Let us pray: Dear Savior, just as You called the disciples to faith and worked saving trust in their hearts, so, too, You have called us and created faith within our inmost being. And just as You well knew how easily the disciples would fall away on Maundy Thursday in the face of opposition, You also know the great temptations that come our way. Remaining in You is not easy. So cause us to take Your words of wisdom as to how we can remain in You to heart. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE TRUE VINE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE
TEXT: John 15: 1-8
Dearly Beloved in Christ:
If you knew with absolute certainty on Thursday night and you would die the next day and you were having a big meal with all your family and friends present, what kernels of wisdom would you utter? What parting words would you leave them with? You know they will recall your almost-dying words to the end of their days. You know they will never forget the tone and tenor of your words. So, what would you say?
That’s the situation we find in our text. It’s Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room. The Passover meal is completed and Christ is giving instructions, death-bed instructions, to His disciples. They don’t realize the weightiness of what He is saying, but soon after they would. And although Jesus said this long ago, since He’s God’s Son and since: “all things have been written for our learning” we need to carefully ponder His dying wisdom.
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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.”
They have just consumed “the fruit of the vine,” wine, during the meal when Christ inaugurated the Holy Supper. They all knew about grapes, vines, and their habitat and culture. Christ is the genuine vine of eternal life. He is the Son of God. All branches, disciples, us, and their subsequent fruit clusters originate in, with, through, and because of Him, alone. Yes, only He possesses the eternal forgiveness for all sins. And just as He expects a vineyard grape vine to bear fruit, so expects each of us to bear fruits of faith. If we don’t, His Holy Father will prune us, snip us back. And if we do bear fruit, He won’t prune us quite so severely, but He will cut off our excess greenery to help the fruit we do have gets larger and more flavorful. The point for them and us is obvious: cultivate your Christian strengths and get rid of your weaknesses.
Remember last Fall when the Ebola scare was rampant? Remember how careful you were about washing your hands and trying to stay clean? Remember the fear people had whenever a new case was reported? Do you have the same fear and exhibit the same caution when it comes to sin? You should. But, Christ now adds a word of great comfort to His followers who lived in fear of spiritual uncleanness. He says: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The Gospel, God’s forgiving Word is an antiseptic, an antibiotic, and a life-sustaining antidote to sin. The Gospel makes us clean before God. The Gospel has the inherent power to encase us in the bubble of God’s love. Like the disciples, you have heard Christ’s Word of absolution. You have had the Gospel applied to your hearts in baptism and again in the Holy Supper. Since you’re clean before God, don’t live in fear over being infected by sin! The diseases of human life and Satan-induced fevers cannot do you any eternal harm. So don’t cut yourselves off from Christ. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Remain in Him through faith and even with your dying breath you’ll be bearing fruit for His glory.
Pastor Edmund O. Schulz confirmed me. He spent a lot of time finding a fitting confirmation verse for all his confirmands. Mine was this next verse: “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” How appropriate for a Pastor-to-be! How appropriate for you! Right here Christ says it like it is. This is your life: Tracey, Matt, John, Karen, Elaine, Fred, and everyone else. This is the motto each Christian should engrave in their hearts. Remaining in Christ is accomplished through faith. Faith comes about and stays in us through faithfulness. And lest any of us ever get a big head, or an inflated ego, “apart for me, you can do nothing.” Every aspect of our lives, every blessing stems from Him, alone. If we ever begin to think otherwise, nothing, nothing blest, nothing honorable, nothing true, nothing worthwhile, nothing that will last will result. It kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
Then, to follow up on all that—especially poignant when considering the disciples’ shameful response to His capture and arrest and death the next day, Jesus adds: “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Until the resurrection became apparent and Christ appeared to all of them in the Upper Room on Easter evening, these words must have devoured their hearts. They must have caused a fever of anguish in their souls. You can almost hear them repeating those words of the Psalms: “Father, forgive us, how long, O Lord, how long?” But God heard their prayers and answered them. Even though they were not faithful to Him, He was faithful to them! And as a result, they bore fruit, words and acts of faith that liberated sin-darkened souls—down to us, today!
This text is God’s Law and His Gospel at their best. And like all of God’s Word, the question is: Are You Listening? The disciples thought they were listening, but soon found out that their ears had a lot of wax in them!
One last thought: plants don’t grow overnight. Grapes don’t make clusters in a day or a week, or a month. All this growth takes time. Patience is required. Faith is required. Hard work and cultivation, water, and sunlight is required. Well-fertilized soil is required. Our patient God provides all that for us. So, are you patient enough to wait on the Lord? Amen