We are in troubled times! This Coronavirus shut down is unprecedented. There has never been anything like it in history. For one, we have never been able to communicate like we are now. We communicate instantly via the internet.
In John chapter 15, Jesus was talking to His disciples at a time of trouble. In John chapter 14, He was calming them down. Having told them in John chapter 13 that He was going away, in John chapter 14 He was telling them, “Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.” So, Jesus, in John chapter 14 is saying, “Trust me.” Chapter 15 is a continuation of what He was telling them in 14, but His teaching shifts to from what was about to happen to what their continuing relationship to Him would be. This teaching was given to comfort and strengthen His disciples in troubled times.
Where are we to go to for help? Where are we to go to for encouragement?
Jesus points us to Himself.
He says, “I am the TRUE vine.”
There are many different vines out there - many different things that promise to give us life, and we go flocking to them.
The events of the last couple of months have overturned many of these “vines” that we have looked to for help, comfort and strength. We have been shown that we don’t have control.
We thought that we had control of our destiny and medicine would help us. But medicine does not have the answers.
We thought that we had control of our economics. And now we are in an economic free-fall as businesses are shutting down to combat the spread of the coronavirus. We are going into a recession. It’s not permanent, but many are overcome by fear as they see the loss of control. The future is uncertain.
Medicine and economics are examples of “vines” that we hold onto for our lives and for our hope. I am speaking of us as a nation, as a people and as a world, but this should not be true of us as believers.
In this current crisis, we are looking to our governments to rescue and protect us. As believers, we know that a time is coming, and it is going to be soon, when people will look to the government for solutions and a man will rise up who seems to be able to provide what the world is looking for. He will set himself up as ruler; there will be a one-world government established. This person is the one we call the Antichrist. The world is ready for this one to appear. They are hungry for the true vine.
What they do not know is that Jesus is the true vine. He is the true source of life. In times of trouble, we need to remain attached to the vine if we are to have life.
Putting all other hopes aside, we must realize this first: Jesus is our true hope.
From this thought, Jesus leads into how His Father is involved in this. He says, “My Father is the gardener (or the husbandman or the vinedresser).” He says of His Father, “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.”
It is important that we understand that Jesus is not talking about salvation here. He is talking about fruitfulness. By saying “Every branch,” He establishes that those He is talking about are branches. They are attached to the vine and thus members of His body, but every branch that does not bear fruit He cuts off.
This cutting off is not immediate. According to His will, He gives time for unfruitful branches to recover or to start bearing fruit, but eventually they will be cut off.
In verse 3, He again points out that He is talking to those who have believed when He says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The word He has spoken to us has made us clean. In other words, He is telling them they are already saved because they have trusted in Him and in His word. However, they must not stop there. He encourages them, “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.”
This is key. If we are not fruitful, we have the very real possibility of being cut off. This is not a threat, rather we should take it as an encouragement to pay attention to where we are remaining. Where we are abiding is the word that was used before. Where are we living?
If we are living with our head in this world, and the things of this world, the economics or the pursuits of health, wealth and happiness, then we are not remaining in Jesus.
He, in another place, says you cannot serve both God and money. You cannot serve two masters.
For these reasons, if our lives are not fruitful, we should take warning, “Hey, I’m not bearing fruit. What is the cause of that?”
The cause is made clear right here; it is that we are not abiding in Jesus.
He goes on to say, starting in verse 5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” The promise is, if we remain in Him we will bear much fruit.
Jesus takes it a step further and makes it clear how important it is that we remain in Him when He says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” When we try to operate in the flesh and think that we have the answers for ourselves, it reveals our pride. Pride moves us to try to operate independent of Jesus. At least I have found this to be true in my life.
Jesus moves forward in His discourse when He says in verse 6, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”
In this case, as before, He is not talking about salvation. He is talking about fruitfulness. Jesus teaches very clearly if we don’t remain in Him, we will wither, and if we continue in that condition too long, we are in danger of being cut off. In Corinthians, we have the example of those who dishonored God by taking the communion in an unworthy manner. There were some who were sick and others who died. They did not lose their salvation. They lost their earthly life. God took His rebellious children home. This is talking about fruitfulness. Even if we remain on in the body, we wither. We become a lifeless branch - still a branch but a fruitless, lifeless branch - no joy, no peace.
For this reason, He says, in verse 7, “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 He moves to the next point in His discourse, He teaches us how the world will know that we are His disciples. The world will know by the fruit we bear. We also will be strongly supported by the hand of God who will answer all our prayers. In this statement He also gives us a hint of a very important point He is about to make.
