Life-Lessons from Grape-Growers - Part 1
|John 15 (NKJV™)|
|1||"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.|
|2||"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.|
|3||"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.|
|4||"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.|
|5||"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.|
|6||"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.|
|7||"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.|
New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.
My parents grew grapes on their little plot of land in Southern California. There weren't many, but enough for me to know that getting fruit at harvest depended on three things: the solid connection of branch to vine, the vigilant care of the workers, and the consistency of those things over time. Jesus, walking with the disciples toward the Garden of Gethsemane, gives life lessons to His men using the familiar example of growing grapes. With that analogy in mind, let's consider the three ways our relationship to God is described by Jesus.
"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" John 20:31.
Believe:879 is an epic journey through the book of John led by Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary of Albuquerque. As we explore each of the 879 verses of this gospel, we'll grow in grace and in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. From His pre-incarnate existence, to His public ministry, through His death and His resurrection we'll traverse familiar territory and embark on new adventures of faith.
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Greek Terms: Καθαίρω; kathairó; cleanse by purging, cutting away; Μένω; menó - remain, stay put
Publications Referenced: Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom
Figures Referenced: Wilbur Reese; C. S. Lewis
Cross References: Genesis 50:20; Psalm 119:67; Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 3:7; Matthew 3:9; John 16; John 17; John 18; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 4:12; Hebrews 12:11; James 1:2-4; 1 John 2:19
Father, thank you for the fellowship, the connection we make with each other. We have a common goal, we have a common purpose and there are things that bind us together in that commonality. We're agreeing over the truth of scripture, we're agreeing over the person and work of Jesus Christ and we're agreeing over the hope that we have an eternal life. And in that agreement, we gather together as a family, as your family, as your people.
Lord, we admit to You that we fall short of Your glory and we fall short of the standard. And we are so thankful for Your grace, Your unmerited favor that has been extended toward us because of what Your son Jesus did for us on the cross. That one act enables You to act toward us with such freedom and such graciousness and such lavish provision. Thank You for that.
As we study, give us ears and eyes to see and hear the truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.
There is a movie years ago put out, Forrest Gump, and you're going to remember this line where in the movie he says, "Life like is a box of chocolates because you never know what you're going to get." Well Jesus would say to the analogy, we want to look at this morning, "Life is like a bunch of grapes, you never know what you're going to get." You might get some branches that are life-giving and life-producing. And others that are deadwood that need to be cleared away.
In Chapter 15 -- and I've been looking forward for a long time to get into it: Learn about real life. Extended metaphor is given in this chapter about the vine, the branches, and the gardener. It's a parable that Jesus gives. And Jesus was ever the master storyteller, weaving the basic truths of life into a story so that we would appreciate it in a deeper, greater manner. That's what we have here, this extended metaphor of a vineyard. We're going to walk into a vineyard and understand truths about life.
If you lived around the Mediterranean world, then or now, one of the most familiar sites to you would be growing grapes for the production of wine. It was a mainstay in Judaism. Wherever you would look, you would see grapes being grown and you would understand the symbolism behind that. I'll explain that in a moment.
As we go through Chapter 15, there are some highlights, some lessons that jump out to us. Number one, we're going to learn about relationship, what it means to be related to God properly. Number two, we're going to learn about hardship. We're going to learn why God uses hardship to prune our lives. And the other thing we're going to learn about is discipleship. Some would-be disciples aren't always true disciples. Some so-called "branches" aren't really true branches and Jesus will make a distinction between the true fruit bearing branches and those that are not really his.
You may have heard a story about a bandit, a notorious bandit years ago from Mexico named Jorge Rodriguez.
Jorge wreaked havoc on the good people of Texas. He would scurry across the border, rob banks and before anybody could catch him, he'd hightail aback to his mountain hideaway in Mexico. So eventually, the Unite States thought, "We got to take action." They sent their best detective down to arrest Jorge Rodriguez and recover all the money back.
The detective went to Mexico, went to a town where he thought Jorge would be and sure enough, as he walked into a bar, there in the corner sat Jorge Rodriguez. The detective walked up to the table, pulled out his gun, pointed it at Jorge and said, "Tell me where the money is or I'm going to blow you away." Just then, a man walked up to the detective and said, "Senior, I am sorry but Jorge can not speak English. He has no idea what you just said. Would you like me to translate for you?" He said, "Yeah, I do I want you to translate. You tell Jorge that he tells me where the money is or I'm going to kill him. I'm going to shoot him right here, right now."
