We’ve talked before about how far too often we, as modern-day followers of Jesus, have turned the message of the Gospel and the focus of the Christian life into a “me-and-Jesus” equation. “What can Jesus do for me? What do I think this or that verse of Scripture means to me?” We’ve forgotten that what God has been doing from the beginning is about His glory and purposes in history. We’ve forgotten that God reached out to individuals like Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Esther, and so on for the purpose of making His will and ways known to the larger community. God “called” these individuals to display His glory to the masses so they might be blessed through their relationship with Him. We can see this so clearly all the way back in Genesis when God called Abraham. Turn to Genesis 12:1-3 with me and let’s read the promises of God to Abraham.
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIVO)
God was on a mission. He called Abraham. He blessed Abraham and Abraham would be a blessing. “All nations on earth will be blessed.” Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, were chosen by God to be God’s instrument of blessing, a nation of priests to the entire world. In Exodus 19, God gave Moses specific instructions. He was to go to the Israelites and tell them that if they would walk in obedience in all that God commanded them then “you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6 NIVO) The nation would be unlike any other nation on the planet, they would be a holy nation, a set-apart nation, that would be used by God to minister to the nations. Wow! What a calling! What a promise from God!
In the Old Testament, God uses the metaphor of the vine to describe His people, the Israelites. They were to be a fruitful people bearing much fruit for God. The vine is the most prominent symbol of Israel. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, in the Jewish War, wrote about a great gold plated vine that hung over the entrance to the temple. He wrote, “The gate opening into the building was, as I say, completely overlaid with gold, as was the whole wall around it. It had, moreover, above it those golden vines, from which depended grape-clusters as tall as a man.” (Jewish War v.210-212). The vine could be found on Jewish coins as well as in lots of artwork.
As much as the Israelites embraced the symbol of the vine as representative of them as a people, throughout the Hebrew Bible, each and every time God spoke of His people using vine imagery it was always used in a negative sense. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Turn with me to Isaiah 5:1-2; 7 and let’s read together.
1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit… 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Isaiah 5:1-2; 7 NIVO)
After all that God had done to plant and care for His vineyard, it yielded only bad fruit. God looked for justice, but saw only bloodshed. He looked for right-relationships, but all He heard were cries of distress. Now turn to Jeremiah 2:20-22 and let’s take a look at why Israel, though provided everything needed to yield good fruit produced only bad fruit. Read along with me.
20 “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. 21 I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? 22 Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign LORD. (Jeremiah 2:20-22 NIVO)
The failure of Israel to fulfill their calling came about because they turned away from the One True and Living God so they might do what they wanted, rather than live for the purpose of fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. They served other gods rather than the God who had given them life and rescued them from the hands of their oppressors. They had been planted as a choice vine, but had become a “corrupt, wild vine.”
All throughout the prophets we find them pointing out how God had planted Israel as the choicest of vines and yet God’s people had become something other than what God intended. Isaiah says they have become a wild vine producing bitter grapes, Jeremiah calls Israel a “strange vine,” and Hosea calls Israel a “spreading vine.” Finally, in Psalm 80 we find the people pleading with God to “Return… watch over the vine.” Take a look at Psalm 80:8-15 with me and you’ll notice something incredibly powerful that will lead us to our Scripture for this morning.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. 11 It sent out its boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River. 12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? 13 Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it. 14 Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, 15 the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. (Psalm 80:8-15 NIVO)
Israel is the vine brought out of Egypt and planted in the Promised Land. God cleared the ground and rooted His people in the Promised Land. Their branches were to give shade to the “mighty cedars,” trees much taller, nations much larger. It’s reach was to be from the sea, Mediterranean or Red Sea all the way to the mighty Euphrates River. Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God had broken down the walls protecting the vine and distress and destruction came. In their distress, God’s people cried out, “Return to us, O God Almighty! Watch over this vine.” God’s people, the Israelites, may have failed in God’s appointed mission to be a kingdom of priests to the nations, but God’s plans have never and will never fail. Where Israel was planted as a choice vine, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” Let’s turn to John 15 and begin reading our Scripture for today.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NIVO)
I know that taking the time to lay the groundwork for the Scripture we just read might have lost some of us who simply want to know, “What does this have to do with me?” We are so conditioned to focus on “me” aren’t we? I hope you can see that laying the groundwork for our Scripture for this morning, seeking to understand how everything that was written in the Old Testament points forward to Jesus, the One who is highlighted and exalted in the New Testament, is far more glorious and awe-inspiring than anything that would simply be about me.
From the days of old God has been on mission to redeem that which was lost, to bless His people with His presence, and Jesus stepped onto the scene and said, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is the true Israel of God. Jesus meant something very specific when He said, “I am the true vine.” The Greek word for “true” is “????????” (alethinos) and it means, “that which has certainty and force, that on which one can rely, the opposite of that which is fictitious, counterfeit, or imaginary.” We’ve already seen Jesus identified as the “true Light” and the “true Bread” in John’s Gospel. Turn to John 1:6-10 with me and let’s read together.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:6-10 NIVO)
John the Baptist came as a witness to the Light, but “he himself was not the light.” This is a great time to stop and point out that the fact that Jesus is the “true Light” doesn’t mean that all other sources of light are false or fake, but it does mean that Jesus is the one, perfect, essential, and enduring source of light. He’s timeless, His glory does not fade, and His light can reach even the darkest of hearts.
