August 26, 2018
This summer Angie and I visited Watkins Glen State Park in New York. Neither of us had ever been there before. In the state park is a gorge that has been carved out over many years as water has eroded the rock away. At each turn on the path we were mesmerized by cascading waterfalls. It was absolutely beautiful, even magical. We didn’t want to leave. We just wanted to abide in that place to take it all in. We were filled with joy because of the beauty of that place.
We have been looking at the fine print of living life with Christ in this world. Today I am bringing this series of messages to a close. My goal has been to help us see that living as a follower of Jesus in this world creates some special challenges since the world does not embrace Christ. Jesus has given us sufficient teaching found in the New Testament to help us navigate these challenges. This morning as we look at Jn.15 we learn that as a branch abides in the vine, so believers abide in Jesus Christ.
I. TO ABIDE IN JESUS IS TO ABIDE IN HIS LOVE.
This teaching of Jesus is centered on the picture of a grape vine with many branches attached to it. In v.1 Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Why would Jesus say, “I am the true vine?” Is there a false vine? In fact, there is.
When God redeemed his people Israel from slavery in Egypt, He likened Israel to a vine that he planted in the Promised Land. He caused his presence to dwell in the tabernacle and later on, the temple in Jerusalem. But Israel chose to worship idols. Their idolatry led to great disobedience. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that God finally withdrew his presence, abandoning the temple. And just as Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden because of their idolatry and sin, so Israel was exiled from the Promised Land to Babylon.
In light of this listen to Ps.80:7-8; 14-18. “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it…Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!”
Israel was not a faithful, fruitful vine. Instead of bearing the fruit that is produced by worshiping God and living in his kingdom love and grace, Israel became as pagan and idolatrous as all the other nations. Ps.80 looks to the day when Jesus, the true vine would come on the scene. Jesus is the true Israel, the true vine. He worshiped and obeyed God, revealing the fruit of living life in the kingdom of God. Jesus is God in the flesh, the one who gives us life. Here in Jn.15, Jesus calls himself the vine and he expands the significance of this picture to include his followers.
In this passage it seems to me that Jesus repeats himself and each time he repeats himself he adds a little more to the picture. Let me explain what I mean. In v.4 and subsequent verses he says, “Abide in me.” In v.9 he says, “Abide in my love.” Is there a difference between abiding in Christ and abiding in his love? Surely the one who abides in Christ is abiding in his love.
So let’s go back to v.1. Jesus is the vine. The Father is the vinedresser. The branches are followers of Jesus. The Father tends to the branches connected to the vine so that each branch will bear fruit. If you were growing grapes you would cut off those branches that didn’t bear any fruit and you would prune those branches that did bear fruit so that they would be more fruitful. Jesus says that this is what God does. And he stresses the importance of abiding in him. What does it mean to abide in Christ? The word means to remain, stay, live, dwell, endure, and continue. This helps to give a sense of what Jesus is saying. According to v.3 it is the word of Jesus that establishes us in him as the vine. We heard the message of God’s love, forgiveness, and life in Christ and we responded in faith and we were brought into his life in the kingdom of God. Now we must continue in his life.
How do we continue in this life giving arrangement with Jesus? In v.7 Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…” Well one way of continuing in Christ is to have his teachings deep in our heart and mind. You say, “Pastor Dave, how many times can I read through the New Testament. It’s good, but sometimes it feels a little irrelevant and can be a little boring.” To explain what I’m trying to say, think about all the information needed to do your work. Maybe you are a machinist, a salesperson, a medical, computer, or finance person. Well what information is needed to perform your job from day to day? Probably there was a basic foundation of knowledge and skill that you needed to learn and then as the industry changed you needed to learn more. You embodied all that information as you did your work from day to day. The things you learned became part of you.
When it comes to our life in Christ, it is important that we are not only familiar with his life and teachings, but also that we are seeking to embody the way of Jesus in our day to day living. This requires ongoing reflection and action because the way of Jesus does not come naturally to us. In v.10 Jesus talks about keeping his commandments. Hearing the word and doing the word is vital to abiding in the love of Jesus. And there is something else.
You notice in v.7 that it is only as we are shaped by the words of Jesus that we are in a position to ask for whatever we wish in prayer. I take this to mean that the better we understand and embody the teachings and commands of Jesus, the more our prayers will conform to his purposes. A life that is steeped in the way of Jesus and in prayer is a life that is abiding in his love.