So, this helpful translator, Juan Garcia was his name, turns to Jorge Rodriguez, and in Spanish they're talking back and forth. And in Spanish, Jorge tells Juan that if that detective goes a mile out of town to a now defunct town, there's a well and if you would scurry down the well and take out the third row of bricks, he would find $3 million worth of gold.
After this little conversation, mind you all in Spanish, Juan now turns toward the detective and said, "Senior, I'm sorry. Jorge says he can not remember where he put the money. You're going to have to shoot him!"
We would call Juan a hypocrite, a pretender, someone who seems to be helpful but is not really helpful, somebody worst actually than Jorge who stole the money.
One of the underlying themes and you'll see it as just a minute we read to the first eight verses of Chapter 15, is that Jesus is showing the difference between the real and the authentic, the genuine and the pretenders. The branches that bear fruit, the branches that are fruitless. Let's look at Chapter 15 Verses 1 through 8 together.
"I am the true vine, my Father is the vine-dresser." Here it is, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bears much fruit for without me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered. And they gather them and throw them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit so you will be my disciples."
Now a question comes up. Just in reading this, we understand that Jesus is dealing with the Upper Room Discourse. It's that last speech before He goes to the cross. Why does Jesus suddenly launch into an analogy, a parable if you will, about a farmer, a vineyard, branches. Where does that come from? What's going on? Well, there's perhaps a little clue, and we just sort of skipped it over last week but you'll notice that the last phrase of Chapter 14, Jesus says to his disciples what? Read it in your bible, it says, "Arise, let us go from here."
So now we have to picture Jesus and his men getting up form the table. They were in the upper room in Jerusalem. They had the Passover Supper, Jesus have been briefing them in Chapter 14, "Now it's time to get up." So that we believe Chapters 15 and 16 are spoken by Jesus to his men as they are walking, because in Chapter 17, they are in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Chapter 18, he is arrested.
So probably they get up, they walk out the door and they leave the southwestern portion of upper Jerusalem walking down toward the Kidron Valley and will eventually be in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Now I can't tell you for sure but it could be that Jesus and his disciples pass by a vineyard along the way, maybe in the Kidron Valley. And as they were going by the vineyard, Jesus used that as a way to teach his disciples. Or here's the thought, as they were going down, on their left hand side would be this enormous building called "The Temple." And one of the most noticeable features if you were to just look at the temple from the front were two huge bronze doors and embossed upon the bronze doors were golden vines and grapes. They went from top to bottom. They have been made in Greece. Some estimate the value of those doors to be at $12 million if you were to remake them today.
This vine, these grapes, the vineyard that was depicted on the doors was there for a very important reason, because the vineyard in the Old Testament depicted the nation of Israel. It was a very common idea that Israel, the nation of Israel was God's fruitful vineyard or vine. There are many scriptures that speak to that, Psalm 80 is one. There are several in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, but the most famous comes in Isaiah Chapter 5.
In Isaiah Chapter 5, it begins by saying, "Let me sing to my well-beloved, a song regarding his vineyard. My well beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill and he dug it and he cleared away its stones and he planted in it the choicest vine." And it says in Isaiah 5, "He expected it to bring forth grapes but it brought forth wild grapes." And then the question comes, what will he do?
Since he's done everything he can to bring forth good fruit but it's brought forth wild grapes, what will he do? And the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 5 says, "He will tear down its hedges, he will destroy and burn the vineyard" and then it says, "For the vineyard of the Lord God Almighty is the house of Israel."
So they have always lived under the impression that we are God's vine, we are God's vineyard, here comes Jesus and says, "I am the true vine," not Israel. And I'll tell you why that is important. Because though Israel is a nation, had been depicted as God's vineyard, God's vine, always in context they were God's fruitless vine, degenerate vine and Jesus says, "I am the true vine. The only one that's ever been rightly connected to God is me His son. And the only who can connect you rightly to God is me His son."
Something else is going on. There's a drama that is unfolding this very night. How many disciples are with Jesus when they leave the upper room? Eleven, not twelve. Judas has left the bunch and right at that very moment, he is plotting the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ.
He's a fruitless branch. The ones that are left are the disciples and so as they perhaps walk by a vineyard or see the doors of the temple, because of the drama that is happening in their relationship, Jesus gives this parable. For our purpose, we want to look at three things this morning, three things, three distinguishing marks of those in relationship with God. If you're a Christian, a true Christian, these marks will be in your life.
