I love my children. I don’t think I am particularly unique in that. Many men could probably tell a tale like the one I am thinking about from our family’s past… I remember when my firstborn child was still snug inside her momma’s womb. I used to “talk” to her by putting my face up to my wife’s belly. I would even write my little baby girl notes in a journal that her mother and I kept for her. Each little journal entry ended with the hopeful and anxious words “Please come live with me soon!” I couldn’t wait to see that beautiful little baby. Her smile still steals my heart, years later. In fact, I have to confess that all of my children grab my heart and weaken my resolve – even when I am upset with them.
I think back, and we were so young, my wife and I. We were very naïve about what raising children would be like. We made so many inner and quiet promises to ourselves about what the lives of our children would be like. I wanted each of them to have every opportunity to grow and become their own people. I ached over how best to provide the things we could – and now I sometimes “second-guess” many of those decisions that were made in blind love and endless hope. At first I was not sure that raising children would be so challenging. I didn’t realize that if I brought no plan to a toddler – they already had one – and it included noise and destruction and mess – with only the most resistant efforts to clean up at the end. From the time they learned the word “NO!” it was a battle (some more than others). Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was, but I made many promises – to God, to myself, to my wife and to my children – to try to be a man of God, a leader and a provider. The jury is still out on how well I did.
I mention that because there came a time in the Gospel story, during the last night before the betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane, when Jesus made some incredible promises to his beloved followers – His “spiritual children” if you will. He was walking to the place where He knew His arrest awaited. Lashes, thorns and nails were just hours ahead – and His hapless disciples were as naïve as children are to dangers. They had no clue. Yet, Jesus made promises. Maybe they couldn’t hear them well at the time – but we can hear them. We have the record. God kept it for us. Jesus promised to be THE VINE that all of us – each one of His followers of every age – could draw strength and endurance from. Here is the truth of His message that we want to look at today…
Key Principle: Mature believers both recognize and live in the promises of Jesus for us. If we forget them, we fumble around on our own. If we live counting on them – we are empowered and secure.
In our previous lesson, we talked about the “FIVE WORKS OF THE VINEDRESSER” stressing the work of the Father in Heaven in our lives. In this lesson, we move on to the work of the Vine – Jesus Himself. Let’s review exactly what He taught:
John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither [can] you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples. 9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 “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. 11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.
Jesus told a story wrapped with three intertwined players: His Heavenly Father (the Vinedresser identified in verse 1), Jesus Himself (as the Vine identified in 15:1) and a disciple or follower (as the branches identified in 15:5).
Here we find encouragement in three essential truths:
1. Our Heavenly Father is ACTIVE in our lives, fulfilling a work He long planned to do.
2. Jesus is ACTIVE at work on our behalf, flowing into our lives life that does not originate with us – but with Him, through a connection to Him.
3. We are called to be ACTIVE with a DIRECT SET OF RESPONSIBILITIES as a follower in order to live a live woven into the braid.
Let’s un-braid the strands and look only at one part of the story. Let’s focus on the PROMISES Jesus made to each of us as branches of the Vine. What did Jesus really promise to do for you and I if we follow Him?
The world has been clear about dangling tempting morsels in the face of a “would be” follower of Jesus– but I am not sure that we have made our case NEARLY SO WELL – what an incredible and powerful life we can have when surrendered to Jesus.
Frankly, many believers look like they have been sucking green persimmons. They aren’t such a fun bunch. They grouse about the obvious moral collapse going on around us – because they are worried. They have a defensive spirit on front of the rapid defection from the Bible our country is going through – because they are being pushed into a corner. They believe in the sovereignty of God, but can’t seem to figure out what to do when our issues are being systematically overturned at the ballot box – because they are shocked at how wrong is so quickly becoming right in our land. They know God can supply, but they fear coming persecution – and they are starting to see it moving near. They worry about why God doesn’t seem to be showing up more in Washington – and forget that He was dismissed from the classrooms that trained a generation of Americans. In short, Christians just aren’t that fun to hang out with these days. We look AGAINST everything – and for a good reason. But sadly – Christianity’s attractiveness is muted by fearful and sour faces.
Let me say it clearly… we aren’t done yet! Believers in Jesus aren’t going to withdraw from the public square until they move us out. When they do – we will know what to do next… Read our history. We have done in before. Rome didn’t stop the message of Jesus. Stalin didn’t eliminate the message of salvation. Beijing couldn’t snuff out the message of redemption – and neither will this new “mouth muzzling” politically correct – “tolerate any perversion but harass and frame any believer’s thinking as thoroughly bigoted” group that is now assaulting not only our values, but even our common sense.
