Pastor Dan Borgelt
“When I was in college, I was getting my Bible and Theology degree, and training to be in the ministry, when I had a professor give me an assignment… and it was an assignment that God would use to really shape the trajectory and the scope of my ministry moving forward.
The assignment was this… I just want to hear how you would feel about doing this assignment. The assignment was to spend twenty four hours in complete solitude, and complete silence. Twenty four hours, completely cut off from all other people, with no media or anything of any kind.
Now, to some of you that sounds like an absolute haven–that sounds great. But for me, and my personality type, as a college student, that was not an assignment that I was looking forward to.
I had to think, “Where am I going to go to be alone for twenty four hours, first of all?”
But I worked at a church, and I had keys, and I found a room in thewe upstairs of this church, and I spent from four p.m. one afternoon, to four p.m. the next afternoon in this room, and I had no contact with anybody, and no media of any kind, but the professor said we could take a Bible with us.
So we could take a Bible and not only that, but we had one particular passage of Scripture that we were supposed to be focusing on during a twenty four hours. And God used that time and used that passage of Scripture to help me to realize that, up until that point in my relationship with Jesus Christ, I had really become content, I had really settled for something far less than what Christ was offering, and inviting me to experience from Him.
Not only that, but I became convinced and challenged by the reality, that if my ministry was to have any hope for having any fruit that would come out of it, it was going to have to be out of the overflow of my being connected to Jesus Christ.
My prayer this evening as we talk about this passage of Scripture, I’m going to look at at the one that I was invited to look at for those twenty four hours… my prayer is that,
If there’s anyone here this evening who feels like their relationship with Christ is less than what they want it to be, that God will use this passage of Scripture to reveal to you that he is inviting you to something profound and wonderful in a relationship with him, and not to settle or be content for what it is that you might already have.
And also, if you want your life to have any significance and meaning in the eyes of God, that it must come from the overflow of your relationship with Christ and being connected to him.
Well, let’s look at that passage of Scripture that I was invited to look at during that period of time. The Scripture’s found in the book of John chapter fifteen. I’d love to have you turn there with me if you’ve got a Bible of your own, or would like to open it up in one of the pew Bibles… the Book of John, chapter fifteen. If not, we’ll have the Scripture on the screen behind me; and here’s what it says, verses one through seventeen. This is Jesus speaking,
John 15:1-17 (NIV)
The Vine and the Branches
“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.
5 “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.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept 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. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
You know, there’s a good chance for many people who been around the church for years, these are words that are familiar to people. And a good chance at an intimate setting such as this on a Maundy Thursday, the majority of the people who are gathered here this evening have heard this passage of Scripture before, they are familiar with these words of Jesus, but I discovered that most people forget the context in which Jesus spoke these words.
These are, for all practical purposes, Maundy Thursday words of Jesus. This occurs here in John chapter fifteen, but in John chapter thirteen, Jesus sits down and he has the meal with his disciples; he institutes the meal, he washes their feet, all that stuff begins. It’s not until John Chapter eighteen that he’s arrested.
So you have John dealing with several chapters to just discuss all the things that Jesus taught the disciples this one evening. Apparently, he told him a lot on his last evening with them. And this is one of the things that he talked to them about it. It is a Maundy Thursday passage.
We don’t know exactly where Jesus was with his disciples when he spoke these words to them, but the last verse of chapter fourteen, right before the part we just read, Jesus says,
“Come now, let us leave.”
And so many people think that these words that Jesus has spoken have come after they’ve had a meal together and they’ve gotten up and they’ve left this Upper Room in this house, and they are on the way to the Garden where he will later be arrested that evening.
And in some part of that transition, he speaks these words to them. Some people think he stopped by the Temple to teach them, and maybe others as well. Other people think He taught them just while walking to the garden.
Perhaps, he was walking through a vineyard on the way to the garden while teaching them these words, we don’t know. But either way they are Maundy Thursday words.
Further, the illustration that comes out of them, is appropriate for the meal as well. For they had just sat together and drank the cup, the Fruit of the Vine. And now he begins to tell them… what does he say to them, “I am the vine”… that’s not what he says is it?