Number one, you are connected to Christ. I know that sounds very obvious but it needs to be explored. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, my Father is the vine-dresser." Look down in Verse 5, "I am the vine and you are the branches." So what are you personally, you're a? You're a branch. I'm a branch. Do you know what a branch is? It's a little twig. You're a twig. You're a little piece of wood.
Now, I put it to you that way because sometimes we get this, like, inflated idea of our importance. "I'm a special messenger of God," you're a twig. In fact, what's interesting about grape branches is they were utterly useless, totally unimportant. The only thing they were used for once they were dead, they couldn't even be used to heat your house. They would just be used as kindling to start the real wood.
It has no value unless it was connected and when it was connected, that's when life flowed through it and if it was planted in good soil, it would bring life to others. Your life takes on real significance as long as you're connected to Christ. When it comes to any lasting significance, certainly any spiritual significance, you and I are worthless unless we are connected to Him. The branch must be connected to the vine. You are the branches. We are connected to Christ.
Now I want to explore that a little bit further. When I say you're connected, I'm connected, we're connected, this is what I mean. It has to be a personal connection, your own personal connection that results in new life. Eleven times in these eight verses, Jesus uses the pronoun "You," "You" plural to his disciples. You this, you that, you must be this, you abide. You abide in me, I'll abide in you. That means it's got to be personal. You've got to be a part of this equation. A second word that Jesus repeats a lot six times is the word "Fruit". So the connection follow that together -- put those together, the connection that is made must be personal and it has to fruitful. That is it has to have the evidence of new life.
Some people think that all they need is a ceremonial connection. Have you met people like that? In those days, many would say, "Well, I've been circumcised as a Jewish youngster and I keep the Sabbath Day and I go to the festivals several times a year. I'm in the temple worshiping. I go through all of the ceremonies and all of the rituals." Like a person today, when you ask them about their connection with Christ, all they can say is, "Well, I've been baptized when I was a baby." Or, "I've been christened when I was younger." Or, "I was confirmed after that." They will name the rituals that they've been through, not the personal connection.
You recall when John the Baptist was performing baptism down at the Jordan River and many came to be baptized. John said to them, "Who has warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?" As if to say, "You might come into this water and get wet and get baptized, but if that's what you're relying on to be connected to God, you better think twice."
So it can't just be a ceremonial connection. It also can't just be a genetic connection. You say the Jewish people were Israel's vineyard, the vine. And they boasted in that fact. "We're God's vine. We've been God's vine for a long time. We're untouchable. We can trace our heritage back to Moses and to Abraham. We're children of Abraham." They boasted in that fact, their genetic connection to their forefathers. Just like a person today would say, "I was raised in a Christian home. My grandpa was a preacher, My uncle --."
Again, I think of John the Baptist when he was baptizing at the Jordan River and all of those religious people came around, most all of them were Jewish. John the Baptist, as if he could read their minds said to them, "Do not think to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father for I say God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these very stones." Your connection to God must be more than your heritage or your religious experiences.
Now let's just stop here for a moment. Put a marker in this section of your Bible if you don't mind, even a finger and turn back one book. Turn back to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 20. I want us to look at another vineyard parable. It's very similar, but it has a different kind of a twist to it. And as you're reading with me, I want you to keep in mind what I just quoted you out of Isaiah Chapter 5, that whole vineyard analogy of Israel in the Old Testament.
Luke Chapter 20 Verse 9, "Then He began to tell the people this parable. A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant, and they beat him also, and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent a third, and they wounded him and they cast him out."
Now it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to figure out what he's talking about, even these Pharisees are going to figure it out as you're going to see. God in the Old Testament sent prophets time and time again to the vineyard, the house of Israel. And they castigated those prophets or they beat them and in many cases, they killed them. Think of Jeremiah. Think what they did to Isaiah, et cetera. So he gets better.
Verse 13, "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Perhaps they will respect him when they see him.' But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves saying, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance maybe ours.' And so they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it they said, 'Certainly not!'" That was their emotional reaction to this parable.
Now probably Jesus is referring to what's going to happen after his resurrection in 70 A.D. when the Romans are going to come against Jerusalem and destroy it and Jerusalem will be now in Gentile hands in Roman occupation with no real Jewish influence for years and years to come.
