Abiding in Christ

Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe his relationship with his followers. The main point Jesus was trying to communicate was the importance of sticking together. Jesus used the words abide and remain to convey his message, as well as the term husbandman to describe God’s role in the process. In the second and third verses of John 15, Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

The word translated purgeth in John 15:2 is representative of the pruning process, but it actually means to cleanse and metaphorically, Jesus spoke of purging his worshippers of guilt (G2508). To be clean means that we are free from guilt. Jesus said in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” In other words, reading our Bibles and hearing its content preached to us takes away our guilt. We grow closer to Jesus and show visible signs of spiritual health when we spend time studying the Bible.

Jesus linked our ability to abide in him with love and obeying his commandments. He said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” The word translated love in this verse is agape (ag-ah´-pay), which is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God” (G26).

If you think of agape love as doing what God wants us to do rather than what we ourselves want to do, then abiding in Jesus’ love means that we are always doing the will of God. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus did God’s will by dying on the cross for us, so we should show our love for others by doing God’s will for them. This could be as simple as praying for a friend that is sick or giving away our time by serving in a church ministry.

One of the keys to abiding in Christ and bearing fruit is the realization that we have been chosen by God and appointed to serve him (John 15:16). We are knit together by close spiritual bonds that form us into the family of God and separate us from the world (John 15:19). The separation we experience is actually evidence that we belong to God. The farther we get from the world, the adornment and decoration of temporal possessions, the closer we get to Jesus and the will of God.

Holy Spirit

The triune nature of God made it possible for Jesus to leave Earth and yet remain present with his followers. Jesus described his connection with his followers this way:

Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (John 14:19-21, ESV)

The Greek word translated manifest in John 14:21, emphanizo (em-fan-id´-zo) means “to exihibit (in person) or disclose (by words)” (G1718). Emphanizo is also translated as appear and show. The root word of emphanizo is emphanes (em-fan-ace´) which means to be “apparent in self” (G1717). What Jesus likely meant when he said he would manifest himself was that he would be seen in the behavior of the believer that is living according to his commandments. In other words, believers that act like him are making it seem as if Jesus is still living with us in this world.

Jesus told his disciples that his absence would not prevent them from continuing his work. In fact, Jesus promised them they would be able to do even more than they had before. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12). The work Jesus was referring to was probably the spreading of the gospel. During his three-year ministry, Jesus visited much of the territory that was promised to Abraham and his descendants, but the goal of his ministry was to spread the gospel throughout the entire world (Matthew 28:19). Even today, some 2000 years later, there are still people that do not have the Bible available to them in their native language.

Jesus indicated another person was going to come and help his disciples achieve their mission. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:15-17). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit was a completely new and different way of connecting with God. Before Jesus died, the Holy Spirit was not living in the world. The possibility that God could live inside a person was a phenomenal breakthrough that Jesus’ disciples were most likely unable to comprehend.

Jesus briefly explained to his disciples how this new relationship was going to work. He told them, “These things I have spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:25-26). In a nut shell, what Jesus was telling his disciples was that they didn’t have to worry about forgetting the things he had taught them. Jesus’ identification of the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17) meant that he was the essence of God’s word being brought to life within the born again believer. With the exception of John, this fantastic revelation likely went over the heads of all of Jesus’ apostles. It probably wasn’t until after the day of Pentacost, when the Holy Spirit arrived on the scene (Acts 2:1-4), that the reality of Jesus’ promise actually set in.

A memorial

Mary’s awareness that Jesus was about to die prompted her to make an extreme sacrifice in order to demonstrate her love for him. According to John’s gospel, Jesus was in the home of Martha eating supper with a group of men. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). “Mary’s act of devotion was costly. It was also an unusual act, both because she poured the oil on Jesus’ feet (normally it was poured on the head) and because she used her hair to wipe them (a respectable woman did not unbind her hair in public). Further, it showed her humility, for it was a servant’s work to attend to the feet” (note on John 12:3).

