Theme: Abiding in Christ provides security, strength and satisfaction regardless of our circumstances.
and Psalm 42
As Jay was playing the first hymn today and as we were singing “When Morning Gilds the Skies” I again was reminded of that passage in Revelation where it says that all believers of all times and of all places will be gathered around his throne, praising the Lord. Everything will be focused on Jesus and there won’t need to be any more sun, because he is the light of reality and of eternity. It was just a beautiful sense that I had about that and it leads me to say this –
In these five Sundays in June I will be handling three of them as far as the sermon is concerned. Today is the first of a three message series that I am calling, “Sitting at the feet of Jesus”; just resting in him, focusing on him as we have that image from eternity, and as we will see soon from John, Chapter 15 again. And it seems timely since we are anticipating a major transition again with Jerry’s departure only a few short weeks away and my own a couple of months away. I want to encourage you to pray hard this week because there are some stirrings from the PNC . I spoke to one of the PNC members after I said this in the first service and they kind of were ready to bop me one, they said you are going to have people calling me or calling us if you say these kinds of things. I said, well this is a great lesson in self control, don’t say anything. But pray hard because some possibilities are developing. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but at the same time I want to encourage you to keep on praying because it could be the person that God is calling. No promises, but the moment seems poignant.
In these times we are called to remember the source of our hope and of our strength. You know when we do finally get to throne and we are all praising him and casting down any crowns that we have accumulated, nobody’s going to be saying, “Where’s the pastor?” Everybody is going to be focused on the Lord Jesus. That is all that will matter. Even in this present moment we can have union with that same Lord and creator of the universe. What a mystery. And so today’s message is about Jesus’ command: Abide in me. Rest in me. In John 15 there are two pictures of a believer’s life. The first half of the text talks about branches attached to a vine. And the second half of the text talks about friends who are in on the secrets of God. We are going to only look at the first, but both of those images in John 15 speak of intimacy, speak of knowledge, speak of privilege, speak of responsibility. Think about it for a moment, as branches (that’s us), we have the privilege of sharing the very life of God, that we are in union with God, that’s our privilege. Our responsibility is that we remain, rest and abide in him. That’s our responsibility. As friends we are privileged to know God’s will, Jesus said, “Servants don’t know what their master is doing. I am telling you what’s going on.” So the privilege as friends is that we will know what God’s will is. The responsibility that we have as his friends is to obey him and we obey him in no deeper way than the very foundation of our faith, which means to abide and rest and be in union with him.
Let me set for you the context before I read the text. From John, Chapter 14 in the upper room, death is starting to cross the Lord’s path. Actually I don’t know if there was a day that Jesus didn’t think about his obedience to God through death. But it’s shadow is starting to cross the Lord’s path in a deeper way. His disciples are insecure and nervous. He assures them of the Spirit’s coming. He assures them that he won’t abandon them. He keeps talking in monosyllables about “I in you and you in me”, but they could not comprehend what he was saying. We can hardly comprehend what he is saying. So it’s Passover, there’s a full moon probably, they go out from the upper room and are walking along next to a rocky hillside and there they see some vineyards. And under the moonlight, perhaps Jesus goes up next to one of the vines, in a great arbor and begins to explain what he is trying to tell them about abiding in him. It’s found in John, Chapter 15, verses 1 to 11. Let’s read it, shall we?
“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 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 and 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. If anyone does not remain in me he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown in to the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
The vine is Jesus. The branches are all who truly believe and the vine dresser or the gardener is God the Father. In other literature where this word abide is used, it speaks of the releasing of a tight bowstring. There is something about abiding in Jesus that has to do with resting and dependence. If someone would say of someone’s marriage, they have an abiding love, what would come to your mind? Well that they are a people that are close. They are people that spend time with each other. That they communicate together. That they don’t take each other for granted. That they just love one another. And Jesus is saying, abide in me. Closely attach yourself to me, just as a branch attaches itself to a vine. Stay near, so that my life can flow through you, there is both reliance and resting in the balance of a branch. What does that look like?
