It Can Take a Lifetime of Living to Learn How to Die
Last week, as we talked about the words of Jesus to his disciples as they were leaving the upper room, we saw that he compared the life of his followers to a branch of a grape vine. He told his disciples this:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. (John 15:1-3 NAS)
We are not told if Jesus and the disciples were sitting for a few moments someplace when he spoke these words to them, or perhaps talking as they were walking on their way to Gethsemane. I picture them walking, and actually passing through a vineyard. Jesus was using the vines and the grapes as a teaching tool.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4-6 NAS)
If you look at those words closely, you will of course see that Jesus speaks of vines and branches and fruit, but do you notice another word that is repeated often in those four sentences? It is the word “abide.”
“Abide in Me.” “Abide in the vine.” “Abide in Me, and I in you.”
The usage of the word has become almost archaic in our English language. It means “to live,” of course, as in “where one lives.” But the word abide also has a deeper connotation. It speaks not only where you go after your day’s work is done, or where you hang your hat, but it also refers to the place from where you draw your strength for living. It refers to your very source of life.
When Jesus speaks of abiding in him, he is referring to a relationship with us so intimate that we draw our very life-force from him, just as a branch of a vine draws its strength from the vine growing out of the earth.
As I mentioned, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples some time after they had left the upper room and before they arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane. It was in that garden where he would soon be betrayed by Judas and then arrested.
You will remember that it was only moments before Jesus gave this teaching, that he was in the upper room. It was in that room where he shared his last supper on earth with his disciples and when he gave the teachings of the meaning of what has come to be called “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Communion.”
Central to the teaching of the Lord’s Supper is the concept of abiding in Christ. When Jesus took the bread, broke it and shared it among his disciples, he told them, “Take, eat; this is My body.” It was the same with the wine, when Jesus said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-27 NAS).
Apart from any additional teachings that we might glean from the words of Jesus, it is clear that the Holy Communion is meant to demonstrate that the Christian life is one in which Christ must abide in us. The act of ingesting into our very beings what Christ calls his body and his blood demonstrates the truth that in order to be followers of Christ, we are to be united in Him. We abide in Him, and he in us.
Jesus not only speaks of the branches that abide in him, but also the branches that do not abide in him. With these, he must have had in mind those who followed Jesus not in order to live their lives in Christ, but rather for their own reasons.
Judas Iscariot was a follower of Jesus. He was even numbered as one of the twelve disciples. Judas was present with Jesus and the others as they traveled the roadways and the seaways visiting various parts of Judea and Samaria. Judas heard all the teachings of Jesus, and he even was the one appointed to keep track of the money that the group held in common for their needs as they traveled.
But as Jesus shared his last supper with the twelve, he said, “The hand of My betrayer is with Mine on the table” (Luke 22:21).
Of course we do not know all of the thoughts of Judas during the three years when he walked along with Jesus and listened to his teachings, but if anyone has ever personified one who was attached to the vine but who was producing no fruit, it was he. As Judas listened to the teachings of Jesus, he benefited from the life of Jesus, but the life coming to him was wasted.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of these kinds of people when he wrote:
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. ‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do you not tremble before Me, the One who set the sand as the boundary for the sea, an enduring barrier it cannot cross?’” (Jeremiah 5:21-22 BSB)
Or as Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah (6:9-10), “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:14-15 BSB).
These fruitless branches are deaf to the words of Jesus and blind to the light of life that he brings.
The purpose of any disciple must be to bear fruit, just as the purpose of a branch on a vine is to produce grapes. That fruit cannot come merely by association with the vine. It cannot come if one has only a passing interest in the words of Jesus. Our life from Jesus cannot come to one who lives almost completely occupied by worldly affairs, and whose only connection to Jesus is to attend a church service once in a while. This is not the life of one who is abiding in Christ.
Fruit can only come when one abides in the vine. As Jesus put it as he taught the people, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That is, the disciple of Jesus must draw his or her life-giving essence from Jesus. Those who do not will not be able to produce fruit.
And what is the fruit that Jesus produces in us?
The Fruit of the Vine
Jesus might express this fruit as he did to a crowd of people who had come to listen to him teach. They are perhaps familiar words to you. Here is what he told them:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:2-10 BSB)
We commonly call these sayings of Jesus, the “beatitudes.” They are the blessings of Christ. These eight blessings along with some other blessings mentioned by Jesus, are the fruit of the one who abides in Christ.
Here is more of what Jesus said: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22 BSB). “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11 BSB).
Sometimes these sayings of Jesus are looked upon and quoted as sort of “holy sayings,”—as if they are something to which we should aspire and not call into question. But when considering the fruits that come from abiding in Jesus, we might be wise to question them. If we do not make a conscious decision to follow these words, we will never manage to make ourselves follow them.
Do you really want to be “poor in spirit?” Do you want to mourn? And just what does Jesus mean by being “meek?” It seems like if I were meek, I would constantly be pushed around by others who were not so meek.
