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Sermon for May 5, 2024 – Sixth Sunday in Easter

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3024 | The Divine Irony
Greg Williams

No other writer in the New Testament uses metaphors of combat and conquering more than the gentle Apostle John. Notice this passage:

For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 
I John 5:4-5 (NRSV)

After reading about the conquests you can almost hear a chorus from the rock band Queen singing – “We are the champions, no time for losers, because we are the champions of the world.” 

These kinds of words—conquer, overcome—hit our modern ears in a strange way when applied to Jesus. Normally, the words love, forgiveness, and gentleness come to mind when we think of him. We think of Jesus as the great comforter and healer, and redeemer, before we think of him as a conquering King.  

Add to that, in the modern dialogue, the trend is toward celebrating all worldviews and faiths as if they are all equally valid and equally coherent. But the Christian calling is different—Jesus isn’t one savior among many, he isn’t just another dish at the smorgasbord of philosophy and religion. He is king! He is conqueror! And he is the supreme revelation of God.  

And while he is the supreme example of love, he is also the source and end of logic, wisdom, and philosophy. The universe without him doesn’t exist, Paul said when he reminded us that Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17) 

As Christians, we hold that there is one answer for the human condition and one response to the ultimate question: Jesus. The same Jesus who conquered the world by love.  

In a world where strength and ruthlessness seemed to be what got you ahead, Jesus came to change the equation. The great irony of Christ was that he conquered by surrendering; he was declared king through forgiveness.  

And he has conquered all–and that’s why we are committed to the exclusive truth of the gospel and we accept the challenge of how to convey this truth with grace and love to those outside of conscious faith.  

The fact is that all roads don’t lead to Rome and all world views are not different ways up the same mountain. The center of reality is not a round table, it’s a heavenly throne room where Father, Son and Spirit eternally dwell, and one day all crowns will be laid at the feet of Jesus. 

Queen almost had it right – “We are the champions, but only because Jesus is the Real Champion!” 

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life. 



Psalm 98:1-9 • Acts 10:44-48 • 1 John 5:1-6 • John 15:9-17

This week’s theme is new in Christ. In our call to worship psalm, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness have won the victory in the sight of all the ends of the earth. In our reading from Acts 10, it is the receiving of the Holy Spirit that brings Gentiles into the new messianic community. Our reading from 1 John features faith in the One who came in the flesh, Jesus Christ, as central to the victory that conquers the world. The Gospel reading from John is a continuation from last week’s reading on the vine and the branches, with a pronounced call to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

As the Father Has Loved

John 15:9-17 – ESV

Today is the sixth Sunday in Easter, after which the liturgical calendar sets aside this coming Thursday as the day to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. However, many churches may choose to use next Sunday, the last Sunday of Easter, as Ascension Sunday to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. After that we will arrive at Pentecost and then transition into the Season of Ordinary Time. However you slice it, today will serve for most as the climatic conclusion of the Easter celebration before taking on the themes of the Lord ascending back to the Father and sending down the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.


As we anticipate both Ascension and Pentecost, we can also observe in our text today an anticipation on Jesus’ part of these two movements that still lay on the horizon. Our text in John, will be a continuation from our text last week where Jesus uses the image of the vine and branches to help his disciples prepare for Jesus’ imminent departure. Both of these passages are part of John’s section, spanning from chapter 14 to 17, that records Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he goes to the cross. In this extended discourse Jesus is trying to comfort and encourage his disciples to face what was coming. He knew they would be stricken and scattered as a result of his death and crucifixion. However, he also knew that would not be the end of the story. There would be a resurrection and subsequent ascension. Jesus would be returning to his Father. For the disciples, this would appear to be another departure just as his death was. But Jesus tells them he is going to send them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Both the Ascension of Jesus, and the sending of the Spirit, will amount to a permanent presence of the Lord with his disciples which will culminate at his return. Jesus is not going away, he is just going to be present in a different way, a deeper and more abiding way. But that leaves the disciples, including us today, a new way to live in the present while we wait for our Lord to return.

