Summary: How is God glorified? By the fruit we bear. And how do we bear fruit? By abiding in Jesus. He is the vine; we are the branches. Apart from him we can do nothing. No root, no fruit.
THERE IS A STORY told about a young pastor, fresh out of seminary, who was to give his first sermon to his new congregation. He had graduated with honors, and everybody who knew him was sure that he was on a fast track to notoriety as a great preacher. His congregation watched as he entered the pulpit with an air of self-importance. They listened as he read his text. And they waited. There was silence. What they didn’t know was that their young pastor had forgotten what he was going to say. He read his text again, hoping that something would come to him, but it didn’t. He still couldn’t remember what he had prepared. He read the text again, but it was no good. Nothing would come to him. His mind was totally blank. Finally, he said to his people, “I’m sorry. I have nothing to say.” He left the pulpit with a bowed head and a downcast spirit. After worship, a seasoned elder found the young man. He put his arm on his shoulder and looked into his eyes. “Son,” he said, “if you had gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you would have come down the way you went up.” This young man went into the pulpit full of himself. And there’s one thing for sure: When you’re full of yourself, you can’t be full of Jesus.
Jesus tells us here in John 15, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). What he means, of course, is not that we can do absolutely nothing. We can do many things, but, apart from him, we cannot do anything that will endure. You may be a parent, and you want to raise your children to know and love Jesus, but you think you can do it without his help. You may be an employer, and you want your business to have an atmosphere of grace and mutuality and team spirit, but you think you can bring that about with your own charm. You may be an elder, and you want your church to be a setting in which people are built up in faith and engaged in serving others with a sweet spirit, but you think you can make that happen by voting that it be so. You may be a pastor or a Sunday School teacher, and you want to have an enduring influence on others for the sake of the Kingdom, but you think all it will take is some hard work on your part. Jesus says you can’t. He says to the moms and dads among us, to the employers, to the elders and pastors and teachers – he says to all of us – “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
But he also says, “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit.” It’s like a vine and its branches, he tells us. Branches that abide in the vine not only produce fruit; they produce “fruit that will last” (v. 16). I can’t help but believe that – whatever you do, whether you’re a parent or a boss or a church leader or a teacher or whatever – I can’t help but believe that you want your efforts to amount to something. I do too. And I believe that what Jesus says here in John 15 – what he says about abiding in him – can help us with that. And the way I want to approach this passage is to ask and answer three questions. The first question is What? What does it mean to abide in Jesus? The second question is Why? Why is abiding in him important? And the third question is How? If we’re convinced that abiding in Jesus is something we want to do, how do we go about it? How do we do it?
So, let’s ask the first question, the what question: What does it mean to abide in Jesus? When Jesus says in verse 4, “Abide in me,” what does he mean? What he means is: “Take your life from me.” “I am the vine, you are the branches” (v. 5). And, as a branch receives life from the vine, you are to receive life from me. We know how this works. A branch has to remain organically connected to the vine or…what? It will die. Cut a limb off a tree, and it won’t be long before the leaves will turn colorless and shrivel up, and the limb becomes brittle. But as long as the limb “abides” in the tree, it takes its life from the tree.
It’s the same way with Jesus and us. There is life in him. And, if we take our life from him, as a branch does from the main stalk, what we will see in our lives is an abundant yield. It doesn’t mean, of course, that we will be successful in everything we do, but it does mean that we will see Christ’s desires for us come to fruition. That’s what it means to abide in Jesus.