Remain United with Jesus
John 15:1 -17
A sermon by Pastor Taira at Hirao Baptist Church
February 28, 2016
Jesus repeatedly appeals, “Be united with me” in John 15:1-17. He especially says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. He who dwells in me, as I dwell in him, bears much fruit; because you can do nothing apart from me.” (John 15:5) This example means that the tree trunk is Jesus, and that the branches are us. It does not mean that the fruit of the grapevine is us, but means that human beings, the branches, have to be united tightly with Jesus, the vine, for bearing fruit. No branch can bear fruit without being united with the body, the trunk. That is, any person who does not dwell in Jesus cannot bear fruit despite all his efforts. John 15:6 says, “He who does not dwell in me is thrown away like a withered branch. The withered branches are heaped together, thrown on the fire, and burnt.” The meaning of that could be considered the judgment of God, as a farmer who heaps the withered branch together and throw it away, since there is a passage; “I am the real vine, and my father is a farmer.” (John 15:1) In order to bear much fruit, that is, to have redemption, it is necessary for us to dwell in Jesus. However, as John 15:2 says, “Every barren branch of mine he cuts away and every fruit producing branch he cleans, to make it more fruitful still.” It does not mean that all you have to do is to be united with the tree trunk but rather it means that there are some branches which do not bear fruit even if they are united with the trunk. In the first place, a vine is often compared to the Israelites in the Old Testament. I pick up some other examples introduced in the Bible education as follows.
“Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt; thou didst drive out nations and plan it.” (Psalms 80:9)
“ O God of Hosts, once more look down from heaven, take thought for this vine and tend it.” (Psalms 80:15)
“What more could have been done for my vineyard that I did not do in it? Why did it yield wild grapes when I looked for it to yield grapes?” (Isaiah 5:4)
“I planted you as a choice red vine, true stock all of you, yet now you are turned into a vine debased and worthless!” (Jeremiah 2:21)
By the way, we can find that the expression, “I am the real vine.”(John 15:1) was contrastively told bearing “wild grapes debased and worthless” in mind. That is, the expression, “He who does not dwell in me is thrown away like a withered branch” can be referred to the attitude of the people who made a contract with God but who betrayed God as the Israelites did. Therefore, “God cut away every barren branch” means the judgement of God. When we will not try to be united with Jesus tightly, the proper nutrition from Jesus does not reach to us. The farmer remembers which branch has a fruit and which branch does not have a fruit at the harvest season. And he cuts the branch which did not have a fruit at the end of the season. This is pruning. On the other hand, he says, “ every fruiting branch he cleans, to make it more fruitful still”.
What kind of person or situation will ‘the fruit’ mean in this case? Several interpretations are possible. It could refer to the person who obeys God, the person who has accepted an event of redemption by God, redemption itself, or everlasting life itself. In other words, considering that this story was told to Jesus’s disciples, as “I chose you, I appointed you to go on and bear fruit that shall last.”(John 15:16), it could also mean that lots of people who could benefit from redemption by Jesus were born as a result of their efforts to go out and testify about Jesus to the people. Or, ‘the fruit’ may mean the church itself which the disciples will lead later. “This is my Father’s glory, that you may bear fruit in plenty and so be my disciples.”(John 15:8) which reminds you of ‘the harvest of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22, “the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.” All of these states of mind are provided only by being united with Jesus in truth as it says, “No branch can bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains united with the vine; no more can you bear fruit, unless you remain united with me.”(John 15:4) From the viewpoint of the sense of value in the world, we tend to associate ‘bear fruit in plenty’ with economical wealth or fame. In fact we can get these without being united with Jesus. However, it is not until we are united with Jesus that we can get the peaceful life where we obey Jesus, redemption by Jesus, everlasting life, the church, love of the truth and peace.
As for ‘being united with Jesus’, the turn of the action which is the first has been discussed like “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Dwell in my love.” (John 15:9), “ Love one another, as I have loved you. ” (John 15:12) and “I chose you, I appointed you to go on and bear fruit that shall last.” (John 15:16) Through these, we can find that it is Jesus who loves first before we do. And Jesus recommends us to dwell in the love of Jesus. We can imagine that there were people who were going to leave the church in the various trials and persecution of Early Christianity which had been already established even if they could be united with the church by the redemption of Jesus, judging from that this gospel was written in around 100 AD.