Last week, we discovered that this new way of living in the present was summed up in the word “abide.” This is our call from Jesus in our everyday lives as we wait for his return. We are called to abide in him. That theme of abiding will kick off our passage today and lead us to discover the ultimate fruit that comes from such abiding: love. We will encounter a few more themes as well such as joy, commandment, and friendship. These themes will be interwoven in our text today, comprising some of Jesus last words to his disciples before his departure. So, we will deal with the text today by addressing these themes as they appear.

Just like last week, we can divide today’s reading into two parts. Let’s start with the first part that continues last week’s theme on abiding:

As the Father has loved me, so have I 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 be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9-11)


The first theme we can address is the same theme set out in last week’s text. But this time that theme is attached to the word “love.” Abiding in the vine has now been given the equivalent of abiding in Jesus’ love. Jesus is filling out the metaphor for us to clarify more directly what he is saying. As we discussed last week, bringing in the word “receive” can also help us understand a little more of what it means to abide. To abide in Jesus’ love is to receive the love he has for us. In this way, we also must acknowledge that abiding involves a relationship characterized by trust. We do not receive well from those we do not trust. If we are going to abide in Jesus’ love, meaning, if we are going to receive his love in such a way that it flows out of us as a way of life, then we will have to first come to trust this one who is giving us his love. And that will serve as a good segway into our next theme. And it’s a big one.


Oddly enough, in our passage last week on Jesus as the true vine, the word “love” is never mentioned. It’s almost like Jesus is holding it in his pocket to be unleashed later. This is where he wants to go with the metaphor. It becomes clear that the fruit that comes from abiding in the vine is love. However, what we are abiding in is in some way the very fruit we are to bear. In our passage today we have the word love repeated 11 times in these 9 verses. Now we must look back at last week’s text with an interpretive lens of love to sort out the whole passage involving vine and branches.

Before we walk away thinking, “ah yes, it’s all about love. Very well,” it would be good to remember Jesus’ other image of him being the Good Shepherd which we covered on the fourth Sunday of Easter. There we find that we must first know what love is before we move out to be “loving.” And more to the point, we must know who Jesus is and who his Father is.

Jesus does not let the word “love” just float out there for any interpretation we would like to apply to it. It is conditioned with the reference “as the Father has loved me.” So, the love we are to abide in and the fruit of love that we are to bear, is not left up to us to determine. It’s a very particular love that has its source in the Father, the very love he has for his Son. And that is the same love Jesus says he extends to us. The word love in the passage is agape, which is the word chosen by John to distinguish God’s love from all the other popular “loves” so often expressed in the Greco-Roman world. It’s really no different in our times today, except we do not have different words for love to choose from. “Love” is more often used as an expression of intense emotion or some general sentimentality. We do not often celebrate or encourage a love “as the Father” loves, but rather a “love” as Hallmark and Hollywood loves. Agape love on the other hand is not primarily about feelings or some equivalent for “like.” The love being pointed to in agape is a love that is for another in acts that may even be costly to the lover. The feelings of love are immaterial to the actions and purpose of love. This is the love with which Jesus has loved us. And the disciples will soon see that love in full display on the cross. Jesus going to the cross was not some ecstatic “feeling” or sentimental gesture to us. He was doing the one thing that was most needed for our good, even though we rejected and resisted him for doing it. His love for us was not determined by our love for him. This love comes from a source of love that could not be conditioned by any outside factors. The source of love is the Father, the truth of which John later pens with the proclamation of “God is love.” (Note: this passage of Scripture contains the highest concentration of the word agape than in any of the Gospels.)

So, we must not miss Jesus’ emphasis when he introduces this theme of Love. Love is to be understood first and foremost as the love of the Father displayed forth in the love of the Son. John has our thoughts directed back to the statement, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). The love given to us in Jesus, is the same love which has its origin in the very relationship of the Father and the Son. That is the love Jesus gives us to receive, or abide in.


