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John 17:20-26: One Because of Christ’s Glory

John 17 is a prayer, the sacerdotal prayer, that Jesus prays in the midst of the disciples, somewhat as a sermon. What is prayer? Jesus knew what was going to happen and what the Father was going to do, even after he ascended. But he prayed for His own strength, and that His disciples would be strengthened. In the prayer that Our Lord gave us, we ask for him to do things He has already done (“hallowed be Your name”), but we ask them because we are weak.

Throughout this prayer, Jesus connects himself to His Father, and then Himself to His disciples, and finally, His disciples to His church. It is through this line we receive the Gospel.

Jesus has spent the last couple of hours giving His final teaching to his disciples, and with this prayer, He first looks at himself. He needs His father’s help as much as His disciples. Then he turns His attention to His disciples, those He has trained and prays for their strength.

v. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,”

Note how Jesus connects the church to the Apostles. Jesus has first testified to the father, and now the disciples will testify to what they have seen and believed about Jesus. (16:30, and post-resurrection). Throughout this prayer, Jesus has connected his work (His “glory”) to His union with God, and the work that God sent him to do.

Grammatical point: the word of the disciples comes before in me. Faith always come through hearing the message, God’s word to us. (Mary conceived through her ears.)

v. 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

We have access to the Father via the Son. Through the Son’s work, we can stand forgiven before the Father.

Where are we one with Christ? In His supper. This is an uncomfortable topic. In the age of ecumenism and our ELCA cousins badgering us, we de-emphasize how we are united to our fellow believers at the Lord’s table. It is an easy trap to fall into-we only talk about the forgiveness we receive at the table, and then, we feel awkward when we tell our neighbors they can’t go to the supper, and they take it personally. We need to take seriously how the Supper judges us.

Through Christ word’s here, we can be assured that no matter what disagreements we may have, we will always be one in Him, because of how He is one with God.

v. 22 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” God’s glory is through suffering. Glory doesn’t just mean shiny stuff. Glory is the work of Jesus, that He would set His majesty and titles aside, all so that we should be forgiven.

Study on John 16:12-22, The Trinity and the Holy Spirit’s Job

All Scriptures English Standard Version (ESV)

This morning, I had the privilege of leading a Bible study at St. John in Seward on John 16:12-22, the reading of the day for the fifth Sunday after Easter on the sending of the Holy Spirit and “a little while, and you will see me no longer.” (v.16). The Heritage Room study is a very talkative group, which allows for a very open discussion and easy day if you are the leader. Here’s some notes from that study and thanks to everyone who was there who contributed.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (v. 12) Jesus has told his disciples that one of them will betray him and now has lead them to the garden and has warned them that the world will hate them (15:18), all before his crucifixion. Jesus has laid on them many tough teachings on how the church will be after He is gone and their minds must have been swimming.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (v. 14-16) We see the interplay in between the members of the Trinity. In mysterious fashion, Jesus will have to leave His disciples after His great victory over death for the Spirit to come. But the Spirit will not lead people according to their whims or directives, but “will not speak on his own authority.”

Our God is modeling within himself what relationships are to be, as each person of the Godhead serves according to the will of all three. Jesus said in John 5:19  “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Proper relationships are all based upon service and how we serve our neighbor.

This is a mystery: how does an almighty God not only exist as three persons, but be one. If God would have wanted us to know how this could be, he would have told us, but, as Jesus said to His disciples, they already had enough to bear. This goes against the grain of American culture, where storing up things is encouraged and we can access a wealth of information on the internet. How can we not understand how the persons of the Trinity submit to each other? And yet, in this regard, it is a blessing not to know.

As the Lutheran Study Bible notes (literally), the Spirit is “guiding” the church “in truth”, that is the truth that is already revealed in the Scriptures and through the Apostles. This is not meant to be a directive to deduce new revelations from God, as some would assert. In a speech dissected on Issues, Etc. earlier this year, openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in the USA used “the Spirit…will guide you into all the truth” as the reason believers should disregard all the passages against homosexuality. Basically, whatever anyone asserts comes from the Holy Spirit is valid truth, even when it’s contrary to other parts of Scripture. This is why clear passages interpret unclear passages.

‘…A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father”?’ (v. 16-17) In retrospect, we know that Jesus was talking about his death and reappearance after his Resurrection, but these words must have come to them as a play on words. (In verse 29, the disciples will thank Jesus for saying plainly that he is going to the Father.) If a husband telling his wife that he will take out the trash “in a little while”, the wife may wonder when a little while is. So the disciples wonder here.

