JOHN 20: Encounters with the Risen Christ

seeds_12162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24 ESV).

How do you respond to the risen Christ?

In John 20 we observe 8 encounters with the risen Christ.

1. The first encounter is really not an encounter so much as an expression of fear of the unknown.  Mary Magdalene saw that the stone had been move from the grave and she ran to tell Peter and the others.  Actually, she did not even look inside although she reported that Jesus’ body had been taken (vv 1-2).  Maybe she did look, but we are not told.

2. The second encounter is Peter’s.  Peter ran on Mary’s report to see the tomb, found it empty, and left (vv 2-7).  We are not told how Peter responded to the empty grave.

3. The third encounter is that of the “Other Disciple”, presumably John, who was with Peter.  He experienced everything that Peter did (and ran faster), but, unlike Peter, we are told that he “saw and believed” (vv 7-8).  He too then left.

4. The fourth encounter is Mary Magdalene’s second encounter.  She remains at the gravesite grieving.  This time, however, she peeks inside the tomb and sees two angels who ask her why she is crying (vv 12-13).  The angel’s presence in the tomb is most curious because neither Peter nor the other disciple saw angels only moments earlier.

5. A fifth encounter occurs, this time between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  Jesus is standing right next to her and she does not recognize him (v 14).  He repeats the angel’s question (why are you crying?) and then asks her: who are you seeking?  She then begins to quiz him about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body (v 15).

6. A sixth encounter occurs as Jesus addresses Mary by name.  She recognizes and grabs him.  He cautions her not to hold on to him, but sends her to the other disciples with the word of his resurrection (vv 16-17).

7. The seventh encounter is with the disciples behind locked doors later that evening.  Here Jesus comforts them, commands them to evangelize, grants them the Holy Spirit, and bestows on them the power to forgive or retain sins. The dialog is often interpreted as  commissioning service (vv 19-23) to which Thomas is absent.  When Thomas is told about it, he refuses to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

8. The eighth encounter arises a week later when Thomas is present and on seeing Jesus comes to faith.  Thomas’ initial doubt and subsequent belief are significant for us because Jesus’ words—Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29 ESV)—appear directed as us.  Interestingly, John closes out the chapter by commenting on his writing objective—that his readers come to faith (v 31).

We each come to Christ in different ways.  Reviewing these encounters we observe 4 things:

(1) Revelations to the disciples differ in time and content,

(2) The disciples do not all respond immediately in faith,

(3) Jesus reveals himself to some, but not others, and

(4) Mary Magdalene ties these accounts together.

How has Jesus revealed himself to you?

QUESTIONS

  1. How has Jesus revealed himself to you? How have you responded?
  2. When did Mary Magdalene visit Jesus’ tomb? (v 1) Why is it interesting?
  3. How did Mary Magdalene know Jesus’ body was gone? Did she look into the tomb? (vv 1-2)
  4. How did she respond to this discovery? (v 2)
  5. How do Peter and the other disciple respond to Mary? (vv 3-4)  Who is the other disciple?
  6. Why did the other disciple wait before entering the tomb? (v 5)
  7. How did Peter and the other disciple respond to the empty tomb? (vv 5-10)
  8. How did Mary respond to the empty tomb? (v 11)
  9. Why did Mary see angels where Peter and the other disciple did not? (vv11-12)
  10. What did Mary ask the angels? What did she ask? (vv 12-13)
  11. Why did Mary not recognize Jesus? (vv 14-15)
  12. When did she recognize Jesus? (v 16) When did she recognize Jesus?  Why is this episode theologically interesting?
  13. What does Jesus say to Mary? (v 17)
  14. How did she respond? (v 18) Why did the disciples not run back to the garden?
  15. How does Jesus appear to the disciples? (v 19)
  16. What 4 things does Jesus say to the disciples? (vv 19-23)What is this series of statement like?
  17. What is significant about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus?(vv 24-29)  What happens?  How does he respond?
  18. What is John’s purpose in writing? (vv 30-31)

 

JOHN 20: Encounters with the Risen Christ

Also see:

JOHN 21: From Fish to Sheep

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 19: Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried

FPCA Avian-Spirit CrossBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7 ESV).

Jesus’ life story is an important part of the Apostle Creed which, in part, reads:  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell[1].  While Jesus’ death raises many questions, why is it important to remember the brutality of his suffering?

The answer to this question depends on one’s experience of suffering.  At one point, I spent a weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) had just been released and I attended the film with some seminary students, one of whom was African American.  The film blistered my mind and left me speechless sitting in an empty theatre afterwards.  The purpose of the graphic brutality eluded me—Christ’s resurrection, not Christ’s death, had always been my theological focus.  My African American colleague, by contrast, understood implicitly.  The bond between Christ’s suffering and hers was real—suffering people hear and feel the nails being pounded in the Gospel accounts.  That’s how they know that God feels their pain.