What does he actually say to them…
“I am the true vine.”
Why bother saying I am the true vine? Why not just say, “I am the vine” .. if that’s the point you wanted to make? By saying “I am the TRUE vine” you’re implying that they would’ve been thinking of some other vine, and you need to replace that.
So what is the replacement that Jesus is sort of coming up with… what is he trumping here?
And while the Scripture shows us throughout all the Old Testament, that the disciples and any other faithful Jewish person would have been thinking of some other kind of vine.
For example, in the book of Isaiah, chapter five, the whole chapter is filled with this type of imagery, but let’s just look at one verse. The Scripture says,
7a “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel.”
All throughout the Old Testament Israel has been given this picture.. this idea, for two thousand years of their history, they’ve been reinforced with this idea that they are the Vine of God — that if anyone else is to have any hope of bearing any real spiritual fruit, they’re going to have to go through Israel. If any of the Gentiles out there are going to want to have any kind of a real relationship with the real God, they’re going to have to experience it through Israel, because Israel is the vine… and oh how this puffed up Israel over the years.
And now Jesus comes along and he says, ‘actually…
“I’m the true vine.”
He replaces that whole idea. Now, not just for Jewish people, but for Gentiles, the whole world… anyone… if they want to have a real relationship with the real God, all they need to do is go through Jesus Christ, for he is the true vine.
It’s amazing that the church still had some of the arguments and debates that it did.
In Acts, chapter fifteen, the Council at Jerusalem., some of you may remember, they were fighting and debating… “Should we make the Gentile Christians get circumcised?” …because, that’s what faithful Jewish people do.
Do you see, all of that, insistent on making Gentiles do things their way, comes from the idea that they thought they were the vine… and no wonder the church, eventually through the Providence of God said, “No, you don’t have to do that because Israel’s no longer the vine anymore… Jesus Christ is The Vine.”
Now, for us gathered here this evening we might not be able to relate at all to Israel’s having been replaced as the vine. But we can hear Christ speak to us in this way…
We can hear him say to us, very pastorally, and very tenderly, but yet challengingly, “I am the true vine.” … well, let me rephrase him,
“I should be the true vine of your life.”
Because all of us, at times, know what it’s like to find ourselves connecting to something else. When we’re really looking for happiness, when we’re really looking for life, when we really need a pick me up, we’ve all, at times in our life trying to connect to something else. We have used our husband, or our wife, or our children, or other friendships as our vine.
We look for something in those relationships that we were never meant to get out of those relationships. Some people look for success as their vine, like, “if we could just have a bigger house, or better car, or if our bank statement just read a little bit differently… then I would be happy, then I would feel alive.
Or other people look for addiction — every time they’re down and they’re frustrated and they just need to somehow forget about their pain, or whatever it might be, they go to some form of addiction, “that will help me feel better…. that will bring me up, that will change my circumstances…”
But Jesus is saying, “No, none of those things of the true vine, I am the true vine.”
Do you see how Jesus is inviting you and I this evening to take all of that other stuff and to replace it with our relationship with Jesus Christ — that he alone would be the source of life, and joy, and happiness, and purpose. All of those things… all of our identity would be found in the one_true_VINE.
Jesus is inviting us into a special and intimate relationship this evening, as he was the disciples then, by telling them that he was the true vine.
Ya know, there are some people who relate to Jesus through their theology. They love to study the Bible, and study commentaries, and go to Bible studies, and they have good doctrine, and they relate to Jesus that way.
And there other people who relate to Jesus through their behavior. They really put a lot of emphasis on how they behave and getting things right, and just living the life that they should. They focus on their behavior, and they relate to Jesus that way.
But what this Scripture is reminding us… is while those things are valuable and important, the foundational component of being in a relationship with Jesus Christ is the experience of having a REAL, personal relationship with him.
That if we do doctrine long enough, apart from the TRUE VINE, which we can do, then our doctrine will ultimately be fruitless — that if we live a life that is focused on behavior, and ethics, and morality, but we do so apart from the VINE, then our life will ultimately be fruitless.
