Christ’s Good Confession Before Pilate (Part Two)

John 18:33-38a

Today, which is Good Friday, we will continue our look at Christ’s first trial before Pilate. The Roman governor asked Jesus two more questions.  He pressed Jesus for more information. “What is it you have done?”

Jesus denied that he was leading a rebellion. He appealed to the events of the arrest to prove that he was not a political rival to Caesar. Anyone who plotted a revolt would have soldiers who would protect him. But no such thing happened. We learn an important principle. Christ’s kingdom is not advanced, promoted or defended by human ways or wisdom. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV). For this reason, we must do God’s work in God’s way; that is, by faith relying on God’s power.

Jesus explained his kingdom. It was not of earthly origin. Jesus constantly talked about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. Seeing this is so, you cannot become a part of Christ’s kingdom by worldly means—not by birth, not by compulsion, not by joining an organization, and not by going through some ritual (like baptism, communion, confirmation, or the altar call.) Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:12-13 NIV). Thus, his kingdom does not refer to a place, but to a kingship or a rule. To know what this kind of a rule means, study Romans 14:17-18.

Then in a somewhat ironic way, Pilate continues, “You are a king, then!”

Jesus claimed to be a king. In its strict literal sense, the Greek reads, “You are saying that I am a king.” However, the phrase “you are saying” is equivalent here to “yes”. See Matthew 26:63-63 and Mark 14:61-62. Though Pilate might mock or scorn his claim, Jesus firmly asserts that he is a king. In this way he gave a good confession before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13). At this point the early church took up his banner, and today so must we. “Jesus is Lord” is our good confession (Romans 10:9). Sinners are content if he is presented as a rich uncle, a super psychologist or a great healer. But no sinner wants Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Leader. No one can truly say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Jesus claimed to testify to the truth.

  • Only Jesus could have made this statement. He is the one who both was born and who came.
  • Jesus knew that his Father sent him to proclaim the truth to a world lost in error. cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:8
  • Jesus presented himself as the truth. Cf. John 14:6
  • Pilate responded by asking what is truth? In doing so, he showed that he was not of Christ’s kingdom. How sad! He had the truth before him, but could not see it!

What about you? Are you of the truth? Do you listen to Christ’s voice? Is Jesus Christ your Lord? What evidence can be found in your life? What are you doing to extend Christ’s kingship? You ask, “How can I do that?” Witness. Follow Jesus in making a good confession for his name’s sake. Stand for Christian values. Live in such a way, and speak in such a way that others know that Christ is your King.

Grace and peace, David

Christ’s Good Confession Before Pilate (Part One)

John 18:33-38a

It is good for Christians to remember the events of Palm Sunday through Resurrection Sunday. Our faith is not like other religions that are based on the philosophic speculations of people or the performance of (magic) rituals. Christianity is rooted in history; that is, in what the living God did in Jesus Christ in the space/time world in which we live. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ who lived among people, who was arrested and tried by people, who suffered and died for people at the cruel hands of wicked people, and who rose again the third day and was seen by people. And today many people have their lives deeply changed by Jesus Christ!

The Four Gospels devote a major portion of their content to the events of the Passion Week. Some have called them passion narratives with extended introductions. The early church grasped the importance of the history that occurred and set down these events in its creeds. For example, read the Old Roman Symbol, the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

Our text presents the first part of our Lord’s trial before Pilate, the Roman governor. Here we see two striking figures. Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory and the Ruler of the kings of the earth stands trial before Pilate, the representative of the world’s only superpower of that time. Let us peer into this interview. Pilate used three lines of examination, summarized in three statements. We will look at the first of these in this article: “Are you the king of the Jews?”

We need to know the background to this question.

  • Behind the scenes, the gospel writers tell us that the Jewish religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. But they had a problem. They did not have the authority to execute anyone. Therefore, they needed to invent a charge that would cause the Roman government to execute Jesus. Politics hasn’t changed much, has it? If things aren’t going one’s way, then sin boldly to gain your wicked ends. The idea of fact or fiction is meaningless to the postmodernist person. What matters is that you tell a story to persuade others in order to reach your goal. Manipulation, deceit, disrespect and abuse are applauded rather than condemned.
  • Therefore, they told lies about Jesus to Pilate, along with his claim to be the Messiah, a king. It seems they hoped that Pilate would act swiftly to suppress any rival to Caesar – if he valued his own life.

How Christ handled the question.

  • Jesus sought the meaning of the question. Did Pilate mean king in the Roman sense? Was Pilate asking if he was a political revolutionary? Did he mean king in another sense? Was Pilate asking if he was the Messiah, the ruler of God’s people? Consider the example of Christ in avoiding an unclear or complicated question. Sometimes it is not best to answer quickly. Draw out a person’s meaning.
  • Pilate responded that this was a Jewish matter. He had not sought Jesus’ arrest. The Jewish religious leaders had handed Jesus over to him. What is going on?