One measure of the brutality here is the word used for flogging.  Roman law distinguished three types of flogging:  fustigatio (beating), flagellatio (flogging), and verberatio (scourging)[2].  John 19:1 records a flagellatio flogging (ἐμαστίγωσεν)[3].  A fustigatio beating (παιδεύσας—literally teaching a child)[4] is recorded in Luke 23:16 which would simply be a warning.  Mark 15:15 records a verberatio scourging (φραγελλώσας)[5], where bones and internal organs would be exposed, which would be prelude to crucifixion and often killed the prisoner.  Because flogging generally preceded crucifixion, as the only writer who was also an eye-witness to the actual flogging John is recording a more nuanced account. This lends to his credibility. John’s choice of the word, flagellation, according suggests that Pilate truly had not made up his mind to crucify Jesus at that point.

Of course, Jesus’ suffering did not end with the flogging.

One of the principles of alcoholics anonymous is that it takes an alcoholic to understand an alcoholic[6].  Human suffering works the same way. Christ’s suffering gives him credibility to approach us in our suffering.  The extreme nature of his suffering implies that no human being could suffer more; hence, no one is excluded from relationship with Christ.  In effect, Christ’s suffering and death is what assures us that Jesus was truly human.

The English Standard Version divides chapter 19 into these section:  Jesus delivered to be crucified (vv 1-16), The crucifixion (vv 17-27), The death of Jesus (vv 28-30), Jesus’ side is pierced (vv 31-37), and Jesus is buried (vv 38-42).  …Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried…

Christ crucifixion, death, piercing, and burial prepare us for the reality of the resurrection.  One must be truly dead in order to be resurrected.

Footnotes

[1]Question 23 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Faith Alive Christian Resources.  2013. The Heidelberg Catechism.   Online:  https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.  Date:  30 August, 2013.

[2]Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Pages 502-503.  Also:  Craig S. Keener.  2003.  The Gospel of John:  A Commentary.  Vol 2.  Peabody:  Hendrickson.  Pages 1118-1119.

[3]μαστιγόω (BDAG 4729): to beat with a whip or lash, whip, flog, scourge (of flogging as a punishment decreed by the synagogue).

[4]παιδεύω (BDAD 5489.2): to assist in the development of a person’s ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline.

[5]φραγελλόω (BDAG 7809): flog, scourge, a punishment inflicted on slaves and provincials after a sentence of death had been pronounced on them.

[5]From the alcoholic’s perspective, of course.  Howard J. Clinebell, Jr.  1978.  Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic Through Religion and Psychology.  Nashville:  Abingdon.  Page 128.

QUESTIONS

  1. What does Jesus’ suffering mean to you?
  2. Why does Pilate flog and ridicule Jesus? (vv 1-5). Does he accomplish his objective?
  3. Why do the Jews want Jesus crucified, not stoned? (vv 6-7; Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
  4. Why is Pilate afraid? (v 8)
  5. What does Jesus say to allay Pilate’s fear (vv 9-11)
  6. Why does Pilate finally submit to the Jew’s demands? (vv 12-16)
  7. What is ironical about the Jews saying that Pilate is not Caesar’s friend? Why is he terrified of this statement?
  8. What is the significance of the inscription placed over Jesus? (v 19).

Iesus Nazarenus rex Iudaeorum (INRI; John 19:19 VUL)

  1. Why are the priests upset? (vv 21-22).
  2. What is the significance of Jesus’ tunic and its treatment? (vv 23-24; Psalm 22:18; Genesis 37:23)
  3. Why does Jesus consign his mother to John? (vv 25-27)
  4. Why does Jesus ask for wine? (vv 28-30; Psalm 69:21)
  5. Why are Jesus’ last words here important? (v 30; Also Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37).
  6. What is the reason for the breaking of legs? What is the significance? (vv 31-34, 36; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Numbers 9:12; Exodus 12:46)
  7. What is the significance of the blood and water coming from Jesus’ side? (v 34; Revelations 22:1-3)
  8. Who was a witness to the crucifixion? (v 35)
  9. What do Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have in common? What is special about their role now?  (vv 38-40)
  10. What does the reference to the garden bring to mind? Why? (v 41)
  11. What role does the Jewish day of Preparation play in Jesus’ burial? (v 42)

 

JOHN 19: Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried

Also see:

JOHN 20: Encounters with the Risen Christ 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Photograph of Boxing Gloves
Stephen W. Hiemstra 1983

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Whom do you seek?  They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am he… they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).