We'll continue on. "Then He looked at them and he said, 'What then is this that is written: 'The stone which the builders has rejected has become the chief cornerstone?' Whoever falls on that stone will be broken, but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder. And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people for they knew He had spoken this parable against them."
He spoke the parable against them, the vineyard, the vine of God because they had trusted in their ceremonies and in their heritage, which wasn't enough. I find a lot of people, I find so many people that try to pull this off today. They really don't want to surrender their lives to God, but they'll allow a little bit of God to come in their lives. Let me put God here on this shelf so I can manage him. It's never a total commitment. It's just sort of, "I'll attend church every now and then, especially Christmas and Easter and I'll sing up to you the songs and my family likes to drag me so I'll go." And so God, yeah, but not really.
Let me read to you something Wilbur Rees wrote sometime back that I think sums it up. He writes, "I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God please - not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, but not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please."
The first distinguishing characteristic of a true disciple is he's connected to Christ and it's a real connection, it's a personal connection and the result is new life. The second is he or she is cared for by the Father, cared for by the Father. I love this part. "I'm the true vine," now get this, "My father is the farmer," we would say vinedresser, grape grower. If you want to be really technical: viticulturist. That's what they're called, grape growers, viticulturist.
Now, he's the vinedresser, he's the farmer. In Verse 2, Jesus tells us of his work, he strips away deadwood and burns it, gets rid of it, the false branches and he tends by pruning the true branches.
Here's a picture of God as caregiver. A picture somebody with delight bending over the vine wanting to grow prize grapes. I don't know if you know any real gardeners. I mean, you know, the real gardener. They got the boots. They got the tools. They got the lingo, and it just -- you put him in a garden and it works. They know what to do. They know the terms. They're good at it. My dad, we had about an acre and a half growing up almost two acres and he love to grow things and he grew grapes on the side of the yard. We had a little vineyard going on there.
To my dad it was never a chore. He loves doing that. For me, it was a chore. In fact, it was one of my chores. I had to water those things and tend them and fertilize them and cover them and I learned a little bit, not as much as he learned because he has a green thumb. I had like a brown thumb. I'll kill the thing. Don't let me do it too long.
But for him, it was never a chore. He loved his garden. He loved his grapes. Now I want you to picture your God, the creator of Heaven and Earth with that kind of care on your life. He tends you. He looks to see what needs to be fixed or taken away or added. And with meticulous care, every single branch He knows and you're one of those branches. Even though He's got a pretty big vineyard, He's got millions upon millions of branches around the world. How does God manage to keep up looking after all of His kids, all of these branches? Because some of us point one direction, some of us are twisted in another direction. I mean we're so different, we're so many. Well, that's the beauty of it.
I was studying this week about a bird called the "Guillemot." A Guillemot is a bird, a small bird that lives up in the Arctic Sea region and it usually congregates in these rocky cliffs in the Northern Costal Areas of the world. Guillemots gather together by the thousands in crowded places and the mother Guillemot will lay her eggs in a long row. She lays her eggs and right next to her eggs, another mother Guillemot will lay her eggs and then another, and then another. So you see this long line of eggs. If you and I look at the eggs, you can't tell them apart, they look identical, but each mother knows her eggs. And studies have shown that if you remove an egg to a far away place, the mother Guillemot will be able to find it and bring it back to its exact spot. Imagine the kind of engineering required for that brain to know that. God put that there.
Now if God can engineer that kind of honing device in a bird brain -- am I right? It is a bird brain. Then certainly can God's mind keep track of every single twist of every single branch in his vineyard? And my point is simple. You are never off God's radar screen. He knows every twist and turn in your branch.
Verse 2, he does something about that, "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away. Every branch that bears fruit" -- here's the word we don't like, "He prunes that it may bear more fruit." Now don't misunderstand then say that He'll make you a prune, He'll turn you into a prune-faced believer. You ever met one of those? But He'll prune you. "Kathairo" is the Greek word. It means "to cleanse by cutting," cleanse by cutting.
In fact, in the very next verse, you are already cleaned. The word "clean" is the same word as "Kathairo" and to prune, to clean by cutting. That's the idea, to take excess foliage off of the branch to make it more fruitful. So I did a little bit of studying on this and I discovered that viticulturists, grape growers that the most important part of their job besides planting and watering and fertilizing, the most important thing they do is pruning. And they do two things: They prune deadwood because it breeds disease. They get rid of the dead branches, it will breed disease. Number two, they'll prune or cut back live tissue because they want to save the sap. They don't want the sap wasted on extraneous growth.