John went on to say that Judas Iscariot, the disciple that would betray Jesus, questioned the use of Mary’s oil for such a purpose. He asked, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas’ knowledge of the value of the ointment probably came from his experience in selling such products. John noted that Judas’ question was motivated by greed. He commented, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). The contrast between Mary and Judas’ behavior showed that Mary’s devotion to Jesus was genuine and her act of kindness was not meant to draw attention to herself. On the contrary, Mary wanted to draw attention to the sacrifice Jesus was about to make.

The cost of the oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet was practically an entire years wages (note on Mark 14:5). It is likely that it was her only possession with any significant value. The oil was kept in a sealed flask with a long neck that was broken off when the contents were used (note on Mark 14:3). Therefore, the oil was meant for a single use on a special occasion. Mary may have intended to use the oil on her wedding night or for the burial of a loved one. The fact that Mary used the oil to anoint Jesus’s feet indicated he was the most important person in her life and his death the most significant event she could think of for the use of her precious ointment.

Jesus rebuked Judas for his criticism of Mary’s action and stated emphatically:

Let her alone; why trouble you her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. (Mark 14:6-9)

The keys to the kingdom

In an effort to dispel rumors about his identity, Jesus had a conversation with his disciples that made it clear he had come from heaven to earth for a specific purpose, to die for the sins of the world. Jesus began the conversation by asking his disciples, “Whom say the people that I am?” (Luke 9:18) and then asked, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Luke 9:20). The apostle Peter’s response is documented three different ways in the three gospels that have a record of this incident. I think Matthew, who was present at the time, captured it best when he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mark 16:16). What Peter was saying was that Jesus was the Messiah, the savior God had promised to send to his people. Matthew went on to say, “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Luke explained that the reason Jesus’ true identity was being kept a secret was because, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22). In other words, it was dangerous for Jesus’ identity to be revealed because the religious leaders wanted to kill him in order to stop him from completing his mission of saving the world. After Peter made his confession of faith, Jesus told him, “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mark 16:18-19).

Keys are only mentioned twice in the Bible, in the conversation Jesus had with his disciples about his identity and in Revelation 1:18 where Jesus said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death.” The keys to the kingdom of heaven and the keys to hell were both given to Jesus, the Messiah, who was also know as the anointed one, God’s designated representative. It was in his role as Messiah that Jesus obtained access to heaven for all mankind. When Jesus told Peter that he would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he was essentially saying that Peter, and anyone else that confessed that he was the Messiah, would be able to have direct access to God for all eternity. Jesus’ reference to things being bound and loosed on earth and in heaven had to do with sin and its power to separate us from God.

So that his disciples would understand that access to God was not something to be taken lightly, Jesus said:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

The phrase Jesus used “take up his cross daily” meant to undergo suffering, trial, punishment, to expose oneself to reproach and death. In other words, to allow oneself to be treated in the same way that Jesus was. Matthew’s version of Jesus’ admonition included an incentive. He stated, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). The Greek word that is translated works, praxis means practice and by extension a function (4234). Another way of referring to works could be an assignment or regular duty. I think what Jesus was implying was that the more we exercise our faith on earth, the more we will see the results of it in heaven.

 

The other side

The original word used to refer to God’s people, “Hebrew” was an ethnic term that referred to “a diverse mixture of nomadic wanderers or at least those who appeared to have at one time been nomadic” (5680).  The term Hebrew or Eberite is derived from the word ‘eber (ay’-ber). “When speaking of rivers or seas, ‘eber means the ‘edge or side opposite the speaker’ or ‘the other side'” (5676). The word ‘eber is derived from the Hebrew word abar (aw-bar’) which means “to cross over” (5674). This word can be found throughout the Old Testament of the Bible in conjunction with major events that occurred in the lives of Abraham’s descendants, primarily before they settled in the Promised Land. The Hebrew word abar communicated the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of wrong. An example of this was when Jacob “crossed over” the Euphrates to escape Laban (Genesis 31:21).

