Friday 19 January 2018

This morning we are going to study the 15th Chapter of John’s gospel.

The story begins after Jesus and His Apostles left the ‘Upper Room’ where Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples and told them that he was about to leave them. They then made their way to Gethsemane where Jesus will later be arrested and hours later crucified. On the way they would pass the Temple which Herod had built, and there was a globe with a great golden vine with clusters of grapes. This refers to the time Moses sent out spies to explore land and they returned with clusters of grapes from the valley of Eschol, to show the greatness of the land God was giving them. Many a great man counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new branch on the Temple vine.

Over and over again in the Old Testament Israel is portrayed as the vineyard of God, and the vine was a national symbol of Israel, the country chosen to be God’s special people. He had given them a land and cared for them, they in return were to be obedient to him and faithful to him.

Jesus is still teaching His Apostles and preparing them for his departure, and stressing the bond between Him and believers was very close. He told this parable using as He always did scenes and images from Jewish culture.

In verse I He said, ‘I am the true vine’, the real faithful and obedient servant of God, who is portrayed as the owner of the vineyard and the followers of Jesus were the branches.

What Jesus is saying is that he has come to do what the nation of Israel failed to do. The true people of God are those who belong to Christ whether Jew or Gentile. When Jesus says I am the true vine it’s really a judgement of the nominal religion of Israel.

Jesus had been thinking of the Jews who refused to listen, but He was also thinking ahead to when Christians who’s Christianity was profession but not practice. The bond between the branch and the vine is the closest possible, for the vine gives life, strength and fertility. If the branch is separated from the vine it withers and dies; it is the sap which flows from the vine which gives all the power to the leaves, blossoms and fruit. The fruitless branches are cut off and thrown away because they have no life. We can see they have no life because they produce no fruit.

Jesus is saying the bond between Him and His followers has to be like that of the vine and branches. In order to face life in His service we need to be attached to Him to draw spiritual life and energy. We also need that kind of relationship to be accessible to God, for Jesus warned He is the only way to God. The people who do not have the kind of intimate relationship with Jesus are like the non fruit bearing branches. By fruit we mean anything that shows that you are a disciple of Jesus and have spiritual health.

Jesus said if we abide in Him we may ask for what ever we wish and it will be done for you. Now obviously that’s not a blank cheque for a win in the lottery or the like. The promise is made in the context of bearing fruit. If you ask God to make you more and more fruitful, or to be more like Christ, it will be given to you.

Often in life we find a young man leading a wild kind of life until perhaps he meets a girl who cares for him, and whilst they are close, her influence keeps him strong and able to follow a stable lifestyle. Jesus wants to help us be stable.
The parable is setting out what Jesus expects from His followers; He is seeking commitment and obedience.

The last words Jesus spoke were to His Apostles when He said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded’. Here in the words of our Lord, is the purpose for which He founded the Church. Many people are ready to accept the first part of that statement, but not to keen on the second for the commands of Jesus would make life different from what they are living.

There are people in every Church who might be described as nominal Christians, that is they profess the faith but do not practice it, and such is not confined to lay people. Jesus is looking for more than just attending Church and claiming Christianity, He wants people to live and act in a way which will make others want to follow Him

Jesus called on all to repent and believe in the gospel, a message not limited to that time. Repent was not just a case of saying sorry about that, it means having a genuine sorrow for sin and an earnest resolution to break with the past.

There is no case for living in ways which one’s conscience tells are wrong, but trying to justify by saying well we are in the 21st century now, society lives differently. When God gave us His Word, He didn’t put a time limit on.

Society is corrupt, lawless; bible literacy is at an all time low whilst immorality is at an all time high. There is a total lack of restraint, rather like a car which has been parked on a hill and someone releases the handbrake causing it to go out of control. We are either with God or against Him and there is no in between. There may not be absolutes in society, there are in God’s kingdom

Jesus said believe the gospel. The Bible states the gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for all who believe. This means more than just believing there is a God, the devil accepts that. It is not enough to just hear and say you believe, it demands a response. God wants all people to turn to Him. We have to try and know God, which we can do by studying the Bible, in which He makes clear how He expects us to live and act; the Bible is in fact God speaking to us.

In order to believe there must be faith; you must have faith to believe. it is perfectly possible to belong to the church, to work on the staff of a church or even to stand up here and teach the Bible and yet not have true faith and belief. We only have life if we are ‘by faith’ joined to Jesus, as a branch is joined to the vine.

We are prepared to place our faith in many people, but reluctant to trust in God. We travel by plane and put our faith that the pilot knows what he is doing, although we know nothing about him. If you go to the doctor for some illness and he gives you a prescription, you then get dispensed and take, trusting the doctor and the chemist, but you don’t just leave it in a cupboard if you want to get better. So with the gospel; there is no point in just seeking a spiritual prescription; you have to take that by faith, which means reaching out to God and accepting the gospel.

A key word is righteousness, which means to have a right standing in God’s eyes. When we believe, repent and have faith, we are justified, just as if we had not sinned.

When we use the word justified in normal language, we mean we try to prove we were right in our actions. But we cannot prove ourselves to God; He is the One who puts us in the right when He forgives by His grace through our faith.

The sceptic will say I can’t believe all the Bible says could happen; such reasoning is amazing. If I take this mobile phone and press 13 numbers, in seconds my son in Hong Kong will answer. Thousands of miles away between us, with millions of others sending messages, yet he will hear uninterrupted. Ask any bible sceptic to explain this and they will waffle. Who could explain how can a brown cow can eat green grass and produce white milk and yellow cheese. Yet we eat and drink it.

We recently celebrated the Protestant Reformation, at least some of us did; I know it was generally ignored, although it was widely recognised in the United States where people are more religious than here. Martin Luther stated ‘the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.’ This is the message the Church should now be preaching, but instead too many are more concerned with following an equality agenda which is obsessing the country.

Luther’s stance was that any issue which tended to overshadow the gospel must be ignored and abandoned. He recalled the Church to follow the gospel, and how we need to be recalled again. We really do need another Reformation.

Secularists are setting the agenda for society with an aggressive anti Christian assault, when the Church should be the moral voice of the nation. It is time for the Church to abandon its silence and wake up and speak up, before all our traditional values and God’s ordinances are totally destroyed.

You have come this morning to renew your Covenant. Be aware that the greatest revival in this country took place in the 18th century under John and Charles Wesley, two great men of the Bible, who left a great legacy on which the Methodist Church was built.

Today some preachers show a marked resistance to be faithful to scripture on controversial issues for fear of being called a bigot, or accused of having a phobia if you disagree in the smallest way with some vociferous minority. Of course some people will be offended, something no sincere preacher wants, but if anyone is offended they should ask themselves why that is. The Church was appointed by Christ to teach the gospel, and when people come to Church they have the right to expect that to happen, not a discourse on climate change or political issues.

When we hear teaching on a regular basis, not only does our faith grow, but also our ability to defend and help others to understand, especially those most closest and dearest to us who are not yet followers of our Lord. We may not remember all we hear, but will be inspired by the power of what has been preached. We will learn to be guided by the Scriptures and will come to know more about God and His Son and how we should live according to His commands.

May God bless His Word to us this morning and us to His service.

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