Sunday, March 15
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Last Word
#3—Remain in me
Introduction and offering:
That was British pastor John Stott, one of my favorite Bible teachers. When I was a freshman in college, I attended Urbana 70, a missions conference attended by thousands of college students from around the world. John Stott was the morning Bible teacher, and for four mornings, he taught on Jesus’ last words in John 13-17. It was like a banquet! When I decided to do this series, I googled “John Stott Urbana 70” and up popped those messages. On Monday of this week, as I started to prepare this talk, I listened to Stott’s message on John 15. Here is his outline:
The Threefold Duty of a Christian
- To the Lord: abide in Christ. 1-11
- To the church: love one another. 12-17
- To the world: witness to Christ. 18-27
It’s a brilliant message and a thorough treatment of the entire chapter in just 45 minutes. Unfortunately, I am not John Stott! All I can handle today is just the first 11 verses; we’ll look at our relationship with Jesus.
In these verses, Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor of the vine and the branch to describe our relationship with Him. Let’s listen in as Jesus shares these last words with His disciples.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
4 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. 6 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.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 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. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Notice the emphasis on fruitfulness. God wants you to be fruitful! In fact, God wants you to be more fruitful than you are now. Would you like your life to be more fruitful? What does that mean?
What is the fruit that we are to bear? Several suggestions have been made.
First, we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit: Christ-like character.
Galatians 5:22–23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
The Spirit produces in us the same character qualities as Jesus. Would you like to be more like Jesus? More loving, more joyful, more peaceful, and so on? I want to be more fruitful—more like Jesus.
Second, we are to bear the fruit of good deeds, or righteous behavior.
Luke 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
John the Baptist called people to show their repentance in their behavior. When they asked what to do, John told them to share their food and clothing with those who had none, be fair and honest in their business dealings, don’t abuse their authority, and be content with what they have. The fruit was righteous behavior. Jesus said the same thing.
Matthew 7:16-17 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
This is the fruit of good deeds. You don’t just talk the talk, you walk the walk. The first fruit is character; the second, which flows from it, is behavior.
This righteous behavior is not only expressed in personal morality, but in social justice. John the Baptist told the people that the fruit of repentance would include sharing with the poor. Isaiah said that Israel was God’s vineyard and He came looking for fruit:
Isaiah 5:7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
God looked for the fruits of justice and righteousness and found only bloodshed and distress. One of the fruits God looks for is social justice: are we helping the poor and the oppressed?
Spring of Hope: This is why we are actively involved as a church in making our world a better place. It’s why we have partners like Spring of Hope, led by our own David Opap. Spring of Hope is doing remarkable good in Kenya.
- We are sponsoring children, providing them with shoes, a blanket, and school fees, uniforms and supplies.
- We are sponsoring agricultural projects. Rather than subsistence farming which perpetuates poverty, we are teaching people market farming, which provides better food supplies and improves the economy and reduces poverty.
- We have sponsored crusades that have resulted in thousands of people coming to Christ, including lots of kids!
- We are sponsoring training for pastors that has improved the churches and brought them together in unity.
- We are sponsoring students getting nursing degrees, and are providing a medical clinic.
- We have sponsored improvement to the local schools. Here are a couple pictures of a school before we have worked there. Here is a picture of the Adiedo school where we have been working.
All of this has been made possible because of your generosity. Thank you! Your generosity has also helped Spring of Hope provide:
- Surgery and follow up care for Pastor Michael, a local Kenyan pastor who was suffering from esophageal cancer.
- The distribution of over 3000 Bibles in the Luo language.
- Support for Pastor Ken, another local Kenyan pastor, who ministers in the prisons, and whose radio broadcast reaches 2 million people!
- And finally…and first…several wells have been dug or refurbished to provide safe clean drinking water. That is how all this started 5 years ago: with one well. People were dying from drinking bad water, and we’ve changed that for hundreds.
More wells are desperately needed right now. David tells me that there is a severe drought going on in Western Kenya. The ponds that many people use for water have dried up. The wells that we have drilled are being used to the maximum. We need more. Here’s a cool thing: one generous Life Center family has offered to match every dollar you give today for wells—up to $15,000! So if you’d like to donate to the wells, or sponsor a child, stop by the table in the Commons and meet David.
Back to this talk: first the fruit of Christ-like character; second, the fruit of righteous behavior, including social justice.
Third, we are to bear the fruit of new Christians. What fruit do apple trees produce? Apples. What fruit do grape vines produce? Grapes. What fruit do Christians produce? Christians. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
Romans 7:4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
In the preceding verses, Paul uses marriage as an example: if a spouse dies, the remaining spouse is free from the law of marriage, free to remarry without adultery. Then Paul applies it to us and the Jewish Law. We died to that Law in Christ so that we may belong to Him and bear fruit for God. Because of the marriage analogy, it is fair to assume that the fruit we bear is children—that is, new Christians.