Jesus is full of surprises.

If a crowd of angry, armed men came up to you on a dark night and asked for you by name, then the expected answer is something like:  sorry, I have no idea who you are looking for!!!  What does Jesus do?  Jesus asks who they are looking for and volunteers—that’s me.  Actually, Jesus says–I am—which is the same expression in Greek that God uses to respond to Moses in the burning bush (ἐγώ εἰμι (Exodus 3:14).

The soldiers and officials of the chief priests (v 3) sense the presence of God—a theophany—and they draw back falling to the ground (v 6).  They are so confused that Jesus has to repeat the question—who are you looking for? (v 7)  Having focused their attention on himself, he asks them to let his disciples go and they comply. This response fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy in John 10:28 (vv 8-9).

Jesus is taken away and undergoes three interrogations:  before Annas (vv 13-23), Caiaphas (vv 24-28), and Pontius Pilate (vv 29-38).  In these three interrogations, Jesus is clearly in control in conversations with powerful leaders;  by contrast, the Apostle Peter is shaken by conversations with mere no bodies and denies his relationship with Jesus three times.

Annas is the previous high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the presiding high priest.  Annas asked Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (v 19) to which Jesus replied:  why are you asking me? (v 21)  Because Jesus is being tried for sedition (being king of the Jews), Annas has to prove that a conspiracy exists–one man’s confession does not suggest a conspiracy.  As a capital case, Jewish law requires at least two witnesses(Deuteronomy 17:6).  Annas has none!

So Jesus is sent to Caiaphas.  John’s Gospel records no discussion from this interrogation, but a lengthy proceeding is recorded in Matthew.  Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Son of God (Matthew 26:63).  Jesus answers the question and Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy—a charge punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16).  Pushing the Romans to crucify Jesus (hung on a tree) implies that they wanted him cursed by God—discredited as well as killed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Jesus is then sent to Pilate who asks:  are you the king of the Jews (v 33).  Jesus’ question—did someone ask you to pose this question—begs clarification because the Jewish and Roman interests in the question differ (v 34).  A Jew would ask—are you the Messiah?  But the Romans only wanted to know if Jesus were a revival king—a political threat.  Jesus responds to Pilate’s concern about political opposition by reminding Pilate that his disciples did not put up a fight when he was arrested (v 36).  At this point, Jesus’ innocence is obvious.  Pilate then concludes that Jesus is no threat (v 38).

In some sense, each of us put Jesus on trial in our own hearts and minds.  Do we scorn the truth just to get what we want?  Do we prefer the Son of God or Barabbas?

Jesus is full of surprises.

QUESTIONS

  1. Where was Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of this chapter? (vv 1-2).Where did Jesus not pray in chapter 17? (Matthew 26:30, 36; Mark 14:26, 32; Luke 22:39)  How do you resolve the discrepancy?
  2. What role does Judas play in Jesus’ arrest here? (vv 2-3).  What role does he play in Matthew 26:47-48 (also Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48)?  Who takes the initiative in John?
  3. What happens when Jesus asks the crowd, who do you seek? Why? (vv 4-8) Why did he ask twice? (v 9)
  4. Why are Jesus’ instructions to Peter about sword-play important? (vv 10-12, also 36)
  5. Who interrogates Jesus? (vv 13-23, 24-28, and 29-38)  Who is really in charge of the case against Jesus?
  6. What is the charge? (v 33; Matthew 26:63-65)
  7. What is the penalty for blasphemy under Jewish law? (Leviticus 24:16).  Why do they want Jesus crucified?  (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
  8. Why does Jesus ask Pilate to clarify his question? (v 33)  How might Jesus answer the question differently to a Jew as opposed to a Roman?
  9. How does Peter’s denial three times (vv 15-18, 25-27) compare with Jesus’ response to his accusers? (vv 4-8, 11, 20-23, 34-37) Who questions Jesus?  Who questions Peter?  Is Jesus portrayed as a victim?
  10. What is Pilate’s relationship with the Jewish leaders? (vv 28-31)
  11. What kind of king is Jesus? (vv 33-39)
  12. What does the crowd ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus? (v 40)

 

JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

Also see:

JOHN 19: Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Albrecht Durer, 1508
Albrecht Durer, 1508

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (John 17:1,9,20 ESV).

Jesus is our role model for prayer.

The Gospel of Luke records the most verses in which Jesus prays.  The first incidence of prayer is during his baptism when Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (3:21-22).  When crowds gathered following miracles of healing, Jesus retreated to a desolate place to pray (5:15).  When the Pharisee attacked him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus climbed a mountain and prayed all night—the following day he chose the twelve apostles (6:12).  Jesus, when praying alone among the disciples, posed the question:  “who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18). While praying with Peter, John, and James on a mountain top, Jesus is transfigured (9:28).  Jesus was praying when the disciples asked him:  “Lord, teach us to pray…” (11:1). On the night before his death, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41).

