John 15:1-8 // 1 John 4:1-21 // Acts 8:26-40
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is the Gospel lesson, John 15:1-8, “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit because apart from me he can do nothing.”
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, and last week Jesus shepherding us. The next three Sundays we will focus on Jesus choosing us to be his disciples, and finally Jesus praying for us. Today, we focus on Jesus abiding in us.
I am the vine; my Father is the vinedresser. I am the vine; you are the branches. I am the vine; if you abide in me, you will bear much fruit. Jesus is using metaphorical language, and he’s using metaphorical language that he didn’t make up on his own. He’s borrowing it from the Old Testament, namely from Isaiah (chapter 5, called the song of the vineyard), from Jeremiah (chapter 2), from Hosea (chapter 10), from Ezekiel (chapter 19), and from Psalm 80. In each, the Old Testament writers are calling on the corporate identity of Israel – the whole kingdom, and you’ll note that all of the “you’s” in our text are plural. He’s saying, I am like a grape vine, you all are like all of the spurs and shoots that come up and produce clusters of grapes. My father prunes to make them fruitful. So, and this is his “therefore” statement abide in me.
So, what does it mean to abide? John uses it all over the place in our text for today. So, what does it mean? It’s an old-fashioned kind of word. When I looked it up in the dictionary, one of the most common usages was in the negative – I cannot abide this / I will not abide that! – and that basically means to agree.
But that can’t be what Jesus is saying in our passage. Branches don’t agree with vines. The Father isn’t just agreeing with his Son. You don’t hear Christ calling us to agree with him. No, instead, you can look at a similar word, abode. You abide (verb) in an abode (noun). To abide is to stay, to remain. It is to live in.
Three points from our text for our sermon, three points on what it means to abide, what it means to remain, to dwell in Christ.
Point number one, the purpose of the gardener is to encourage growth. That’s the first point of our text for today. “I am the true vine and (did you remember that this is the first thing Jesus says? I had to read it twice) I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. And do you notice how he does it in the text? He prunes. He cleans away the dead branches, so that more branches can sprout. He prunes those who bear fruit, so that they may be more fruitful. Can you imagine that?
That is, to say in in another way, in this metaphor the truth that comes forward is that the trials of your life, for the Christian, are meant to prune you back. One pastor said it like this: “Some of the biggest pruning moments in my life are the first 2 years of my marriage and my fight with brain cancer. I would never want to do them again. I would not wish them back for a moment. But I recognize that I would not be who I am without that pruning.”
This passage is key, because I listen to people struggle with this concept. They appreciate where they are and its hard to talk about where they have been. I would not be who I am without this, and yet, it was a terrible time. Here the ancient words of Scripture apply. The Father is a vinedresser who prunes us.
Second, the purpose of the vine is to bring life to the branches. Without the vine, the branches wither. Without being connected to the vine, the branches are cleaned away. Without the vine, the branches cannot bear fruit; they cannot do anything.
So, what is the vine? It is, first, Jesus. That’s pretty obvious. It’s the man, Jesus. But notice what the Gospel lesson says as well. Jesus equates his own identity and his own abiding with his word and the abiding of his word. Verse 7, “If you abide in me and my word abides in you.” That’s the message of the Kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.” It’s forgiveness. When we dwell – when we abide in forgiveness, and the word of forgiveness abides in us, that is Christ and it is life.
That’s a bold statement. Have you ever thought of that? It’s a bold statement to say that forgiveness is as essential to spiritual life as water and air are to physical life. So, what relationships are withholding water and air from?
Thanks be to God that while we were still dead in our trespasses, the author of life died in our place and rose up again with our new life. Thanks be to God that the cross held God himself, Jesus Christ, who was doing the will of His Father in heaven.
Third, the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit. Last week we left off with the interesting and challenging statement, Jesus is not ok with the status quo. This week, we see Jesus reminding us that the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit.
What is that fruit? Galatians 5 tells us. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” One pastor would have us note, “Fruit is singular. You don’t grow just one of those nine qualities and call it good. In fact, if you lean on one to the detriment of others, it becomes toxic.” That is, joy without self-control turns unfruitful. Patience without gentleness becomes toxic. Kindness without goodness is unhelpful. The fruit grows together.
Let’s circle back to the beginning of this sermon. The question I asked was, what does it mean to abide? Right, because earlier, right at the beginning, I quoted Jesus as saying, “Abide in me.” But that’s only part of the statement. It’s “The one who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” And we see another dimension to this idea of abiding, that Christ abides in us and we abide in him.
Most of the time we think of that as a static kind of question. When you abide somewhere, you live there. You stay there. But, and here’s the but of the Christian life – but what does it mean if you are called to abide in a growing, living, dynamic love, if you are called into the mystery – for the Christian the greatest mystery – of the Trinity, the God who is three in one and one in three.
Here’s the truth behind that truth: the God who is three in one is love. Why? Because love can only come in giving and receiving it. Love doesn’t happen in itself. It happens in giving and receiving. The God who, in our text of the day, is at the same time the Gardener, the Father who prunes, the vine, Jesus Christ, which gives life, and the spirit, the Holy Spirit, which works the life and brings the fruit and uses the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of others.
C.S. Lewis, he says it really well. To abide in Christ is like entering into a dance. I quote: “And [the living dynamic activity of love of God] is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: … almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” And later he explains more: “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-[person] life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got enter that pattern, to take his place in that dance… If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a flock that is a kingdom, that is a body, that is a grapevine. They know in whom the trust, and its’ the same one that prunes them back. They see the promises of God not only in the good times, but also in the bad. They ache to draw near to the source of all that is fruitful in life; they ache to enter the dance.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young family that is remembering once again how the seasons of life change. Lean years and full years come and go. Healthy times and sick times come and go. Laughter and tears come and go. And through all of the dynamic changes of life, the ever-growing realization is there, that through it all, the love of Christ sustains.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are remembering again and again that they are branches of the vine. They understand in their tough days that their Father is going to be pruning. They pray that they could have the privilege of bearing fruit, and they rest – they abide, they live, they move – in the truth that their life comes from the vine.
Amen and Amen.
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