The fruit of Christ-like character. The fruit of righteous behavior. The fruit of new Christians. Which one is it? I think all three are true. I know that I want to bear more of all three: I want to be more like Jesus, I want to do more good, and I want to help more people find and follow Jesus! I want to be more fruitful! I want my life to count! Here’s:
The Big Idea: Jesus wants your life to be more fruitful and tells us how it happens.
Jesus gives two ways that we become more fruitful. First, God prunes us. Second, we remain in Jesus.
1. We are pruned for more fruitfulness. 1-3
John 15:1-3 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Jesus loved to use everyday illustrations to make his point. Here’s another. Vineyards were everywhere in Israel, and were familiar to everyone. In fact, they were so common that in the Old Testament, God likened Israel to a vineyard. (I listed some references on your outline so you can look them up on your own.) In every reference, Israel is the vineyard that God planted, but it has gone wild, and is not producing the fruit he expected. So when Jesus said, “I am the true vine,” He was saying that Israel failed to be God’s fruitful vine, and now Jesus is the true or authentic vine, and salvation is found in Him.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” What does the gardener do? He prunes. The Father prunes in two ways. First, he cuts off the dead and fruitless branches. Second, he prunes back the fruitful branches to make them more fruitful.
ILL: I have some apple trees and when an orchardist—a man who grows apples for a living—offered to teach me how to prune, I jumped at the chance! It was fascinating! He did two things.
First, he cut out all the dead branches and all the non-fruit-bearing branches, called “water sprouts” or “suckers.” I understood cutting out the dead wood, but why the suckers? He explained that the suckers will never produce fruit, but they will suck up the life and energy that the other branches need to produce fruit. “Do you want to grow suckers or apples?” he asked me. So we whacked out the dead branches and suckers.
Second, he cut the good branches way back. It was shocking—you saw in the video how drastically the vines are pruned back. I thought he was going to kill my tree! I asked him why he was cutting the good branches back so drastically. “Do you want to grow leaves or apples?” He explained that he pruned to direct as much life and energy as possible into growing fruit not leaves.
God prunes us in just the same way—He prunes us to be more fruitful. He prunes out the bad things, and He prunes back the good to make us more fruitful. I don’t want to be deadwood or a sucker that God cuts out and throws away. I want Him to cut out of me anything that would keep me from being fruitful. Maybe something is coming to your mind right now—something in your life that you know is keeping you from being fruitful for God; something that you know He wants to cut out or cut back. Let him prune you.
- Maybe you watch so much TV or play so many video games that you don’t have time for God. Remember I told you a couple weeks ago that the Lord said to me, “Some days, you have time for everything but Me.” What keeps you from time with God? Let Him prune you!
- Maybe you are in a relationship that is pulling you away from God. Let Him prune you!
- Maybe you’re looking at porn and polluting your soul. Let Him prune that out!
- Maybe your hobbies are keeping you from God, or maybe it’s the endless pursuit of money or success. Time to let Him prune some of that back.
Don’t let these suckers drain you of life and make you unfruitful. Some good things need to be pruned back; some bad things need to be pruned out. Here’s the question: What needs to be pruned that is sucking the life, the energy, the power out of me and keeping me from bearing much fruit? Let God prune you to be more fruitful.
How does God prune us? Jesus said, “You are already clean (pruned) because of the word I have spoken to you.” Jesus told His disciples that His teaching had pruned them, cleansed them. I believe that God uses His word to prune us. As we soak up Jesus’ teaching, it cuts away the junk in our lives. The truth whacks away at the lies, the bondage, the sin that keeps us from being fruitful.
ILL: When I was a new Christian and a teenager, I struggled with pornography. I felt guilty and dirty when I looked at it, but that didn’t stop me. I rationalized that it wasn’t hurting anyone. What did stop me was reading this in my Bible one day: Jesus said
Matthew 5:27–30 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Jesus’ words stopped me in my tracks. I realized that my fantasies were adultery in God’s eyes, that it was hurting me. I have since come to realize that porn is an industry that hurts millions of people, not only those who look, but many who are used and victimized. Porn objectifies women who are children of God, reducing them to objects of sexual fantasy. I decided that before I started lopping off body parts, it would be better to just cut out the porn!
Jesus’ words pruned me. Read God’s word. Yesterday Eric Holman told me that he is reading God’s word for application—in other words, what is God saying to me? What does God want to do in me, or change in me? What does He want me to do? Read God’s word, and let Him prune you and make you more fruitful.
God prunes us to make us more fruitful. That’s first. Second, Jesus calls us to remain in Him to be more fruitful.