The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is not found in the Gospel of John.  Instead, in the same time slot in the passion narrative records the prayer in John 17 which is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  Although Jesus is best known for the Lord’s Prayer[1], chapter 17 records Jesus’ longest prayer—true intercessory prayers tend to be long.  In the Luke passage, Jesus prays his passion:  Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:42 ESV) which is paraphrased in Mark 14 and Mathew 26.  The focus in John’s prayer is on Jesus’ ministry[2].

The prayer in John 17 has three main sections:  an introduction (vv 1-8), prayer for the disciples (vv 10-19), and prayer for the rest of us (vv 20-26).

Introduction.  Verse one begins the prayer with these words:  he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father (v 1). This phrasing reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer which begins:  Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  Interestingly, the introduction begins with Jesus speaking about himself in the third person and then moves into the first person.  For example in verse 1 it reads—glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you—while verse 4 reads:  I glorified you on earth (v 4).  The two statements both underscore the close relationship between God the Father and God the Son—they glorify each other.  Verse 3 reminds us that eternal life consists in knowing the Father and the Son.

Prayer for the Disciples.  This section of the prayer reads like an ordination service.  Who are the disciples; what is their mission; and how they need protection in the world are all topics addressed.  Interestingly, their sanctification consisted of receiving the word—in other words, scripture! (v 17)

Prayer for the rest of us.  We are identified with these words:  those who will believe in me through their word (v 20).  Our appearance in this prayer is likewise a function of scripture—the word of God written down by the Apostles.

Two themes in Jesus’ prayer are praise (note the repeated use of the word glorify) and focus on the role of scripture.

What themes are found in your prayers?

Footnotes

[1] Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-24.

[2] Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 461.

QUESTIONS

  1. John 17 is a prayer. What is it about?  (Hint: Three parts:  vv 1-8, 10-19, 20-26)
  2. Where does this prayer take place? What is our expectation from the other Gospels?  (Hint:  Luke 22:39; Mark 14:32)
  3. How is Jesus described as approaching prayer? (v 1)
  4. What does this verse remind you of? (Hint: Matthew 6:9)
  5. What seems different? (Hint: Matthew 6:5-7)
  6. What claims does Jesus make in verse 2?
  7. What is eternal life? (v 3)
  8. What is glory? (ἐδόξασα; v 4) What does Jesus say about it? (vv 4-6).
  9. What does Jesus say about “the name”? (v 6) Who is addressed?
  10. What did Jesus teach? What did it consist of?  Where did it come from?  (vv 6-8)
  11. Who does Jesus pray for? Who not? (v 9)
  12. What does Jesus pray? (vv 11-12, 26) What does he mean by “in the name”?
  13. What is the petition in verse 13?
  14. What brings on hate? (v 14)
  15. What do you understand from Jesus’ references to the world? (κόσμος; vv 14-16, 18, 25)
  16. What is truth? (ἀλήθειά; v 17)
  17. Who sent Jesus? Who sends us? (v 18)
  18. What does Jesus mean by to consecrate? (ἁγιάζω; v 19)
  19. Notice the parallel between verses 18 and 19. What is not parallel?
  20. Who is Jesus praying for in verse 20?
  21. What is his petition? (v 21)
  22. Where does love come from? (v 26)

 

JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

Also see:

JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 16: The Helper

Maple_leaves_11162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 25:5 ESV).

It is hard to image the terror of the disciples on the other side of the cross.  In John 16, we get a glimpse.

The chapter opens with Jesus facing a leadership crisis.

Jesus starts by saying:  I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away (v 1).  The word translated as falling away, σκανδαλίζω, means: to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin (BDAD 6682.1).  In other words, the disciples are at risk of breaking up as a group and losing their reason for being.

This theme is repeated at the end of the chapter.  In verse 32, for example, we see a word similar to falling away—scattered.  The Greek word is σκορπίζω which is translated as meaning:   to cause a group or gathering to go in various directions, scatter, disperse (BDAG 6717).

The particular significance of this word, σκορπίζω, is that it brings to mind a prophecy from Zechariah:   Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, they are my people; and they will say, the Lord is my God (Zechariah 13:7-9; also: Malachi 3:1-3).  Zechariah sees the scattering as a means to create a remnant of believers.