So at this point I want to ask, have you ever realized that you are not in a life-giving relationship with God through his Son, Jesus? No matter how good or religious you might consider yourself to be, the question is do you know God? This world is broken and all of us are broken. It is normal for us to live self-centered, pride-filled lives. It is normal for us to want our own way without regard for God. It is normal for us to be our own god. The Bible calls this sin. So have you turned from your sins and embraced Jesus Christ as your Savior, Lord and King? If not, the Bible says that you are dead in your trespasses and sins. But God loves you and wants to give you eternal living in his kingdom through faith in Jesus, today. Have you entered into this life-giving relationship with God through faith in his Son, Jesus?
II. TO ABIDE IN JESUS IS TO LIVE A FRUITFUL LIFE.
Jesus makes this very clear in these verses. In v.2 he points out that God prunes the branches so that they bear fruit. In v.4 Jesus says that we can’t bear fruit unless we abide in him. In v.5 he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” In v.8 Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” It is important that we understand what Jesus is saying.
Jesus is not just talking about being a nice person. He’s not just talking about being a religious person. Nor is he talking about being a successful person or even a philanthropic person. There are many of these kinds of people in the world today.
The fruit that Jesus is talking about is the fruit that is produced from having his life and his love, within us. We are talking about kingdom living. In the last month I have made reference to the Lord’s Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The fruit that we bear is in keeping with this prayer. As we live our life with Christ, the will of God is being done on earth as it is in heaven. Our lives reflect the values, the attitudes, the actions of the kingdom of God because we are drawing our life from Jesus, who is our life through his indwelling Holy Spirit.
Let me be more specific. In Gal.5 we read about the desires of the flesh. The flesh refers to thoughts, desires and actions that are rooted in this world. It refers to life lived apart from Christ. In Gal.5:19-21, Paul writes, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And then Paul goes on to describe what he calls the fruit of the Spirit. He writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” When we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels we see these virtues. A follower of Jesus is someone who is cultivating these kinds of virtues in their lives. We are looking to express the character of Jesus, who lives in us.
Now of course, all of us who are in the Vine, in Christ, recognize that we can easily yield to temptation and sin. In my understanding this is because while we have the new life, the new nature of Jesus in us, we have not yet received our new creation bodies. Our bodies are of the old creation and they will die. Embedded in our bodies are habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and acting which are very strong. Jesus says that God prunes the branches so that they will be more fruitful. Have you ever pruned a tree? What would happen if when you cut off a wayward branch it suddenly let out an, “Ouch!” You might think twice about cutting off any more branches. For our good, God prunes us. He uses the circumstances of life to draw us to himself. Sometimes we cry out in frustration, grief, and pain. God is working all things together for good to those who love him and are called according his good purpose. To abide in Jesus is to live a fruitful life.
III. TO ABIDE IN JESUS IS TO HAVE FULNESS OF JOY.
In v.11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Just as we cannot bear the fruit of righteousness apart from knowing Christ and abiding in him, so we cannot have his joy apart from abiding in him.
Remember as followers of Jesus we are drawing our life from the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is filled with joy. As we abide in Christ we will be learning to trust in God’s kingdom rule. In Mt.13:44 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Finding the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus is like finding treasure. The joy of God’s kingdom is worth more than all that we have of earth’s treasures. Or in Rm.14:17 Paul writes, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Eating and drinking are necessary for life in this world, and we enjoy eating and drinking. But even more significant is the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In Christ we are given a new vocation. It is to live as new creation people in the old creation world that is passing away. Our connection with the new creation is found in Jesus and the church of Jesus through the indwelling Holy Spirit. As we abide in Christ, the Vine, as we worship and serve Christ together in the church, we have joy. Whenever new creation living triumphs over old creation thoughts and actions, we are filled with joy. Whenever we turn away from temptation and sin, we are filled with joy. Whenever we are faithful to Christ and his kingdom in the face of persecution we are filled with joy. The kingdom of God becomes visible on earth in our living.
I urge all of us to patiently, persistently and faithfully abide in Christ by being filled with his good word and obedient to his commands, as we seek him in prayer. Then our joy will be full.
Jesus is describing a relationship that is supernatural. No one is able by their own efforts to gain the forgiveness of sins and the eternal living of Jesus. Forgiveness of sin and eternal living in Christ is a gift of God’s grace, mercy, and love. Have you received life in Jesus, the vine? Are you seeking to abide in him? Are you filled with his joy? As a branch abides in the vine, so believers abide in Jesus Christ. Amen