Pilate wanted to know why this happened, for usually the Jewish religious leaders were eager to follow anyone who stood for the Jewish people against the power of Rome. Therefore, Pilate asked another question. We may expect people to ask many questions when we share the good news of Jesus Christ. People need time to understand the meaning and the truth of the ultimate significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead them to ask the right question. Then rely on the Spirit to direct you to the Scriptures for the correct answers.

Grace and peace, David

Much fruit

We arrive at our theme verse for Mission FifteenFive. It communicates a number of ideas that should be at the heart of our way of life and mission into the world (Jn 17:18). As Martyn Lloyd-Jones would often emphasize, we must understand the basics, the foundational concepts, before we hurry on about what we must do. People can be very results or success oriented, and so they immerse themselves into methods or programs. But first we need to begin with thoughts and ideas—and with the most important relationship!

Our Lord restates the illustration about our union with him (John 15:5). “I am the vine, you are the branches.” He wants us to know who and what he is. John uses seven of these “I am” statements in the Gospel of John to tell us the good news about Jesus. He is the life-giver to every branch; we are dependent on him. Every follower of Jesus has this spiritually organic connection to his or her Lord. Stop and think about this. (Did you?) Let this truth fill your mind and permeate your affections. Those who are connected to Christ by faith share in the powerful life of our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord (cf. Romans 7:4-6; Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:21; etc.) We should cultivate thoughts of our vital link with such a powerful Lord.

Our Lord emphasizes the truth of union and communion with him. “The one remaining in me and I in him this one bears much fruit.” While Christ lives in every branch connected to him, each branch must stay connected to Christ. If we don’t, then we can fall into what I call “the Colossian drift” (Colossians 2:18-23). Besides being in a very precarious position, such a person cannot produce true spiritual fruit. But here, Jesus wants us to lay hold of what can happen in our lives. We can produce “much fruit” for the honor of God. Those who know Jesus Christ want to see his vitality active and productive. We want to show all aspects of godliness, because the purpose of branches being connected to the vine is bear spiritual fruit. When Sharon and I have planted gardens, we have expected the plants to bear fruit or vegetables according to their kind. Any that didn’t were weeded out, because they had no use in the garden. The Lord tells us that he desires “much fruit” from our lives. The good news is that by remaining in Jesus, we will see much fruit appear.

Jesus points out the necessity of dependence on him, “because apart from me you are not able to do anything.” This happens in practice though prayer. Many like to quote Philippians 4:13 as the positive side to what Jesus says here. That is fine, as long as they do not think that the mere quotation of the verse is reliance on Jesus Christ. Our dependence must be personal, conscious, and deliberate. Jesus sets forth a walk of faith in which we rely on him constantly—in the family, with friends, at work, in the gathering of believers, and when we are alone with God. However, we often disagree with Jesus in the way we live, because we act like we can do things without him. Lord Jesus, how much we need your word to change us, not merely in a few activities and our choice of phrases that sound more spiritual to others. Lord, we want to depend on you continually. May all our days evidence our trust in you!

Grace and peace,


Remain in the Vine

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4 NIV). We have called our mission “FifteenFive”; this name is based on John 15:5. Now we have arrived at the “doorway” to that great verse. It should be obvious that Jesus took time to set forth the truth of the believer’s union with him, slowly stating it to let it sink in and permeate our understanding. Let’s invest some time to consider what our Lord and Savior says to us.

First of all, consider that he remains in us. Every believer has a vital, organic connection with the Lord of glory. While many think about the benefits that believers gain from Christ, the Lord Jesus is saying more than that. We are truly joined to him. He continues in us at all times. This is truly astounding! The matchless, infinite, all-powerful, holy Lord remains in us. His presence provides confident expectation (hope) to us, regardless of the circumstances. He continues with us to provide spiritual nourishment and strength to act for his glory and to resist evil.

Second, Jesus tells us to remain in him in the same way that he remains in us. Union with Christ demands communion with him. This is a clear responsibility. It is also a high responsibility: “as I also remain in you” (cf. John 13:34). A command likes this requires that we draw strength from the Vine simply to fulfill it. But the point here is that we sense our responsibility. Spiritual vitality does not simply happen. Nor does it happen by the mere performance of some so-called spiritual disciplines. It happens only as we remain in him as he remains in us. (Some of this repetition of phraseology sounds cumbersome, but I fear we too often lose track of the point, as I have learned from years of teaching the word.) Our commitment to Christ is to mirror his commitment to him.

Third, Jesus wants us to realize that branches cannot bear fruit by themselves. Each branch must remain in the Vine (fellowship with him). Why do we not see spiritual fruitfulness? I think we can retrace our failures back to a lack of personal, persistent contact with the Lord. We cannot bear fruit unless we remain in him. We need to share our lives with him consciously and daily. Prior attainments do not provide present, fresh relationships.

