Christ teaches in John 15:1-6 correctly

John 15:1-6

(1) “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. (2) Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (3) You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. (4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

John 15:1-6 deals with the productivity achieved in our lives after conversion begins. This teaching begins to make abundantly clear how much we need Him. Interestingly, what Jesus teaches in John 6 about being the bread of life—which also shows how much we need Him—occurred fairly early in His ministry. The exhortation here occurs at the end of His ministry, speaking to His disciples following His final Passover observance. He confirms that what the Father desires to be produced in our relationship cannot be produced apart from Christ. This passage is a final admonition for us to make every effort to remain “in” Him, not allowing what just happened with Judas to happen to us. By betraying His Savior, Judas abandoned the responsibility imposed by the New Covenant.

For the moment, consider the beginning of the relationship. We can overlook the arresting fact that, without Jesus paying the penalty for our sins, there would be no future except for death. Without it, there would be no looking forward to a joyous and productive life in the Kingdom of God. In fact, there would be no relationship at all. Without Him providing this for us, there would be no hope at all. Could we pay the penalty for sin and continue living?

Understanding the symbolism Jesus used is helpful in grasping how much we need what Christ did and does. To glean as much as we can from this, we need to tie it to its wider context, Jesus’ final Passover with His disciples. Certain references to bread are made as part of Jesus’ change of the Passover symbols, which helps to tie the symbolism together with His crucifixion for our forgiveness. Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:23-24:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

In John 6, bread plays an important role. It is frequently used as a metaphor for Christ Himself. I Corinthians 11 clearly ties bread, also named in John 13:18, to the giving of His body in the crucifixion. I Corinthians 11:25-26 adds:

In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying. “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

This second symbol is important to grasping what Christ teaches in John 15:1-6 correctly. The vine He speaks of is obviously the grape vine. He clearly states that He is the vine and that we are the branches attached to Him. Just as grapes can be produced only by a shoot that remains attached to the vine, we can produce spiritual fruit that pleases the Father and thus be in the Kingdom of God only if we remain attached to Jesus Christ. In this illustration, all nourishment that results in fruit must come from the vine. He not only pays the penalty of our sins, but He also supplies the spiritual nourishment to produce fruit that glorifies the Father and prepares us for life in God’s Kingdom.

John 8:31-32 reminds us that continuing in His Word is the key to knowing the truth and becoming free. This greatly enhances the production of fruit. Thus, if we fulfill our responsibility, we are in that sense in partnership with Him in performing our duties under the New Covenant. A wonderful additional benefit of remaining in Christ is that those who faithfully fulfill their roles are not gathered up and cast into the fire, as John 16:6 warns.

 

— John W.

Unleavened Bread

Amos 8:11-14 (11) “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD. (12) They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it. (13) “In that day the fair virgins And strong young men Shall faint from thirst. (14) Those who swear by the sin of Samaria, Who say, “As your god lives, O Dan!” And, “As the way of Beersheba lives!” They shall fall and never rise again.”

One of God’s annual feasts instructs us in how we can avoid becoming a casualty of such a famine of hearing. The New Testament clearly shows that Jesus Christ and the disciples observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread (see Matthew 26:17; Mark 14; Luke 22), and the latter did so even after Jesus’ death (Acts 12:3; 20:6; I Corinthians 5:7-8). In the New Testament, leavening and unleavened bread take on added meaning that the ancient Israelites did not grasp. In addition to leavening symbolizing sin, hypocrisy, and pride, Jesus uses it as a metaphor for false doctrine (Matthew 16:11-12). Conversely, Paul describes unleavened bread as symbolic of “sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5:8). A famine of hearing God’s words, then, is like a famine of eating unleavened bread. When such a famine occurs, people turn to eating leavening—false doctrines, false philosophies, and ways of thinking that are ultimately “malice and wickedness.” Remember that this famine, this curse, simply continues the trajectory that the people are already on. They suppress the truth and reject God’s Word, and so God gives them what they ask for. However, this famine begins in the heart, in the mind. It has its genesis in the regard and esteem—or lack thereof—in which the people hold God’s Word. When His Word is not valued, God takes away the hearing of it. The result is stumbling, as the people lack the means to evaluate their circumstances and make right decisions. The instructions for the Days of Unleavened Bread give a solution—a simple one, but one that takes continual diligence. God instructs, on the one hand, to remove all leavening and to ensure that none is seen with us (Exodus 12:15, 19-20; 13:3, 7; Deuteronomy 16:3-4). He is telling us to be vigilant to keep the falsehoods out. We are to guard against this world’s philosophies and ways that may seem harmless enough, but are actually slowly poisoning the mind. On the other hand, God instructs us to eat unleavened bread—to take in truth—every day (Exodus 12:15, 17-18, 20; 13:6-7; 23:15; 34:18; Numbers 28:17; Deuteronomy 16:3, 8). In fact, God gives more instructions about eating unleavened bread than about avoiding leavening. If the relative number of instructions is significant, ingesting truth to make it a part of us is more important than avoiding falsehood. Even the name of the festival suggests that the greater emphasis is on the unleavened bread, which ultimately represents Jesus Christ Himself. Of course, neither action can be neglected—God requires us to do both. Yet studying truth is vital because it enables us to identify and resist the leavening—to recognize what is false because we are so familiar with what is true. The mind will feed itself on something. If we pass over the truth for something that may not be altogether wrong but is not actually nourishing, over time we will become spiritually weak and unable to resist the lies. All the while, because our minds are full, we may not realize that we are starving ourselves to spiritual death. This does not happen overnight, but it does happen. This famine of hearing occurs as a result of people not esteeming the Word of God, and because it is not valued and not acted upon, He removes it. However, it does not have to be that way with us. We have been blessed with understanding—with the ability to hear God’s words and rightly respond. If we value the truth, we will continually search it out, and we will hear it. Because we value it, we will recognize what is false and contrary, and not want to have anything to do with it. The preventative for this famine lies in what we value, what we appreciate, and what our priorities are. If we are seeking God’s truth—if we are diligently ingesting this unleavened bread every day and carefully avoiding what is false—God will continue to feed us and bless us with His truth. — David C

