Let us pray: Dear Savior, without You our lives are cold and empty. Without You to warm our hearts with love and forgiveness we flounder through life swept to and fro by the latest fads on how to raise our children and to be happy and fulfilled. Without Your holiness covering our many imperfections all we can offer You are our dirty sacrifices. But with You comes joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and of course, true love, which makes our lives infinitely valuable. Today we ask that You keep us glued to You and Your Word of truth until that glorious day of heavenly bliss. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE TRUE VINE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE!
TEXT: John 15: 1-8
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Occasionally I’m asked, usually by a family member, to do the funeral of a non-member. Sometimes I say: yes, and sometimes I say: no. The reason for that is that if I’m going to bury someone into the resurrection of Christ, I want to make sure they actually believe it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be honest. So, I always try to ascertain if they truly did trust in Christ as their Savior. That’s hard to do after the fact of death. But, it is a bit easier to do if they are terminally ill and I have a chance to talk to them first—to minister to them first.
When I visit such folks, I begin by talking about their own sins and failings. Why should God Almighty accept you into glory? What do you have to offer Him? What makes you so special to Him? Of course, the answer is: nothing! The correct answer, born of humility and not pride is: “I’m a sinner who has not and cannot on his own measure up to God’s perfect standards in thought, word, and deed.” With death staring them in the face, most people know that. And they’re scared about it. But then I go on to tell them that God did what they could not. He gives them the most precious gift there is: His love and forgiveness for all their sins in Christ. Christ saved them. Christ has paid for their hateful, hurtful words. Christ has died to purchase their soul from sin, death, and Satan. And by believing and trusting in Christ and His merits and not their own, they have eternal life! I tell them how altruistic and big-hearted our God really is. And if they give any indication that they accept that truth, I tell them that heaven awaits. I give them the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. And finally, I also tell them, I’d be honored to bury you into the sure hope of Christ’s resurrection, and your own, from the dead!
In our lesson Jesus talks to His disciples about all this and more the night before He died. He wanted to prepare them for what was coming. And as we examine this lesson today and try to apply it to our lives, we see that it answers the question on every dying person’s lips: namely:
WHY DO I NEED CHRIST?
A few weeks back I was at the auto repair shop having an oil change on the Toyota. As I walked around on a fine Spring morning, I saw one of the mechanics working on an engine attached to a hoist. After blasting it with a torch and banging on it with a hammer, he turned to me in disgust and said: “That’s what happens when you don’t change your oil regularly.” It seems the owner drove about 60,000 miles with their new car, never changed the oil, and it seized up. It was ruined. And a big bill awaited the hapless owner.
Christ is the oil that keeps us running. He is the life-sustaining lubricant of our eternal souls. We need Him on a constant basis or we’ll seize up and die. We’ll become worthless junk, too.
To be sure, most people go through life, at least the first 50 or 60 thousand miles of it, much like that hapless car owner—clueless and carefree. But eventually the piper has to be paid. Eventually something will occur to get our attention—ill health, rebellious kids, job disappoints, financial hardship—well, you get the point. And then what? O, I know some of you might be thinking: “Well, I’m a Christian and I suffer with those problems, too.” You’re right, life is a series of ups and downs. But the Christian knows that in Christ they have eternal insurance which He paid for on the cross and which covers all our expenses. In Christ we have an Owner’s Manual that supplies all the answers. And by going to church every week He keeps you in tuned to the fine print of that manual, changes your dirty oil, recharges your battery, and thereby gives you peace of mind. That’s the Christian hope that does not disappoint. And when, even after all our attentiveness to such details, we eventually break down—old age and death—the True Owner of our bodies and souls, Jesus, still comes through! He takes us to heaven, restores us, and turns us into an instant “classic.” No crusher or junk heap for us, His beloved children!
I just used car imagery to get across the point: Why Do I Need Christ? In our lesson, Jesus uses another image of His time: a grape vine and its various branches. “I am the true vine (not a fake one or a wild unfruitful one that is worthless) and my Father is the gardener. (The One Who takes care of the whole vineyard.) 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.”
I’ve raised grape vines. Some bear fruit and some don’t. The ones that don’t you have to cut off and get rid of (burn in our lesson) since they are often infected and always sap growth from the entire plant. While the others you have to prune back severely to 3 buds in the Spring, or they will have all leaf and no fruit. So, when God allows troubles to come your way, don’t despair or question His love. He’s using them to prune you in order that you will grow and flourish all the more!
Then comes a wonderful promise of God. And remember God never, ever, goes back on any of His promises. “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.”
In other words, take personal responsibility for your life. Continue to read and study God’s Owner’s Manual. Go to church, commune, live your baptismal grace, honor Him in all you do. He won’t cut you off, no, only you can do that. Yes, He’s always there to help and assist you if you but ask. After all, He’s invested His entire life’s savings in your soul, hasn’t He? And when you do just that by being patient and faithful to Him, fruit will appear. Goodness will abound. You’ll handle all the troubles that come your way, including death.
All this is summed up in the key verse of our text: “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.”
The hymn: “Rock of Ages” captures this same truth quite well when it says: “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy Law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.” Yes, nothing we say, think, or do can ever be perfect. We can offer God nothing that He doesn’t already possess. Sin and human failures taint us through and through. But, if we remain in Him through faith, Christ the Vine nourishes us, sustains us, and makes us holy and fruitful. Remember that the next time your good intentions end up back-firing on you and cause trouble. Remember that His holiness covers over all our sins. And then plead the mercy of Christ and get on with living for Him!
Why Do I Need Christ? Because apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I am nothing. Apart from Him I’m a speck of dust that will live, die, decay and be forgotten. Apart from Him my soul will never have rest—for in hell there is no rest. Apart from Him I’ll possess no lasting peace. Apart from Him I’ll always live in doubt and fear and a certain amount of guilt. But with Him, my life has eternal meaning and purpose—bearing fruit for God’s eternal glory. And I’ll rest secure in that knowledge. Yes, all of this “is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Amen