It will be good here to follow up on what we have said about agape love being a determined love for another that is not deterred even at great cost to oneself. When citing the cross as the display of God’s love for us, we may shrink back from wanting to abide in such love. Love sounds painful. However, to be called into the love of the Father and the Son, even though it may not be accompanied by the sentimental or passionate feelings displayed by Hallmark and Hollywood, that does not mean it is a call into drudgery. The love that moves one to lay down their life for another is powered by a deeper joy that belongs to this vine of love in which we abide. Jesus has come to bring us into the very life and relationship he has with his Father. This is a life and love that has existed for all eternity. Father, Son, and Spirit have never lived in a state of drudgery, boredom, or some flat and static existence, but live as the overflowing and dynamic relationship shared mutually between them that sparked the creation of the cosmos. And that is the abiding power given to us that renews and transforms us and the entire creation. Yes, some pain may be involved as we participate in this love in a fallen world, but it will be accompanied by a joy that we know will grow into the fullness of joy shared in the Triune God.

You will also notice in this first part a reference to commandments. That will introduce our next theme. But we will now look at the second part of this passage to help us fill that theme out more fully:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:12-17 ESV)


We often associate commandments as something that is against us. We typically resist being commanded because we associate that with some dictatorial or tyrannical relationship. However, this section starts and ends with Jesus giving us a commandment. And maybe that’s the first thing we should note about a commandment. It is something given. To obey a commandment is a form of receiving. This goes back to what was said about abiding being another way of receiving. To abide in God’s love is to receive the love he has for us. And that requires trust. Let’s be honest, we don’t actually resist all commandments, now do we. If a wife tells a husband to kiss her for example, he typically will not have any problem obeying that command. Or if you set out ice cream for your kids and tell them to eat, I suspect you will not see many folded arms in protest. Let’s face it, the commands we resist are the ones that we feel are not in our best interest. But, if we know a command is for our good, we usually don’t even see that as a command. So, it may help to take all that baggage from the word command by being reminded of who is commanding us.

The “commander” is the one who has laid his life down for the sheep. He is the one who loves us with a love that is for us, even when we are against ourselves. The more we come to know who Jesus and his Father are as the God who is for us completely, never seeking our harm, but always calling us further into the fullness of his joy, the more we will be able to receive Jesus’ commands and obey them without hesitation. It’s a matter of trust. Jesus is trustworthy to a degree that we can do anything he commands, because we know it is for our good.

And to revisit the theme of love, what we have Jesus commanding us is to “love one another as I have loved you.” Notice, he doesn’t just say to love one another. He again is clear that the love we are to have towards others is the same love exemplified in Jesus laying his life down for his friends. That can be a tough commandment to follow when our expressions of love may mean laying down our reputation as the “nice guy” on the block or that “loving” person in the community who never ruffles a feather. But that is not the love we see Jesus displaying in the Gospels. He didn’t always say what people wanted to hear and he didn’t always make friends with his actions and words. But he did always seek the good of those he was relating to. That’s the kind of love he commands of us. We are not commanded to always give ice cream to the children when they also need their vegetables. So, we may have to rethink what it means to love our neighbors and our family. What is it they really need and what good is it Jesus is trying to give them? First and foremost, we can see in Jesus’ command to us to abide in him, that the most significant act of love is to extend to others the gospel of grace. This may not be what our neighbor wants. But we know that it is the ultimate good gift they need to receive. So, we too, like Jesus, can help others see that God the Father is good, trustworthy, and loves us best. And we can do that even when it comes at great cost to ourselves.


The final theme from the text to explore is “friends.” Jesus reorients our relationship to him from the concept of being a servant to that of being a friend. He doesn’t mean that we do not serve him or others. But he does not relate to us as “hired hands” who do not know the master personally. Serving God and keeping his commandments are put on a whole new basis. We are serving and obeying one whom we trust with our very lives. It’s not a drudgery or a drag to serve the one who has served us by giving us his very life. It is not an obligation to perform to obey the Lord’s commands when we know they all add up to what is best for us and the entire creation. In short, Jesus can be trusted. He is our friend, and he has called us to be his. Notice how Jesus references how he called the disciples. He chose them, not the other way round. Typically, someone who wanted to be discipled would go searching for a rabbi that they hoped would accept them. But Jesus doesn’t it leave it up to us to find the one we should follow. He comes to us, calls us to himself, and then grows our trust in following him.