He’s inviting us to see that the real, at the CORE of having a relationship with him is this personal, intimate relationship that he is inviting his disciples to this evening as he does invite us as well.
Now, some of you might be tempted to sort of dismiss Jesus’s invitation to his disciples, or at least to argue with the idea that,
“Now listen, the disciples, they had sort of a leg up on us… because yes, it’s one thing for them to have a special intimate relationship with Jesus… they got to SEE him, they got to TOUCH him, they got to WALK with him, they got to do LIFE with him. Listen pastor, my relationship with Jesus would be way better too if I got all those things… TRUST me.” Right?
Those are the types of things that go through our mind.
But let’s not forget the context again, in which Jesus is telling the disciples this...
He’s not telling them this at the beginning of his relationship with them… he’s not saying, “Come, follow me, and ‘Oh, by the way, I’m the VINE, connect to me.”
He’s telling them on the EVE before he leaves them… and yet he’s saying to them, that they can have a special intimate relationship with him by being connected to him, even though he’s going to be gone physically.
Let’s not forget that the disciples lived, while here on earth… their relationship with Jesus Christ… they had more time relating to Christ like you and I do without him being around, then they did with him being around.
And yet nonetheless, Christ still offers them to come into this special, intimate relationship with him.
I remember, in the twenty four hours that I was focusing on this passage in college, being challenged by the idea that I wanted to be so connected to Jesus that I would bear fruit through my connection with him.
And the emphasis on my devotional life, sort of came crashing down on me. I became convicted about the whole idea that I had convinced myself, even in college… ya know, did you ever think you were busy at one stage in your life… and then you got married and you thought, “Now I’m busy.”… and then you had kids, and you’re like. “Now I’m busy…” …. and it just keeps going.
I remember convincing myself in college, “I’m too busy… I have an eight o’clock class… how can I possibly got up and pray before that?”…you know. I had all kinds of excuses in my devotional life, and I remember God using this moment and this passage of Scripture to say, “Listen, this has to be a priority for you.”
A pastor without a close personal relationship with Christ… a pastor who is a branch that does not remain connected to the Vine is one that will be fruitless.
But this isn’t just a passage for pastors, it’s for you and your life, and what God wants out of your life, and what’s he’s inviting you to.
It ought to challenge us… invite us to embrace the invitation that Christ is giving us to be with him on a regular basis… through his Word, and through prayer… gathering together with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do you understand that as we study and meditate on this passage, there cannot be anything that you could possibly think of, which would cause you to say, “I can’t do this… I don’t have time for this.” … or whatever it might be.
Everything else hinges on you, the branch, being connected to the VINE.
You might convince us that you’re producing fruit while you are not connected to the vine, but you cannot fool God. He and he alone knows whether you’re connected to him.
See this invitation… don’t hear this message tonight as being one more sort of, RESPONSIBILITY… this is not about getting you to pray, or to read your Bible out of GUILT.
This is about getting you to pray or to read your Bible out of the INVITATION of a loving Savior, who says he wants to have this kind of relationship with you. He’s inviting you as a branch to be connected with him in an intimate and special way.
You see some of the fruits of this, just a couple of them that are brought out in this passage; he says, “So that your JOY might be complete.” Who doesn’t want that?
Who doesn’t want the idea of having our JOY be made complete if we would only connect ourselves to the VINE.
He goes on to say, “So that you might have everything that you’ve asked in my name be answered.”
This isn’t Jesus saying, “Hey, if you spend more time with me in praying and reading your Bible, I will reward you by granting more of your prayer requests.”
This is Jesus saying that, “If you stay connected to me as the VINE, then your character, and your WILL, will begin to be like that of Jesus Christ… and so when you pray, you will be praying the things of Christ, and praying the things of the kingdom of God, and therefore, when you pray, God will answer those prayers.”
What a wonderful invitation !!!
Christ is inviting us to experience the full joy and a life of answered prayer because of us being connected to the VINE.
And yet sadly, there’re so many brothers and sisters in Christ who seem content for something far less than what Christ is offering in this passage.
Like a spouse who seems content to communicate with their husband and wife through text message… and never has any eye communication, or any nonverbal communication, or eye contact … none of those types of things.