Well I think a balanced abiding has to do with both a sense of discipline and dependence. Discipline has to do with the things that God has given us, I think of them as tools in a shed, that we have a field to work and we have all of these tools in the shed, we have to be disciplined to use all of them. Some of those tools may be scripture, prayer, corporate worship, small group fellowship, many things, fasting sometimes. All of these things are disciplines. But then there is also dependence. And that is a sense in which we humbly surrender our life and all that we are to God, that we confess our inadequacy and that we are always in a state of dependence, just like a branch is always in a state of dependence on the vine. Now here is the balance. If you have discipline without the spirit of dependence, that creates arrogance. We have all seen people operate in a way that tells you how much they are doing the disciplines. You know maybe if I were to brag, I have never missed church or I always read my scriptures everyday, these are good things but when the scale start to tip and it’s all focused on discipline, something is missing. I imagine that those who lean this way imagine that St. Peter at the pearly gates will give us a test. He is going to give us a paper and a pencil test. Seven out of ten you get in. Four to seven, purgatory. And less than four, directly to hell.
First question, two parts. Which form of baptism do you believe in? and When should you be baptized? Now you can’t cheat because on one side of you, you have a Baptist and on the other side of you, you have a Catholic and here you are as a Presbyterian in the middle and you can’t cheat because if you look on the paper you are all going to have different answers. To make issues of these things, is what brings about division. I’m not saying that doctrine is not important, but it’s not how much water, not even when, it’s the fact that Jesus is in the heart of the parent or of the person and faith is being expressed. St. Peter is not going to give a pencil and paper test, he’s going to have a stethoscope around his neck and he’s going to ask you to step a little closer and he’s going to place the end of that stethoscope on you and he is going to listen to your heart, bump bump, bump bump, bump bump. Okay. You’re in, go ahead. And you say, “well what about the test?” That’s all right, you have the life of Jesus in you. You belong, you can go in. You see discipline and doctrine without dependence is arrogance.
On the other side, dependence without discipline is laziness. We are expecting God to do everything. In one sense we have to trust, but God has given us those tools. And so if we have no time for the word of God, for prayer and if we are scurrying around all of the time, and we don’t have time to sit at Jesus’ feet, and we are sloppy about all of that, then we are being lazy. “Apart from me” he said, “you can do nothing.” And that apart from him requires the balance of both discipline and a spirit of dependence. That’s what abiding, it seems to me is all about.
Now let me give you quickly three benefits of abiding. The first benefit of abiding is security. You know we live in very insecure times. I think that some of us may feel more insecure in these days, since September 11, than maybe any other time that we can remember. When we abide and rest in Jesus Christ, we can be secure. We are in him. He’s got a hold of us. In fact, in John 14 he says, “I will ask the Father to send you the Spirit. I will come to you. I will not leave you.” See here’s the Presbyterian doctrine coming through. He initiates. We respond. He’s the Vine, we’re the branches. We can be secure because he started it all. In fact in John 15 he says, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you and appointed you to go in bear fruit.” Just like a mother with a baby, the mother is always initiating, always holding, always feeding, always changing, and always assuring. And so there is a sense when we abide in Jesus through discipline and dependence, that we can rest secure. Now we just don’t stay there in that baby state, we have to grow. And we can also be secure in Christ to know that not only does he assure us of his presence, but as I depend on him and rest on him, I will become more than I ever could become without him. Abiding in Christ brings security, both now and in the future. Resting in the vine.
Secondly, abiding in Jesus, depending on him, provides strength. Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge.” What a beautiful image of what abiding means. A refuge is an abiding place of rest, it’s a place we go to be protected. God is a refuge and strength. As branches, what are we given strength to do? We are given strength to bear fruit. Well why does God give us strength to be fruitful? So that we can feed others. Branches don’t eat the fruit. Branches bear the fruit, so that others can be blessed. Now in Proverbs it says the lips of the righteous feed many. There is a sense in which we exist as we abide in Jesus to bless others.
Now here’s a show of hands time and you don’t have to raise them very high. You can just put them up like this, okay. Who wants to be fruitful and bless other people through Jesus? Who wants to be experiencing the life of Christ in them so that they might influence others toward Christ? Show of hands. Okay. Who wants to be pruned? See I set you up on that. Nobody wants to be pruned. And yet, in John Chapter 15, we are talking about strength now, in John Chapter 15, Verse 2, Jesus doesn’t say 10% of the branches and me will be pruned. He doesn’t even say 99%. He says, every branch in me, that bears fruit will be pruned so that it might bear more fruit.