So then, we all need to examine our continuance in the Vine. We must fix our thoughts upon Jesus (Hebrews 12:2; Colossians 2:6). This happens as we listen attentively to the Lord’s voice in the word, and as we talk with him in prayer. Remain in him as he remains in you!

The Word and the branches

“You are already clean through the message that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Jesus continues to speak to the Eleven about the relationship between the Vine and the branches. The Father as Gardener prunes the branches. Jesus uses a noun form of the verb translated as “prunes” in verse two to describe the condition of the apostles. They are already “clean” (cf. 13:10) or “pruned”. Jesus reassures his core group after telling them about others who would be cut off because they were not fruitful (like Judas, 13:30). They were fruitful branches that were clean.

What caused the difference in their lives? It was the word or message of Christ that he had spoken to them. The message includes everything about his person, teachings, and redemptive mission that he had already told them. They had received the message, and it had produced an internal, cleansing effect in them (cf. Ephesians 2:20-21; cf. John 6:44-48). Jesus is the source and substance of life for his people.

Jesus wants us to know that we continue or remain in him in the same way that we began (cf. Colossians 2:6-7). We begin through faith in Christ. The Father by the Spirit causes us to be born again as he uses the word of Christ in us (1 Peter 1:23). We are his new people. We are ready to bear fruit. This continues to occur as Christ uses the word in us (Ephesians 5:26). For this reason, when we read the word, we ought to seek the Lord by his Spirit to use it in us. And a gathering of believers should want the word to operate in us powerfully (Colossians 3:16). This is a conscious, deliberate activity. It is something that we must want and have room for. Like anything in life, it requires an investment of time. How much time are you investing in listening to the word of God? May God bless you with grace and peace!

The Gardener and the branches

In the Gospel of John, we hear a lot from Jesus about God the Father. (A good place to dive into this subject is chapter five.) Here, Jesus tells of the Father’s activity in tending to the branches that are connected to him, the Vine. The Father has a great interest in the productiveness of his people. But first notice that everything is focused on Jesus Christ. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2 NIV1984). The Father is concerned about Christ and his people. He wants Christ’s people to produce fruit for the glory of his Son. For this reason God the Father performs actions on the branches, the people of God.

First, he cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. (Fruit represents everything godly that comes from a living union and communion with Christ, such as peace, obedience to Jesus’ commands, joy, love for one another, and witness to the world, cf. 14:27; 15:9, 10, 12, 27). Sadly, there are some who have an outward connection to Christ, but who lack a real, vital, organic connection. They do not bear fruit (Matthew 13:18-22; Col 1:23; 1 John 2:19.) The Father acts to remove them from the people of Christ.

Second, the Father prunes every fruit bearing branch. A few years ago, I was pruning the bushes in our backyard. The old, unproductive branches had to be cut off, so that the living branches could increase. A friend of mine was watching as I basically cut off well over half the branches. They looked scrawny. He said, “I hope you know what you’re doing, because there isn’t much left.” I did know, and the bushes thrived, but at that moment in time, it seemed counterproductive. It can seem that way in our lives, when the Father prunes away stuff that needs to go. It is too easy to focus on what is gone, instead of what will grow and bear fruit for the glory of God in Christ.

How is the Father pruning your life now? You should be observing the removal of unproductive stuff from yourself. And you might be shaken and shed tears when you see the pile of discarded ideas, attitudes, and activities. But this is only for your benefit. You do not want to be like discarded branches that bear no fruit. No, you want to be a fruit-bearing branch that becomes increasingly productive. So then, how are you concentrating more on Christ? What new godly interests is the Father developing in you as you draw upon the life-giving power of the ascended Christ?

First thoughts on the Vine and the branches

God likes to use stories and illustrations to help us know the story of his glory in the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, when God sent his one and only Son into the world, he came teaching with stories and illustrations. In John 15:1-8 Jesus gave the illustration of the Vine and the branches.

When Jesus told his disciples (learners) this word picture, he used imagery from the Old Testament Scriptures (Psalm 80:9-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; etc.) God had pictured his people Israel as a vineyard from which he expected fruit. Now in the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he is the “true vine”. Christ is the ultimate reality of what God had expected of Israel. The members of Christ’s new people (his followers or learners) are branches in him. Jesus is the fullness of God’s plan; in him are a people that will bring forth the righteous fruit that God desires. The good news is that if we are in Jesus Christ by grace through faith, we are part of God’s people.

Jesus also tells us that the Father is the gardener; he cares for the Vine and his branches. In the Christian life we too often forget that God the Father is active in our lives. We can wrongly think that producing fruit for God is a matter for our best efforts. And we fail miserably! But Jesus wants us to know and to experience that fruitfulness comes from our union with him, as the Father acts in our lives. So believer in Jesus, rejoice today! You are connected to him who has power to produce fruitfulness in you, and the Father kindly acts to help you bear fruit.