CHRIST IS THE VINE: We are the branches
Reading: John 15: 1-17 (New Living Translation)
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
True or contrived?
- Virtual reality experiences are designed to convince the brain that things are happening that aren’t really happening!
- We can fly across the Alps, face tigers in the circus ring, walk through the jungle or ski down a slope…while sitting in an electronic booth
It’s even possible to have a virtual reality experience of being joined to Christ…charity work/ behaving well/ being religious/ regular church attendance/ singing enthusiastically/ praying/ praising
- All of these are important and necessary
- But they can happen without being joined to the Vine
And over time we can come to believe that we are joined to the Vine because we move in these circles and do these things…rather than the other way around
- That is, we do these things because we are joined to the Vine
- A bit like mascots trotting out on to the pitch with the team at the start of the game
- They wear the team strip and football boots
- They may even kick the ball about before the game
- But when the action begins they disappear down the tunnel!
- They are only a masquerading as players
Similarly, we can have the appearance of dynamic disciples, when all the time we are ‘masquerading’
- No strategies/ conventions/ clever preaching/ dynamic leadership/ mission statements/ happy fellowship times/working our fingers to the bone…can substitute for being joined to the Vine
THERE’S A GROUP CALLED ‘Atheists for Jesus’…
- They claim to believe in Jesus’ moral teaching (loving, forgiving, etc)
- But not in what the Bible says about God, sin, death, salvation, etc
To be joined to the Vine goes well beyond an intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus Christ was a wonderful moral teacher…
IF WE LOOK IN A MIRROR…we see all the blemishes
- My shampoo had a little bottle attached to it called ‘Anti-fatigue moisturising lotion’ that will make my skin ‘recharged with energy’ and give me ‘healthy looks’
- I’m afraid it hasn’t worked! I look much the same as ever!
Before we are joined to the Vine we are like my face …tired and wrinkly
- Just as my bottle of ‘anti-fatigue moisturising lotion’ makes only a superficial difference to my true condition
- So we need first of all to address the deeper issues of sin, failure, weak faith, greed and self
BUT WHEN WE BECOME JOINED TO THE VINE everything changes…
- Christ not only saves us from God’s wrath but promises that we shall be fruitful
- And the Holy Spirit can work in us and through us
WHEN WE LOOK IN THE MIRROR we may be disappointed
- Our looks fade…our hair grows thin…our bodies shrink
- But as we are joined to the Vine we are inwardly renewed
- So we may look older on the outside…but younger on the inside
BUT THE STARTING POINT in becoming attached to the Vine is by committing our lives and destiny to Christ who died for us
The second point we note is that when as are grafted into the Vine, God the Vinedresser (Gardener) begins to work
- In my garden I always seem to be cutting and pruning
- Last year I was scolded by someone for pruning a plum tree hard
- But over the summer my decision was justified, as the tree assumed a lovely shape and next year will, I hope, produce a lot of fruit
Of course, other plants required only light pruning
- But one way and another, God is in the pruning business!
JESUS TELLS US THAT THERE ARE TWO CONSEQUENCES of being joined to the Vine (Him):
- Dead branches are cut down and burned
- But also healthy branches are pruned
Dead branches are cut down and burned
- The parts of our lives that do not honour and glorify God are called ‘unfruitful’ and will be burned
- They are like wood, hay and stubble
In the worst situations, those that reject the claims of Christ upon their lives face complete destruction
- God is a consuming fire…not a candle flame
Even healthy branches are pruned
- Pruning is painful and necessary for even the godliest person and can take place within any area of life:
redundancy/ a trusted fellow worker leaves unexpectedly/ someone tells you a hard truth about yourself/ a cherished project collapses/ a good friend proves untrustworthy/a dream fades…
- WHY? Answer: to produce more fruit!
If we accept these hard situations as from the Lord or permitted by Him, it can help us in a number of ways:
- It helps us to realise that our lives are in His hands
- That we cannot achieve anything worthwhile on our own
- However good we may believe we are, however talented, however committed…parts of us need pruning. AND IT HURTS!
- Pruning helps us to become more determined…or to give up
- It helps us to understand God’s priorities
THIS PRUNING IS NOT SUFFERING DUE TO SIN or poor decisions on our part, but the consequence of God’s loving hand upon us
Others may not see things that way! We may not see it that way!
But we must not only be grafted into the Vine… We must also LEARN TO REMAIN (ABIDE) there (in Christ)
“Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me” said Jesus
“If you remain (abide) in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you”
Often, only the second part of this verse is quoted: ‘ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you’
But note the need, first, to remain/abide…’remain in me’ and ‘remain in my love’
WHAT DOES ‘abiding’ MEAN? Three things are relevant…
- We cannot ‘remain’ in the Vine unless we are there to start with!
WE ARE TOLD TO SEEK AND FIND CHRIST…
- At the beginning of time…He is the Alpha
- Through the pages of the Old Testament
- On His earthly pilgrimage
- In the Garden of Gethsemane
- On the Cross of Calvary
- In His resurrection power
- At the end of time (through death or His Second Coming)…He is the Omega
THE PARADOX is that although we seek Him, we are found by Him!