Judges 21: Stealing Wives & Israel’s Leadership Void

At St. John in Seward, the Heritage Room Study recently completed a series on the book of Judges. Yes, that’s right, we dug into the Old Testament. (Jerry Pfabe said he’d kept the notes around for thirty plus years.) Last Sunday, we had an interesting discussion on the end of the book

When I was a kid, I always thought the ending of Judges was odd. The Benjamites couldn’t marry their fellow Israelites because of their injustices, so they went off and stole wives from a foreign country. The main thing I remember was the last verse. ” In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 ESV) The Benjamites kidnapping the daughters of Shiloh didn’t really sound  that bad, but of course, a lot of things don’t sound as bad after you read about Israel annihilating the Benjamite women, children, and livestock. So when Dr. Pfabe compared what the Israelites did to human trafficking, I reconsidered the story in those different terms.

“Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Kind of sounds like the modern slogan of whatever is true for you is true. But one thing that comes through in the whole story is no one is leading Israel in the campaign against Benjamin. You can’t always fault people for not having great leadership in front of them, although it doesn’t absolve the from personal responsibility either. Israel may have had the Moses and the books of the law, but they didn’t listen to them.

That’s probably why I don’t fault the Benjamites that much for stealing daughters away from Shiloh, and taking them away from their families. May be if Israel had good king or judge, that leader would have gone around Israel and taken up a national offering to pay the dowries for the Benjamites to marry wives from another neighbor. But instead, they took the more expedient route.

Still, their world was much different than ours is today. Remember, Lot’s daughters slept with their father to continue their line (and so created two of Israel’s worst enemies, Genesis 19). Letting the Benjaminites die off and loosing a tribe of Israel was so heartbreaking to the rest of the nation, they compromised their own plan. Keeping the family together is important, even at the expanse of breaking up someone else’s family.

But at least the men who wrote the Old Testament were honest enough to include Israel’s flaws. Prof. Moulds noted this at one of St. John’s studies on Leviticus, that while Israel’s neighbors were writing long books with nothing but praise for their kings, Israel’s priests and prophets constantly condemned their own people, which undoubtedly (aside from divine inspiration) helped the Scriptures endure down to our day.

We don’t know hat happened to those girls. Personally, I hope that many of them went on to lead, long happy lives, and become good wives and mothers. Of course, I’m being really optimistic, but that’s just my hope, that even though these guys treated them poorly at first, they repented, and treated them better.

Isaiah’s Vineyard Prepares the Way

Personally, I’m not enamored with sermon illustrations.  If they go on too long, my mind wander. To me, a good sermon analogy is short, to the point, and leaves you thinking about the significant point of the passage.

But Jesus used parables a lot, and so did the prophets. Isaiah 5:1-7 contains one such parable, that of a vineyard. It bears a stark resemblance to two of Jesus’ parables in the new Testament., and in it, we see how Jesus’ interpretation of the Law and the Prophets set him apart from the Sadduccees and their clinging to the Torah over the prophets.

First, Isaiah’s words. He set up the scene: Israel is God’s vineyard, and the vineyard has produced “wild grapes” (meaning sour). God planted and fertilized his vineyard (the book of the law and the prophets), and there is no excuse for Israel’s lack of production. Therefore, here is God’s judgment on the vineyard: “It shall be devoured.” (v. 5), and not just devoured, but driven off the map. “I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” (v. 6) This language is mirrored in the end of the chapter, where Isaiah describes the coming

Compare this statement of judgment on the unfaithful to Luke 13:6-9, where Jesus tell the parable of the barren fig tree. The planter of a fig tree comes to the servant and tells him to cut down the unproductive vine, but the servant asks his master to wait another year. The difference from Isaiah is clear.: in Isaiah, God has had enough of Israel’s sin, and he is sending this generation to judgment. In Luke, the servant intercedes for the tree, and there is another chance, although judgment is not off the horizon. The servant represents Christ, who intercedes for us now,  and in some sense, our pastors and other leaders who intercede for Christians.

The other similar parable is the one of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18. In this parable, Jesus uses the same set up, although the owner in His parable doesn’t get the return on his investment in the vineyard just because there wasn’t a crop. The owner of vineyard (God) doesn’t get a return on his investment because of wicked tenants (the Jewish religious leaders) beat every messenger (prophet) that the owner sends, and then they kill the son of the owner, Jesus. But both stories have the same ending: judgment on the vineyard. It is no wonder that the Jews wanted to seize Jesus after he told this parable; Jesus could not have made their unfaithfulness so clear, and unfortunately, they continued to seek refuge in their own works.

What does this show us about the importance of parables? It shows us that God does not exist only in the regulations of the law, although we would be foolish to deny that God speaks there. But God’s word speaks to us as we go about our lives every day,  in the field, in the office, or on the road, and we would be foolish to think our actions are without consequences.