Jesus says, “Be united with me”. The concrete meaning is that we should be united with the church, isn’t it? The reason is because the church is the body of Jesus. We are limbs which connect to the body. We are branches. Christian people find that it is difficult for them to accomplish their religious lives by themselves. There are some people who believe firmly that they can do by themselves without going to church nor being united with the church because they think they have strong faith. I do not deny their opinions. However, the Bible says that it is not until we are united with the church that we can keep our faith, I think. Our way of the life, thinking and the faith as Christians are cultivated through being united with the church. We give worship to the true God, promote relations among believers, serve God and people, learn the Bible and preach Jesus. Jesus tries to lead each of us as his disciples through these activities. This is the mission given to the church. Jesus repeats; “I chose you, I appointed you to go on and bear fruit that shall last.”(John 15:16) Here is a strong message to his disciples or to the church. That is, Jesus has chosen each of us. It means that the Christians who came here today came here through the choice by Jesus. It does not ever mean that you came here because of your own thinking only but because of the plan by Jesus. The reason we were chosen is that he appointed us to go on and bear fruit that shall last. At that time, the Bible says that anything we wish will be provided through the name of Jesus. That is why we say, ‘I pray in name of Jesus Christ. Amen.’ The Bible also says, “If you dwell in me, and my words dwell in you, ask what you will, and you shall have it.” (John 15:7) The first thing is to be united with Jesus in order to make your wish fulfilled. However, that is not enough. Moreover it is necessary for us all the time to dwell in Jesus. When we are in that situation, our every wish will be granted since that prayer will be caused by the words of Jesus. Actually, there are many cases in our praying of which are not caused by the words of Jesus. We often pray in order to escape from a situation. A prayer like that will be accepted. The prayer moved by the words of Jesus will be better. The prayer which relates with the mission work will be much better.
Here is also Jesus’s commandment to us which is a kind of condition in order to form the church. Jesus says, “Be united with me.” To us Christians who live at present, ‘me’ can be interpreted as ‘the church’ which is the body of Jesus. The church means the vine of Jesus where the branches of us are united with. Therefore we are united with each other. We may call such a whole body the church. At that time, it is necessary for us, branches, to love each other; Jesus repeats, “Love one another. This is my commandment to you”(John 15:17 ). If it is not so, it is impossible for us to be able to be members of the whole body of vine called Jesus. Is there a tree that consists of only trunk or only branches? The tree consists of branches, leaves and flowers and fruits. That means ‘a live tree ’. If the branches which connect to trunk ignore the wish of the tree, if they quarrel and injure each other, the function of limbs, the parts of the tree which consist of Jesus, will be lost, get sick, and not work. Finally, the church of Jesus will be diminished.
At present, in the preliminary skirmish of the presidential election of USA, they are going to select a representative of the each party. One candidate of the Republican Party said that they should make a wall like the Great Wall of China toward Mexicans who try to cross the border illegally. Against it, the Pope criticized the speech severely, saying that such a person who has an idea of making a wall toward Mexicans is not a Christian and that a Christian would play the role of a bridge between them. Many people were convinced with the opinion. I thought the candidate was not the disciple of Jesus at least. This is an example of the person who does not dwell in Jesus.
One visible way to remain united with Jesus is to remain united with the church and to love each other. Needles to say, we should love each other among our family. However, Jesus says, “There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13) The love at first Jesus says could mean the love among brothers and sisters of the church who are not related by blood since Jesus talked to his disciples. Jesus called his disciples ‘friends’, laid down his life for them and showed his love for them. Of course, that could be considered it refers to the ordinary people. However, we may conclude that Jesus places the love among his disciples, the brothers and sisters of the church above any people. Jesus chose ‘me’ at first and made ‘me’ his friend. He laid down his life for ‘me’. In this way, he showed ‘me’ his love. Therefore, we should love each other, starting from among the brothers and sisters of the church, not only among family but also among the others. I think that is the ideal image of the church where we dwell in Jesus’s love, the vine bearing much fruit that Jesus truly hopes.