Summary: Jesus tells us to "abide" in him - to stay in the vine. But how do we do that and what does it mean for our walk with Christ?
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
May 11, 2008
Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation
Rich Ratts, former pastor of Grace Community Church here in Jackson and a now a church planter in Traverse City once spoke at a pastor’s appreciation breakfast I attended. He began by talking about a cheery orchard outside his window. One night when he couldn’t go to sleep right away and he lay there listening to the rush of blood through the capillaries in his ears, something dawned on him – he didn’t hear any signs of a struggle. He didn’t hear any grunting or groaning, he didn’t hear any creaking or cracking – he didn’t hear anything but his own pulse and the sound of his wife breathing. And he found that odd because he knew right outside his window was a cherry orchard with living trees that were growing. Where were the signs of a struggle?
You see, the Christian life is often compared to a tree or a vine or some other form of plant life, yet we also talk about the struggle of growing in our Christian faith. So if it is such a struggle to grow, he reasoned, how come I don’t hear the trees straining to reach for the sun? How come I don’t see their leaves trembling under the exertion of stretching skyward? Why can’t he see the tree’s trunk heaving with the effort to produce fruit? (1)
His point, I think, is well taken. When a tree or a plant – well, since Rev. Ratts was talking about cherry trees, let’s stick with those for the moment. When a cherry tree is receiving proper treatment – planted in fertile soil that is properly watered, pruned under the careful eye of the farmer to promote the right kind of growth, the right portions of sun and carbon dioxide – when the conditions are right, the tree will grow effortlessly and produce abundant fruit; it’s not a struggle. You see, that’s the nature of a tree – to grow and produce, it is what it does, why it exists. So if all is as it should be, the tree will grow, naturally – that’s what it’s supposed to do.
The same can be said of the Christian life – if all is as it should be, then we grow, producing much fruit. That’s what we’re supposed to do – Jesus tells us this in v.16 of our text this morning.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.
If that’s the case, then why does it seem that growing in our Christian life is such an uphill battle? I mean, let’s face it – sometimes we look back on our lives and we realize that we simply have not grown much, particularly in our walk with Christ. We seem to be going over the same territory again and again; the same questions plague us, the same sin dogs our steps, the same fears, the same doubts, the same aggravations, the same concerns, same, same, same, same. Is there no end?
Paul tells us that we are nearer to our salvation than when we first believed, but we don’t feel closer. In fact, we might even feel farther away. Yet, we see people all the time who are talking about their lives in Christ, how intimate and how deep they are. We hear stories about experiencing God’s nearness, about hearing his voice, about knowing his will for our lives and we ask ourselves, “What am I missing?”
This question, along with the others we voice to the darkness when no one else is listening have profound implications for our lives. Jesus tells us in our text for this morning to abide in him, but how do we do that?
Last week, we jumped ahead in John’s Gospel in honor of Pentecost and spoke about Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit in John 16. This week we jump back to John 15 and pick up on the preparations Jesus is making with his disciples for life without him there.
Now, maybe you remember the circumstances. The Last Supper is finished, Judas has gone over to the chief priests and religious leaders as an inside informant on the movements of Jesus and his little band of “merry men.” And Jesus has told his disciples that two things are going to happen – he’s going to be betrayed by one of their own and it’s time for him to go away. The disciples are naturally a little upset by this. Oh, and let’s not forget, Jesus has also told Peter that he will deny Jesus three times in the next 12 hours or so.
This is definitely a buzz-kill moment. All the heady ideas of setting up a kingdom, or leading a revolution, or being on the ground floor of the Zionist movement that would finally shake off the shackles of Rome get lost in the overwhelming tide of sorrow stirred up by thoughts of betrayal, denial and departure. Even the euphoria of a full stomach and a celebration of God’s deliverance cannot stem the onrushing current of fear created by Jesus’ comments.