John 15:1-8 Living Joined To Christ

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  When we read The Gospel Of John, the word "believe" appears repeatedly.  Of course, this word, "believe," is quite familiar to us.  In any church, if you ask, "Do you believe in Christ?," you can always expect the answer back of "Yes, I believe."  But, when you ask what does this simple little word, this familiar word of "believe" mean, it doesn't seem so easy.  As we read this gospel account, it will seem that way again.

"[They] Believed" Means ...

2.  For example, look at chapter one and verse twelve.  "However, the Word gave those who received him, those who believe on his name the qualifications to be sons of God," says the scripture.  I am omitting some of the details to the story, but [you should] know that "the Word" here stands for Christ.  Therefore, being made a child of God amounts to just accepting and believing on Him.  It is indeed as simple as that.  It seems like if that's all you know that's enough.  But, please go ahead a bit more and take a look at chapter two and verse twenty-three.  It surely says there in the text that "Many people believed on the name of Jesus."  But yet, later the following words come afterwards.  "But, Jesus himself did not trust them."  We see the Lord Jesus knew the inside of peoples' hearts quite well and as such he did not put much stock in the fact that they "believed."

3.  In addition, let's jump a bit and look at chapter eight and verse thirty.  It is written in the text there that "When he had spoken these things, many of the people had believed in Jesus."  It continues next with "Jesus spoke to the Jews who had believed on him."  The text says, as if to push the idea forward, that [there were] "Jews who had believed on him."  Yet, what became of this relationship between them and Christ?  After this, the exchanges between them and Christ are recorded and the conclusion is given in verse fifty-nine.  "Whereupon, the Jews took up stones and would have thrown them at Jesus.  But, Jesus concealed himself, and went out of the temple grounds."  What went on here?  They had believed, hadn't they?

4.  Then, the striking thing is, as we go back a bit, the event recorded in chapter six.  In about the middle of chapter six we have recorded a body of words identified as words that the Lord Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Capernaum.  What did the disciples say upon hearing his speech?  In verse sixty it records the following, "Then, many of the disciples heard this and said, "What he is saying is really terrible.  Who could listen to such sayings as his?'"  Of course, it would seem they did become disciples after they believed Jesus.  But, the Lord says to them, (verse sixty-four), "There are also unbelievers among you."  And in verse sixty-six it is written that "For this reason, many of the disciples departed and no longer walked with Jesus."

5.  "[The Word] gave those who believe on his name the qualifications to become sons of God."  -- That's certainly what it says in the Bible.  It's true, believing alone is good enough.  But, as we have already come to see, the fact is it's not so simple.  The Gospel According To John is not exhorting [us] just to believe, but is taking issue with the substance of what it means "to believe."  Today we read "The Parable Of The Vineyard" in John chapter fifteen.  In this parable as well, we must listen hard to how living as one who believes in Christ is defined.

Being Joined To Christ Means

6.  With that then, please look at chapter fifteen beginning with verse one.  The first thing we notice here is the repetition of the word "to be joined."  This word can also be translated as "to abide in, to remain in, to stay in."  In just this short section for today it occurs seven times in the original [Greek] text.  The reason the word "to be joined" or "to abide in" is being emphasized like this is that there is the circumstance behind it in which "staying" had been distressful and difficult.  Hence, just as you'd know it, we notice an announcement of persecution at a subsequent time comes next.

7.  They say it was around the close of the first century A.D. when this gospel was written.  It was the period of time when Christianity had officially been broken off from Judaism.  That is, the Jews who confessed Jesus as Lord had come to be banished from the synagogues and driven out of [their] Jewish communities.  This was a dreadful situation for the early church.  Judaism was an officially recognized religion in the Roman empire back then.  But, Christianity ended up on the outside of the Judaism that was formally acknowledged as a religion in the Roman empire.  This meant danger in becoming a target for persecution at the state level of imperial Rome.  Indeed, later the church did come to experience a long period of persecution.  Amid such distress and difficulty, it had come to pass that people finally pulled back from the fellowship of the church, people shrunk back from confessing the faith publicly, and if Jews, they went back to Judaism.

8.  It's believed that when John had written chapter fifteen he had these circumstances in the background.  I think others have seen this and the scene to the Last Supper concludes with it in brief at the end of chapter fourteen.  There we have recorded the words of the Lord that say "Now, get up.  Let's leave from here."  In verse thirteen of chapter fourteen before that, the Lord says, "I may no longer speak much with you."  Therefore, you would obviously expect that at this point the talk of the Lord to the disciples would come to an end.  But, in spite of that, the reason John had broken the harmony and wrote it after it is he wanted to get out this message of the Lord however he could.  Because it was such a trying time period the church had to hear this message of Christ.  With this thought in mind I think he had the parable of the vineyard included, which the Lord Jesus had given [one time or another].

9.  In this passage, believing in Christ is spoken of as being joined to Christ and remaining in Christ.  So, what does he mean by being joined to Christ?

