Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sermon - Fruit from the True Vine - John 15

Lots of people love fishing and eating fish.  But from what people have told me around here, if someone caught it around here, you’d better ask where it came from.  There’s a great debate whether fish caught out of the Pigeon River is good to eat given the history of pollution. 

When it comes to fish—you’d better ask about its source.  The same is being said about fish and seafood caught in the northern Pacific Ocean after the Fukishima Radiation leak out of Japan.  More and more of that radiation poisoning is showing up in tests. 

The same can be said for fruits and vegetables.  I prefer to buy fruits and vegetables from the USA because I know we have a few more standards for pesticides and cleaning. 

When we talk about fruit, we’ve got to talk about the source.  Because the source of our fruitfulness makes all the difference. 

To see that source, we need to look at John 15.

As we begin John 15 we need to look at the context.  The last line of ch. 14 says “Come now, let us leave.”

They are leaving the upper room where they celebrated the Passover Meal, what we know as the Last Supper.  He’s talking to a group of Jews who have grown up hearing how they are born into the Promise, born into the covenant because they are Abraham’s descendants.

Jesus is headed toward the Garden of Gethsemane where He knows that Judas is betraying Him. He knows His arrest is coming, His beating and crucifixion.  He knows that many of these men with Him will desert Him.  He knows it all. 

This begins one of the longest sequences of Jesus speaking and teaching.  And the first thing He begins to talk about is how He is the Vine and we are the branches.  How in Him we are supposed to produce fruit.  Notice how many times this comes up in just 17 verses.

John 15:1-17

“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[a] 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.

“I am the vine; 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. 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.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”

The word “fruit” appears 9 times in these verses.  Sometimes Jesus is comparing someone who bears no fruit with someone who does.  Other times, Jesus is describing the source of our fruitfulness and the desire of God.

Look at how Jesus describes Himself.  Jesus is the True Vine—He is the source from which all fruit comes.  Every branch, Jew & Gentile, Church or individual must be connected to Jesus.  From Him we draw our support, from Him we draw our nourishment and everything we need to produce fruit.

Many other teachers, religious figures claim to be a source for truth but only Jesus is the True Vine.  Jesus says that we can bear no fruit—no fruit that has eternal value, no fruit that lasts apart from Him.  Apart from Him we can do nothing—nothing of significance, nothing of real importance.

Look at how Jesus describes God the Father.  He is the Gardener.  This is the same role the Father plays in the opening chapters of Genesis when He plants a garden as a place for Adam & Eve to live.  He cultivates it and decides what fruit is to be grown.  And the most important harvest, fruit that He wants to grow is you and me—those who are created in His image!  Above all else, God desires us to be fruitful and multiply—multiply those who love, honor, obey and worship Him.

The Gardener has a very watchful eye—He closely inspects every branch to gauge its fruitfulness.  And if a branch is not fruitful, He does something to it. 

Many of you read this passage and wonder if it is talking about someone losing their salvation.  I would say no.

Most of your translations say “takes away”, “remove” or “cuts off”.  But those imply something that doesn’t happen till later.  The literal translation of this word is a form of “to lift” – “He lifts up”.  Now it could be for removal, but any of you who have ever grown tomatoes should know that lifting of the vine, lifting of the branches is extremely important if you want to grow tomatoes.  What happens if you don’t lift up the tomato plant?  It gets buried in the dirt, the fruit rots and won’t produce.  You lift it up out of the dirt, out of the filth of the world, that way it drinks in the light, the dirt washes off, and the unfruitful plant will begin to produce fruit. 

All this time, this branch has continued to be “In Me”—like last week when the owner of the vineyard comes and inspects His tree—He gave plenty of time for fruitfulness—then additional time—another year, digging around it and giving extra fertilizer.  That’s what’s happening here.  He is lifting up the branch—giving another opportunity to bear fruit.

But this opportunity doesn’t last forever.

I believe Jesus is talking to these Jewish men and dealing with an issue that is still a very common attitude today.

Many Jews thought they were guaranteed a safe and secure afterlife solely on the grounds that they were born Jews, born Abraham’s descendants because they had the Torah or sacrificed at the Temple. 

Many of our friends & neighbors make a similar mistake, that just because you or they were born in America, born to Christian parents or raised in church that they are set. 

Romans 9:6-8—“It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.”

In other words, who your parents are don’t guarantee your salvation, how much money you give doesn’t guarantee salvation, how many times you go to church doesn’t guarantee salvation. 

