Thursday, January 15, 2009

The heart of the gospel

John 15 is well known for the metaphor of the ‘vine and the branches’– a picture that we can do nothing without being in God. By the time I get to the second half of the chapter (entitled ‘The World Hates his disciples’ in the NIV) I skip through it and nod sagely without really taking it in. Except this time. For some reason I flitted lightly over the first part arriving fresh at the second and to my surprise found not just something different, but the very heart of the gospel.

In this passage (John 15:18-27) Jesus sets out his mission with a startling and uncomfortable clarity:

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however they have no excuse for their sin… if I had not done among them what no-one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil that is written in their law:’They hated me without reason.’

Jesus came to expose and lay bear our sin by bringing the kingdom of the Father onto earth. Laid alongside our miracles and a love that stretches even to death (v13) we have ‘no excuse’ (v22) if we fail to recognise our sin. Jesus adds that He will send the ‘Counsellor’ who will be the Spirit of truth and John 16:8 adds that the Spirit will 'expose the guilt of the world'

This though is only the start. For once I bothered to look up the cross reference for verse 25 which leads to Psalm 69 and the John passage came alive. David starts by crying out ‘I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold… who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head’ before praying ‘in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.’ (13-14). Just as Jesus promises to us, David is persecuted and mocked because ‘zeal for God’s house consumes me’ (v9).

What David cries out for in hope we see fulfilled in Jesus. By revealing so starkly the sin of humanity Jesus lays the foundation for our rescue – he completes it with an embodiment of love which surpasses sin. Jesus rescues us from the miry pit of the world’s sin as he defeats sin by not succumbing to it – even in the face of death when he had ‘done no wrong’.

The sin from which we are rescued is primarily corporate – our individual sin is a corollary. Those who choose to ‘obey His teachings’(v20) are lifted up and rescued by His Spirit from the sin that engulfs our world which also consumes us. We no longer have to be bound and embroiled by the sin of those around us – when we are hated we do not have to hate, when we are mocked we do not have to retaliate. We do not need to conform to the ways of this world, but can be transformed.

Yet we are still in the world and Jesus ‘chose us and appointed us to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last’ (v16). We become part of the glorious contagion that is freedom from the despair and hopelessness of sin. Along with the Holy Spirit we reveal the truth and ‘testify about Jesus’ (v26) the rescuer, the Messiah.

The Vine and the Branches is a wonderful hors d’ouevre, but forgive me if next time I turn to John 15 I look forward to the meat that follows.

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