Merciful? That seems better. We might like to be known as one who acts with mercy. It is the same with being pure in heart and being peacemakers.
But what about being persecuted? …Or having people hate us or having them insult us?
Hmmm…Let Me Reconsider
As you read through these fruits that come from abiding in Christ, you might be wondering if you want some of these blessings of Christ. You may even be reconsidering remaining connected to the vine. We call these the blessings of Christ, but do you really want this package of blessings—especially since the package contains some difficult ones?
If you have reservations, it may partially be because of a general misunderstanding or a change of definition of some of the words, such as the word “meek.” Meekness in the terms which Jesus is speaking does not mean “weakness.” It does not mean that we bow to every pressure on us by someone. It simply means those who are meek are not arrogant, selfish or obnoxious. The truly meek are those who are humble and gentle with others, and not constantly demanding one’s own way.
However there is submissiveness involved with being meek. The follower of Jesus who is growing the fruit of the vine is submissive to the Vine Himself. We are obedient to Christ.
Even though many may call themselves Christians, the primary reason some do not choose to grow these fruits from Jesus is found in the next words of Jesus. After he said “Blessed are you when people hate you,” he said, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
After he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me,” he said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”
Frankly, the primary reason many Christians do not seek the fruit of Jesus in their lives is that they do not want to wait for their rewards to come in heaven. They want rewards in their living to come now! They want what the world calls “the good life.”
But Jesus would tell us that the “good life” of the world is a mirage. From a distance it may seem as if it offers everything one desires and will give complete satisfaction, but as one begins to approach what he sees as total satisfaction, the vision vanishes. We can never reach it.
We finally manage to build our “dream house,” and for a while, we are so happy with it. But then after a few years, repairs begin to be required, and some of those features that we thought that we wanted, now seem like they are just things that require more upkeep and maintenance.
And we also begin to realize that this place that we aspired to is, after all, just a house. It is nothing more. It serves no greater purpose for us that if we lived in a much smaller and simpler place.
Complete contentment in this life remains elusive. The fruits of this world quickly spoil. From the very moment that they are achieved, they begin to go bad. All of us should have learned by this time that true and lasting contentment can never be found in this world.
If we seek true satisfaction from our labors, if we are looking for true contentment, then we must look beyond what the world has to offer. This contentment can only come from producing fruit in our lives that does not go bad and does not spoil. It can only come from a fruit that endures.
This is the type of fruit that Jesus spoke of when he told his disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain” (John 15:16).
This is also the type of fruit that the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote to one of his churches that he was praying for them. He told them that his prayer was:
So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Also that you are being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that you may have full endurance and patience, and that you may joyfully give thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Colossians 1:10-12).
And what are those “fruits of good work” that Paul speaks about? He has his own listing—his own beatitudes, if you will. He also writes this:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 BSB)
Breaking No Law
Interesting, isn’t it, that in listing these fruits, he says that against these things “there is no law.” What does he mean by that?
Of course there would be no law in any country against these things, but Paul is not referring to civil law here. He is referring to the law of God. Along with the several other purposes for the law of God, its main objective is ultimately to banish all that is opposed or which would bring corruption to God’s kingdom. There is to be no unrighteousness in the rule of the Lord. That unrighteousness and corrupting influence are those empty promises of this earth that will not endure in eternity. These could never endure. They are fleeting mirages and fruits that do not last.
The fruits that Jesus spoke of are not of this variety. Neither are the ones listed by Paul. He speaks of the same type of fruit as does Jesus—fruits of our life that will endure, even after our bodies die. These are fruits that can only be grown by those who, as Paul says, “belong to Christ Jesus.”
And as Jesus says, these are fruits that cannot be grown by one who is an insincere follower of Jesus, but only by his friends. “I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
Learning to Die
But there is something else that is interesting in the way that Paul lists his “fruits of the Spirit,” especially as we approach Good Friday. Paul also speaks of a death that must take place before a Christian can grow eternal fruit, but he is not talking about the crucifixion of Christ. Paul writes
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25 BSB)
This Friday, in merely five days, we are going to be commemorating and remembering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. This day is rightly marked by a somber feeling of sadness, since we remember the ultimate price that Jesus paid to redeem us.
We in the Log Church will also be remembering and commemorating that day, but we are also going to think beyond that crucifixion of Jesus. Good Friday is not only about the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also about our own crucifixion.
Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20 NAS).
To understand the true and full meaning of Good Friday and of the Resurrection, we must understand what Paul said. This is not only something that involves the death of Jesus some 2000 years ago. What Paul said is that in order to produce fruit in the present life that will endure into eternity, we must first die.
It is an enigmatic statement, and it is a truth that I think few Christians understand. None of us understand fully. I myself do not completely understand it. But one thing that I have experienced in my now almost seventy years on this earth, it is taking me a lifetime of living to learn how to die. More precisely, it is taking me a lifetime of living to learn how to be crucified with Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
Galatians chapter two, verse twenty. Read that verse every day this week. Think about it. Memorize it. Meditate on it. On Friday, we will talk about this enigmatic statement.