If you do have the privilege of being born to Christian parents, you have freedom to call on God, you have access to the Scriptures—essentially all the advantages to Knowing God—but you never make a decision on your own, never come to a saving faith—you are choosing not to draw any nourishment from the vine and thus not growing any fruit—you are choosing, despite all your advantages “not remain[ing] in [HIM]”—vs. 6—such a branch is thrown away—it begins to wither and dry up and is thrown into the fire to be burned.

The Gardener does everything He can to make you fruitful.

You’re like one of these branches out here on some of these trees—in the spring, you can tell which ones are dead and rotting because they don’t grow any leaves on them.  I’ve seen half the tree with leaves and flowers and the other half with nothing.

Jesus says in 15:8—that we show ourselves to be true disciples when we produce fruit.  So the opposite principle would say that if we are not producing fruit, we are not true disciples. 

Someone who has rejected Jesus cannot be producing fruit for Jesus—they are withering away and dying—life is being sucked out of them.  Fruitlessness shows that someone is cut off from the source—because if you were truly connected, you would be producing fruit.

Branches that do not remain in the True Vine—connected to the Source… those get cut off.  Without the first fruit of Salvation—all the advantages are wasted.  But there is always hope.

Even for the Jews who so long ago rejected Jesus--

Romans 11:23—“And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.”

But notice that if you are producing some fruit—that doesn’t mean God leaves you alone or ignores you.  He’s not looking for branches that produce the bare minimum—he’s not looking for grades like a D or a C.  He’s not interested in average.

God is not content to let any branch be just a little fruitful—he prunes it, He pays MORE attention to it so it will become even more fruitful. 

And so He Prunes us.  Pruning is not always a pleasant process—sometimes things need to be removed, other times they need to be shaped and moved to a new location, or so it will grow in a new direction.  The branch doesn’t ask for that treatment, probably doesn’t like that treatment, and cannot typically see or appreciate or understand the results—the goal of being more fruitful.

But the Gardener does—He knows exactly what it takes for us to be more fruitful and He will do whatever it takes in our lives to make us so.  He will nourish us from the True Vine.

God desires you and I to be fruitful, because that confirms that we are His disciples and it brings Him greater glory.  There is not supposed to be coasting, a retirement or resting on past achievements—God is always seeking for us to be producing more fruit, not less. 

That is His desire from us—and I hope it is yours.  I hope that is your desire for this church!  that is what the nourishment from the True Vine is for—so that we will produce, not just a little, not just some, but much fruit—abundant fruit—a harvest 100 times what was sown in us.

Fruit that has lasting, eternal value—fruit that has affects generations into the future.  The fruit that lasts is the fruit that likewise remains in Him.

So the question is, how is God pruning you to make you more fruitful?  What is He cutting away that is hindering your fruitfulness?  How is our Gardener shaping the way you grow, moving you into a new location?

The good news is that He wants you to be Fruitful—He wants to see you and I, and this church Produce much fruit—lasting fruit—fruit that remains in Him for generations.

And He wants you and I to abide, to remain, to stay in Him.  He wants you and I close and drawing our nourishment from the True Vine—does that describe you?

Ask for His pruning to make you more fruitful.

You may be hearing this realizing that you have not remained in Him and you feel your spirit withering away and you’re in danger of being thrown into the fire of hell.  That is not God’s heart for you.  Don’t cut yourself off from Him.  Today, right now you can be grafted into the True Vine through the fruit of repentance.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Importance of Bearing Fruit - Jesus & the Fig Tree - Matthew 21:18-19

In the coming months, many farmers will be thinking about the coming harvest.  Yes, they are already thinking about the harvest.  Thinking about the harvest tells them what they need to plant.  After all, if they want to reap corn, they won’t be planting clover.  And thinking about the harvest tells them how and when to prepare the soil, when to plant the seed and how to take care of it.  They’ll be thinking of the kind of weather they need, when the rain needs to fall, how much rain is too little or too much.

In everything he does to get ready, the farmer is thinking about the harvest and what he hopes to get from his efforts.  No farmer would plant any seed without the intention of getting a harvest.  No farmer wants their crop to fail.  No farmer is content with doing all that work and not getting any fruit from their efforts.

For a farmer to get to the time of harvest, but have no fruit for his efforts is tragic.  He would consider it a waste.  He certainly would not be comfortable with that situation.  He would not be content nor would he accept it.

He would try to figure out what went wrong.  Why did he have no fruit from his crop?  What does he need to do differently next season?  Did he use the wrong fertilizer, the wrong pesticide?  Was a rival farmer poisoning his field?  Should he plant something else or the same thing?