So they do a few things. They do what's called number one: pinching. They'll pinch the new growth off of the top so it retards its growth, it grows slowly. He can manage the growth that way. Number two, there's topping where he'll take one to two, even three feet of the tendrils to grow and lop them off, save them to be planted later. But sometimes the top growth can be so much that the whole thing will die. And the third thing he does is called finning where he'll actually take bunches of grapes and remove some so that there's not too many grapes, so that the ones that remain will get bigger and sweeter, tastier. That's what it means to a viticulturist, a grape grower to prune.
Now here's a question for you, "What does pruning mean to us?"
I can sum it up in one word, "Ouch!" right? Pruning always hurts. Anytime God applies the knife and cuts away at our life, we don't like it. In fact, if branches could talk, they might say, "How can a farmer of love allow this to happen to his poor little branch," something like that. It always involves pain. And why would God do it then? If it hurts, why would God do it? Is it because God is a and he gets off on seeing us hurt? No. Jesus said, "That it might bring forth more fruit." In fact -- and we'll look more in-depth next week but there are three stages: there's fruit, there's more fruit and there's much fruit. Those are the progressive stages Jesus takes us to fruit, more fruit and much fruit.
Now this helps. This helps answer a question that we've all asked from time to time in life and that is why do bad things happen to God's people? I think it's a better question than why do bad things happen to good people because the Bible says, "There's none who are good, no not one." Why do bad things happen to God's people? They are in covenant relationship. They're connected to Him. Why would something bad happen? Here's my answer. Be very careful what you call bad, because it actually might be good.
Joseph is an example. Young Joseph brought jealousy by his brothers. He was sold to the Midianites, placed in a hole, taken as a prisoner to Egypt, falsely accused, lived in jail for a few years, all of the things that we would take, "Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad."
Now later on, when he becomes second-in-command over the entire world and his brothers come to him and he reveals himself to them. Remember what he said to them? "As for you, you meant this as bad or evil, but God meant it for -- for what? For good. What I would have called bad, God used it and it was good. Look at the good it has done. Look at the good it has done in my life. So be very careful when you assign the term "bad" to something, God maybe using it for something that is good.
Here's another question as we're working our way through the text, "How does God prune us? How does he do it? I'll give you three ways." Number one, by scripture, number two, by suffering and number three, by stupidity. Now I've got to explain that, I know.
The first one is easy to understand. God prunes us to scripture Verse 3, Jesus said, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." They were being pruned by His word. Verse 7, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it will be done for you." You know how it works. Sometimes you read through the Bible and you come across the passage, it is very comforting to you. You love it and you underline it and you memorize it and it's your life verse and you put it on little memory cards. Then you at other times read to the Bible and you read something you don't like, because it doesn't comfort you, it confronts you. And you read it and you go, "Ouch, I don't like that." That's why the writer of Hebrews and Hebrews forces the word of God is living in active, sharper than a two-head sword or a better translation, "Sharper than the sharpest knife that cuts deep into our inmost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are." Now, do you let the Bible cut you? I hope you do. I hope you don't say, "I don't like this term and I'm going to walk out." Or, "I don't like this verse's scripture. I'm going to close the book." Let it cut, so God prunes you, scripture.
The second way God does it: suffering. Suffering, pain. Pain cuts away fleshly desires. Pain deals with sinful habits that we have. What do you think about when you're suffering? You think about anything else. You might be thinking about other things in life. You got plans then this huge episode of suffering comes in your life. And what are you thinking about now? Nothing else but the pain. And it helps you think differently about life and what you thought was big yesterday isn't so big today and it helps you reevaluate and it cuts away what doesn't need to be there.
Listen to what C.S. Lewis said, "He put the best, he kicked it just right." "Pain plants the flag of truth in the fortress of a rebel soul." Chew on that for a moment. "Pain plants the flag of truth in the fortress of a rebel soul." David stated it this way in Psalm 119, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I keep your word."
If you're a parent, you get this or if you just remember you're growing up, did your parents ever spank you, ever? Who got spanked? I want to see an honest show of hands. The rest of you, I don't know if I want to know you.
