By Dr. Ben Stubblefield
Visiting assistant professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Remain in Me
B.B. King once sang, “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she might be jivin’ too.” I’m pretty sure my mama loves me, but I get what B.B. is saying. Sometimes it’s hard to believe anybody out there cares.
The disciples are about to experience an extraordinary sense of loss and absence — once at the crucifixion of Christ and again at His ascension. So the Lord leaves them this remarkable instruction in order to have and remember His permanent care, love, joy and abiding presence.
John 15 opens with Jesus’ vine/branch metaphor. Agrarian imagery is common in His teaching ministry, but the meaning behind this particular usage deserves further consideration because of how often vineyard language is associated with Israel in the Old Testament.
Most significantly, Psalm 80 describes Israel as God’s choice vine. In Old Testament language, you had to get connected to the Israel vine to get into the Lord’s family.
But Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” What He is saying here is epic — people no longer need a bloodline traceable to Abraham in order to get to God. Similar to John 14:6, Jesus says that in order to get to God, all you need to do is get connected to the Jesus vine. He is the true path to everlasting life.
There are plenty of particulars to dig into in verses 2–8. You could write a book about each verse, but the essence of Jesus’ teaching is about fruitful obedience.
The Father’s pruning, our abiding and the Lord abiding in us will catalyze much fruitfulness, or faithful obedience.
Jesus promises to grant His love and His joy to His disciples. Interestingly, it seems our joy is proportionate to our obedience — the more faithfully we obey, the more full our joy becomes.
As a young pastor, I often felt part of my job was to convince people not to do things they already knew they shouldn’t do, almost like the John Lithgow character in the film “Footloose.” There’s a bunch of Kevin Bacons out there just trying to have a simple good time, and here I am, a man of the cloth, trying to shut it down.
That feeling would come over me from time to time until I got a firm hold on what Jesus is saying here. It made me realize that what Christians advocate for aren’t the rules of a cosmic killjoy. According to Jesus, we are summoning people to experience infinite, divine joy made full. We are not fighting to keep people from having a good time. We are contending for humanity’s greatest imaginable joy.
Jesus reiterates His commandment to love “as I have loved,” but goes on to explain that the essence of love is self-sacrifice. It is a defining quality of friends and what Jesus anticipates His chosen and appointed disciples will imitate.
Jesus no longer considers them servants, but celebrates them as friends. He relates to them all things He has heard from the Father. Only two characters in the Old Testament, Abraham and Moses, received the moniker “friend of God.” They enjoyed unique and privileged insight into the mind and heart of the Almighty. It is quite shocking, therefore, that Jesus extends the same intimate self-revelation of the Godhead to any that follow, abide and obey.
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