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The last warning - John 15:1-17

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 11th November 2007.

Click here to read the bible passage. Click here to use larger text.

Well some of you might know that I enjoy gardening.  I don’t have enough time for it, but I like gardening.  And in our last parish, we had a 110 foot long garden.    It was a long and narrow garden split into sections.    And right down the bottom, well disguised by a clearly positioned shrub, was what we called the dump.  The shed was there, as well as the 2 composting bins and a large bed where nothing would grow except bind weeds.  And every few months, we would have a pruning blitz on the whole garden.  I say we, because really it was a triple effort of me, Kate and Kate’s mum.   

So any plant or shrub or tree that had dead wood in it, or which wasn’t flowering properly, would be in for an appointment with the secateurs, or even my saw.   And all those cutting were dragged down to that weed bed in the dump ready for some real fun.    Because right in the middle of the dump, I built a sort of brick incinerator.    And every few months, we would have a giant bonfire of all the branches that had been pruned.   If it wasn’t bearing fruit or looking good in my garden, then it was onto the bonfire you go.   

1.      Jesus is the true Israel/ People of God   (v1-2)

And even if you hate gardening you can see the point can’t you?  Because it’s exactly that kind of gardening metaphor that Jesus is using in today’s passage.     So if you’re not already there, then pl turn with me to Jn 15 on p[1005/ 1676] and look with me at v1:

John 15: 1 ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.

 J is using a garden metaphor to make a teaching point.  And in this metaphor or picture, Jesus is calling himself a vine that has various branches. Now if you’ve got kids or grandkids, you might have heard of Bob the Builder.  But here we’ve got God the gardener.  Because in v1, God the father is the gardener;  and just like me with my secateurs, God the Gardener cuts off every branch that’s not bearing fruit. 

So what’s that all about then you might be thinking?  The Bible often uses pictures or metaphors that relate to real life.  And the Bible sometimes uses humour to make the point as well.  But there’s always a point.  The Bible isn’t just a collection of entertaining stories about gardening or other hobbies.  No every Bible passage will have a main point, and that main point will have something do with the big issues of life. 

Earlier in our service we were remembering our service personnel who died in the wars of the last centuries and have continued to die in the various wars of this century.  Earlier in the week we paid our respects at the funeral of a long term member of [this/ SF’s] congregation. 

And it’s the big issues of life and death and what happens after death that the Bible deals with.  And behind the gardening metaphor, that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about here. 

Because as always there’s more to J's words that first meets the eye.  In our OT reading from Ps 80, we saw that God’s OT people were thought of as a vine.  It’s a common metaphor in the OT.   And Ps 80 reminds us that vine, God’s Old C people, that is, were brought out of Egypt by the Lord.  Out of Egypt, through the Red sea and into the promise land, which was pictured in Ps80 as a vineyard. 

But then the next section of Ps 80 reminded us of the rest of the OT story.  The story we’ve been looking at in our FSs this year.  The story that God’s people kept on disobeying the Lord and breaking His covenant.  They weren’t producing the fruit of godly lives that God wanted to see.    God was very patient, but eventually God didn’t just prune His vineyard;  no; He raised it to the ground and sent His people into exile;  God sent His people into the land of Babylon.  And so it appears that all hope had been lost.  The whole vineyard was on the bonfire.  Or was it?

Because at the end of the Psalm, we read these words:

Ps 80:14:  “Return to us, O God Almighty!  Look down from heaven and see!  Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son [c] you have raised up for yourself.  Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.  Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,  the son of man you have raised up for yourself.    Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.   Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.

On its own, there was no hope for God’s people, the vine.  It had been cut down and thrown into the fire.  Even when the Lord brought His people back from exile in Babylon, even when they’d been through the experience of the exile, they still couldn’t keep God’s covenant.  They couldn’t keep the 10 commandments and love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.  The newly replanted vine still wasn’t producing fruit.  And so there was no hope.    No hope except for God to act in some way to save His people.  No hope outside of God raising up a new vine;  a new vine called both God’s son and the Son of Man.  And somehow this new vine would be the means by which God would save his people.

And so back in Jn 15:1, Jesus is announcing that the new vine has arrived:  I am that vine, Jesus is saying.  I am that son;  the son of God;  the son of Man.  I am the true vine says Jesus in fulfilment of those OT prophesies.  Or in other words, Jesus is the true Israel of God;  the true people of God;  the true son of God. 

And the lesson from the OT for us is that, naturally, none of is good enough to be one of God’s people by ourselves.  None of us are the true vine, because, left to ourselves we’re totally incapable of obeying God’s commands.  We may try to come to church every week and live up to God’s standards like the 10 commandments.  But the Bible’s verdict is that none of us make the grade.  None of us are good enough to be God’s true vine;  to be God’s people that is.   

And so like orphans who have no parents in this world, the only way we can become one of God’s people is by adoption.  Or to carry on with the vine metaphor, the only way to be one of God’s true people, is to be grafted into Jesus the one true vine.    So do you see what Jesus is saying here? 

