When somebody knows they are going to die they are often concerned with weighing every word carefully. Many times they ask for certain people to come see them because they want to fix something that is wrong in a relationship. More often than not people who are facing death want to make sure those they love know what is important to them.
What would you want to say if you knew you were going to die? What would you think is so important that you would want it written down so that no one would forget it? Jesus was just days away from his death on the cross. Beginning in John 12, Jesus starts talking about His impending death. Mary the sister of Lazarus, took a bottle of very expensive perfume and wiped the feet of the Lord with her hair and the perfume. Jesus remarked that she did this for my burial. He teaches the disciples about a kernel of wheat needing to fall into the ground and dying before it produces a harvest.
In John 13 He washes the disciples feet in an incredible display of servanthood. This job was reserved for house servants and yet He did it to demonstrate to the disciples what it meant to be a servant and His disciple.
I believe all of these things are a reflection of a man about to die who is thinking about his death. He is becoming very intentional about sharing the teachings that He doesn’t want the disciples to forget. In John 14, I believe that Jesus is sensing their anxiety over all this talk about Him not being with them anymore so He says to them,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
These are incredibly compassionate words but He is not done teaching.
Let’s look at John 14:30: “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.”
This sets the stage for our study today. Jesus and the disciples begin walking and He starts teaching. There are three relationships in John 15 that Jesus talks to them very emphatically about. I want us to journey with Him and the disciples for a few moments today and listen in to His teaching. This was not a discussion. If your bible has the words of Jesus in red then you can see that there is no one talking but Jesus in this entire chapter.
Let’s begin our journey as we listen to Jesus teaching some life lessons. The first thing He talked about was:
1. Our Relationship to Christ
He begins His talk with these words:
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
“4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”
I wonder when I hear Him using this illustration and metaphor for teaching if He and the disciples are not walking by a grape arbor. The question that we should ask ourselves when we hear Jesus say these things is two-fold.
A. Am I connected the Grapevine?
This is without doubt the most important question you can or will ever ask and answer. Being connected to the Vine simply means that you are a child of God. You have accepted Christ as Lord of your life and you are living as a son or daughter of God.
B. How do I stay connected to the Vine?
Staying connected is something that God calls us to do. If you were to read the verses around this scripture you would read that Jesus taught anyone who didn’t stay connected to Him would be discarded like a worthless branch.
You have to want to be connected to Christ. You have to be intentional about some things. You have to decide that you are going to let God change your life and your values. You have to let Him in to your stuff. I am talking about the personal behaviors that you do that threaten to ruin your life.
You stay connected to the Vine by loving Jesus everyday. You acknowledge Him in the morning and surrender you actions, you reactions and your attitudes to Him. You pillow your head at night with an acknowledgement that you are thankful for His abiding presence in your life and for the fruit that you have borne today because of Him.
2. Our Relationship to Each Other
“12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”
We talk a lot about community in this church. Really I think Jesus provided the ultimate example of a small community group when He chose to walk on this earth for three years with 12 men. He was around thousands and had friends outside of this twelve but He was truly in community with them.
Loving one another is not optional in the body of Christ. You don’t get the right to be a pouting infantile adult who gets their feelings hurt over every little thing. Christfollowers are reflections of their Lord and that means you take the Bible seriously and you learn to get along and love even the people who drive you crazy.
Church people don’t always agree on everything but schisms, splits, gossiping about other people, or ripping people behind their back is nothing like Christ. There is nothing Christ-like about it.
Many of us can t tell fourteen caret gold from eighteen carat. Sone of us can t even tell gold plate from solid gold. In old London town the jewelers of Goldsmith’s Hall took pride in doing good work, and they wanted each customer to know what he was buying. So they devised a mark of quality, and its use became established by law. When a piece of gold was stamped with a little crown and the figure 18, everyone knew it was eighteen carat. "The mark of the hall" guaranteed it.
If we are true disciples of Jesus, He stamps upon us a mark of quality, a hallmark, a guarantee that we are genuine. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Our Lord thought this teaching was so important He included it in His final words to His disciples. How about you? Are you thinking of some unresolved conflicts that you have with other Christfollowers? You’ve got some thing against them and you are glad that they are suffering and you are not about to fix it or resolve it. That is not Christ like and that is the goal for His true followers. C. S. Lewis said: "to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Wrap it around carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable .... The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is .... Hell."
3. Our Relationship to our World
“18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”
There are probably very few of us in this room that experience this at the local level. We live in relative peace with our unchurched neighbors and even those we work with that are not Christ followers. So what does this mean? What is Christ talking about?
We are living in an age when this world and in particular the landscape of the American culture is evolving into something that is going to probably take a lot of “Christians” by surprise. If you are just living in a vacuum made up of your friends, your church and whatever you watch on TV, you are no doubt oblivious to the changes that are taking place right around you.
I have been saying this for years even from this pulpit; Christfollowers who don’t buy into the political correctness of our times and don’t subscribe to the notion that there are no absolutes regarding truth will become the targets of hate by the society around them. The very people who preach inclusion, diversity and tolerance become very exclusive and intolerant of anyone who claims to know the truth.