Today, as we wrap up our Easter celebration, may we hear him calling to us once again. He calls us to abide in his love in such a way that we keep his commandment of loving others in the same way he loves us. This is the True Vine, who serves as the source of the branches’ love and joy, who enables us to abide more and more in him as he grows our trust to receive from him daily. That amounts to a resurrected life to live out who the Father called and chose us to be.

Can I Get a Witness? w/ Terry Ishee W1

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May 5—Sixth Sunday of Easter
John 15:9-17, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”

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Program Transcript

Can I Get a Witness? w/ Terry Ishee W1

Anthony: Our first passage of the month is John 15:9-17. I’ll be reading from the Common English Bible. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the sixth Sunday in Easter, which is May 5.

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 17 I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

Terry, if you’re exegeting and preaching this sermon or a sermon from this text, what’s going to be your big idea or your central theme?

Terry: Yeah. Man, this is such a wonderful passage. And I love that it’s love. I think you can’t look at this passage and not really let your theme be this idea of love and to embrace and receive the love of the Father. I think is often missing in the church today, especially in the West.

I think we carry so much shame, and we carry so much baggage from our own lives that sometimes receiving the love of the Father is really difficult. And then that’s the idea of remaining in love. How do we actually remain in love? It’s a big deal.

And then out of that — like I said, I’m a big action guy and so super pragmatic. And so out of receiving the Father’s love, finding those postures of remaining, and keeping place with love because God is love, right? He is love, loving to us. And then out of that, what does it look like to love each other just as we have received the love from the Father?

And so that’s, I think that’s where I’m camping. I want people to understand that at the end of the day, your formation, your discipleship, your worship, it should all be moving towards developing this sort of love that when we are in circumstances, when we’re in life, how do we respond to the world around us?

I find myself struggling with this at times where it’s easy that someone will say something, or someone will do something and it’s inconvenient to myself. And so, do I have a sharp response to that? Or am I able to actually absorb that and respond in love? I’ll give you just a quick example of this.

Recently, me and my wife, we went and did a little date night last week. And we went and saw the new Bob Marley movie, which is, it’s pretty good. I really enjoyed it. And it’s “One Love.” And so, there’s lots of concepts in talking about love and the bigger picture and a that whole thing.

And there was a couple that was behind us and they — Anthony, I’m not kidding, man — they talked the entire time. And it was one of those things where there’s some people, they have — they’re just so clueless to the volume of their own voice. They thinking they’re whispering and making little comments, but they’re talking full volume.

And I can sense my wife next to me, who’s just — she’s boiling. I can feel it. She’s like, oh my gosh, she’s so [inaudible]. My wife has such compassion and is such a rule follower that anytime anyone inconveniences — like her whole life is to not inconvenience people. She just wants to honor and love people so well, but sometimes in the pursuit of, in the idea of inconvenience, she cannot be loving at times because just like you’re inconveniencing people; you’re wrong.

And so, we’re sitting there, and I found myself getting frustrated because movies are like, that’s my spot. Like, this is where I connect with God. And I just remember sitting there and that idea is you know what? I’m, just going to absorb this. I’m going to, yeah. Is it frustrating? Is there something inside of me that wants to stand up and look behind them? Hey, I’m six foot, 280, man; I’m a big guy. I need you to be quiet right now.

Like everything inside of me wanted to do that, but no, that’s not love. That’s not what Jesus would want for me. And so, are we able to, in circumstances, absorb the things that frustrate us? Absorb the things that make us want to operate and respond out of our own worldly flesh and to say, you know what I’m going to respond in love?

I’m going to love; I’m going to love others because Jesus has loved me. And if I were in a movie theater with Jesus, I would probably talk and annoy him too. And he would show me love. And so, in that moment I got to actually exercise my faith and show love and be generous.