Brothers and sisters, we have resources in Jesus. We have power in Him. We need to access it, nurture it, and thrive in it. Let’s take a look…
Seven Works of the Vine (Jesus) to care for His followers:
1. Cleaning – or making the follower a part of the life flow!
Jesus was leaving the men soon, and he turned as they walked to Gethsemane and said: 15:3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
Though this line of all of 15:1-11 may seem out of place (not working within the vine analogy), it is important to recall that a primary work of Jesus in the life of a follower is the cleaning work. He stressed that in the teaching that He gave them at the washing of feet in John 13 earlier that same evening. Look at Jesus’ use of the word CLEAN earlier that night, to get the meaning in John 15:3. Go back a few pages in your Bible, and listen to His words as recorded by the same author – and see how “CLEAN” was used.
Jesus got up and began to wash the feet of His followers in the upper room. Then, John 13:6 records: “So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, [then wash] not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has BATHED needs only to WASH his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all [of you].” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
In the text, Peter objected to Jesus washing him – because he thought the exchange was about SERVANT-HOOD and VALUE – but it wasn’t. Jesus made it clear the boys wouldn’t really understand the whole symbolic value of the lesson that day – it would happen in the FUTURE. Here we sit in the future, and we can look at how Jesus made clear several things about the symbol that help us define His use of the word CLEAN:
• First, whatever He meant – the cleansing was required if Peter would be a part of the future ministry of Jesus. Clean meant IN the group and PART of the ministry of Jesus. One could not be a part of Jesus’ teaching and outreach ministry if they were not CLEAN – so CLEAN is JOINED, UNCLEAN is CUT OFF. John 13:8 makes that very clear.
• Second, Jesus made a distinction between two kinds of CLEAN – there is BIG CLEAN or the word BATH (Greek: lou-o) and there is LITTLE CLEAN – the word WASH (Greek: nipto). A BATH was a GRAND CLEANSING – while the FOOT WASH was a mere MAINTENANCE CLEANSING. The washing of feet symbolized cleansing on a smaller scale, but with some of the same effects.
Peter wanted to make sure if cleansing put him on the team – that he got the GRAND CLEANSING again. Jesus told him that was not necessary – for that had already occurred. The BIG CLEAN already happened and didn’t need to happen again. The GREAT CLEANSING of Jesus occurred when a FOLLOWER chose to make Jesus their MASTER. They became a part of His team, an extension of His family. In 13:11, the DISLOYALTY – THE REJECTION by Judas made him UNCLEAN. The cleanliness seems, then, to relate to LOYAL FOLLOWING, to true submission. Following that analogy, foot washing dealt with the “smaller disloyalties”, the “momentary rebellions” that needed to be washed away. Much later, the disciples would come to understand their need for Jesus’ ongoing cleaning work as their intercessor and advocate before the Father.
It is very important to recall that one could tell which were clean by the ACTIONS of the men, not their proximity to Jesus. Judas wasn’t clean, but he had spent a long time with Jesus. Judas wasn’t submitted to Jesus’ rule in Him, but He did lay right beside Him at the Last Supper. Being WHERE JESUS IS does not equal submitting to WHAT JESUS SAYS.
Go back to John 15:3. If they were CLEAN, how did they get that way? The text says clearly that it came “because of the Word Jesus spoke” to them.
There are two senses in which that statement is true. In that sense, He was saying, “Don’t be concerned about your loyalty – you are all loyal because I have said so.” This may be a response to the earlier shocking words: “One of you is going to betray Me.” He may have been simply saying: “Relax, it isn’t any of you who will betray Me.” If that is how we are to understand the words, Jesus was being particularly gracious, because in fleeing from Gethsemane, many of them would (in a sense) betray Jesus. Peter would do so verbally – but others would vote with their feet.
Another sense of CLEAN was this: they were SEPARATED from other men by the BINDING of His Word in John 15:3. Jesus commanded them, and they loyally followed. The action trusting and following the Words of Jesus made them CLEAN by Jesus’ definition.
Let me ask you: Did Jesus ever give to YOU a bath? Have you taken His claim to be the Savior, the Rescuer, and the Cleaner of the sin-sick man or woman – and asked Him to wash YOU? If Jesus entered this room today and looked for those who have given Him their lives, would YOU be one of the people He acknowledges because YOU have made that choice?