Between the falling away and the scattering references, Jesus discusses the coming persecution (v 2), his death (v 20a), and his resurrection (v 20b).  All of this discussion is accompanied by confusion—image how you would receive prophecy of a friend’s death. The key point of this section is Jesus’ discussion of the Holy Spirit which he describes as the Paraclete (helper—v 7) and the Spirit of Truth (v 13).

As Jesus describes the Holy Spirit, two separate tasks are outlined.  Among non-believers:  he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (v 8).  In convicting the world of sin, demonstrating righteousness, and bringing judgment, the Holy Spirit acts independently of the church (vv 9-11).  Among believers: he will guide you into all the truth (v 13a).  Part of this truth will take the form of prophecy (vv 13b, 15) and part will consist of pointing back to Christ (v 14).

Jesus ends by saying:  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (v 33).  This is the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the subject of chapter 16? (v 1)
  2. What are the disciples to expect? Why? (vv 2-3)
  3. Where is Jesus going? (v 5)
  4. Why is Jesus’ departure not a total disaster? (v 7)
  5. Who is the Helper (παράκλητος)? (v 7)
  6. What three things will the Helper do? (vv 8-11, 13)
  7. Why does Jesus relay this information? (vv 4, 14)
  8. What is Jesus telling the disciples in verses 16-23?
  9. What does Jesus say about prayer? (vv 23-27)

10.How do you interpret verses 28-31?

11.What is the take-away point given in verse 33?

 

JOHN 16: The Helper

Also see:

JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:4-7 ESV).

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is simple, yet disturbing.

At one point when I was working as a chaplain intern in a psyche ward, I overheard a young woman pleading over the phone with her parents to be transferred to another hospital.  The reason?  She had been given a New Testament and had read all the way to chapter 15 of John’s Gospel.  Reading about the vine and the branches she had interpreted the metaphor to mean that, because she had had no children (no fruit in her mind), she stood under God’s judgment. So, she wanted to be transferred to another hospital!

While most of us probably have not understood the metaphor of the vine and the branches quite the same way as this young patient, yet the metaphor is a challenging description of a life of discipleship.  For example, verse 6 speaks to the exclusively of Christ in salvation and judgment: If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (v 6).  Neither notion is popular today.  Yet even verse 2 is enough to generate serious controversy:  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (v 2).  Branches bearing no fruit get taken away;  branches bearing fruit get pruned!

Most discussions of this metaphor of the vine and the branches seem to skip both verses and head immediately for verse 7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (v 7).  We all love to ask for things!  Yet, verse 8 makes it clear that it is the fruit that we bear that makes us Christ’s disciples.  Looking back at verse 7, we note that the sentence is conditional–if you abide in me and my words.  The Greek word for abide means stay or remain.  Bearing fruit is evidence that you abide in Christ.  The key to answered prayer is to abide in Christ and bear fruit, as repeated in verse 16.

The love commandment in verse 12 may also disturb a careful reader.  The measure of love is found in verse 13:  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (v 13).  Jesus did just that–he died on the cross; Jesus is our model.  This implies that a life of discipleship requires sacrifice, maybe even death.  This implication is underscored in verse 14 when Jesus says:  You are my friends if you do what I command you (v 14).  Jesus kept the Father’s commands;  we are to keep his.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the love commandment embodies not just warm fuzzy feelings on sunny days but also obedience to the entire witness of scripture–especially the law.

Disturbing also is John’s discussion of the world.  Jesus says: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (v 18).  The life of Christ’s disciple is to be modeled after Christ–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that we are promised the Spirit of Truth, the Helper–the Holy Spirit–who will bear witness to Christ (vv 28-29).

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the metaphor used in verses 1 and 2?What are the different parts in the metaphor?  What does it say to you? (Also see Isaiah 5:4-7)
  2. Verse 3 uses the words clean. Why?  (Hint: prune and clean are the same word in Greek)
  3. What does the word, abide, mean in verses 4-7?What does it mean to you?
  4. How does Jesus extend the metaphor introduced in verses 1-2 in verses 4-7?
  5. How is God glorified? (v 8)  What does glorified mean?
  6. What does it mean to abide in Christ’s love? (vv 9-10)
  7. What is Jesus’ commandment? What is its measure? (vv 10-14,17)
  8. What is the difference between a servant (δούλους) and a friend? (v 15)
  9. What view of election do you get in verses 16 and 27?

10.Why does the world hate us?  (vv 18-25)

11.Who is the helper? (παράκλητος; v 26)

12.What are we to do? (v 27)  Why?

JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Also see:

JOHN 16: The Helper 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation

Dead_flowers_102302013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV).

One of the simplest and most profound lessons that I learned in seminary was called a ministry of presence. It is a humble, silent ministry:  be there.