So, here is the meaning of this passage: God’s word is to produce fruit in us, and just reading it isn’t enough. Even unbelievers who deny the truth read the Scriptures with vigor to disprove its truth. We must purge our hearts of our unclean thoughts and works, so that God’s word may take its free course in us, because ultimately, we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to our own salvation.

(All Scripture quote from ESV)

(More Isaiah studies)

Isaiah 2-4: God’s Mercy Throughout (Part 3)

(All scripture quotes from ESV)

I had an odd experience in preparing my study for Isaiah 2-4. I read the text, the notes, and the commentary, but the most I learned about it when was I listened to Isaiah 2-4 online. As I heard Isaiah’s sermon flow together, I realized how little I’d learned about reading everyone else’s thoughts on it.

After Isaiah’s firey first chapter, the prophet then continues to deal with his main theme: Israel has transgressed against her maker and is deserving of condemnation. There is a perfect kingdom to come, so this transgressed one must be judged. God wants all men to be saved, but that requires judgment.

The structure of the three chapters is very straightforward: God’s perfect kingdom (2:1-5), the judgment at the end of times (2:6-22), the present judgment on Judah (3:1-4:1), and again, the glorified branch of the Lord (4:2-6). As I wrote in an earlier post, I struggle greatly with the structure that Isaiah uses: visions of God’s perfect kingdom, followed by decries of judgment. But God always gives us hope in the midst of sufferings, for we are never completely free of sufferings, even if it appears this way.

Isaiah 2:2 begins with a familiar phrase: “in the latter days”. Joel will use this latter on, in the passage Peter quotes in his sermon to the Jews on Pentecost in Acts 2. This is definitely a phrase that means “after the end of this world, when God has established his kingdom on earth. In 2:5, Isaiah calls Judah to “walk in the light of the Lord”. This concludes His calling the church from all nations to come to mount Zion, but it also serves as a transition to the section on judgment. When the Judah Isaiah was calling comes into the light, their sin is exposed.

Isaiah’s proclamation of the final judgment juxtapositions two things: God’s glory in judgment, and man’s helplessness before God in the face of that judgment. Israel has used its worldly standards for its society and has put its trust in material things, and above all its riches. But when God comes in his might, man will flee in fear and try to hide, just as Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden and Israel hid before God’s face when he came down at Mount Sinai. The temptation Israel gave into was to think they were doing well. And that is one of the hallmarks of wealthy people: they see all their wealth, and to a certain degree, they are delusion because they had to break so many rules to get that wealth. But what does God say? “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (v. 22)

Too often, we need to be reminded that God’s judgment also means wrath as well as salvation. Many of the modern praise songs say “Mighty, mighty, mighty”, but God has said he will judge the unbelievers. In the Te Deum, we sing with the cherubims, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabbath” but those words can only be sung in joy after we recount Christ’s work for us in the later verses.

Then Isaiah moves to the present (chapter 3): just as Judah will be judged on the last day with all people, so they will be judged here and now for their sins. Because of their confidence in their possession,  poverty will grip the nation. This will come through one form: a lack of leadership (v. 4, 12), which will be passed down to the people as they will have no one who will be able for households.

As in Isaiah 1:9, the prophet once again compares Judah to the city Lot fled “they proclaim their sin like Sodom” (v. 9). This comparison is to show the depth of Judah’s falling: “they do not hide (their sin) Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” (v. 9b) This corruption lies in the mind, because Israel has believed that their living it up on the wealth of the land and burning incense in the high places is the right way of living.

But, after Isaiah speaks of “seven women shall take hold of one man” (4:1), he then again goes back “in that day” (v. 2) “The branch of the Lord” is indeed Christ, the branch of David. As in 1:18, Isaiah speaks of God washing us (v. 4), and God creating a pure Israel, and the language of verse 5 (“a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night”) is reminiscent of God leading Israel in the dessert.

God has a blessed plan for people: even though we may sin in this life and run far from His mercy, God will discipline us when we do, so that we see the folly in trusting in the things of this life. And He will establish a Kingdom beyond this, which is what Jesus came to proclaim. Thanks be to him!

Isaiah Study Part 2: Forgiveness for Man in a Broken World

The key point that I’ve learned about Isaiah was from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, who said in an Issues, Etc. interview on the book, where he said that the book was mostly just the preaching of law and gospel, which opened my eyes to a different view of the text. Before that, when I turned to the prophets, I always read their books like psalms, songs that happened to be about judgment. As I studied, I read the book as speeches declared from a pulpit, and it brought a different flavor to the writing. Too often, I would look at the psalms as five or six key verses that I’d carry around, a song of praise, and when I’d take that attitude to a prophet, I would end up only taking away “Though your sins are like scarlet…” or “Do justly, love mercy,…” and not that those aren’t important verse. But I was leaving on the table all that was in the book: condemnation of sin, and love of the savior.

