Religious terrorist fanatics have attacked freedom, causing the greatest disaster this world has ever known. No, I'm not talking about what happened this week in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. I'm talking about something that happened two thousand years ago on a hill, on a cross. The God of freedom lost His innocent Son to the acts of religious fanatics--us. Our refusal to be free from sin has taken the life of the innocent.
I don't like what I just said. But the parallels to Tuesday morning's disasters are too much to be ignored. We too, like those barbaric, inhumane terrorists, are guilty of innocent blood. I started thinking about this as I wondered about the text that I had chosen weeks ago for today's sermon. I was wondering, do I need to change what I was going to talk about. I chose this topic a long time ago. I prayed about it a long time ago. Maybe I need to pray again. And I did. Then the realization came to me that the very God that put in my head to speak on this text weeks ago knew about what would happen this week. So, I'm sticking with it.
Today's text is a short portion of what Jesus told His disciples. What makes this passage so significant is when this was said. This is Jesus talking after the Last Supper and before the great disaster of His crucifixion. He is instructing His disciples on how to handle the events that are to come in their lives. Maybe this would be a good time to listen in to what He says about handling this stuff.
John 15:1. This is just a very short portion of what Jesus told His disciples. I encourage you to read the whole conversation today. Maybe it will bring some encouragement. John 15:1. I AM the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. A vine? Why would Jesus refer to Himself as a vine? Why wouldn't Jesus refer to Himself as something of great strength and size like an oak tree? That's what I would. I love oak trees. I have powerful oak trees in my yard. At least they look powerful. Where I used to live, a tornado came through. It didn't really get close to me, but the wind was high. The oak trees were the first to go. I was shocked. The oak trees went right over and I was amazed at how shallow their roots were. They spread out and don't go any deeper than a couple feet. They were big but they were not deep. A vine must cling to something for its support. Jesus said in John 5:30, "By myself, I can do nothing." A vine can't stand up by itself. It must cling to something stronger than it is. We too need to cling to something, especially in the perilous last days in which we live!
When I was a member of the Pathfinder club, one of the things that I remember most was backpacking. There was one place where we just loved to camp. We went there several times. The reason we loved it so much was that as we hiked up the trail we had to climb down a steep bank and across the creek to our campsite. But then when we got everything set up, we crossed the creek and climbed back up the bank because hanging there from the trees were vines. We would swing out over our camp and swing back, hour after hour. It was great. The vines never let go of the trees and we never let go of the vines. If we never let go of Jesus, it matters not how deep the chasm is. In these days of bitter uncertainty, don't let go! When you're holding on to Jesus, the depth doesn't matter.
It reminds me of I went to Cloudling Canyon when I was in college with a group. There was a chain that had been across the falls, but one end of the chain was hanging down in the falls. Half-way up was a sign that said, "Danger!" except that it's at an angle now. We got hold of that chain and we swung for hours that afternoon, right through the falls on that chain. You know what? Not one of us thought of letting go. Jesus will not let go of us. Let's not let go of Him.
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:6, "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. I was alarmed at this week when I read this text. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."
Vines are also hard to destroy. I have witnessed huge oak trees come down easily. But I've never seen a tornado take up a vine. The vines seem to thrive in adversity. The more you try to kill some of them, the more they spread. The religious terrorists tried to destroy Jesus but He rose again! He came back stronger than ever before. Christianity has spread throughout this world.
Notice that Jesus calls Himself the "True Vine." Israel thought of itself as the vine. The Jews thought their salvation to be automatic if they were a part of Israel. But Jesus is the True Vine. We have to be connected to Him for our salvation.
The Father also is called the Gardener in this passage. He has two jobs. Look at the first part of John 15:2. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit. The Gardener's first job is to cut off branches that are non-productive. Which branches are these? Skip down to verses 4 and 5.
John 15:4,5. "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.
"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." So branches that are not well connected to the vine are fruitless. We can do nothing good apart from Jesus. He does the good through His connection with us. Apart from Him, we are dried up and in the way. What happens to branches that no longer have the life giving energy of the vine flowing through them?
Look at verse 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. Here, Jesus had been talking about Israel, His original people. It is evident from these verses that the doctrine of "Once saved always saved," is not Biblical. What about us, members of God's new family?
Does this illustration of Jesus apply to us as well? Paul thinks so. Look at Romans 11. Here in Romans 11, Paul continues this illustration of Jesus. Romans 11:17-24. If the branches have been broken off, and you , though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
Good news! This does away with, "Once lost, always lost!" I like that. Now let's go back to our original text, John 15. Let's look again at verse 2, the second half of that verse. John 15:2 "while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." The Gardener's second job is to prune the branches that are bearing fruit. I'm not very good at pruning the grape vines at my house. I did the best pruning job I know how, but instead of grapes, I got branches. What a tangled mess! The Father, fortunately, is an expert gardener. He gets fruit! He knows how to keep His church growing and productive. But being pruned can be unpleasant. And I hear that fruit only comes on new branches. Dead wood doesn't produce it.
Look at Hebrews 12:4-11. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
What happens when we submit to the pruning of the Gardener as He prunes us and trains us for the service of bearing fruit? Look again at John 15:7 and 8 "If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is My Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples." If we remain connected to the vine, our desires become more and more holy. Our will becomes more and more like God's will. The things that we ask for will be what God desires to give. Fruit will come naturally from our connection with Jesus. "If you love me, then you will desire to keep my commandments."