If you follow Christ, according to His own words you know the truth and the truth will set you free.
When I travel as I did just this week, I will often buy a copy of Rolling Stone Magazine to read on the plane. While I don’t recommend this magazine it provides one of the clearest windows into the soul of pop culture. Last November, I picked up the fortieth anniversary edition which advertised interviews with men and women who are shaping our world and their take on the future. Let me just give you a quick synopsis of some of those extensive articles.
Bill Mahar: “People are finally catching on that religion is childish and dangerous. One out of five college-age people are now atheist or agnostics. Europe is over religion – they’re religious in name only. So the older, wiser continent, they’ve moved beyond that. But of course, much of the world has not.” “. . .people are beginning to understand that religion is the problem.”
George Cloony: “. . .the rest of the country is a little bit moved away from the idea of this “Jesus is right about everything.”
Sam Harris (Author of The End of Faith) “I argue that the burden should be on religious people to argue for the truth of their claims.” “It’s possible people will come to their senses and realize that organizing humanity around competing religious certainties—beliefs about which books were dictated by the creator of the universe or what name God wants to be called – is suicidal.
Dave Matthews: “I use the word “God” in my songs all the time, because I don’t know what the h--- is going on. So that’s God – everything I don’t know. But the idea of God being this fatherly figure who looks down on us and worries how were doing or takes sides when we have fights – its more irritating than Santa Claus.”
Tom Hanks: When addressing the topics of abortion and homosexual behavior says, “People believe that God does not give you the right t do those things.” “Everyone knows laws against sodomy are ridiculous.”
The bottom line is that more and more those who take Christ and His word seriously will become hated for their convictions. I am not talking about being hated because you are Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell or even James Dobson (all men who have dived into politics) I am talking about normal people like you and I who aren’t perceived to be tolerant because we draw some lines in black and white. We don’t see everything as being gray and up the individual.
What this means for our futures – I am not sure, but I know that my trust is unwavering and I will not turn back from following Christ in the face of criticism or even threats from the so called leaders of our day. There is not one candidate for President who believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and that same teaching has crept into a generation of men and women who are living in doubt about many of the fundamental teachings of God’s word. They even doubt that it is His word or that the entire Bible is credible.
Jesus taught this for a reason and it means that you and I are not trying to win any popularity contest in this world. But I think it means something else. I think it means that we are called to live lives that are different because we follow Christ. We will have different values and different priorities.
The Bottom Line: Live in the Spirit
26 “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”
It is interesting in the very next chapter (16) Jesus comes back to this idea of the Spirit being our teacher and guide.
“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.”
You and I are promised the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and that is an incredible thing.
You need to know that the Spirit of God won’t stay where He is not wanted. The Spirit of God is holy and expects us to be holy like our Lord. This is all God has ever wanted. We learned that in a study from the Old Testament and the relationship that God wanted from Israel when He chose to be their God and called them His people. We learn that in the study of the Sermon on the Mount preached by Jesus to His disciples. It was the opposite bookend of this teaching. It was the first and this is the last but we learned in that teaching that the standard for Christ following is high and it includes forgiving, loving, humility, holiness and meekness. It includes mourning, humbleness, hungering for righteousness, mercy, pure hearts and working for justice and peace. According to that teaching when you live in the Spirit you are salt and light; you love your enemies, you give to the needy, you practice prayer and fasting, you pray, you hold to your possessions lightly, you don’t judge others and you live out the golden rule which reminds us to “do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”
In fact here is how Jesus ended His first teaching:
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7:21-27
Anything less then paying attention to your walk with Christ is unacceptable. What an incredible thing it is to live in this world yet live with our eyes on Christ and following His ways. It is exhausting yet wonderful. It is hard yet easy. It is demanding yet rewarding.
Addressing a national seminar of Southern Baptist leaders, George Gallup said, "We find there is very little difference in ethical behavior between churchgoers and those who are not active religiously...The levels of lying, cheating, and stealing are remarkable similar in both groups. Eight out of ten Americans consider themselves Christians, Gallup said, yet only about half of them could identify the person who gave the Sermon on the Mount, and fewer still could recall five of the Ten Commandments. Only two in ten said they would be willing to suffer for their faith.
Newark Church of the Nazarene is about calling people to life change. That change only happens however as we surrender our live to Christ and live out the life lessons He left us in His word.
The mark of a saint is not perfection, but consecration. A saint is not a man without faults, but a man who has given himself without reserve to God. — W. T. Richardson
Henri Nouwen, who was a Roman Catholic priest and a man of deep devotion to Christ said this:
I often think: "A life is like a day; it goes by so fast. If I am so careless with my days, how can I be careful with my life?"
We call you today to three live lessons:
Abide or remain in the Vine
Love one another
Be willing to live along side this world without compromising God’s principles.
A little boy constantly fell out of bed. No matter what his parents did, the boy couldn’t sleep without rolling out of bed. An uncle came to visit and in the middle of the night the usual thump and cry was heard. In the morning the uncle teased the boy and asked him why he fell out so often. The little fellow thought for a moment and then said, “I don’t know, unless its because I stay too close to the place where I get in.”