And when the movie was over, we made eye contact with the couple. And I just put a big smile on my face, and I hoped my presence and my smile would just be a sense of blessing to them. Hey, you’re good. You’re wonderful. You are loved.

And it was great, and it didn’t take anything away from the movie. It actually enhanced the movie for me because it was a reminder that we’re to be a people of love. And so that’s where I would take that.

Anthony: I would have stood up and said, get behind me, Satan! Because Jesus has done that. So right. You’re a better man than me. That’s for sure.

It states in verse 16, the Lord chose us. And He loves us, verse 9. And so, we are empowered by the Spirit to produce lasting and sustainable fruit. And that matters to God. So, Terry, talk to us about the long haul of discipleship in a world that frankly values the next shiny object, what’s going viral, quick fixes.

Talk to us about lasting fruit.

[Terry: Yeah. I think lasting fruit is something that’s not talked about enough. And we live in a world where the fruit we actually discuss are — we talk about the fruit of Mother Teresa, and we talk about the fruit of Hudson Taylor, and we talk about the fruit of these giants in the last 50, a hundred years of the church.

And we look back and we talk about the heroes of the faith, and we speak of their fruit. But man, I think there’s something that we miss about this idea of fruit that is happening slowly over a long period of faithfulness. I think it’s Eugene Peterson who uses that phrase “a long obedience in the same direction,” right?

And so that’s one of our themes for this conversation. And I think that’s what we have to get back to. I think when we think about lasting fruit, I’m not looking for guys and gals who just get up and do these grand slam, home run type things. But what does it look like in my every day walking around, my sleeping, eating and breathing life to be faithful, to be formed into the likeness of Christ? Will I actually submit and surrender my life to practicing the way of Jesus to be shaped and becoming like him? And will my life exhibit fruit from that journey?

I’m a firm believer. I think Jesus keeps it pretty simple that if we would simply be with Jesus over time, the more we spend with Jesus, the more we spend with Father, Spirit, and Son we will become like God. We’re pre-wired, right? We were created in the image of God.

And so that’s actually a more natural progression and direction for our lives. The problem is we don’t often prioritize that space of being with God, like that taking time to just to sit and be silent and maybe even at times find a little bit of solitude and just be with God.

One of my favorite passages is just simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” And so, I will find myself — and I tried to do this every day, where I just sit quietly. And I redirect my focus, my senses on the fact that God is with me right now. And even as we have this conversation, as you’re in Raleigh [NC], I’m here in Austin [TX], God is with both of us right now.

He’s in this moment. And as you’re listening to this and you’re on the podcast, whether you’re sitting at your desk or you’re driving in your car or wherever you might be, God’s presence is with you. And all we have to do is take our crazy focused attention and direct it towards his presence.

Anthony: Yeah. And we’re there with him.

Terry: Yeah.

Anthony: Yeah. Amen. I have been rereading a book from Julie Canlis and she makes the statement, “All of life is spiritual. Work. Bearing children. Hobbies. Friendship. Repairing gutters. Commuting. This is our worship – the offering of our everyday stuff to God.” [A Theology of the Ordinary]

And the powerful formation of that is when we recognize that. That even as I’m podcasting, I’m sharing this with the Lord who is present, as you mentioned. And that is forming.

And I love that book that you referenced from Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. And frankly, lasting fruit, that slow fruit doesn’t look very impressive always, right? But it’s the accumulation, over time, of it. We look back and we go, oh, there’s wisdom. I see God at work there.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What is the significance of Jesus telling us to abide in his love in relation to his metaphor of branches abiding in the vine?
  • What are some popular notions of “love” in our culture?
  • How does Jesus’ statement “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” help us fill out what love really is?
  • What are some ways we love others that are an example of laying our life down for others?
  • How does knowing who the Father is and who Jesus is as trustworthy shape our understanding of keeping Jesus’ commands?
  • Why does Jesus refer to joy as a result of abiding in his love?
  • What is the difference between being a servant and being a friend? How does this inform our relationship to Jesus?

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