The nature of God's church has changed from what it was in the Old testament, but the requirements to belong to that church are the same. God's church was made up of a nation, a nation which rejected Him and was cut off. Now God's church is made up of a people, a people who must still accept Jesus Christ and bear fruit, or we too will be cut off. Some may claim to be part of the Vine and may appear to belong to the Vine, but without fruit, they will soon be cut off. Some may think, "I have born enough fruit, I have done my part. I served there for years. I did this for years. I am done. Let somebody else do it for a while." But retirement from producing fruit is not a Biblical concept. We can't be "Grand-fathered in", we must be Grafted in.
I've never seen a gardener pruning his vines that said, "That vine a few years ago used to produce a lot, I think I'll leave it there." No, it must go if it has stopped its production.
Our church is wonderful. Last Sabbath, we had a great church camp-out. Close to seventy of our members were in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Twelve of our members decided to hike together to the Chimneys. This is a short hike, only two miles to the top, but very steep and strenuous. During this trek, I saw many parallels to our church. First, it became obvious that we were not all the same. Some were older, some were younger. Some were stronger, some were weaker. Some were larger, some were smaller. Yet we were all on the same trail. My family was quickly left behind because we had the smallest hikers, ages eight and five. Yet when the rest of the group realized we were being left, they waited until we caught up. When I pointed out that they didn't need to wait for us, the reply was, "We are in this together. We will stay together." Later, I think, most of them were glad for the excuse to stop and wait! Yet they did desire to reach the destination, the top. The top is magnificent. You can see it from the road. You look up and you automatically say, "I want to go there! That's awesome! There must be a view from there." So, since they wanted to reach their destination, and they all wanted to stay together, they started carrying my kids. It wasn't their kids. They were my kids. But they were carrying my children. We, as a church family, can help carry each other's burdens. We can't look and say, "Well, that's your problem." If we are part of the vine, and a part of the vine is hurting, it's our problem. We can carry each other's burdens. We can lift the load of somebody's shoulders.
If anyone desired to turn back on this trail, the momentum of the group encouraged them that they should keep going. Being in a church is far more encouraging than trying to lead the Christian life alone. If any one of us had been hiking up that trail alone, the temptation could have come to turn back and nobody would know. But in our group we would know, and we would encourage: Don't try to do it alone. Stay with the group. Stay on the trail.I read of a pastor on that very same trail with a youth group from his church a few months ago. They decided to take a short- cut. They were found the next day. Don't leave the trail. Don't risk being lost.
When we reached the first Chimney, some wondered if they could make it. It's rather imposing looking. Maybe we shouldn't even try. As you look up, it's rather foreboding. It goes almost straight up and there's hand-holds but they've been worn smooth over the years and are hard to hang on to. The pinnacle of rock! If I stand up there will I just get blown away? If we had been there alone with our children we would have said at that point that the danger is too great, we're going back. We don't want to risk our children on this. But with the help of everyone surrounding them, handing them up over the rocks, hand after hand, encouraging this path and that path, helping each other we all made it to the top. We have pictures to prove it. You might see them on the bulletin board one of these days. When the path is rough, the church needs to pull more closely together with outstretched hands and lifting power and encouragement showing the direction. The view from the top made the struggle to get there seem insignificant. We stood there and went, Wow! This is great! Heaven is cheap enough!
We, as a church, are looking to some tough times ahead. Turn now to Matthew 24. Jesus wanted His followers to know what to expect, not so they would be fearful but so they could know that the Person they loved most was coming soon.
Matthew 24:6-14. "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." We are about to reach the pinnacle of Earth's history. The end will be filled with more tragedy than we can imagine, even after this week. The Spirit of Prophecy describes vividly the scenes that are in our hearts after this week. And you know if you've been on the web sites. But we must not hold these up and say, "I told you so." We must take them to our hearts and say, "The end is near." How many more can we put on the path?
Some people are referring to this week's tragedy as an "act of God." They are wrong! When we see people selflessly trying to help each other through this situation, that is an act of God. When we see people in prayer for the families of total strangers, that is an act of God. When you drove by Spalding Elementary School yesterday at noon and saw us all standing and kneeling out there in prayer with those kids, that is an act of God. But when we see the destruction that was caused, that's not even the act of people who believe in God. Satan loves to let God take the blame for what he has done. But soon, Satan, like those fanatical terrorists, will have no where else to hide! The faster the Gospel of Jesus Christ goes around the world, the sooner the world will recognize who the ultimate terrorist really is. At that time, I don't want to be found in his camp or even in the country that harbors him! But I do want to be found connected to the Vine, heavy with fruit! I want to be free of my connection with the terrorist that caused His death. I am so glad that His blood can cover my past!
I enjoy it when friends visit the Southeast for the first time. We will be driving along and someone will invariably say, "What's that?" They have seen Kudzu for the first time. Kudzu is a vine that is not a native to this country. But it sure has taken over. It climbs trees and stretches across roads on power lines. It changes the way that the countryside looks, smoothing out all the rough edges. Nothing can stop it! That is the way that I want to be. This world is not my home but I want to spread like wild-fire as part of the vine of Jesus Christ. I want to be part of a network of Christians spreading around the world, smoothing out rough edges, changing the look of the landscape, because Jesus is in charge. With Jesus power, nothing can stop us. No adversity will be too great for us to overwhelm with the love of God!
It is my prayer that we will be fruit bearing branches, willing to take the Gardener's pruning so that we will be even more productive and that our fruit will leave no doubt in the mind of anyone about which Vine we belong to. May our lives persuade others to be grafted into the Vine that binds us together as a church through the times that we know are ahead. All the way my Savior Leads me.Bulletin
Hymn of Praise: #191, Love Divine Scripture: John 15:5-8 Hymn of Response: #516, All the Way
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last updated 9/15/2001 by Bob Beckett.