Or another spouse who seems content to experience intimacy with her husband or wife by merely gazing upon the way that they look, but never actually having any physical encounter with them.
We would look at both of those scenarios and say. “You’re missing out! … God has something far more special historically than what you’re experiencing.”
And that’s what many Christians are experiencing in their relationship of Christ.
And here he’s saying, “No, you can be connected to me as the VINE, and have a special intimate relationship with me.”
This is an invitation Church– it’s not a warning. Don’t miss the beauty of this passage by reading it like it’s a warning.
There are so many Christian debates that have come out of this–especially verse six,, “Can we lose our salvation?” “What if I’m the branch that gets cut off and thrown in the fire? … and all these types of theological questions that arise.
That’s not Jesus’s point. He’s not trying to answer the question as to whether Christians can lose their salvation. Don’t miss the beauty of the passage by making it some type of warning.
He is inviting us to come and to NOT be like branches that bear no fruit, but instead to be like branches that are connected to him, and bear much fruit.
Fruit bearing is not a test … that’s not how he presents this. He doesn’t say, “Okay branches, people… for those of you who bear enough FRUIT, then you can be connected to the VINE” — like. “I only want to be connected to fruitful branches.”
That’s not how he’s presenting this … it’s not a test; it’s not a warning. He’s saying. “No, fruit is the byproduct of being connected to me.” You don’t get your life together and then get to be connected to me. You start by just being connected to me… and then watch Christ do the rest through your life.
That’s where we start.. right? … to just say, “My task is to stay with Christ, and to walk closely and intimately with him, and he’ll work through the rest; as the VINE, he will do his thing through me as he will.
You know this means? … this means that there’s no one in this room who’s not good enough to be connected to the VINE. There’s no one in this room who’s messed up so bad, who hasn’t done enough fruitful things in their life that they can’t be connected to the VINE — because Jesus isn’t saying, ‘Bring me your fruitful branches, and then you can be connected.” He’s saying, “Come, just connect to me and I’ll produce fruit through you.”
But it also means that there’s no one here who’s TOO good, that they don’t need to be connected to the VINE.
And personally, in my life, I’ve experienced both of those… back-and-forth at times, but in general I would say early in my Christian walk, I felt like I was not good enough to be connected to the VINE.
And what I mean by that is, that I struggled in sin more as an early Christian. I still struggle in sin, but I struggled in sin more as an early follower of Christ; and I had a harder time embracing his grace and his mercy in my life… and the fullness of it.
And so I would often find myself just so overwhelmed by the guilt of my sin that I would avoid my times with Christ because I felt guilty about it.
I had this idea that I was not good enough to be connected to the VINE.
Has anyone here ever felt that way before? …you’ve tried to avoid God because you didn’t feel good enough. Of course, we know how that works… all that does is end up making sure that we keep messing up.
But as I’ve gone on in my Christian life, what I’ve discovered, is that in my Christian walk, and in my ministry, I been able to hide not being connected to the VINE longer … so that if I don’t spend time with Christ for a day or two now… it doesn’t seem to impact me the same way as it did earlier in my Christian walk… and hey, I’ve done enough sermons, or enough Bible studies, or enough leading of the staff meetings or whatever, I got some notes that I can rely on… I know if I do this, this, and this, it will go Okay, and I can sort of “get by” without being connected to the vine.
So that as we grow in our Christian faith… for me personally, at times I’ve slipped into the idea that, “Hey, I can do this thing without being connected to the VINE.… I’ve experienced both the idea that I’m not good enough, and also the idea that I’m too good.
And this passage is a wonderful, humbling invitation to come back to to the VINE.
As we come to this table together this evening… this is one of the… well, as we said earlier, it is indeed an imagery of the VINE… as we have the opportunity to take together the Fruit of the Vine... but this is one of the most blessed and privileged ways that Christ has given you and I as an opportunity to remain connected to him… by coming together in the context of the public worship service with other brothers and sisters in Christ, and partaking in the table, is one of the ways that Jesus allows us to continue to remain connected to him.
As he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
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