tends and cares for the vine).(1) He points at the vinedresser’s practice of cutting away branches that do not bear fruit and pruning carefully those who do that they might be even more fruitful.(2)

Jesus points to the disciples and reminds them that, by receiving Him, they have been made new, clean, alive.(3) He is making sure they know He is talking about His intention for them.

Then He speaks these words that have been a cornerstone for understanding what it means to walk with Jesus:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.(4-5)

He urges them to abide in Him. Like the branch has to be firmly attached to the vine, drawing all of its nourishment and sustenance and life through that connection, we are to abide in Jesus, finding life and spiritual health and full nutrition in Him. He tells us that this is the key to a fruitful spiritual life.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? A branch that is not connected to the vine will shrivel in the sun and crumble. It simply cannot bear fruit. Jesus compels us to abide, to stay, to remain, to LIVE in Him.

The branches that are not rooted in the vine will be gathered and burned up. They are worthless, fruitless, dead.(6) But, there is real power and connection for those rooted in the vine. Jesus told them that being connected in Him like this would give them favor with the Father, that our heart’s true desires the Father would grant.(7)

Of course, if we are truly rooted and abiding in Him, the desire of our hearts will be for Him, not for ourselves.

God’s greatness is revealed as we abide in Jesus, allowing His Spirit to bear all kinds of spiritual fruit through our lives.(8) Jesus assured us that He had loved us just as the Father loved Him and urged us to abide in that love.(9)

Ok, we get it. We’re supposed to abide in Jesus, in His great love. But what does that look like?

It looks like Jesus. It looks like what He did. He took great joy in doing what the Father asked Him to do. We abide in His love by taking joy in doing what He asked us to do. We find our life, our purpose, our meaning, in pleasing Him.(10-11)

I have come to comprehend joy as the consciousness of grace. To have joy is to be aware and mindful of how great His love is for us and to recognize how free and undeserved that love truly is.

And just as Jesus taught us that all of God’s law boils down to two commandments—to love God with all that we are and to love others at least as much as ourselves—so we best love Jesus by demonstrating His love to others. (12) In pouring out ourselves for Him and for one another, we are reflecting His love most fully.(13)

There is a pivot point there in verses 13-15 where Jesus begins to refer to them as friends and not merely servants. He is drawing them deeper and deeper into this relational understanding of God’s plan for them. And He reminds them that He chose them (and us too, by the way) to join in His plan, to go and bear good fruit as He works in them by His Spirit.(16)

And what do we gain by joining in with Him? We gain the intimacy to ask the Father for whatever is on our hearts and know that He hears and will surely act in our best interested for His own sake.(16b)

Jesus was teaching us that the key to a fruitful, thriving, abundant spiritual life is simply to abide in Him, dwell in Him, live in Him. And in doing so, grow.

Funny how simple it is, don’t you think?

Stay, grow.

The New Life… of the Party

Weddings are very important and very meaningful occasions. It’s pretty forefront in the minds of the ladies of the Peercy Posse right now as we prepare for my only daughter’s upcoming nuptials.

It’s always been an interesting detail to me that Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the book of John took place at a wedding. It is significant in my mind.

[Take a moment and read John 2.1-12.]

The first statement about the festivities here is that there was a supply issue. They ran out of wine. That’s a problem.

I know some folks that have argued that this was not wine in the same sense that we use the term today, that it was not alcoholic, that it was juice, that it was not at all an endorsement of partaking of alcohol. We often do a lot of interpretive gymnastics when the Bible suggest to us a reality that doesn’t fit with our conviction. It was wine. It is ridiculous to suggest otherwise and it’s foolish to think Jesus did not partake. Let’s be clear, folks: wine is not the problem, excess is. But that’s a post for another day…

Jesus’ mother brought to his attention the matter of shortage. While Jesus seems to, in a sense, protest his mother’s insinuation that he could rectify the situation, he gave instruction nonetheless.

The servants filled the water jars. These were large containers that were used for various ritual practices and were thus kept carefully clean. Jesus never seems to have even touched any of the jars. He just told them to draw some and take it to the toastmaster.

The toastmaster was astounded at the breaking with custom. The norm was to serve the best wine at the beginning and, when folks were a little more relaxed and, say, less discerning, bring the poorer quality. This was the very best!

The text tells us that, as Jesus did this sign, he “manifested his glory.” He was showing a glimpse of who He was. And in doing so, “his disciples believed in him.”

In the mess of lack, Jesus brought abundance.

It was an abundance of quantity and an abundance of quality. It was a generous provision.

We can draw a number of observations here. It could well be said that Jesus loves a party. He certainly saved this one. It could be said that Jesus loved good things. He made the water into the best wine. It could even be said that Jesus approved the celebration of a wedding as he allowed this one to continue in a very significant way. But the one thing we have to recognize is that Jesus stepped into the mess of lack and brought abundance.

There’s something else, though, that I want us to consider.

Jesus came to the wedding. It was a great celebration—no doubt full of dancing and celebrating and drinking. It was in danger of winding down all too soon.

Jesus, the bringer of new life, was, on this occasion, the new life of the party. He enabled the celebration to continue.

So much of the imagery of Scripture regarding weddings points us to a greater, deeper, spiritual reality that every believer will one day witness with our eyes. It points to the marriage supper of the Lamb where Jesus, the Son of God, the glorious bridegroom, will receive to himself his bride, the Church. And that party will go on beyond the bounds of time.

Jesus came into our lack to bring his abundance. He was the new life of the party. If he loved a good party then, what kind of incredible celebration are we in for when we get to his own?