Are You Bearing Fruit?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week as we look to Isaiah’s Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5. God uses the imagery of the nation of Israel and the people of Judah as a vineyard that God himself had planted. He did everything to make sure that it flourished, but no good grapes were found. Then through Isaiah’s prophecy, God tells the listeners what will happen.

“Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Isaiah 5:5-7 NIV

Isaiah’s prophecy did come to pass. The people were carried off into captivity. Their cities, including Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed as well. But God did promise to restore his people and to do so by sending the Messiah (Isa. 11).

Now fast forward about 700 years. Jesus is born and begins his ministry. He goes around teaching people about God’s kingdom, healing people doing the things that only the Messiah could do. When the religious leaders question his authority, Jesus references John the Baptist, but then goes into a parable to explain what his ministry is about (Mk. 12).

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

Mark 12:1-2 NIV

Jesus uses the exact same language of Isaiah 5, but places himself into the story. Jesus says the vineyard owner sends his son (Jesus) to those who rented the vineyard after they had beaten and killed many other representatives. Instead of responding to the son, they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Mark 12:9 NIV

Mark tells us that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they knew he was speaking against them. In these two texts we discover that twice God has planted a vineyard, and twice the vineyard and its caretakers have been destroyed and removed because they failed to manage the vineyard for God. How are we doing?

Now go read John 15. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, but we can only bear fruit if we remain in him. Think about your life for a moment. Think about the ministry that God has called you to. Are you bearing fruit? If not, perhaps you need to consider the words of Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 NIV

Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-72)

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 14:32-72. This passage covers Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, and the unjust trial of Jesus. Because there is so much material to cover here, I will simply provide a list of things to consider while reading this passage.

  • “Gethsemane” means olive press, a place where great pressure was placed on olives to extract useful fluids (oil). (vs. 32-34)
  • This is the night of Passover, where everyone was to stay awake and “keep watch/vigil.” (Ex. 12:42; Mark 14:34, 37-38, 41)
  • The Passover utilized 4 cups, but a 5th cup was used by some to represent God’s wrath that would be poured out at judgement. Jesus had already had the 4 cups at the Passover earlier that night (14:12-26). Was this the cup he was thinking about at Gethsemane? (14:36)
  • Judas had shared many meals with Jesus, one on this very night. It was beyond human reason at the time that someone who had shared a meal with you would ever betray you, let alone with a kiss. These were all signs of commitment, and covenant. (14:44) Yet as we know from Mark and the other Gospels, Jesus still washed Judas’ feet, and gave him a place of honor (sitting next to him) at the dinner that evening. (14:20)
  • The Sanhedrin broke many of its own rules and laws that night. The Sanhedrin was never to meet at night (This all happened during the dark hours as Passover took place at sunset, and Jesus was taken to Pilate at daybreak – 15:1). No case was to be considered unless there was ample evidence (14:53). Cases were to be dismissed if conflicting testimony was presented (14:56-59) There were to be 2 or 3 witnesses who confirmed a charge before it was to be considered (14:63). By their own rules, this trial should have never happened the way it did, and should have been dismissed immediately when false and conflicting evidence was presented.
  • Peter is often criticized for disowning Jesus during his trial, but he deserves some credit. While it seems all the other disciples were hiding (with possibly the exception of John, per John 18:15), Peter was getting as close to Jesus as he could safely get. He ultimately failed Jesus with his denial, but we have to ask ourselves the question honestly: Would we be there with Peter, or would we be hiding somewhere?
  • The difference between Judas’ denial of Jesus (14:10-11, 44-46) and Peter’s denial (14:66-72) was that Peter came back to Jesus (John 21:15-19).  Judas gave up (Matthew 27:1-5).  In moments of weakness in this life, we will likely deny Jesus with our words and our actions. But let’s have the spirit of Peter, seeking forgiveness and reaffirming our commitment to Jesus, not just giving up like Judas.

QUESTION: What do you think about when you consider the words and actions of Jesus at Gethsemane?

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 6

Last time we explored the significance of the cups of wine used in the Passover celebration. This article will examine a reference that Jesus and Paul make to one of theses cups.

The third cup comes right after supper. This cup is mentioned specifically in Luke 22:20 – In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This third Passover cup is known as the Geulah which means redemption, and is sometimes called the cup of blessing. As mentioned previously, the phrase “new covenant in my blood” is an allusion by Jesus to Jeremiah 31:31-34. “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”  The passage ends with the words: “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.”

It is a powerful statement Jesus is making by taking the cup of redemption, or cup of blessing, and interpreting it as God’s new covenant with humankind. The third cup reminded the Jews of God’s blessing by redeeming them out of slavery in Egypt on the very night of the original Passover. In a similar, but far greater way, God will redeem his people once, for all time through the events that would begin the very night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. This was to be a new feast to commemorate God’s eternal redemption of his people.

The apostle Paul alludes to this third cup in his letter to Corinth. The church in Corinth was apparently involved in consuming food that had been sacrificed by pagans to their idols. Some saw nothing wrong with eating the food, while others were deeply offended by this claiming the Christians were worshipping idols in eating these feasts.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread.