When my sister, Diane, passed away, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral at her home church.  Other than family, I knew almost no one. Yet, I remember the comfort of being with a crowd of some 350 perfect strangers. Their gift to me was a ministry of presence.  Words still cannot express my appreciation.

Jesus promises to never leave us orphans (v 18).  In this context, an orphan is a disciple whose teacher has died[1]. Jesus’ comment–But the Helper, the Holy Spirit (paraclete), whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (v 26)—speaks directly to his presence with us.  Paraclete actually means:  one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper (BDAG 5591).

When Jesus appears to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he is actually modeling the role assumed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:14-35).  The paraclete is a powerful helper (v 27) who teaches us (v 26) and who grants us effective prayer (v 13) and peace (v 27)1. Other than Job 16:2, John is the only biblical author who speaks of the Holy Spirit using this word.

So Jesus says that we will not be alone, but he also says that our ultimate home is in heaven (vv 2-3).  The word, house, has several nuances.  It can mean a physical dwelling, a temple, a family, or a dynasty.  In 2 Samuel 7:7-16, a play on the word, house, is used by the Prophet Nathan to describe God’s covenant with King David.  When the Apostle Paul says that our—citizenship is in heaven—he is building on this same idea (Philippians 3:20).  Ours is a heavenly house, a heavenly family, and a heavenly destination.

Jesus [also] said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (v 6).  This statement reminds us of Deuteronomy 31:8 where God’s Shekinah cloud is pictured going before us. The word, truth, used here is interesting.  Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit (v 17) are described with this same word.  In Hebrew, the word truth (אֱמֶת) is spelled with three letters (alef, mem, tav)—the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet1.

What greater comfort could we have than to know that our savior is divine, is the alpha and the omega (all truth), and has final authority over life and death?

Footnotes

[1]Gary M. Burge. 2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, pages 390-413.

QUESTIONS

  1. When Jesus speaks—do not let your hearts be troubled—who is he speaking to? (v 1). What is his advice?
  2. What house is Jesus referring to? (vv 2-3)
  3. Why is Jesus returning a second time? (v 3)
  4. Where is Jesus going? (vv 4-11)
  5. What does it mean to be going to the father? (vv 6-11)
  6. What three things is Jesus? (v 6)  How do they relate to the father?
  7. What greater works does Jesus refer to in verse 12?
  8. What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? (vv 13-14)
  9. How do we show love to Jesus? (vv 15, 21)What is wrapped between these two statements as a promise?
  10. Who is the helper? (v 16)
  11. What does it mean to be an orphan? (v 18)
  12. In particular, what is the promise in verse 21?
  13. In case you missed in verses 15-21, what is reiterated in verses 22-26? Who asks the question? What do we know about him?  (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55)
  14. What do you make of verse 27 which, in part, repeats verse 1?
  15. Why has Jesus said these things? Why will he stop talking? (vv 28-31)

 

JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation

Also see:

JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 13: Foot Washing

By Stephen W. HiemstraOld_shoes_10192013

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 ESV).

What does it mean to be a disciple?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs a sign and then explains it.  Here the sign is dramatic—Jesus assumes the role of a slave and washes the feet of the disciples.  He then gives them a commandment:  love one another (v 34).  Both the sign and the commandment are equally dramatic.

John uses the word commandment four times in his Gospel.  In the first two uses, Jesus responds commands from and to God the Father:  but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life (John 12:49-50).  The third and fourth commandments are the same: love one another (v 34 and John 15:12).   Washing feet—an attitude of service—is the sign that goes with the love commandment.  Love is the only commandment in John’s Gospel.

The idea that Jesus commanded us to love one another is not in dispute.  In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor.  On these two statements of love hang the law and the prophets.  In other words, the double love command summarizes the entire Old Testament.  Similar statements can be found in the writings of Paul, James, and Peter.

Still, the foot washing sign raises some interesting comparisons.  For example, Jesus is not the first foot-washer that we meet in John Gospel—that honor goes to Mary in chapter 12.  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.  In chapter 12 Judas objects to Mary’s foot washing; in chapter 13 Peter objects.  Was Jesus so impressed with Mary’s service that he required it of his disciples?  Were the disciples so unhappy with the idea of radical servanthood that they betrayed Jesus?

The other interesting comparison is between foot washing and communion.  John’s Gospel is the only Gospel account to discuss foot washing at the last supper and he neglects to mention communion which is the focus of other accounts (Luke 22:13-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).  By contrast, John’s miracle of the feeding of five thousand where Jesus says–I am the bread of life (John 6:35 ESV)—has the sacramental feeling of communion.