One more question: For those of you who can heartily say, “Yes! I have chosen Jesus, and He has cleansed me” my question is this: “How do your feet look? Are they dirty?” If your walk in the world this week has left stains, some time with Jesus and a basin is just the prescription you need. You may even need a friend to help you scrub. The Bible says we can confess our faults one to another, as we confess them to Jesus.
2. Instructing – He abides in those who choose to abide in Him through His Word!
15:4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. ….7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…”.
The word ABIDE is not one that we use in everyday speech, unless you are a formal writer. We don’t ask someone to marry us and say, “Come now, my love, abide with me.” That is for very old movies. The term MENO simply means, “Stick with, or remain.” The better term for us is found in the old song title: “Stand by me!”
In Luke 6, Jesus asked a very important question that measures ABIDING:
Luke 6:46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 “But the one who has heard and has not acted [accordingly], is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Let’s be clear: Christians aren’t the people who GO TO CHURCH. Christians are people who BECOME THE CHURCH wherever they go. They aren’t the ones who simply LISTEN to the WORDS of Jesus – they are the ones who LIVE the words of Jesus.
Both the wise man and the foolish man heard the words of the Master, and both were hit by the flood. Both faced peril and problems. One acted out the words of the Master, and that foundation withstood the testing of the flood waters and held him fast to the rock foundation. Hearers don’t honor Jesus – because hearing is passive. Doers honor Jesus – because they put His words into daily life. THEY truly believe that Jesus is Lord.
Are YOU standing by the Words of Jesus? If you are, He is standing by you! If you aren’t, you have a choice…either stop calling Him Master – and give up the notion of a salvation that lets you live any way you want, or start taking your stand by His Word! You will never be the believer you were meant to be while rebellious and self-absorbed, and self-directed. Calling Him LORD is not only a theological act, but a PRACTICAL ONE – He is in charge and I will stand by His Word.
3. Enabling – He enables the branch to bear fruit!
15:4b “….As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither [can] you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
DO you feel like reaching people for Jesus is TOO HARD? What about STANDING FIRM by His Word in a world that is quickly framing believers as intolerant and unloving because we won’t simply endorse whatever perversion of the month people in our society want to endorse? If you feel following Jesus is TOO HARD – you are PERFECT for the job!
Jesus knew that NONE of His disciples could accomplish things in the spiritual realm without remaining in communion with Him and His constant cleansing. We are rebels to the core, and even after many years of following His Word, we can quickly retreat back to the default of rebel. We need a CONSTANT flow of His life, His Word, His stability in us. When we walk close to Him, and attach our hopes, dreams, ideas and desires to Him – our life produces fruit honoring to Him. We are able to grow into places only the Great Vine can support and supply. The words of Jesus in the end of verse 5 should echo in our minds” “…apart from Me you can do NOTHING.”
Why are these words so essential? It is because few believers, if any at all, truly grow to believe them. We won’t admit it – but we think we can DO a great many things that are important apart from Jesus. After all, we had talents before we ever came to Christ, didn’t we? We believe we are capable, and that is part of our problem. A life with Jesus is a DEPENDENT LIFE, not a “stand on my own two feet and pull this off” self-measured life. Jesus WANTS a dependent relationship – where the weight of the PLAN and PROVISION are placed on Him. If you can do it- you don’t NEED Him. That is why He makes the point – “You cannot do it!”
Are you trusting in Jesus today to chart your course in life? Are you scanning His Word to get a handle on what the path looks like this week?
4. Enlivening – His connection supplies an ever new flow of life!
15: 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
Jesus didn’t come to fix your leaky plumbing in life – He came to tear out the whole system and replace it with HIM. He didn’t come to be added to our ways of coping – He came to replace all of them. Are we content with small and external forms of religious conformity, instead of staying VIBRANT with our daily connection to Him?
Andrew Murray wrote in The Believer’s School of Prayer, (p.130): “Is it not more and more clear to us that while we have been excusing our unanswered prayers and our impotence in prayer with an imagined submission to God’s wisdom and will, the real reason is that our own feeble life is the cause of our feeble prayers? The word of Christ – loved, lived in, abiding in us, becoming through obedience and action part of our being – makes us one with Christ and fits us spiritually for touching, for taking hold of God. Let us yield heart and life to the words of Christ, the words in which He ever gives himself, the personal living Savior.”
In his commentary on Zechariah 13.9, John Calvin observed the spiritual danger of success and comfort and ease: “It is therefore necessary that we should be subject, from first to last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make the effort to pray.”