After concluding his detailed teaching about the kingdom of heaven (Mark 4:1-34), Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (Mark 4:35). Upon reaching the opposite shore of the sea of Galilee, Jesus was met by a man possessed by a demonic spirit who referred to himself as Legion. This seems to suggest that the territory known as the Decapolis was associated with sinful behavior and may have been considered off-limits to people that were obedient to God’s commandments. If so, the fact that Jesus directed his disciples to go to this god-forsaken location seems to suggest that he wanted them to see what was going on there. Most likely, the reason for their visit to the country of the Gadarenes was so that Jesus’ disciples could see him exercise his authority over Satan’s army because, like their ancestors,’ his disciples would have to conquer these enemies in order to occupy the Promised Land, a.k.a. the kingdom of heaven.

While their ship was crossing the sea, it says in Mark 4:37, “there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.” In spite of the sudden violent gust of wind and the torrential rains that accompanied it, Mark indicated in his account of the incident that Jesus was asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship (Mark 4:38). Jesus’ disciples had to physically arouse him from his peaceful slumber and then, in a panic asked him, “Master, carest thou not that we perish” (Mark 4:38). The Greek word translated perish, apollumi doesn’t refer to death, but what is often associated with death; ruin, the loss of well-being. In other words, the disciples were suggesting that Satan could ruin their trip in order to stop them from doing damage to his kingdom. After rebuking the wind and telling the sea to be still, Jesus asked his disciples, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that you have no faith” (Mark 4:40). His point being that they hadn’t even made it to the other side yet, and his disciples were ready to concede to their enemy.

Discipleship

During his ministry on earth, Jesus centered his attention on the spiritual needs of God’s people; and for those who chose to become his disciples, he conducted a three-year apprenticeship program that focused on their membership in God’s kingdom. When the multitudes began to throng about him, Jesus looked for ways to discourage people from following him, rather than seeking to increase the number people that listened to him teach. An example of this can be found in Matthew 8:18 where it says, “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.” The other side Jesus commanded his disciples to go to was the southern coast of the sea of Galilee. It was there, in the region of Gadara, that Jesus cast out the Legion from a demon-possessed man (Luke 8:33). Gadara was located in the portion of the Roman Empire known as the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a league of ten free cities characterized by high Greek culture (note on Matthew 4:25). Jesus’ motivation for taking his disciples to such a place may have been to expose them to the harsh reality of satanic worship that was taking place within the borders of the Promised Land.

As he was preparing to enter the ship to sail to the region of Gadara, Jesus was approached by a scribe, a professional writer of the Mosaic Law, who wanted to go with him on his trip. Their short interaction is recorded in Matthew 8:19-20, where it says, “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head.” It is evident in Jesus’ response that he was trying to discourage the man from joining his entourage. Jesus’ image as an important person that people wanted to get close to was probably the main reason he had to constantly be on the move. This meant that his disciples rarely saw their families and were not afforded the luxury of sleeping in their own beds. The message Jesus was conveying to the scribe was that discipleship involved very difficult work that would require a huge sacrifice and not many were fit for the task.

Along with the hardship of being away from loved ones, and sometimes not even having enough time to eat, Jesus expected his disciples to give up all of their earthly responsibilities in order to focus their full attention on preaching the gospel. When one of his disciples asked to be excused from the trip to Gadara so he could attend to his father’s burial, Jesus responded, “let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:21-22). Meaning, I have more important work for you to do. The spiritual work Jesus engaged in while he was on earth was not something to be taken lightly. During the brief time that he actively ministered to the Jews, Jesus probably spent less time sleeping than most people would think is humanly possible. What Jesus was looking for in the twelve disciples that became his inner circle of confidants and close companions during his three-year ministry was a willingness to leave everything in order to eat, sleep, and breathe with the creator of the universe. There was no middle ground, no half-hearted commitments. It was all or nothing in Jesus’ work of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven.

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.