I remember getting spanked and I used to challenge my parents whenever they did it, "You don't love me." No, it's because we know you and we love you that you're going to get spanked. Have you ever seen a brat in a store? You know what a brat is. You have a brat alert in your mind. You can spot them. You see, you hear what they're saying and how they act and you go, "Men, I want to spank that child."
God doesn't want his kids to be brats, so he disciplines us. You could look -- that's another word, "Spanks us. Prunes us." So by scripture, by suffering, here's the third, I got to explain myself: by stupidity. Sometimes we suffer because of the stupid choices we make, because of the sinful choices we make and now we're suffering as a result of our own stupid choice. But what I want to say to you is even then, God uses that to prune you. That's where Romans 8:28 comes in, "For we know that in all things, God is working together -- bringing those elements together, synthesizing all of the good and the bad and the ugly -- "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
So whether it's by scripture that confronts you or suffering that is from the outside or stupidity that is from the inside, God can use it all to prune. That's why James writes this, in James Chapter 1, "Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, you're endurance has a chance to grow, so let it grow. For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything."
One final point and we'll close with this. The third mark, the third characteristic of a true disciple. The first one is your connected to Christ and the second one is you're cared for by the Father. The third one is you're consistent over time, consistent over time. And there's a word that is used also frequently in our text, eight times here, it's the word "abide". Look at it with me. Verse 4, "Abide in me and I in you, as the branch cannot bare fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bares much fruit, for without me, you can do nothing."
Now, think of the immediate context. Who's the guy that left the group? His name is what? Judas. He's not there right now. Only eleven disciples are left. Judas is a fake branch. He's a non-believer. He's a pretend believer. He has a branch, has left but God will take him away. He's called the son of perdition. There's no hope for Judas. He is lost. There are eleven ones that are remaining and Jesus says, "Abide in me." The word "abide" -- "meno" is the Greek word. It means "stay put" or "remain" or "stay around." Here's the point, true disciples stay disciples. One of the distinguishing characteristics of a true God follower, the evidence that you're the real deal is that you continue in the connectedness with Him. That's part of the evidence. The only legitimate believer is the abiding believer.
Now, John was in that upper room and John was taking that walk and recorded what Jesus said on that walk that are in words in front of us. He would also write another letter later on, 1 John and in Chapter 2, I quote to you Verse 19 written by the same apostle, "They went out from us, but they we're not of us, for if they had been of us, they would've continue with us. But they went out that it might be made manifest or seen clearly that none of them were of us." That does not mean a person who leaves our church in his fellowshipping at another church, don't quote that for that. It's speaking about people who live the connection with Christ and my mind goes to some casualties that still break my heart to this day. They were never really of us. A true disciple abides, continues, stays put.
In closing, I ask three questions for you this morning, "Are you connected? Is it your own personal connection is your own personal conversion?" Number two, "Are you close?"
Does abiding, you know, you can't get close within a branch stuck into a vine or the sap from that vine is finding its way to the nourishing fibrous of that branch to produce a cluster of grapes. Are you connected? Are you close to the Lord? Is your relationship intimate or you're a little distant, aloof, formal, stilted? The third thing, "Are you cut?" See, if you're the real deal, you'll stay put for the pruning. If you're the real deal, you'll hang around even when that farmer comes with the knife or the shears.
By the way, of all of the acts that a viticulturist does to the vine, he is closest to the branch when he's pruning. See, you can fertilize and water from afar, you can superintend from afar but you have to get right on that branch, hold it in your hand and meticulously cut at the right spot. The very times when you suffer, when you're being pruned and you say, "God, where are you?" He's closer to you than ever. And what is he doing? Well, when that farmer cuts away that little branch, a true pruning leaves not much of the branch but you can see the vine more clearly. The vine is more prominent than the branch. And I would dare say that when you and I get pruned by scripture, suffering, stupidity, whatever it is, that the aim of God is that more of Jesus would be apparent in our lives and less of us. Make sense? It's called fruit. I'll talk more about that the next time. Let's pray.Heavenly Father, forgive us for the times that we have acted as the farmer, trying to be in charge or trying to claim anything of ourselves. The truth is You Father is the farmer. It's your vine. Jesus is the main stem and we being connected to Christ are thus connected in relation to you. We can't have any relation to you at all unless we're connected to the vine. Lord, forgive us for trying to grow our own direction many times or trying to plug our little branch into some other vine for nourishment other than Christ. Bring us back to the simplicity of nourishment, intimacy and fruitfulness in Christ. So in His name, we pray. Amen.