Are you growing dry in your walk? New connection comes from a heartfelt surrender and renewed search to please Him in your life!
5. Providing – Connection to Him (through His Word) grants us access through powerful prayer!
15:7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Jesus didn’t tell us: “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” to pose that we press Him to exalt US, exalt OUR FLESH or feed our WRONG VALUES. Jesus qualified “whatever you wish” – by making that claim of those abiding in His Word and drawing life from His Truth. Jesus IS able to overcome any issue that will hinder you from becoming able to tell His story with your life. Here’s the problem: Jesus didn’t promise to do WHAT WE WANT to make our lives more easy and comfortable. To some generations He sent trouble, persecution and pain – because that is what purified the people of that time and place to see Him.
Go to Heaven and ask them if they agree with what He did. You will find that Heaven lacks a complaint department. When we SEE Him, when we grasp His true vast knowledge and ability, when we reckon His holiness face to face – we will not question His wisdom, nor His goodness.
ASK….What a thought. Could it be that our hopes and vision for our churches are not too great, but that our prayers are too infrequent? Maybe God is willing for more conversions and more powerful and effective discipling in our town, but He has looked within us – and He KNOWS that we do not really wish it. We are not ready for what it will cost US in time and effort.
God will not grant the petty prayer to make me more important than He is in my life, because that request would both dishonor him and destroy me. The old hymn, “Beneath the cross of Jesus” makes the point: “I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place; I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face; Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss, My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.”
Do we really WANT life to be about HIM and HIS glory – or something else? In 1991, while sharing about his battle with cancer, Pastor Bob Thompson asked a group of Pastors, “If you got to heaven and the only thing there was God, would that be enough?” Would God actually be enough for eternity, or are we angling for something more? What do we think is MORE than Him?
6. Modeling – He is an example of obedience to the Father’s Word and loving connection to Him!
15:10b “…just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
A smart man once said: “I can either look like Jesus, or try to make Jesus look like me.” My call as a follower is to assembly my life to LOOK JUST LIKE THE PICTURE OF THE MODEL ON THE BOX.
Jesus was steady, not fickle. Jesus was happy, not overwhelmed. Jesus was in love, not in angst. He WALKED in obedience to His Father out of LOVE.
We are ROBBING ourselves if we miss this point. Jesus did not strive endlessly to figure out what would please His Father – He listened carefully to the words of His Father, did them – and all the while rested in the JOYFUL walk of delight – knowing that made His Father smile. He made it clear – He was the MODEL for us. Can it be clearer? We are to walk in His Word because of our love for His smile, not that we may earn a love that already envelops us. Delighting Him should become our strongest urge.
7. Securing – He offers us the truth that brings the assurance of full joy!
15:11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.” Believers MUST grasp the purpose of God’s Words to us. They are not to bridle, break and burden – they are to fill with JOY.
• Sad believers IGNORE the dirty feet they are walking with, and keep going without Jesus’ gentle hands on them.
• Sad believers STOP THEIR EARS at the sound of the instruction of Jesus – struggling to figure out how to assemble life without pulling out the manual.
• Sad believers TOUGH IT OUT to work on their own without Jesus leading and guiding.
• Sad believers DRY OUT from long periods of disconnection from pleasing Jesus – and they look and sound dry in spirit.
• Sad believers TWIST PRAYER to try to manipulate God with words, rather than recognizing that God knows best, and my prayer should be to exalt Him.
• Sad believers don’t follow Jesus’ example – they do life their own way.
• Sad believers don’t have the ASSURANCE that they walk as God would want – so their JOY is muted, and uncertainty abounds.
When will we learn to listen? Jesus is ever faithful, and we can ABSOLUTELY RELY ON HIM: I read the story of two friends in World War I who were inseparable. They had enlisted together, trained together, were shipped overseas together, and fought side-by-side in the trenches. During an attack, one of the men was critically wounded in a field filled with barbed wire obstacles. He was unable to crawl back to his foxhole. The entire area was under enemy crossfire, and it was suicidal to try to reach him. Yet his friend decided to do just that. The sergeant told him, “It’s too late. You can’t do him any good, and you’ll only get yourself killed.” But the man went anyway. He returned a few minutes later, carrying his friend. But he himself had been mortally wounded. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved. He blurted out, “What a waste! He’s dead and you’re dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” With almost his last breath, the dying man replied, “Oh, yes it was, Sarge. When I got to him, the only thing he said was, ’I knew you’d come, Jim.’” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).