So the church, an object of beauty to God

Matthew 13:45-46

 

(45) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, (46) who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

 

Our English word pearl is derived from Sanskrit, meaning “pure.” The biblical concept of holiness carries the idea of purity with it.

 

The pearl is an interesting study. Unlike other gems, pearls are produced by a living organism, an oyster, as the result of an injury. It usually begins forming around a grain of sand or an egg of some parasite that invaded the oyster. The oyster protects itself by layering the irritant with nacre—mother-of-pearl—until, out of pain and suffering, it forms an object of great beauty. The offending particle actually becomes a gem of great worth!

 

So it is with us spiritually. We are an irritant, a botch, a scab on God’s creation because of our nature and our sins. But because He loves us, we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and gradually we can become a thing of beauty, clothed with the righteousness of Him who bought us.

 

We can make a number of other comparisons between pearls and other objects used as teaching vehicles in the Bible, such as the mustard seed. Both begin as something quite small but achieve different results. The mustard seed grows into the largest of herbs, but the pearl remains small. What is the lesson? Size does not determine value.

 

We can make a second comparison with ourselves. The pearl is first embedded in a mass of live but corruptible flesh, then separated and cleansed from its surroundings so that it can appear in its purity and beauty. So it is with the church. It is surrounded by, deeply embedded in, this corruptible world, and must be separated from the world before it can make a proper witness. As long as the pearl (church) remains in the oyster (world), it is of no value.

 

The production of the pearl is a gradual, even tedious, process. Slowly, the oyster adds layer after thin layer of nacre until the pearl is transformed. So it is with the church. For nineteen-and-a-half centuries, it has been in the making. If we add all who will be in the first resurrection from the time before Christ, then God has been working and adding to its lustrous value for almost six thousand years! All of this has occurred, and the world has hardly noticed, if at all, that this awesome process was progressing right under its nose.

 

In essence, the formation of the pearl is happening in secret. Colossians 3:3 says that our “life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus tells His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). The world does not know where God’s truth is transforming people into beings of glorious beauty. They are now just as we were before God revealed Himself to us. They are blind to the beauty of holiness. In fact, they are not merely blind, but as this verse shows, hostile to it.

 

Drawing the comparisons further, we know the oyster is at home in the depths of the ocean, a scavenger living off the garbage that sinks to the bottom of the sea. Revelation 13:1 shows the beast rising out of a sea: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.”

 

The Bible often uses a sea to represent multitudes of people, sometimes multitudes of enemies. Revelation 17:15 says, “And he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.'” Isaiah 59:19 reads, “the enemy comes in like a flood.” God must take the pearl, the church, from among the ungodly just as the oyster must be lifted from the muck and mire of the sea bottom.

 

Psalm 18:4-6, 15-16 expresses this analogy beautifully:

 

 

The pangs of death encompassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears. . . . Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils. He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

 

So the church, an object of beauty to God, is presently hidden from the world because they do not really know true value when they see it. But it will not be that way for long.

 

— John W