Barclay offers the following commentary on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians. “…a man who has sat at the table of Jesus Christ cannot go on to sit at the table which is the instrument of demons. If a man has handled the body and blood of Christ there are things he cannot touch.”

Those of us who have entered into “the new covenant in [Christ’s] blood” have pledged our faithfulness to him. Eating this feast is worship, and when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are not only reminding ourselves of his sacrifice, we are recommitting ourselves to this new covenant in Christ which excludes worshipping any other god.

All Christians who eat the Lord’s Supper are “one body” in doing so. Unfortunately we still allow idol sacrifices to divide us today. We often place our allegiance to our denominations, our worship preferences, our schedules, our convenience, as well as other idols before our allegiance to unity in Christ. In many ways, we fail to remember the body (church) of Jesus when we eat this feast.  May God forgive us for our lack of unity, and may God strengthen our bond to him and each other through the body and blood of Christ.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 5

Last week we explored the significance of the blood being applied to the doorposts of the houses of Israel. God had spared the children of Israel because the blood of the Passover lamb had been applied to their homes. In this article we will look at the wine used in the Passover celebration, and the symbolism that Jesus applied in the Lord’s Supper.

A cup of wine is not mentioned in Exodus 12, and nobody really knows when this tradition was added to the celebration, but it was in place by Jesus’ time, and two references are made to drinking from it as part of the ceremony. (Luke 22:17, 20) The participants of the Passover celebration each have a cup of wine, and on four separate occasions would use the wine in their cup. Each time the cup has a specific name and symbolic significance in the ceremony.

The first cup which opens the meal is called Kiddush which means sanctification. A blessing was given thanking God for the “fruit of the vine” before taking this cup. Most likely this is the drink referenced in Luke 22:17-18 –  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

The second cup was known as the cup of plagues which reminded the Jews of the wrath of God poured out on the Egyptians in the form of the ten plagues. This was not a drink from the cup, but rather a dipping of the finger, and a drop of the wine on their plates for each of the ten plagues.

The third cup comes right after supper. This cup is mentioned specifically in Luke 22:20 – In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This third Passover cup is known as the Geulah which means redemption, and is sometimes called the cup of blessing. (We’ll explore a New Testament reference to the cup of blessing next time.)

The fourth cup known as the Hallel or the cup of praise accompanied the singing of hymns. These hymns are in your Bible as Psalm 113-118. I don’t have room to include these passages here, but you should read through them to see what Jesus sung just before he was arrested. And though this fourth cup is not mentioned specifically, it would have been taken with the hymns sung by Jesus and his disciples. (Mt. 26:30, Mk. 14:26)

Christians don’t usually pick up on the statement Jesus was making when he used the phrase “new covenant in my blood.” This phrase is only used once in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31:31-34. “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”

Jesus’ statements during the Passover, and his use of the Passover emblems and traditions made it clear that he was the chosen Messiah of God, the true Passover lamb that was sacrificed once and for all to take away the sin of the world. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” Jeremiah 31:34b

For further reading on this subject, you can visit Jews for Jesus, or Chabad.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 1
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 2 
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 3
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 4

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 4

As we continue our look at the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, we will take a two-part look at the blood of the lamb, and the wine. Much symbolism is given to these by Jesus, but first we’ll look at the Egyptian culture that had influenced the Israelite lives in slavery.

When Israel came to Egypt at Joseph’s invitation, they were a distinct people from the Egyptians. The Israelites were nomadic, living in tents, and they worshipped the one true God. The Egyptians worshipped many gods, and lived in houses made of mud brick and stone. By the time of Moses, the Israelites began to adopt Egyptian customs, including abandoning their tents to live in houses, much like the Egyptians did. (Ex. 12:22)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God instructed the Israelites to place the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lintels of these houses. You don’t enter the house by way of the doorposts and lintel, but by way of the door. What would be significant about the doorposts and lintels? Why not put blood on the door? One of the customs the Egyptians had was writing their names on the stone doorposts of their house. The name was very important to Egyptians, and having your name remain in writings after your death helped ensure your place in the afterlife. In a very real sense, the Egyptians put their eternal hope in their own names on their doorposts. As the Israelites had adopted the custom of living in Egyptian style houses, and often built houses for the Egyptians, they most likely adopted the custom of putting their names on their doorposts as well.

“They must take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they eat them…The blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:7, 13

God wanted a “distinguishing mark” for the Israelites…something that made them different from the Egyptians. Israel had begun blending into the world around them, and adopting Egyptian customs. Other than their societal status as slaves, there was really very little difference between their beliefs and that of the Egyptians. When God has them cover over their names on the doorposts, he is asking that they not trust their own efforts of engraving their names in stone, but to trust in God’s promise, and in the blood of the Passover lamb for their salvation.

