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Evening service - John 14:3 - 15:14

This is a sermon by Viv Whitton from the evening service on 3rd January 2010.

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John 14:30 – 15:12

St John's January 3  2010  6.30

Plan & Purpose

 

Introduction

It's over - Another Christmas – Another New Year - Another January

Just how should we approach 2010?

Well the start of any New Year is a good opportunity for reflection –– what can I learn from 2009, what were the difficulties and blessings? How can I best prepare for the next year? We can ask questions like 'What does God want for me in this year ahead?' 'What opportunities should I pursue?'   - and perhaps spend some quality time with Him.

But what if the future looks uncertain? What if that freshness of faith has perhaps worn a bit thin? – It could even be that some of us are approaching next years initiatives with a touch of deja vu! The looming round of activity seems to lack lustre. Yes let's be honest it's sometimes difficult to avoid getting into a spiritual rut, when activities and messages seem to repeat the same themes, even missions come and go, and all  those routine tasks need doing just the same – reality is that the churchyard still needs weeding! Usually on a day when it's raining!

Don't despair - our Lord knows precisely where each His disciples are at and how they feel, so let's look at that critical time just before His death when He spent a few precious hours with His closest friends preparing them for what was to come, let's examine what He said to them and through them to us.

Do keep your bibles open at John 15

They had eaten together for the last time, Judas the traitor had left to do his wicked business, they were about to leave to walk across to Gethsemane, Jesus knew He was about to die. We might expect guidance for the disciples on what they should actually do next, a set of instructions on how and where the message should be proclaimed, we might expect an inspiring pep talk full of lofty ideals like a general gives his troops on the eve of battle. But no He shared some timeless truths using a somewhat enigmatic illustration from horticulture! Possibly inspired by one of the vineyards they walked past, Jesus likens Himself to a vine, the disciples as branches and God the Father as vine dresser or gardener. The key issue being how to get a good crop of grapes?

To be fair the disciples were confused, even after three years with their Lord they were still asking questions which showed a basic lack of understanding about His mission . Naturally enough they were worried about the future, about their future – no wonder their world was changing under their very feet. The security of being with such a wonderful leader, of being part of something special was all going pear shaped. He did reassure them particularly through the promise of the Holy Spirit, but first they needed to really understand the 'why?' to know for all time the driving force behind His willingness to come and die in a way many might have thought totally unnecessary.

Now like many a good grandfather this Christmas I've been playing with Lego and indulging in awful board games like 'Family Fortunes' which involved guessing the top 5 answers given by 100 people to various silly questions like 'name things you might find on your doorstep'.

If we were to ask 100 people why did Jesus come to this earth, then I think many would say 'don't know', the most popular answer would be 'to save us from our sins' – even if they don't really understand what that means, then some clever ones from St John's might say 'to die on the cross' but few would give the reasons Jesus gave in v31 of ch14! Namely that He was simply doing what God commanded so as to demonstrate to all the world that He loved His Father.  Of course like in Family Fortunes the other answers are correct - Jesus did come into the world to save us  from the effect of sin, He did come to die but His primary motivation was love for the Father! - and that is the answer for which we should get double points! It is a perspective which changes everything – it focusses upwards to God Himself and outwards to a lost world whereas we, like the disciples tend to look inwards at how it all affects me.

In just the same way we learn in v2 and 8 that our primary purpose is also to glorify God by bearing fruit, we'll unpack the how of that in a minute or two, but pause for a moment and consider the application of that principle in our daily living: It means that for Christian people our significance our 'raison d'etre'  is entirely different from that of the society within which we live. We are not dependent on career, status, family, employment, education, wealth or social standing to provide purpose in life. Our aim is to glorify the God who made us by bearing fruit for Him whatever the folk round about us think. So for us all 2010 is an opportunity to live that out.

A Warning

The thrust of Jesus' illustration is that to bear fruit there must be connection between each branch and the vine and in verse 5 we are given a stark warning – without Him we can do nothing!

A few years ago there was a flurry of novels and films about the end times, when Jesus is to return and all believers will be caught up to heaven or 'raptured' as described in Paul's letter to the Thessalonian Christians. Writers explored what it might be like to be 'left behind'. I've felt a bit like that on the odd year that we have forgotten to put the clocks back and then turned up on the Sunday morning to an empty church!

