At the 10th Annual Anglican Mission in the Americas Winter Conference I had the privilege each morning to sit and listen to one of the greatest theologians of our era, Dr. James Packer. Lest you be deceived, I did not sit with him for morning coffee – he taught and I sat with everyone else in a large ballroom sipping my morning cup of coffee. I also got my morning exercise in by putting my cup on the floor and writing in my journal the many nuggets of wisdom that Dr. Packer extracted from the Scripture. So it was, take a sip, put on floor, enter nugget of wisdom, take a sip, put on floor, enter nugget of wisdom . . . for one hour each day.
For three days Dr. Packer walked us through through three chapters in John, opening the Scripture to our hearts and ears. Day one was John 15, day two John 17, day three John 21.
John 15 is a directive to Jesus’ disciples that he (Jesus) is to be their sustainer, that he is the vine and they are the branches. He invites them to abide in him and he will sustain them. The vine picture is a picture of faithfulness that leads to fruitfulness. We are ‘in’ Christ and he is ‘in’ us. This points to relationship which is the true picture of discipleship. When we are ‘in’ him, he feeds us and grows us and he is ‘in’ us. The basic definition of discipleship is abiding in Christ and abiding ‘in’ him is focused effort. As we abide in him he expects us to bear fruit. The Father prunes the branches for more fruit (growth). Pruning is deprivation – loss for growth. God removes those things in our lives that take up space that prevent more growth.
John 17 gives us a picture of Jesus as the intercessor. Jesus prays for us and he models this for his disciples by praying to the Father for them and on their behalf. What is true prayer? Conversation with God – there is communion because there is conversation. What is intercession? Petition intercession, asking for needs to be met, help to be given, support where we are limited. In this prayer we hear Jesus’ heart. Who does Jesus pray for? Jesus prays for himself, his glorification that he had before the foundation of the world. He prays for his disciples, the eleven faithful ones. He prays for protection from the evil one, who, as Martin Luther puts it, ‘doth seek to work us woe.’ He prays for the Church that is to be – that is us! Jesus prays for us! And he is still praying for us.
John 21 gives us the picture of Jesus as the Restorer. Jesus knew that Peter no doubt felt like a failure. He had denied Jesus at a crucial moment and in his failure he ran back to the familiar – fishing. This is what he knew. Perhaps it was pride that prompted Peter to plan something he was familiar with. Jesus appears and shows Peter that he wants to restore him to the ‘rock-steadiness’ that he knew was in Peter all along. Self-reliance can creep back into our lives and we will become self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Jesus wants to restore us to the purpose and calling for which we have been called and get on about his work. Further, in this chapter, we see that there is more to show loyalty to Jesus than just saying it. Jesus says to Peter, ‘Show me that you love me by feeding my lambs.’ After the three stage affirmation of Peter, Jesus alludes to Peter’s manner of death and then gives the real hammer blow. ‘Follow me.’ You (emphatic pronoun) follow me. Everyday, as long as you are in the world, your pattern of behavior, the light you show the world, becoming Christ-like. Keep your eyes on me. Peter’s ministry proved to be one of boldness, courage, humility, turning his back on pride. Jesus brought ‘rock-steadiness’ to Peter. That’s what he wants from us.
More musings from the Winter Conference to come . . .