It’s the same as he’s already said back in 14:6:   Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and no one can come to the F except through Him.  The only way to be a true child of God is to be grafted in the one true vine;  to be ‘in Christ’ as the apostle Paul puts it in His letters.   To be a Christian in other words.   Jesus is not one way among many ways to God.  Christianity is not one of a number of different roads up leading up the same mountain to the same God at the top.  No Jesus is the true vine.  Jesus is the only way to God.  And being in Jesus, being a true Christian, is the only way that we can be right with God and have eternal life after death.  

If you asked lots of people what their main objective was in life, you might get a variety of answers.  Having a good career.  Getting a good education for the kids.   Having a successful marriage.    Or maybe getting back to normal life after the floods.    But according to this passage, the most important thing in life to be grafted into Jesus the true vine.  Becoming a true child of God that is.  Because Jesus is the true vine, the true Israel, the true people of God.  And apart from being in Christ, we are totally cut off from God. 

2.      True Christians remain in Jesus   (v3-8)

So in v1&2, we’ve seen that Jesus is the true Israel;  the true people of God.  And the only way for us to be part of the true people of God, is to be in Christ.    And v3-8 carry on that theme.  Because in v3-8, we see that true Christians remain in Jesus.  True Christians remain in Jesus. 

Now I wonder if you know much about vines and vineyards.    Kate and I saw one on holiday this year in the grounds of the bishop’s palace behind Lincoln Cathedral.  But some varieties of grapes are especially vulnerable to having their roots attacked.  So if you want those types of grapes, then you need to graft a cutting of their vines onto the stump of a more hardy vine.  And that way you can grow your choice grapes without worrying about rotting roots and all that.    But what if those delicate vines weren’t grafted on properly?    They might have looked like they were to start with;  they might have produced some grapes.  But what’s going to happen if those delicate vines weren’t properly grafted on in the first place? 

Well you don’t need to be an expert wine-maker to guess do you?    Those branches as going to loose their nutrients.  They’re going to loose their connection to the roots.    And if you’ve lost your connection with the root, with the true vine Jesus that is, then you’re not going to produce much fruit.  There’s not going to be much growth in godly Christ-like behaviour. 

And when that happens, it shows that such branches were never properly grafted in the first place.  Now all vines will go through bad patches and need pruning by an expert vine keeper.  As we were reminded in v2, even true Christians will need pruning, although the word is usually translated ‘cleansed’ and is related to the word clean in v3.    True Christians have already been cleansed in the deep sense of having had their sins forgiven when they first became Christians.  So at the foot washing incident when Peter said:  OK Jesus, don’t just wash my feet, do my whole body:  what did Jesus reply?     “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash His feet. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  Which the Apostle John spells out for us meant Judas.  Although he was one of the 12 disciples, Judas wasn’t clean; he’d never been truly cleansed from His sin. He was never a true Christian in the first place. He just looked like on for while until the chickens came home to roost.

As that’s what Jesus is saying here in v3. You the rest of the disciples are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you’ Jesus says.  And as he make even more explicit later on in v16:

16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

And these words are simply repeating the promises Jesus has already made earlier in John’s Gospel, like this one back in chapter 6 where Jesus says: 

Jn 6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

J is not going to loose any of His true children.  All those that the Father has given to Him he will indeed raise up on the last day.  But the ultimate test of a true disciple is back in chapter 15 v8:

8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

In v4, Jesus commands all those who profess to be His, all though who profess to be Christians, to remain in Him;;  to continue being and living as Christians that is.    Because what happens if professing Christians don’t remain or abide in Jesus.  Well it’s just like the parable of the Sower isn’t it.  Some seed fell on rocky or thorny soil and so after a while, the plants withered and died.  Or as v 6 puts it:

6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers

If a professing Christian gives up or simply drifts away from Jesus, then they wither.  Because apart from Jesus, you can do nothing;  you can’t bear the fruit of Christian living apart from being in Christ.    And so those who give up on their profession of Christ, or who simply drift away over time; they wither;  they dry up spiritually.   And so over time they loose even the appearance of spiritual heath;  they will go back to looking no different from the spiritually dead people all round us.  Or as the Apostle peter puts it:  such people are like dogs who return to their vomit and lick it all up.

But that’s just in his life.  What’s worse that being withered and eating vomit.  Well it’s the second half of v6: 

 

“such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

And as we mentioned before, it’s another metaphor. A picture of the final judgement.  The final judgment where those who aren’t true Christians will be justly condemned to hell.  Justly, because not of us deserves anything better.  Why?  Because we’re all sinners remember and we all deserve hell as a just punishment for our sins.  So the fact that many of us will escape that fate is a cause for much celebration and praise.  Praise God from whom all blessing flow as the modern chorus puts it. 

So what’s the test of a true Christian?  Well it’s someone who remains in Christ to the end.    This is how you show yourselves to be J’s true disciple:  by remaining in Him and producing fruit;  by living a progressively transformed life that gives glory to God by obeying His commands.    That’s what will glory God the father.  When it’s seen that His word never fails.  Because God doesn’t change His mind.  When he promises to keep His true children, He will.  And when the time comes for everyone to see how that promises has been kept, then God will truly be glorified.  True Christians, then, remain in J; that’s what we’ve seen in v3-8.