- People seek God but they only find Him because He is waiting to be found!
- This is not a game!
- We must convince God that we are serious about finding Him and then His Holy Spirit takes over and grafts us into the Vine
- We ‘remain’ (abide) in the Vine when we are obedient to His commands
- His commands are not burdensome…they seal our relationship with Him
FOR IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE you want to please him or her…
- See the man desperate to please his beloved
- See the lady making herself look a bit special for her man!
JESUS ALSO SAID that if we love Him we shall keep His commandments
- We ‘remain’ in Him when we trust Him in every circumstance
- In the rough times as well as the smooth, ABIDE
- When faith is stretched and Satan is active, ABIDE
- When life is a struggle, ABIDE
- When unexpected circumstances threaten to crush you, ABIDE
- When fear grips your heart, ABIDE
- When that scary letter arrives, ABIDE
- When you are wrongly accused, ABIDE
- When you awake with a start in the early hours. ABIDE
- When loneliness hits you, ABIDE
- When illness, bereavement, tragedy blow your life off course, ABIDE
- When death’s finger bids you come, ABIDE
As Albert Einstein once said: In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity
But also note:
- When life is running along like a dream, ABIDE
- When you are feeling on top of the world, ABIDE
- When success is within your grasp, ABIDE
- When good friends surround you, ABIDE
- When you are praised by others, ABIDE
- When the Lord pours out His blessing, ABIDE
We need to KEEP OUR EYES FIXED ON JESUS whatever phase of life we are in
It is so easy to imagine that when life is good, we have no need to abide
- We must not be seduced into thinking that we can neglect our relationship when life is going smoothly… when we are feeling on top of the world
AS THE APOSTLE PAUL writes in Philippians 4: 12-13…
“I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation; I can do everything through Him who gives me strength”
THE RESULT OF ABIDING IN THE VINE
We have the joy of the Lord in our hearts (verse 11) …
- In Nehemiah 8: 10 we read that the Lord’s joy is our strength
- Even when we have little joy of our own we can draw from Him
- But only if we are abiding in the Vine
And then ‘our joy becomes complete’
- No longer a superficial happiness determined by circumstances… but a deep joy found in Christ
- By contrast, the complete joy found through abiding in the Vine makes us impervious to the winds of change, disappointment and grief
We are able to love one another (see verse 12)
- Not everyone is lovable!
- Some people, even in the church, are difficult and unreasonable
- We may not like them…but we can love them with the love of Jesus Christ IF we are abiding in Him
- We may prefer to sit elsewhere in the church and speak to the ‘nice’ people before and after the meeting…but we must not neglect the ‘unlovely’
WE SEE THE BEHAVIOUR OF CERTAIN PEOPLE and find it unacceptable
- We may need to speak against that behaviour…but not against that person
- We may even need to separate from him/her for a time…but our longer-term goal is to bring the person back into the fold, not score points
OF COURSE IF THAT PERSON REFUSES TO RESPOND there may come a time when we have to allow God to use other means…
- But let’s examine our own lives first!
- What sort of impression are we giving?
- How do our lives measure up?
Someone has said: Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are
GOD IS PRINCIPALLY INTERESTED IN CHARACTER…much less in reputation
We become friends of Jesus (verse 15)
- Friendship is so important
- Who is your best friend? What makes them so?
A TRUE FRIEND is someone who has only your interests in mind
- He or she will speak the truth in love
- Will never desert you, even when you go wrong
- Will listen to your concerns
- Won’t patronise you but will encourage you
- Will suffer with you and rejoice with you
- Will even die for you
Human friends are a blessing, especially if they are abiding in the Vine themselves… but friendship with Jesus is even better
We produce fruit that will last for ever (verse 16)
- As we grow older we start to wonder if our life has been worthwhile
- Have we achieved anything?
- Have we wasted opportunities?
IF ONLY WE COULD START AGAIN, things would be so different…
- But as we abide in the Vine we can be absolutely certain that our lives are being used to extend the Kingdom of God
- If we are using/have used the talents that He has given to us and sought to be obedient (even through weakness and human failure) God will glorify His name through us
MUCH OF THE FRUIT THAT YOU PRODUCE IN YOUR LIFETIME may not be seen during your life…but will be come evident afterwards
- Notably in the lives of those who remain
We are given whatever we ask in Jesus’ name (verse 7 & 17)
- Can this be true?
- So what are you going to ask for?
SOME PREACHERS that preach a Prosperity Gospel have to remember that Jesus’ promise in John 15 comes with a condition, namely: If you remain (abide) in me
- But even so, some of us are spiritually timid
- We say that we trust Christ for everything…but don’t really explore what it means to ask for anything in His name and receive it
Every new day provides a fresh opportunity to abide in the Vine and draw strength, wisdom and courage from Him
- Let’s go forward, determined to abide in the Vine, claim His promises and see our lives and the lives of those around us transformed
‘ABIDE in me’ commanded Jesus