Expository Sermon on John 15 – 17
Bellevue SDA Church 11/24/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the white “play” arrow on the line below.)
Please open your Bibles to John chapter 15.
This is another sermon in a series I’ve been preaching all year called “Red Print.” Pretty much every Sabbath we’ve been looking at words Jesus actually spoke, and trying to apply them to our lives today.
I wanted to follow up Thanksgiving week with something about joy, and I remembered that Jesus mentioned joy several times in His last discussion with His disciples before His death on the cross.
Which is probably something only Jesus could have done at this point. Within maybe two or three hours of speaking these words, He will undergo His Gethsemane agony, and then He will be betrayed by one of His 12 disciples, and then the rest of them will run away from Him, leaving Him alone to face His accusers and torturers. And then, after a couple of hasty trials, He will die an agonizing death at 3 o’clock the following afternoon.
Which makes it truly amazing that Jesus could speak the words He did in these three chapters. I mean, aside from anything else, Jesus was the most deeply sensitive human being who had ever lived. His heart was the largest ever. He loved more deeply than anyone else ever had, or ever could. He had no coarsening of his nature the way we do.
Yet even at this fearfully overwhelming time, Jesus could speak about joy. And He could be totally centered on encouraging His friends for what lay ahead.
So, when we talk about “joy,” what do we mean? Well, in the Greek language, which is the language the New Testament was written in, the word for “joy” is chara. Chara is not simply momentary happiness. It’s not the squeal of delight you might give if the Seahawks make a dramatic touchdown tomorrow. Joy goes much deeper than the pleasure we usually feel.
For example, in Luke 2:10, a group of angels spoke of “tidings of great joy” to the shepherds on the Bethlehem Hill. That’s that same word. In Luke 15, after Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep and then the lost coin, He says in verse 10, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Again, He uses that same Greek word.
So if Jesus uses this powerful word in what you might call his last “sermon” to His disciples before He dies, I think it’s really important. And I believe it’s incredibly encouraging for us.
So for the next few minutes, let’s listen as He talks about joy. Let’s try to capture the true power of that joy. What is Jesus talking about when He says “joy”? Let’s find out.
First, we start out with some very familiar verses.
John 15:1 – 11 [NKJV]: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 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. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. “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. 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. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
If you like to take sermon notes, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One.
What is Jesus talking about when He uses the word “joy”?
He’s talking about the joy of being nourished by Him.
As I think back on last Sabbath Thanksgiving dinner up in the fellowship hall, I sensed a deep feeling of happiness there. Those of you who brought food did so in such abundance that nobody had to worry about going without. This kind of joy probably isn’t as powerful and satisfying as the joy Jesus is talking about, but we were being nourished in the presence of each other. A lot of sacrificial work went into that meal.
Earlier this week Shelley and I went to the Squak Mountain Greenhouse and Nursery over near Issaquah. Greenhouses don’t hold the same interest for me as they do for Shelley, but I went along in with her. I walked through the doors into their gigantic greenhouse, and almost immediately I felt a feeling I don’t remember experiencing before.
This greenhouse is huge. It’s filled – side to side and from one into the other – with waist-high wooden display tables. And every single one of those tables was loaded with poinsettias. As far as I could tell, every table except one had red poinsettias on, and the remaining table had yellow ones.
It’s hard to describe what I felt when I walked into that room. First of all, it was absolutely quiet. In all that gigantic space, there was just one person, one of the workers. Besides that, there was nobody there but me.
For another thing, the temperature was absolutely perfect. No hint of chill, no hint of muggy warmth. It’s like they had set that greenhouse’s temperature to my perfect body temperature.
But even aside from the silence and the perfect temperature, there was a feeling of serenity, and calm, and maybe partly joy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that feeling before – that feeling that I belonged there. Maybe that is something like how it feels to walk through the Garden of Eden – all those growing things, well cared for, well-nourished, exuding their wholesome health. Who knows? But it felt like a serenity which must be something like the joy Jesus is talking about – not a leap-and-scream experience, but a settled, secure calm.
So what can I take away from Jesus’ words, knowing that when He talked about joy, He talked about us being nourished by Him? Glance back at verse nine.
Verses 9 – 10: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
So commandment-keeping is important when it comes to being nourished by Jesus. That carefully-calibrated greenhouse temperature happened because of commandment-keeping: Thou shalt keep this greenhouse at the steady temperature of whatever-it-is.
Also, Thou shalt neither over-water nor under-water poinsettias. Here are some related poinsettia-watering commandments I got from Google: “. . . put the poinsettia in a well lighted area away from drafts and heat vents. Water the poinsettia when the pot becomes lightweight or when the soil becomes dry to the touch, about once a week. Water the plant thoroughly in a sink, letting it drain, before putting it back where it was.”
So it turns out that the greenhouse staff isn’t just walking around smiling gently at those poinsettia plants, and speaking softly to them. Imagine how on-your-toes you would have be in order to follow all the appropriate poinsettia-care commandments, including watering those plants perfectly.
So when it comes to allowing Jesus to nurture us by keeping the commandments, we are not dropping into legalism here. Glance down at verse 12.
Verses 12 – 14: This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
And whatever Jesus commands us to do comes from love. And these commands are not simply to walk around merely smiling warmly at everybody. Love is more than that. Over in Luke 18, a rich young ruler came up to Jesus and asked Him what he could do to gain eternal life. Jesus immediately named several of the Ten Commandments – don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness.
