Lift Up and Abide

LiftUpandAbide

Growing up in the Bible Belt religiosity that I did there was always an emphasis on fruit bearing. I can remember countless youth rallies where the evangelist would ask sugar high teenagers, “What are you doing for God? Are you a missionary to your school or in the locker room? Is God calling you to the mission field somewhere? What big things are you doing for God? Is there sin in the camp? (which if you grew up in the stanch Baptist background may be a term you’ve heard more than you care to admit). But if I was honest my thought was always “No. I love God, I am resting in Christ, but I’m a sinner. I know that I continue to sin, though I don’t want to. Nor am I doing these great and mighty things for God. I’m just a seventeen-year-old football player who wants to listen to Hawk Nelson and drink Full Throttle.

One of the passages in Scripture that has always terrified my soul is the Vine and Branches section of the Upper Room discourse in John 15. I know that sounds odd, but when we get to verse two, we come to this teaching, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away” We ought to feel the weight of this. The logical question that follows here is often “Am I bearing fruit?”- which is a good question. Good works are the natural fruit of our salvation and a proper evidence of it. But I struggle to accept that this passage is focused on fruit bearing. Rather, the issue rests on our union with Christ. If we look at the passage, we see that the repeated phrase is “in me”, specifically “abide”. In fact, “abide in me” is said more than fruit in this discourse. The word often translated as “takes away” has an alternative meaning, to lift up. What we are dealing with here is vines, not trees. I know that sounds like much ado about nothing, but it does matter. Branches that don’t have proper support won’t get sunlight and thus won’t continue to grow. Very often, gardeners would see these branches that had lost their support and would steak them up, much like what my grandfather does with his tomatoes. So then when we come to this word in John 15:2, we must ask if “take away” is the best translation.

Here’s why I don’t think, at least for this passage, it is.

The point here is to speak about the location of the branch in relation to the vine, because that is where the fruit bearing comes from. If we connect the dots with verse four and five, we see that apart from the vine, no branches are bearing fruit. Christ is specifically saying that only those branches who abide in Christ are those who are producing fruit. The word “abide” in verse four carries with it a command- Abide! But it is also a continuous action. It is Christ calling us to continue to abide in Him. But look at what is said about those branches in verse six.

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Those branches that are being cast aside aren’t those who aren’t bearing fruit, rather they are those that do not abide in Christ. The point of the passage is not so much fruit bearing, but rather the location of the branch in relation to the vine. But what does this have to do about anything? I know you’re sitting having your morning coffee or your evening beer and thinking, “What does this obscure Greek translation issue have to do with anything?”

But it has everything to do with everything!

Our continuing and growth in the Christian life is not then based on fruit bearing, though those are good evidences. But you do not stay a Christian throughfruit bearing. You bear fruit and are growing because you are united to Christ. We see through this whole section- abide, abide, abide in Me. The imperative here is not to bear fruit, but to abide in Christ. Fruit bearing, that is good works, are the natural outcome of our abiding in Christ. Yes, God is glorified in our good works (v. 8) Yes, we ought to resist sin and walk in holiness. But the main way we do that is by being united to Christ by faith. It is only when we walk away that we show that we haven’t been united to Christ, and we wither and dry. Do you want to bear fruit, and thus glorify God? Then the way to do that is to abide in Him. Rest in Him. Find your peace in Him.

But so often we find our faith weak. We find the sins that cling so closely to us to be far sweeter than the fruit of obedience. We find that we aren’t bearing fruit, though that is our desire. We are wrestling, we are struggling with sin, and yet we find ourselves deep in the dust. What can we then say? United to Christ, yet not bearing fruit, is there no hope?

Absolutely there is hope! God does not cast away those united to the Son. Rather He cares for them. He reaches down to them. He lifts them up. He takes them away from that which hinders their growth and props them up so that they will bear fruit. He does not abandon His people, but rather lovingly cares for His branches so that they may glorify Him. Yes, God desires us to walk in holiness. But He does not bring us to Himself and not give us everything that we need to do so.

So then, let us not look to God as the dresser who will cast us aside. Rather, let us abide and keep abiding. Let us seek to glorify God and pray as Augustine did: Command what you will and give what you command!

Sermon Notes: “Believing The Shepherd”

sheep

(These are the notes from a sermon that I preached a while back. Feel free to use them for your own study. Note, this is not a manuscript so some of the thoughts may seem scattered.)

Text: John 10:22-30

Introduction
I like using the Lectionary when I’m trying to decide what passage I need to preach because it will force you deal with things in the passage you may not feel comfortable dealing with. In a way, I think we should all (preacher or layman) get on some kind of a reading plan that will force us to read the Bible as a whole because you will find yourself in parts of the Bible that you ordinarily wouldn’t read and you’ll end up learning some things you didn’t know before, and you end up in a situation where the Bible confronts you and begins to tear at the fabric of what you were always taught to believe, and when this happens we need to let the Bible drive any of our pre-conceived notions that do not line up with what we’re reading in Scripture.

“We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” ― John R.W. Stott

So tonight, I’ll be using John 10:22-30 as my main passage, but I will be jumping around to different parts of Scripture so that I can show you what the Bible forces us to deal with as we read this passage and seek to understand it’s meaning.

At the beginning of this passage, there’s three things we need to notice about the setting. There’s an important place, an important person, and an important party.

Important Person – Jesus the Messiah, the Jewish leaders have been hounding Him to tell them plainly if He is, in fact, the Messiah. And if you are paying attention to the chronology of John, then you’ll notice that this actually one of the more humorous passages in the Gospels and you’ll see why in a little bit.