Here John appears to have provided us a radical model of discipleship which substitutes a model of discipleship focused on service both in intimate moments (the last supper) and in public moments (the feeding of the five thousand).  This reading suggests that John’s communion is an outsider’s communion (the feeding of the five thousand) rather than an insider’s communion (disciples only) because it fits his model of discipleship better.

One further comparison is worth mentioning.  The foot washing incident in Luke 7:36-50 involves an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment.  In that incident, it is Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, who objects to the foot washing.

Jesus’ lesson on foot washing is a hard teaching–a disciple is one who serves; one who loves.  Left to myself, I object.  Do you?

QUESTIONS

  1. What does it mean to be Christ’s disciple?
  2. What do we learn about the time and place of this chapter in verse 1?
  3. What is the context within which Jesus washes the disciples’ feet? (vv 2-3)
  4. How was Jesus dressed as he washes their feet? (v 4).
  5. Why does Jesus wrap a towel around himself? (vv 4-5)
  6. What happens in the dialog between Jesus and Peter? (vv 6-10)
  7. Why did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? (vv 12-17)
  8. Why is Jesus troubled? (vv 11,18-30)
  9. Why is the foot-washing discussion (vv 12-17) bracketed by Jesus’ hints about Judas?
  10. Why does Jesus talk about his relationship with the father after Judas left? (vv 31-32)
  11. Why does Jesus give the love commandment? (vv 34-35)
  12. Why does Jesus dwell on where he is going? (vv 33-36-37)
  13. What is your take on the discussion with Peter? (vv 36-38)  Why is it significant?  Or not?
  14. Who started the foot washing in John’s Gospel? (Hint:  see chapter 12) Why is it important?

 

JOHN 13: Foot Washing

Also see:

JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 12: Jesus Messiah

By Stephen W. HiemstraCandle_perfume_rose_10172013

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).

What kind of Messiah is Jesus?

Messiah is a Hebrew word that means anointed one.  John is the only New Testament author to use it and he equates it with the Greek word, Christ (John 1:41; 4:25).  Three offices were anointed:  prophets, priests, and kings.  Two events in John 12 point specifically to the interpretation that Jesus is a Messianic king:  his anointing by Mary (vv 1-8) and his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (vv 12-19).  Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet and Jesus’ choice of a donkey to ride into Jerusalem both point to humility—Jesus is a king coming in peace.

It is interesting that both events—the anointing and the entry into Jerusalem—appear in all four Gospel accounts.  But the Gospels disagree on  details of the anointing. John’s account, for example, is the only one to place Lazarus at the event and to name, Mary, as the woman anointing Jesus.  Mark and Matthew have Jesus anointed on the head; Luke and John have Jesus’ feet anointed.

All four Gospels have Jesus anointed by a woman—this is a shocking event for a Jewish king. The expectation is that a king is anointed by a prophet.  For example,  the Prophet Samuel anoints both King Saul and King David (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13).

John 12 marks a transition from Jesus’ ministry into his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The ESV translation suggests these divisions:  Mary anoints Jesus at Bethany (vv 1-8), the plot to kill Lazarus (vv 9-10), the triumphal entry (vv 12-19), some Greeks seek Jesus (vv 20-26), the Son of Man must be lifted up (vv 27-36), the unbelief of the people (vv 37-43), and Jesus came to save the world (vv 44-50).

The nature of Jesus’ messianic role clearly divides people in John 12.  Judas Iscariot disagrees with Jesus about the perfume used to anoint Jesus supposedly because of the cost.  But female anointment must also have weighed on his mind (vv 4-8)—Jews had trouble seeing Jesus as messiah.  The crowd that gathered at Bethany is clearly interested as much in Lazarus as in Jesus (v 9).  Lazarus must have  reminded them of 1 Kings 17:23 when Elijah raised a young man from the dead—a comparison suggesting a prophetic messiah.  By contrast, the crowd that gathered the morning waved palm branches and chanted words from Psalm 118:25 (hosanna means save us in Hebrew) suggesting that they expected a kingly messiah (v 13).

The appearance of gentiles (Greeks) in verses 20-26 curiously moves Jesus to remark:  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (v 23).  Jesus frequently mentions sheep in John’s Gospel, but in Matthew’s Gospel he twice says that:  I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24 also 10:6).  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, his mission to the lost sheep of Israel is drawing to a close.