To clean-up something from the previous post, let me also say that, the Saduccees and the Pharisees would not have been keen on passages that denounced the temple so stringently, as I noted in my previous post.

Isaiah moves his call to something a little more specific: what Israel needs to do. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”(Is. 1:16-17 ESV). This the final proof, the sign of Israel’s unbelief: how they are treating the poor in society is a sign of their lack of faith. But while Israel needs to take care of the widows and orphans, it is just as an important that they have right standing.

This is where the church needs to make a clear distinction: while we must take up the cause of the fatherless and the widow and the fatherless, our salvation does not lie in such things. In lies in our redemption that Christ has given us, which Isaiah is about to describe.

Isaiah 1:18 is one of the signature verses of the book, and unique in that does not explicitly mention Christ. But it does state what Christ does for us, and we should consider it closely, noting several things.

First, notice how the train of Isaiah’s sermon shifts. He spends the first sixteen verses giving commands and making declaration (“Give ear, O earth” [v. 2]; “Your country lies desolate” [v. 7]), but in verse 18, he know says, “Come, let us reason together”. This is not thinking together, as our language might indicate, but God coming to judge Israel, in its finality. As Paul E. Kretzman notes in his commentary, this sentence is passed without the consideration of how man feels about it. God has already made this decision, in the garden with Adam and Eve: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”. Man is forgive in his sight, in spite of his sin.

But the Isaiah goes on to remind Israel that just because God has forgiven them, they do not have a license to mess around. In verses 19-20, he uses the blessings and curses format that is common in Deuteronomy, when Moses makes his farewell sermons to Israel: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword.” It is the same choice that has always been before Israel: accept God’s blessing and covenant, or be subject to his judgment. It is the same choice we face every day, and thanks be to God, we have an advocate that stood in our place, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah Study Part 1: God’s Prophet Gets to the Heart of the Matter

When I volunteered to take over the leadership of a proposed young adult Bible study at St. John, I got a little more than I asked for. I naturally thought of Isaiah because I hadn’t studied it in depth. When I took Old Testament in college, I was all wore out by the time we got to the prophets, and we didn’t spend much time on Isaiah. Isaiah is well known because of how often it is quoted in the New Testament, but as I have gotten into the text, I have found so much more there.

Isaiah comes to Israel at a time not unlike our own. Dr. Luther notes, that while Isaiah 1:1 puts the prophet himself It was 190 years since the split of the two kingdoms, even longer since the time of David. In the intervening years, most of the kings of Judah have been good, although there was still incense being offered in the high places. Judah probably puffed up its chest during these two hundred years. After all, they had the temple and a Davidic king, and their cousins to the north were involved in mass idolatry and constantly changing monarchs. It would have been easy for Judah to be lulled into a false sense of spiritual security.

But even still, they didn’t do all that God had commanded them. Dr. Stephen Stolhmann, my Old Testament professor, told our class that, given how exuberantly the Passover was celebrated in Hezekiah’ time, it likely wasn’t celebrated that often.

And this is how Isaiah come to Israel: in the first chapter, the prophet laments, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3 ESV) The notes in the Lutheran study Bible make the interpretation clear: even animals have natural knowledge of who their masters are, in spite of their limited brains. Israel has a book of the law, the whole thing spelled out in front of them. They read it, and they have no clue what it means because their consciences have been harden.

And it is from this point that Isaiah moves on to Israel’s source of security: their temple worship. “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” (Is. 1:13 ESV) This to me is the real art of Isaiah 1:2-20, the prophet denouncing the people who are trusting the means over the messenger.

Here we must note an important distinction: while the means of grace God gives can save us, it is merely an unworthy mask to what is truly behind us. I remember an Issues Etc. interview (sadly, the name of the guest escapes me), where the pastor noted that Jesus, while critical of the Pharisees’ behavior, he does observe the temple rituals and festivals, because of its position. But while those means are good, they are just that: means. God’s grace and favor is something else.

This situation presents itself in many ways in our modern society. There are religious sects, such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim Christ, but add to the teachings of Scripture. These bodies have amassed quite the following and public fascination, and the secularist like to lump them in with the true church, but the scripture makes it clear what they are.

And even in our own church, there are those who go to church every Sunday, but who often go off and serve other gods. We must guard our hearts, so that we do not allow sin and such contempt to creep into them, and run constantly to our Lord and Savior for his forgiveness and mercy. Amen and Amen.

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