What does this tell me? It tells me that love is the basis of commandment-keeping, but that those commands are just as specific as poinsettia care guidelines, and of course much more important. The greenhouse staff hold themselves accountable to those poinsettias, and you and I must be at least as accountable to people in our lives we might hurt if we are careless. And the desire and the power to keep these commandments come from a nourishing connection with Jesus. “I am of the Vine,” He said, “and you are the branches.” And in verse 26, and several other times in the next couple of chapters, Jesus promises the help of the Holy Spirit.
Now let’s move to chapter 16, and watch for another time Jesus mentioned joy. Here He is starting to focus His disciples’ attention on the fact that He will be leaving them for awhile.
John 16:16 – 22: “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “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 go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
So what else was Jesus talking about when He said “joy”?
Jesus is talking not only about the joy of being nourished by Him (like a vine and its branches), but He’s also talking about the joy of a resurrection-reunion with Him.
Of course, He is saying this first of all to His disciples. He is primarily talking about how in a few hours they will think He has died forever, but that on the first day of the week He will come to life and rejoin them.
But just a couple of chapters back, in the first few verses of John 14, He talks about going to prepare a place for them. And in Matthew 24 and other places in the Gospels, he said that at His return, the trumpet will sound, and all the “dead in Christ” will be raised. So we can claim this resurrection-reunion promise right along with Jesus’ first disciples.
Every time Shelley and I go back to my hometown in South Dakota, we always travel 15 miles east to the little cemetery about a mile northwest of the tiny town of Rockham. That’s where my mother and father are buried, and some of the other Schurch relatives.
Mom and dad have modest tombstones there, but somewhere in that cemetery there is the grave of little Wesley Schurch. He was my dad’s older brother, and he most likely died during the great influenza epidemic in the late 19-teens. Those were such terrible times that they didn’t get a large marker for him. He was the first in that generation of the family to die, so all he has is a little white oblong stone that says “Baby” on it. Nobody seems to have mapped out an actual family burial plot at that point, or maybe they didn’t have the money to do so.
Not too far from Wesley’s little grave is another gravestone that’s maybe 4 feet high. Engraved on that stone is a beautiful poem about another infant who died about the same time. This monument has a little photo of the child taken while it was still alive, and encased in glass. For almost 100 years, that little photo has been facing into the western sun, and it hasn’t faded one bit.
So Wesley, under his tiny humble marker, and this other child, under his expensive one, are both awaiting the resurrection. My parents are buried about 200 feet to the east. My childhood friend Lawrie Samelson, who died young, lies a bit to the north.
But the Man I have been quoting this morning looked toward His death and resurrection with joy. And when the trumpet sounds, that graveyard will stir into life. People will climb from their coffins, eyes wide open, amazed at the blazing light in the sky, their brand-new hearts beating fast at the sound of the trumpet, their bodies feeling a lightness as they are being released at last from the gravity of Earth, and caught up together in a resurrection reunion.
And we who are alive and remain, using Paul’s phrase, will also experience a resurrection. On a phone call with the older of my two sisters a week or so ago, she told me that she finally had had cataract operations done on both her eyes, just as I had done a few years back. She is delighted with how sharp, and clear, and fresh everything looks, but she is annoyed because now she needs reading glasses!
So, in a way, resurrection will be happening even within the bodies and minds of those who are alive.
The apostle Paul understood this. Before his conversion, he believed that the idea that Jesus of Nazareth could survive His crucifixion was not only impossible, but also dangerously heretical.
But then the risen Jesus, in a blaze of light on a dusty Syrian road, personally introduced Himself to the heretic-crusher, and soon Paul was looking forward to, and preaching, a resurrection-reunion.
Put a marker here in John, and let’s spend a couple of minutes listening to the way Paul describes this.
1 Corinthians 15:50 – 54: Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
So far we’ve heard Jesus talk not only about the joy we can have as we are nourished by Him, and the joy we can have as we look forward to the resurrection and reunion with Him. Let’s look at one more “joy” Jesus mentions.
Let’s turn back to John chapter 17. This whole chapter is the prayer Jesus prayed for Himself, for His disciple friends, and finally for us. It didn’t strike me until yesterday how significant it is that the last words Jesus spoke to His friends before ascending to the Gethsemane garden was a prayer.
John 17:1 – 13: Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
And now, in one of the most precious parts of Jesus’ prayer, He literally prays for you and me. As I read this prayer this week, I pictured a triangle in my mind. At the top of the triangle is God the Father. At another corner of the triangle is Jesus. And at the third point of the triangle are you and I.
And what’s so precious about this prayer, to me, is that at no point does Jesus wander off beyond that triangle into theological or philosophical discussion. Instead, He’s using personal pronouns. “I” and Me,” speaking of Himself. “You” and “Your,” speaking of God. “They” and them,” speaking of you and me. And as He prays, He stays within that triangle, calling us closer to Him and His Father.
Watch how this happens.
Verses 20 – 26: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
And when Jesus, our Creator and Savior, opens His heart and shares His deepest feelings about how close He wants to be with you and me, close enough to gather us all to His Father’s heart, isn’t that the deepest joy possible?
What is Jesus talking about when He says “joy”?
Jesus is talking not only about the joy of being nourished by Him, about the joy of a resurrection-reunion with Him, but when Jesus says “joy,” He’s talking about the most joyful relationship ever—between Heaven and humanity.
You know what I would suggest? I would suggest you and I stay safe within that third corner of the triangle. And having heard Jesus say what He has said, my main motivation is no longer my eternal safety, but the happiness I can give to the Father, the Son, and the comforting Holy Spirit.
Would you like to stay in the corner of that triangle with me? Would you like to recommit your life to listening to Jesus’ words and opening your hearts to His Holy Spirit, who can change you into His likeness? Can I see your hands if that’s your desire?