Today Christians often blend in with the world around them. As Craig Groeschel writes, “Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist.” The “distinguishing mark” for Christians is still the blood of the eternal Passover lamb. And when we are covered by the blood of the lamb, it shouldn’t only hide our names…it should transform our lives. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.” He expected that we would be reminded often of the sacrifice he made, and the blood on the doorposts of our heart. Participating in the Lord’s Supper should be a memorial, and transformational experience. It calls us to be different from the sin filled world around us, and motivates us to teach others why they need to apply the blood of Christ on the doorposts of their hearts.

Read the rest of my series on this topic by using the links below:

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 1
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 2
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 3

For further reading on this subject, you can visit Jews for Jesus, or Chabad.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 3

Continuing our look at the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, today we are going to focus on the bread. But before looking at what Jesus said about the bread, we will first look at the history of Passover traditions. From the time of the first Passover, Rabbi’s began interpreting and applying the different elements of the Passover seder to their own lives. Different traditions were added to the feast that were in addition to what Exodus 12 commanded of the Israelites. According to Jewish scholars, what we will discuss today are traditions that were already in place by the time Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

Part of the Passover seder is the unleavened bread (matzoh) being presented in a very specific way. Three loaves of unleavened bread are placed in a bag (matzoh tosh), each loaf being in its own compartment. The loaves are discussed symbolically as a sign of unity, but Rabbis are very divided upon where this tradition comes from and what unity the loaves refer to. Some say unity of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) while others say unity of the nation of Israel (Priests, Levites, People of Israel). The exact meaning of this tradition has been lost to history according to Rabbis, but we will attempt to uncover the true meaning.

During the seder, the matzoh tosh is opened and the second (middle) loaf, known as the Bread of Affliction, is removed and broken in half. Rabbis again don’t know why the middle loaf is used, and the other two remain untouched. The broken piece is wrapped in a linen bag called an afikoman which means “it comes later.” The afikoman is taken out of the room of celebration and hidden, symbolically buried somewhere in the house by the leader of the celebration. Towards the end of the meal the participants will search for the afikoman and when it is found it is returned to the table. The leader of the celebration will then take the bread and break off small portions for everyone at the table.

Why is the middle portion broken, buried, and brought back if the unity of the matzoh tosh refers to the patriarchs or the nation of Israel? It doesn’t make any sense. But if the loaves in the matzoh tosh represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the middle loaf being broken, buried for a time, and brought back has incredible symbolism. Not only did this meal point toward the coming of the Messiah, but God even used the traditions added by men to further point toward his Son.

And he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19

Jesus’ body would soon be broken for us, wrapped in linen, buried for a time, and like the afikoman was brought back to us. And just like the Passover lamb, no bones were broken in his body, even though it was the custom of the Roman soldiers to break the legs of the crucified.

The symbolism in the Passover and in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are a reminder that God planned to save us from the beginning. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t an afterthought of God. It was his plan to show his incredible love for us, even at the cost of his Passover lamb, his Son, Jesus.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 1
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 2

For further reading on this subject, you can visit Jews for Jesus, or Chabad.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 2

Last week we took our first look at the Lord’s Supper, and the goal was for us all to remember the sacrifice Jesus made every time we ate this past week. If you didn’t do that, I would encourage you to make that a priority this week. Don’t just thank God for your food, but take a moment and reflect on what Jesus did for you on the cross. Now we turn our attention to the first Passover, which you can read about in Exodus 12. This is less of an article, and more just a list of observations that I feel we often miss.

The first thing that stands out to me about this passage is that God wanted Israel to remember this event, so much so that they were to rearrange their entire calendar system around it! This goes far beyond simply observing a holiday…their entire year would begin with this feast. This shows how important, and how seriously God wanted the people of Israel to take this feast. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: ‘This month is to be the beginning of months for you; it is the first month of your year.’” (Exodus 12:1-2)

What would our worship services look like if we gave The Lord’s Supper that sort of prominence?

Next, this was a community event. Every household participated in this feast at the same time, in the same way. In addition, smaller households who couldn’t eat the entire Passover lamb by themselves were told to get together with the neighbor closest to them and share a Passover lamb. Participating in the Passover was a unifying event. All divisions were removed and the whole of Israel participated in this event together. It was a uniting experience. And this experience was not a one time event. This memorial feast was to be a permanent fixture in the lives of the Israelites. “This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.” (Exodus 12:14)

Does a sense of unity come over you when we take communion? Not just with those around you, but those all over the world doing the same thing?

It also reminded the people that God had saved them because of the blood of a lamb. “Take a cluster of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and brush the lintel and the two doorposts with some of the blood in the basin. None of you may go out the door of his house until morning. When the Lord passes through to strike Egypt and sees the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, he will pass over the door and not let the destroyer enter your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:22-23)

We too should live our lives like the only reason we’ve been spared is the blood of The Lamb.

There are many more connections between the Passover memorial, and what Jesus did for us on the cross. This week I encourage you to read through Exodus 12 and consider the parallels for yourself.

Read the rest of my series on this topic by using the links below:

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 1

For further reading on this subject, you can visit Jews for Jesus, or Chabad.