When we think of bright lights many of us think about our sun. You can’t look directly into the sun for a long period of time without having your eyes burned. Our sun is brilliant. It just peeks over the horizon early in the morning and the darkness flees. Our sun is powerful. It warms, causes things to grow, and can scorch the earth. Our sun appears to us to be the brightest light, even though it only appears that way because it is the closest star to our planet. It’s only 93 million miles from us right now. The truth is, the brightest star in the sky is Sirius. It is twice as massive as our sun and shines 75 times brighter, but we hardly even notice it because it is 8.6 light years from Earth. A light year is about 6 trillion miles. As bright and brilliant and powerful as our sun is, scientist tell us that our sun will burn out one day. So, the sun is a light, a real light, a brilliant light, but it’s not the true Light. It can’t sustain us forever. It can give light to the darkness, but it can’t illuminate and drive out the darkness of our hearts. There is only one light that can do that and His name is Jesus.
The same Greek word is used to let us know that Jesus is the true Bread. If you will turn to John 6:32-35 with me. Let’s read together.
32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:32-35 NIVO)
Everyone experiences hunger. It doesn’t matter if you live here in Oklahoma City where we have food sources on every corner or you live in war-torn Syria where food can be so scarce, people get hungry. When we are hungry we yearn for food that will satisfy our hunger. You can eat the most expensive steak in Oklahoma City, have a refrigerator full of delicious food, have a pocket full of money, and live next door to a grocery store, but you are still going to get hungry. Bread will only satisfy our hunger for a short period of time, but it can never satisfy the deepest hunger we experience in our souls. We are hungry for meaningful relationships, we are hungry for forgiveness and reconciliation, we are hungry to know that we have purpose in life, and some sense of fulfillment. Jesus, after fasting for 40 days and nights, was hungry to say the least. Satan came to Him and tempted Jesus to turn some stones into bread. In Matthew 4:4 we read,
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 NIVO)
Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the One who satisfies. He is the One who provides what we need to have meaningful relationships. He is the only One who can provide forgiveness and reconciliation for sinners whose lives are broken. He is the One who can lead us into paths that provide fulfillment that this world can’t offer. Jesus said, “He who comes to me will never go hungry…”
In our Scripture for today we have so much to learn. So much that it will take us a few weeks to unpack it all. In the time we have remaining I only want you to notice a couple of things. First of all, notice those Jesus identifies in these verses. First, we have Jesus as the true vine. Secondly, we learn that God the Father is the gardener, the vinedresser, or literally “farmer” as the Greek tells us. It’s important for us to recognize the intimate role the Father takes in caring for the branches. He lifts, prunes, cuts off, and cleanses the branches. This is important for you and me to drink in because there are many folks in our day who view God as some kind of absentee landlord of all that He has created. This is not a new belief. There have been Deist around for a long time. Deists believe that God created everything, set it in motion, but He is not involved in the world He created. Jesus says something here in John 15 that is quite different. Our Father, the Vinedresser, is intimately involved in everything in your life and mine. Let’s move on. Third, we learn that there are branches, some bear no fruit and some that bear fruit. We will talk more about this next week.
There is one more thing that I want to highlight for us this morning and it is the word, “Remain.” We run into the word for the first time in verse 4 where Jesus said,
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4 NIVO)
The word, “Remain,” or “Abide” as you may be reading if you are looking at the New American Standard or the English Standard Version of the Bible, comes from the Greek word, “????” (meno) which means, “to remain, abide, not to depart, or to continue to be present.” The word appears three times in verse 4, it shows up again in verses 5 and 6, it appears twice in verse 7. Looking beyond the verses we are studying, it appears in verse 9, twice in verse 10, and again in verse 16. So, this little word appears 11 times in John 15 alone. I’d say it will be very important for us to understand what Jesus is talking about when He says, “Remain in Me.”
We don’t have enough time to really take a long look at what Jesus meant, we’ll get around to that in weeks to come, but I can illustrate the intimacy and deep trust that the word implies by sharing with you another verse where the word appears. Jesus was talking to His disciples when He said,
10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14:10 NIVO)
Jesus said His words were not His words, but rather they were the work of the Father who was “abiding” in Him. There has never been a more trusting and dependent relationship than the relationship shared by the members of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus abided, He remained in the Father to such a degree that those who looked on Him, listened to Him, and watched Him were in actuality watching and listening to the Father.
The Apostle Paul understood what it means to abide in Jesus. He uses a different metaphor than the vine and the branches, he wrote about death and life. Take a look at Galatians 2:20 with me.
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIVO)
Abiding in Jesus means that we live for Jesus. There are many today who claim to be followers of Jesus, but you can’t find any evidence of that outside of their attendance at Sunday morning worship. The Puritans use to speak about the distinction of our status and our experience, our union and our communion. We are united to Jesus by faith alone through the merciful work of God’s Son upon Calvary’s Cross. Union with Jesus is the status of all who have received His unmerited gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. Communion comes about because of what Jesus has done for us, but the truth is that for many of Jesus’ followers our communion, the intimacy we share with Jesus, is weak, more like an acquaintance than an intimate love. We are called to “remain” in Jesus, “abide” in Jesus, gaze upon His glory, mercy, and love without ceasing. John Owen, in Communion With The Triune God, wrote,
Would a soul continually eye His everlasting tenderness and compassion…[then] it could not bear an hour’s absence from Him; whereas now, perhaps, it cannot watch with him one hour. (John Owen, Communion with the Triune God)
It must be said that before you can ever “abide” in Jesus you must first come to Jesus. He is the true Vine. He is the true Light. He is the true Bread. All you are longing for in life can only be satisfied in a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus. Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 7, 2016