3.  What does it mean to remain in Jesus?   (v9-17)

But how do we do that you might be thinking?  What does it mean to remain or abide in J?  And that’s what v9-17 are all about.  What does it mean to abide in J?   Look with me at v9:

 9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

The commands in v10 are picking up on J's word back in v3, the Word that Jesus had already spoken to His disciples.      And of course we won’t know what God’s word or commandments are if we’re not regularly reading them or listening to them being read and explained.  So coming to church regularly really is good for your health;  your eternal spiritual health that is.  But just like you’d be pretty malnourished if you only ate one or 2 meals a week, we need to feed on God’s word more regularly than weekly; ideally every day.  As individuals;  as married couples;  as families;  we need to be devouring God’s word together in our homes. 

And small groups like home groups [or Tue Gp or Wed @ a10] are the next best thing;  environments where we gather with Christians from other households to feast on God’s word together.  I know some people’s families or other circumstances make it difficult; but the more we feast on God’s word, the stronger we’ll be spiritually.  And if you are personally struggling with all this, then start with the basics:  be in church regularly on Sundays.   

So we’re to feast regularly on God’s word; on His commandments.  But what’s His principal command then?  Well Jesus has already told us back in chapter 6: 

 "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

To believe in Jesus, that is.  To believe that Jesus is the Christ; the son of God and that he died to take away your sin make you fit for haven.  That’s the main work or command of God.  Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.  But what else?

Well look with me at v12:

12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

And down to the end of the section in v17:

17This is my command: Love each other.

So what does it mean to love each other?  Well Jesus tells us in v13:

13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

It’s about self-sacrifice.  Now it doesn’t mean that we all have to go and die on a cross like Jesus.  But it does mean that we will put ourselves out for others.  Love your neighbour as yourselves Jesus said elsewhere.    And so it does mean that we need to be concerned with each other’s practical needs in the church.  Not just me, but us together as a church family.  The sick, the dieing the bereavement need to be looked after, spiritually and practically.  Those who’ve got struggles at work or in their families need to be given compassion, and prayer and practical help where possible.  And all of that presupposes that we know each other well enough to know what the issues are in each others lives.  We need to be investing in relationships and that takes time and commitment.  It’s a sacrifice.    

[Riv:  now the clergy team at SJs have been looking at these issues recently and we’ll be trying to work them through here at Riv in the Steering committee.    But the main point is that]    we don’t need formal structures to get on with living like this.  This is my command says J:  love each other as I have love you.

Practical pastoral care then.  That’s one application   But the main application is actually something different.    Because the context of v13 is Jesus going to the cross.  And in v15, Jesus is talking about His father’s master plan:    The master plan that the Gospel of salvation for all peoples would spread out from Jerusalem to the end of the earth.  As Jesus puts it in the great commission:  go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the F, Son and HS, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. 

Without Jesus, people are heading for a lost eternity in hell.  Because Jesus is the only way to God remember.  And so the most loving thing we can do for someone is introduce them to Jesus and the Gospel of salvation.    We might not all have evangelistic gifts and it doesn't mean we all have to go door knocking. 

But it does mean that we all need to be bothered about evangelism;  bothered about getting the Gospel out the people we know personally as well as the rest of the people of [Dunswell/ Riverside].  It means we’ll be behind the principal of reaching out to new people.  And so it means welcoming new people on an equal basis into the church and getting rid of any informal pecking order of who’s been here the longest.  It means not being threatened by changes that might be necessary to accommodate new-comers.  It means being committed in prayer and in practice to seeing the church grow numerically as well as in depth of spiritual maturity.   Because that’s the fruit that Jesus is talking about in v16:  fruit that will last for eternity.    People becoming Christians and going onto demonstrate the reality of their faith by their growing obedience to God’s word.  His commands about godly living and mutual love.  And His command to reach out with the Gospel to all types of people, not just traditional church goers.   

But living like that is costly.    It’s certainly costly for me and my family.    But that’s nothing compared to what it cost Jesus.  Greater love has no one that this:  that he lay down his life for his friends.    We followed a crucified Lord who said:  pick up your cross and follow me - daily. 

Living an genuine Christian life is hard;  sometimes it’s v hard.  And that’s why we need love and support from each other.  But most of all, we need’s God’s help.  The help of the Holy Spirit living in us.  So let’s ask for that help now as we close in prayer.  Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, that you that where your Old C people failed, Jesus succeeded;  he was the true vine and he perfectly obeyed you.  Help each one of us to be properly grafted into Him, to be truly in Christ, trusting in Christ alone for our forgiveness and salvation;  and help us, we pray, to live fruitful Christian lives; to love each other practically;  and to be committed to reaching out to others with the Gospel of salvation, using the gifts you’ve given us, and with deep gratitude in our hearts for our own salvation.  Amen.

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