Important Place – The Temple, more specifically, Solomon’s porch. “This place is important; it was the porch or portico on the east side of the Temple and was called the “Porch of Judgment.” From this location, the King would make his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. And here is Jesus strolling through this historic location, physically embodying justice in this place of justice — something his life and teachings were all about.”

Important Party – The Feast of Dedication, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, and today this event is known as Hanukkah. The Jews celebrated (and still celebrate) Hanukkah to remember a time when God kept the lamps in the temple burning for eight days even though there was only enough oil to last one day due to an oil shortage because of war in the land at that time.

As we keep these things in mind, let’s also notice that Jesus has been in Jerusalem since the Feast of Tabernacles which you read about in John 7 and He has been periodically teaching in the temple and revealing Himself as the Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament.

Our 3 points will be the following:
The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
The Reason for Belief (verse 27)
The End Result (verses 28-29)

The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
Notice what verse 26 says, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” It doesn’t say “you are not of my sheep because you do not believe.” See, we can’t simply look at the passage and say, “Well then, their problem is that they simply do not believe. They’re just blatantly ignoring the facts.” While there’s truth to that, the problem isn’t simply unbelief, unbelief is only a symptom of a greater disease. The greater disease is deadness in sin. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2, “You were dead in your sins.”

We often like to imagine Jesus as a lifeguard that throws us a life saver as we’re drowning in the sea of sin, but that analogy wrong, because Paul says the wages of sin is death. So, if you’re not saved, then you’re not sick in your sins, you’re not the brink of death in your sins, you’re dead in your sins.

So then, Jesus isn’t some lifeguard that throws you a life saver, He actually swims to the bottom of the ocean and carries your corpse up out of the sea, and breathes into you, the breath of life. So, then the problem people do not believe what Jesus is plainly telling them isn’t simply unbelief, it’s unbelief as a result of dead men walking in their sin.

In another place, Jesus makes a clear distinction between sheep and goats, so if Jesus is telling these Jews, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep” then it must follow that they are goats. And Jesus says, there will come a day when He separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left hand.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41 NRSV]

Jesus is making the clear distinction, unless you believe what He says about Himself in the Scriptures and follow Him, then you are nothing more than unbelieving goat.
“How do I know if I’m a sheep or a goat?” It’s simple. Do you desire to follow Christ and believe what He says? Then you’re a sheep. If you’re confronted with Scripture, and it doesn’t phase you or change you, then you’re a goat. Sheep love and follow Jesus.

The Reason for Belief (verse 27)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” – [John 10:27 NRSV]

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” – [John 10:1-5 NRSV]

What is He saying here? When the shepherd calls, the sheep follow.

Do you remember that old song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”? In the old school, when someone would make a decision for Christ, we would strike up the band and sing “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” That’s all well and good as long as we understand we don’t make the decision on our own apart from the inward drawing of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
– [John 6:44-45 KJV]

Let’s look at verse 45 in the NRSV just to good grasp of the meaning…
“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” – [John 6:45 NRSV]

Notice, Jesus says, “It is written in the prophets…” Anytime you see that phrase mentioned, you need to look in the Old Testament to the passage that is being quoted and read it in context.

“And they all shall be taught by God.” – Although this is not a direct, word for word quote, Jesus pulls this from two passages in the Old Testament that speak of the same event – the promise of the New Covenant.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
– [Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV]

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your children.” – [Isaiah 54:13 NRSV]

Here’s the big question: What does all this mean for us? It means that God, in love, has brought us into His covenant and placed us in fellowship with a covenant community of believers.

It means that our belief does not come from within us, it comes from God who loves us, draws us, saves us, sanctifies us, and will one day, glorify us. God is the cheif operator in our salvation, not us. John makes that clear at the beginning of His gospel account in John 1.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
– [John 1:11-13 KJV]

Prior to being born again, we were enemies of God without hope in the world, but the will of God intervened for us, and drew us to a point in our lives where we knew we had to come to Jesus or be lost forever.

The End Result (verses 28-29)

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” – [John 10:27-29 KJV]

Let’s think about John 3:16 for a second. We know John 3:16, we love John 3:16, we can all quote John 3:16. We don’t dispute it. Yet, when it comes to verses like John 10:28-29, we want to say, “God gives them eternal life, but…” or “I know it says no one can pluck us out of God’s hand, but…” There are no ‘buts.’ There is nothing in the text that indicates that Jesus DOES NOT mean what He says.

There’s only one condition here. The sheep must follow, and He gives them eternal life.

Here’s how it works.

The Shepherd calls, the sheep follow, He gives them eternal life.

The Shepherd ALWAYS calls. The sheep ALWAYS follow. The Shepherd ALWAYS grants eternal life to the sheep. This is the beauty of Unconditional Election. Our election in Christ is sure. Our salvation is secure. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done for our salvation to be lost.

I can hear someone asking now, “But what if the sheep ever stop following?” Then that’s not a sheep, that’s a goat. The sheep may stray, but shepherd always brings the sheep back.

“How do we know who is a sheep and who is a goat?” It’s none of our business, Jesus will separate them Himself.

Now, here’s the big question for you tonight? Are you a lost sheep? Do you need Jesus to find you? Do you need hope that only salvation can give? You may be here, and you may be saved, but you need the joy of your salvation restored. Jesus can grant you joy unspeakable and full of glory.