Something has to be done differently because another season of fruitlessness will bring ruin.  This farmer would never be content or comfortable with a season full of work but no fruit, no harvest to show for it.

But too many of us in the church are comfortable.  Too many Christians are OK with fruitlessness.  Your life is like the season for the farmer.  You and I must be looking toward the harvest and the fruit of our labors.

Because there is Danger of Fruitlessness.

There is an unusual moment in the life of Jesus when He is leading His disciples into Jerusalem.  As they walk, Jesus sees a Fig tree in leaf and He goes over looking for some figs but there are none

Matthew 21:18-19—“18 Early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” At once the fig tree withered.

This tree had all the signs of life—it had plenty of leaves, but no fruit. Apparently there were no early indicators of fruit, no flowers, no buds or anything.  It wasn’t as if all of this tree’s fruit had already been harvested by someone else because Jesus found “nothing but leaves.”  This tree was just consuming resources but producing nothing in return.

Notice two things about this Scripture.  First,

1.    Jesus Searches for Fruit

You and I, as well as our church are just like that tree.  And from time to time, Jesus will come and inspect our fruitfulness.  The question is what is He going to find when He examines my tree, your tree, the tree that is this church?

What kind of fruit are we producing?  If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we don’t like being inspected and evaluated.  But we have to understand that Jesus has every right to inspect us and examine our fruit.

Jesus tells a parable about the owner of vineyard

Luke 13:6-9—“6 And He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none.”

Notice that the owner came looking for fruit expecting to find some.  The owner had shown the interest, taken the initiative and invested in planting a vineyard and in this vineyard, he had planted a fig tree.

That’s how Jesus is with us.  He comes and searches our lives.  Much like He inspects the churches in the early chapters of Revelation and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2.   Jesus Wants & Expects to Find Fruit

7 He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’ 8 “But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 Perhaps it will bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The owner of the vineyard gives ample time for the vineyard to produce fruit.  He even gives additional time and extra effort—digging around and fertilizing.

Jesus is just like the owner in this parable—you and I are the vineyard, this church is the fig tree.  And He wants to find fruit.  He expects to find fruit in us.

Fruit is the natural produce of a living and growing tree.  But there’s more.

3.   Lack of fruit brings judgment

The owner called for the tree to be cut down.  When Jesus saw the fig tree on the side of the road in full leaf but no fruit, He cursed it and the opportunity to produce fruit was lost.  Jesus said, “May no fruit ever come from you again.”

Jesus curses it even though it was not the season for figs.  But a tree like this with no fruit is not normal or natural.  If it has all the signs of life, then fruit is a part of that life.  Can a fig tree that never produces figs really be called a fig tree?  In the same way, can a Christian who never produces any fruit, any other Christians, really be called a Christian? 

A Christian by definition is going to be someone who seeks to bear fruit not just in their own lives but also in the lives of others.  We do this through sharing the love of God and our testimony through evangelism and by growing disciples through teaching the Word of God.

No believer can be pleasing to God if they have all the signs of life: faith in God, knowledge of the Word of God, etc., but has no fruit.  We are given new life, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses and produce fruit.  When we are not, something is wrong in our walk with Christ.

Back in 2012, I lived in western Kentucky.  That year, the region experienced a bad drought that ruined the corn crop.  I remember going to a church’s corn maze and seeing the stalks, leaves and husks in that field.  It was all so thin that you could easily see the other paths that were supposed to be hidden by lush and healthy corn.  Before we left, I picked some of the corn and pulled back the husk.  It was truly sad.  There were so few kernels on that corn.  Most never developed.  The few that did were small and immature.

We see this corn and know that it is wrong.  It is wrong for it to be unfruitful.  It shouldn’t look like this.  It represents loss, wasted seed, wasted time, wasted season. 

And that is so not what God wants for us—Fruitlessness is not the heart of God for us nor is it the sign of a disciple of Jesus. 

John 15:8—“My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.”

So God desires that we produce fruit—not just a little but much fruit.  And that fruit is the proof that we belong to Him.

We’ll be getting into that in the weeks to come.

The good news is that not only does God desire fruit in us, He provides all that we need, the power to be fruitful for Him.

Even more, no matter how long it’s been since we have think we have borne fruit for His Kingdom, Jesus continues to reach out to us—continues to give us opportunity to be fruitful—He will fertilize us all with the hopes of seeing us be who He has called us to be—bearing Much Fruit for His Glory.