I once saw a PBS documentary on wine-making; they showed these helicopter shots of the vineyard in its full harvest and it was beautiful. And then they showed the pruning time and it didn’t look anything like what the first shot looked like. It looked bad. It looked bare, like nothing could possibly have been growing there at all. And the people who make the wine, who prune back the vine, have to do that so successive fruit is strong and it will be quality and I think that if we are not being pruned, then we are not worth much in the kingdom. I think this transition time in Central’s life is kind of an illustration of that. We are being pruned. You know it’s a pruning time for the leadership, both pastoral and elder. You know it’s like God the Vine-dresser gets out his clippers and goes okay, Central Church snip snip. There goes your current identity. Clips again, there goes your past victories. Nobody is resting on laurels. He snips again, there goes your dependence on current pastoral leadership. Snips again, and as Jesus snips all of this stuff the roots go deeper and the life gets more infused and the fruit becomes more sweet and beautiful. I mean, isn’t that what has happened in our midst in the last few years? It’s hard to believe it’s been two years this coming July that I began here. But when Ron left to go to serve the lord in other portions of the vineyard, wasn’t that a pruning time? Isn’t that time when he cut the church back and yet isn’t there fruit as a result and things have grown as strong as if he were here. That’s what’s going on now. And I believe that God has a deep period season of fruitfulness coming ahead, because of the pruning that’s going on now. So abiding in Christ provides security of his presence so that we may grow. Abiding in Christ provides the strength of his power so that we will bear fruit.
And lastly abiding in Christ provides the satisfaction of his joy so that we might remain steady. In John 15:11, Jesus said (paraphrasing) “I told you all of this about abiding so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete and full”. How could he say that on the eve of his death? Because his joy came from being in union with his heavenly father and obeying him no matter what he was facing. And he is saying your joy is going to be in union with me in an obedience to the Heavenly Father also, no matter what you are facing you can remain steady. You can be confident in the Lord.
You know the other unbelievable thing about all of this is that in Verse 8 Jesus talks about how abiding is all to the Father’s glory, that when we bear fruit we will show ourselves to truly be his followers, or his disciples. That’s the joy that comes from being in union with him. That God is glorified and that’s what caused him to remain steady. He always worked he said for the Father’s glory.
I want to share with you an illustration as I close here that is of another era, but I think it captures the idea that I am trying to get across. Many years ago a little boy was given a priceless possession. His grandfather not too long before he died gave him his gold pocket watch. How he treasured it and his grandfather said, “Now you treasure this. You take care of this and every time you look at this and you open it up, I want you to know how much I love you and how much you mean to me.” Well one day he was working at his father’s ice plant and he lost the watch amid all the ice that was on the floor and all the sawdust; he could not find it. He was ankle deep in the stuff and he couldn’t find it. And he searched and he started to scratch and he became frantic but he couldn’t find the watch and then he suddenly realized what to do. He stopped scurrying around and he became very still, so that in the silence he could hear the watch ticking. God has given each of us the priceless gift of joy and union with Jesus Christ and how easy it is to lose our joy in scurrying around, trying to make things happen, yet it is always here to find, if we will pause and listen to the beautiful presence of the abiding Christ, not only in our hearts but in our midst and so that is why we come to this table today. We come to be reminded in physical, tangible ways the truth of the gospel.
John Calvin said that like a parent babbling to its child in the crib, so God comes with the sacraments trying to tell us how much he loves us. At baptism we are reminded of how the grace of God is always before us; it’s a one-time act in which we are incorporated into the Church of Christ. At the Lord’s Supper, we are nurtured and nourished in this same grace that comes to us from God. So as we gather around this table, let us remember that Jesus is trying to let us know that he is in us and we are in him. We are going to be doing that very thing and rest in the knowledge that when we abide in him, we have satisfaction, we have strength and we have security. Let us pray.
Lord, we ask that you would now strengthen us as we continue in worship. We are here sitting at your feet Lord and we will be singing our prayers and gathering around this table. Make yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread and help us to be assured of our life and union with you today and always. For we ask it in your name. Amen.