The cynic of course wonders just how much church activity would take place the during the week following rapture, some churches would be empty, but for others no doubt it would be largely 'business as usual' with perhaps an odd gap or two in the pews, leading us to the inevitable conclusion that very little of the activity in such a church was centred on Jesus. Be that as it may whatever your theology of the end times Jesus states quite simply that nothing can be achieved without Him. How ever good our programme is, if we rely on past success – nothing, past experience – nothing, good ideas – nothing. The only way to produce real fruit is to draw life from Him, The moment we start relying in ourselves, in our own abilities the branch starts to wither, we need to be trusting not trying.

So friends if we want a successful or fruitful 2010 at St Johns, if we want to grow as Christians, then the only way forward is to remain or as the more familiar versions translate 'abide in Him'

What then is the plan? How do we 'abide in Him'? How can we glorify God by producing fruit?  There are four basic elements outlined in the passage

1.       v2 We allow God to refine or 'prune' us. In other words to accept God's discipline. Like pruning this can be sharp and painful at the time, but life's hardships can in the long run be a source of blessing as our character becomes more godly. And let's face it: we all have rough edges which need smoothing, pride or self interest  that needs dealing with,we should be growing in humility and grace, learning to serve and put others first.

We do have a choice here - unlike the vine and the secateurs we can resist or respond to the heavenly knife. And it actually works! I picked up a fascinating observation recently that many men who had been really successful as evangelists and much used of God had experienced deep personal trauma such as bringing up a severely handicapped child or caring for a loved one through major illness. These events had been for those individuals a special means of growth in grace and effectiveness in service

2.      v7a We become people of his Word – which means that we listen to what He says and more than that, act on it v10a – we are privileged indeed to have God's word in our own language and readily accessible. So many believers around the world are denied such opportunity and therefore value the bible far higher than we. But we must beware the snare of bibliolatry, which reduces a living relationship with the Lord to a series of sterile lifeless regulations, that's why Jesus' example of the vine is so helpful: to grow fruit the branch and leaves must have a good supply of sap, in other words there needs to be the vital connection between them. Friends it is possible to know much about Jesus without actually knowing Him, without that life giving connection to the living God through the Holy Spirit. Branches without sap wither and are fit for nothing.

3.      We become people of Prayer v7b – Jesus makes an incredible promise repeated from ch 14:14 that our prayers will be answered, yet if anything our prayer times are often the most neglected part of our Christian lives – if there is any value in New Year resolutions then let us make prayer our passionate aim – private prayer, corporate prayer, prayer for the lost, prayer for the unreached, because He promises to answer and change things, this may not be in quite the way we expect, The key is to trust patiently in His Divine overruling or providence and we will see more of those 'divine coincidences' happening around us

4.      v12ff We are commanded to follow His example of sacrificial love for and apply it to each other – Jesus must have known the pressures that His disciples would face – His command? Love one another to the point of pain and death, by this (as He said earlier v13:35) shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another – whatever the circumstances. And that means the 'all-sorts' that make up God's family – not just the socially acceptable.

Let me give you a precious example of how all this worked out in practice a few years ago:

A Scottish guy, Jim Roger wanted to serve the Lord so he applied to a missionary society to work in the Belgian Congo, he was turned down – twice I think – basically Jim was single, a school teacher and totally impractical indeed perhaps a bit wet. Nevertheless he pursued his calling – took night school courses in basketry etc. and eventually when a school was opened in N Congo he was accepted and went. A few years later there was a vicious uprising by a group called the young lions or Simba, many locals were killed, the Christians had to hide in the jungle, expatriates were evacuated or captured. Jim was captured, a young wounded American colleague Bill McChesney was also captured – he was just the opposite in character to Jim, a sportsman with the looks and as they say everything to live for. However the Simba hated Americans. They called all with American passports to stand forward, Bill couldn't stand so Jim stood with him – they both met their maker as the Simba trampled and speared them to death. The world would say what a waste, Jesus said v13 Greater Love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for His friends

What more can we say than the Jesus way works! – with the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight, despite all the politics, despite the desperate attempts of Satan to emasculate the church,– starting with that unlikely bunch of 11 demoralised disciples, our world has been changed for the good, millions have found new freedom in Christ, societies have been transformed and given hope for eternity.

Of course much remains to do and that is why we are here for 2010 with those same words ringing in our ears from v8

..by this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

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