10.  Many people think that belief is just what goes on in the heart.  Thus, most people understand being joined to Christ as merely an emotional thing of the heart.  At best they only regard it as something like feeling something special in your heart for Christ, not forgetting Christ, or praying to Jesus.  But, it's clear that Christ never spoke with such intentions.  Because if it were just [a matter] of being joined to Christ in one's heart, the warning of persecution to come would be unnecessary.  If it were just [a matter] of being joined to Christ in one's heart, we could avoid all the difficulties and the persecutions because we should be able to keep it in our hearts, secretly, so it would not be known by others.

11.  The reason the early church faced difficulties was that it publicly confessed "Jesus is Lord" and because it assembled together, confessed "Jesus is Lord" and formed a Christ worshipping association, and did not melt into society in a form so that its existence would not be known.  They came to face a situation of persecution for the very reason that they had lived in such a concrete visible form as Christians and in witness to the gospel.  Thus, "being joined to Christ" does not mean being joined in only the heart.  "Being joined to Christ" comprises a church that testifies to the world of the gospel as it expresses its faith and in expressing its faith takes on the concrete form of being joined to the church and remaining in it.  That is, what is being said here means nothing other than "to be joined to Christ" in such a definite lifestyle as a Christian.

I Too Am Joined To You [All]

12.  Therefore, it becomes apparent why these words of Christ had to be transmitted on.  They are evidently words that express faith as a Christian and are a needed encouragement and comfort from Christ at a difficult time to live joined to the church in its visible form.

13.  These words are very much related to us.  Of course, we are not necessarily bound to experience persecution like the early Christians had experienced.  But, in the real world of every day life, there are plenty of cases where it has been more expeditious to hide and not express one's faith in Christ.  Keeping it only in your heart is so much easier.  Rather than testifying to the salvation of Christ, there are plenty of cases of being just an average "good person," [good] in so far as speaking of only of the things of this world and not touching upon the spiritual dimensions of Christ.  To worship assembled together as Christians and to live the lifestyle as persons joined to the church, the body of Christ, will produce difficult circumstances.  Rather than that, in following the principles of this world instead, they will more likely want to chose to live by turning themselves over to the currents of this world as people of society and according to what society dictates.  In this way, during life there will probably be plenty enough of contexts for us to experience, in which whether or not we are "joined" or "abiding" in our concrete lifestyles as Christians will be at stake.  It is also definitely a problem an inquirer into the faith will frequently encounter whenever it is time for him or her to receive baptism and begin living openly as a Christian or not.  That's why they might want to chose being a person who only believes in Christ in his or her heart.

14.  But, Christ says that it is rather necessary for the church and believers to experience the difficulties of being joined together in this way.  Please look at verse two.  There the Lord says, that which the church experiences is the maintenance that God the Father performs upon them.  It certainly is a time in which they are being held hard in account for whether or not they are a fruit yielding branch, or, whether or not they are a branch that has life going through it.  It is nothing but the time in which the contents of what they have called faith so far is held under account.  But, the purpose itself of God the Father is not really to prune off the branches.  Instead, the point of emphasis in verse two is at the second half [of the verse].  His maintenance is performed so that the branches that are yielding fruit will more and more abundantly yield forth more fruit.  What God is always and ever hoping for is to make the branches overladen with fruit

15.  We see this from the subsequent words of Christ. Christ himself is calling out to us, "Be joined to me," (verse four). He is not saying, "As for you branches, let them be pruned off and removed away by the Father."  The hope of Christ is not that we be branches that are pruned away or thrown away and dried up; for, the Lord knows how miserable that is.  Thus, he politely calls out to us, "Be joined to me."

16.  And it is not just that the Lord is looking to be joined to us, but that he promises that "I too will be joined to you."  We are in no sense fighting it alone.  When we still express our faith in Christ no matter the situation and we would try to live as Christians the Lord is saying to us and encouraging us with "I too am joined to you."  Because Christ himself knows it best above all that unless we keep sharing in the life of Christ a believer cannot keep alive or unless Christ joins himself to the believer, he or she cannot grow or yield forth forth.  The branches do not produce fruit on their own effort or ability.  Since Christ says I too am joined to you, we have no need to fret one bit over our growth or production; for, it is natural that the branch that is alive and joined to the trunk of the tree will grow and produce fruit.  "If a person is joined to me and I too am joined to him, he will abundantly yield forth fruit," says the Lord in verse five.  What we should steadfastly seek is to continue to be joined to the trunk called Christ and to keep abiding in Christ.

17.  As I mentioned earlier, these words continue in the scene of the last supper and are added on in a way that completes it.  The Gospel Of John in this scene of the last supper certainly tells us of the origin of the Lord's Supper [or Holy Communion] as the other gospels do.  But, just as today's passage of scripture has been affixed to the Last Supper, the words "Be joined to me.  I too will be joined to you," might just as well be words that we ought to retain in our hearts whenever we take part in Holy Communion.  Don't you agree?

 
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