He prefaced this statement with, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” This is a key point that we must understand. How do we remain in Jesus? How do we live in Jesus? How do we abide in Jesus? Another question is “How do we know Jesus?”
The answer is told to us in verses 9 through 14. He says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” Okay, so we are to remain in His love. He is still talking about abiding. So, He continues in verse 10, “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.” This is the key to remaining in Jesus - obedience. It is believing His word, taking it seriously and letting it change how we live.
James talks about looking into the perfect law that acts as a mirror and letting it affect who we are. If we go away from reading the Bible and say, “Oh, that was nice. It was nice to read that,” but don’t let it soak in and change our lives, then it has no meaning as far as we are concerned and we become that fruitless branch. But if we let it soak in, let it change us and do what it says, then we will be fruitful.
Jesus sums up our obedience with a very simple command. In verse 12, He says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
This is a very simple command, but it is a very difficult command. It is very, very demanding, because, what does He say? “As I have loved you.” How has He loved us? We find how He has loved us when He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus laid down His life for you and me. Jesus gave Himself up for us. And that is what He is asking us to do for each other.
Philippians 2 talks about this when it says, “If there is any comfort in Christ, be of the same mind as Christ.” “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the very form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant.” “Let this mind be in you.” It even says to consider others as more important than ourselves.
This is a good reminder in the days of the coronavirus. We might be healthy, but have you read the news reports of nursing homes that have been infected with the virus? How it spreads like wildfire through that place? We need to consider the health of others as we consider what we do, not just ourselves. It is not just about toilet paper and eggs. It’s about “How can I help others to get through this?” And, in some cases, that might mean not going to visit them. But doing something creative. I saw a picture of a young man who was visiting his father who was in a nursing home. The young man was sitting outside the nursing home, outside the window in a lawn chair, and his father was sitting in an easy chair on the other side of the window, and they are talking on their phones. They are thinking creatively. How can I visit my father but not give him any chance of catching this virus?
This is considering others as more important than ourselves.
Next, Jesus gives us more reason to do what He says. He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Some people claim to be friends of Jesus, but don’t do what He says. Paul deals with that in Corinthians and says, “Don’t have anything to do with a person like that.” Why? Because they cause the name of Christ to be blasphemed among unbelievers.
I hear so much about how religion is the source of all wars. First of all, that is utterly ridiculous. Man is the source of all wars. We wage war because of our lusts that wage war within us because we want things but can’t get them so we fight and kill each other. When we claim the name of Jesus but operate under those lusts and those desires that drive us, then we are detached from the vine, we are not showing the love of Christ, and we are causing the name of Christ to be blasphemed. No wonder God takes such people out of the world.
We are His friends if we do what He says. And the first thing He says is “This is my command that you love one another.”
Our first step of obedience should be to share the love of Christ with the world. The first thing that we need to realize is that love requires of us that we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who don’t know Him. Without Him, they are lost. They have no hope. They do not realize that their lives are in danger. They hold desperately onto this physical, worldly life because they do not realize that there is eternal life available in Jesus Christ. And so, the first thing that love requires of us is that we tell others the good news that there is life in Jesus Christ.
Next, he says something very interesting again. He goes to a place that is loved by those with a Calvinistic approach. He says in verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last.” This is so important for us to understand. He has chosen us. He has called us His friends and He has chosen us. Why did He choose us? He says right here why He chose us. He says right here, “I chose you to go bear fruit.” Not only did He choose us, but He also said He appointed us. This word “appointed” is the very word from which we get the word “ordained.”
Along with the command to love one another, Jesus left us with marching orders when He said in Matthew 28:18 and 20, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
This is our fruitfulness - disciples.
Some of us have been ordained to public ministry and the teaching and preaching of the word. Others have the gift of service and have been ordained and appointed to serve and be the hands and feet of Christ to their neighbors, to the Church, and to others. Still others have the gift of giving and are able to make a profit so that they can provide for others. The ones with the gift of service will be taking meals and picking up medicines for those who really should not be getting out during this coronavirus time. Those with the gift of giving may be able to capitalize on this crisis to advance the kingdom of God financially.
Whatever your gift is, that is what you have been appointed to. You can be sure that if you are abiding in Jesus and His word is abiding in you, that you will bear much fruit.
During these troubled times, we are being given a wonderful opportunity to be the branches, abide in the vine, and show the love of Christ to the world.