2. We must remain in Jesus for more fruitfulness. 4-6
John 15:4-6 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. 6 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.
How many of you have a fruit tree in your yard? You know that if you cut off a branch from your fruit tree, what happens to it? It dies. Will it bear fruit? No. A branch cannot bear fruit apart from the tree. It must stay connected. The branch must remain in vine, or on the tree, to bear fruit. This is horticulture 101.
Jesus applies this basic truth to our relationship with Him. “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.”
What does it mean to remain in Jesus? First, using the vine-branch metaphor, to remain in Jesus means to stay completely connected. I want to be fully attached, not just hanging on by a thread.
ILL: I’ve got some branches on my apple trees that the deer have broken. They look like this: they are still attached, but barely. Will they bear fruit? No. You’ve got to be completely connected, fully attached to bear fruit.
I’m afraid that many Christians are just barely hanging on. They have a Sunday connection to Jesus and that’s it, and that may be one Sunday a month, or one Sunday a year! They would claim to be Christians, but they aren’t bearing much fruit because they don’t have a daily life-giving connection to Jesus.
You can’t be a Sunday-only Christian and bear fruit. You can’t be a Christian in name only and bear fruit. You can’t be a crisis Christian—one who turns to Jesus when you’re in trouble and ignores Him the rest of the time—and bear fruit. You can’t be a half-hearted, lukewarm Christian and bear fruit.
To be fully connected to Jesus means that you are connected 24/7, that you are living each day in a vital, growing relationship with Jesus. You are as connected to Jesus on Monday as you were on Sunday.
Do you have a daily life-giving connection to Jesus?
Second, to remain in Jesus means you stay permanently connected to Jesus. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” How does Jesus remain in us? In John 14, Jesus told us that He comes to make His home in us, and promises He will be with us forever.
Matthew 28:20 And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Hebrews 13:5 God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Literally, that reads, “Never will I leave you; never, never, no never will I forsake you.” It’s a triple negative! God wants us to know that He’s not leaving.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” That means that we move into to Jesus, make our home in Him, and never leave. We stay to the end. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back.”
Some people start with Jesus, but don’t finish. They get discouraged. Things get hard and they wonder, “Where is God? Why is He letting this happen to me?” They forget that Jesus promised it wouldn’t be easy, but also that He would never leave. They forget that, get discouraged, and bail on Jesus. Jesus actually warned about this in another agricultural metaphor:
Mark 4:16–17 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
When trouble comes, they bail. Friends, Jesus doesn’t bail on you. He remains in you—and He calls you to remain in Him. At the end of this chapter, which we’ll read next week, Jesus told His followers that the world would hate them and persecute them. He predicted trouble. He promised it would be hard! But it will be worth it. Stay connected to Jesus and bear much fruit!
The moment you detach, the moment you disconnect from Jesus, you stop bearing fruit. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus is referring to bearing fruit here. Obviously, you can do a lot of things apart from Jesus. People do stuff without Jesus every day—they do their jobs, take care of their families, and live their lives without Him. But you cannot bear the fruit that Jesus wants you to bear apart from Him. That can only happen if you stay fully and permanently connected to Him.
So how do we do that? How do we remain in Jesus, fully and permanently connected to Him? It’s a relationship. How do we stay in relationship with someone? You have to work at maintaining a close relationship with anyone! I have to work at staying close to Laina. I have to work at staying close with friends. How many of you have friends and you’ve drifted apart? It happens. It’s the law of entropy—the second law of thermodynamics. Everything tends to run down, to wear out, to decay. It’s true of relationships. You get out what you put in, and as long as you’re investing in the relationship, you’ll get closer. When you stop, you drift apart.
You can be as close to Jesus as you want to be. But you have to work at it. To remain in Jesus, to stay fully connected to Jesus, means I am actively doing things to stay close. What kinds of things? What do you do to stay connected to Jesus? Let’s talk about that for a moment.
- Spiritual practices.
The point of doing all these things is to stay connected to Jesus. It’s about staying close; it’s about the relationship. If they just become duties, things to check off your to-do list, that misses the point. It’s all about Jesus—staying close to Him!
Do you want to bear more fruit for God? Be more like Jesus? Do more good in the world? Help more people find and follow Jesus? Then remain in Him. You can be as close to Jesus as you want to be.
There are some really cool results if you do this. I don’t have time to elaborate, so I’ll just give them to you quickly.
3. We’ll experience the results of more fruitfulness. 7-11
John 15:7-11 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 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. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, here’s what will happen.” Here are the results.
- Our prayers will be answered. “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
- Our Father will be glorified. “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit.”
- Our witness will be clear. “Showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
- Our joy will be full! “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Wow! Where do I sign up for that?