QUESTIONS

  1. Where is Jesus; what is he doing; who is there? (vv 1-2)
  2. What does Mary do? What is the significance?  (v 3; Hint: 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13)
  3. Why is Judas upset? What does he say?  (vv 4-7)
  4. How does Jesus respond? (v 8) Is his response a surprise? (Hint:  John 11:16)
  5. Is Jesus’ presence in Bethany a secret? (vv 9-11)  What is the response?
  6. What happens the next day? (vv 12-19)
  7. What do Jesus’ anointing and entry into Jerusalem have in common? (vv 3 and 15)
  8. What kinds of Messiahs are there in Judaism? (See reflection)
  9. Why is Jesus’ visit by Gentiles significant? (vv 20-23) (Hint:  why did Jesus say he came? (Mathew 15:24))
  10. What is Jesus’ role; what is the role of the disciple? (vv 24-27)
  11. Why is there an epiphany from heaven? (vv 28-32)  What is happening?  What does Jesus say?
  12. What question is asked by the crowd? (vv 32-37)  Why does Jesus hide?
  13. What does the analogy to light and darkness mean? (vv 35-36, 46-47)
  14. What is the purpose (and prophecy) of disbelief? (vv 37-43)
  15. What is the nature of judgment? (vv 47-50)

 

JOHN 12: Jesus Messiah

Also see:

JOHN 13: Foot Washing 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading

JOHN 11: Raising of Lazarus

By Stephen W. Hiemstra Jumping

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26 ESV).

One big anxiety that amputees experience is that lost body parts embody their identity in ways that must now change. The pain is particularly acute when the body part is associated with a beloved activity. Our hearts go out, for example, to the runner that loses a leg or the brilliant researcher who develops Alzheimer’s disease.  Our body is part of our identity.

God knows who we are and feels our pain—to be human is to be whole in body, mind, and spirit.

Jesus raised the widow’s son out of compassion (Luke 7:13) and he wept before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:35).  How compassionate would Jesus have been if he had raised the widow’s son from the dead only to have the son live on as a paraplegic?  Or if Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but left him mentally handicapped?

During my time as a chaplain intern, I knew a dear woman who had been resuscitated after her heart stopped for eight minutes.  The resuscitation left her afflicted with dementia and forced to live in a lock-down, Alzheimer’s unit.  The affliction left her family guilt ridden and torn over their decision to resuscitate her.

The point of this story is that resuscitation leaves scars.  Scripture reports that the widow’s son and Lazarus were returned to health without scars.  Consequently, Jesus did not resuscitate them; he re-created them as only God can.

Resurrection is an act of grace—bodily resurrection completes the compassion.

Jesus was bodily resurrected.  When the resurrected Christ appeared before the disciples in Jerusalem, he was hungry; the disciples gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it (Luke 24:41-43).  Furthermore, Christ’s compassion for his own disciples, who had deserted him, suggesting that Jesus did not harbor the deep emotional scars that might normally accompany the trauma that he experienced (John 21:17).

Consider the alternative.  What if Jesus had been raised only spiritually, how long would he continue to empathize with fleshly humans?  Or what if Jesus harbored some grievous handicap or emotional scares?  Would he still have pity on the rest of us?  Would we really want to stand before such a scarred and potentially vengeful judge?

Bodily resurrection is re-creation, not resuscitation.  It gives us hope because our judge is healthy and whole—still human—and he still loves us.

QUESTIONS

  1. Who is Lazarus? (vv 1-2)
  2. What was wrong with Lazarus?
  3. Where was Jesus when he heard about it? (John 10:40)
  4. How did Jesus respond? Why?
  5. When Jesus told the disciples that he was returning to Judea, how did they respond? (vv 7-16)
  6. What was the confusion? Why was it interesting? (vv 11-14)
  7. What was interesting about Thomas’ statement? (v 16)
  8. How long was Lazarus dead and buried when Jesus arrived? (v 17) Why is it important to our understanding of this sequence of events?
  9. Where is Bethany? (v 18) Why is the location important? (v 19)
  10. Who went out to meet Jesus? (v 20) What does this suggest?
  11. What does Martha believe about resurrection and about Jesus? (vv 21-24)
  12. What does Jesus tell her? (vv 25-27) What is Martha’s response?
  13. What is Mary’s response when Jesus arrives? (vv 28-32)
  14. How does Jesus respond to Mary? (vv 33-35)
  15. What do the Jews present say? (vv 36-37)
  16. What does Jesus do then? (vv 38-43) What is his prayer?  What does it indicate?
  17. What is Lazarus’ response? (v 44)
  18. How do the Jews respond to Lazarus’ resurrection? (vv 45-46)
  19. What do the Pharisees and chief priest’s worry about? (vv 47-48)
  20. What does Caiaphas say? What is the implication? (vv 49-53, 55-57)
  21. How does Jesus respond to all this? (vv 54-55)

 

JOHN 11: Raising of Lazarus

Also see:

JOHN 12: Jesus Messiah

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

Continue Reading