The True Vine
May 14, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
My Father Is The Farmer
1. Today's third reading is The Gospel According To John chapter fifteen. I'll read to you again from the very beginning part of it. "I am the true vine, my father is the farmer. All the branches that are not bearing fruit while being joined to me, the father will remove. But [he] trims all the ones that are bearing fruit, that they may bear fruit more abundantly," (verses one and two).
2. "All the branches that are not bearing fruit, the father will remove!" [That's] a really frightening statement. As we read such a statement, we'll end up getting absorbed in the thought of "What about me then?" Am I really a branch rich in fruit? Or am I a branch that's not bearing fruit? Will I be a branch that will be removed? Is there really anyone here who can so much as claim with confidence that "I am a fruit bearing branch?" Or else, when I'm pastoring, I often hear statements that go like this, "Even though I've been practicing the faith for a long time, I am barely changing ...," "I haven't been able to [accomplish] a thing for God..." Or, even if none [of you] are saying that, [you] may have a sense of uneasiness as you read this passage.
3. But there's an important statement that one mustn't overlook here. The scripture says, "My father is the farmer." The farmer is God. It is God the Father who looks at whether it is a fruitful branch or not. It's not the people around us. It's not even ourselves. It is God the Father who makes the decision. Therefore, this doesn't seem to be the functionality of simply doing a comparative evaluation through the eyes of others, to tell "How great a job did I do?" Perhaps in places where it looks like there is abundant fruit in the eyes of humankind, God may not see any fruit at all. Then just the opposite, even if in places it doesn't look like there's fruit at all to the human eye, God may see plenty of fruit.
4. When you consider it again, [this question of] "How can one claim [one has] 'plenty of fruit' before God?" is a very difficult question. Nothing seems to readily set forth an answer. And actually there's no need to blindly issue an answer. [That's] because when you look at it carefully, there's not any strong emphasis being placed on "how to define the abundant fruit" in Jesus' words. Jesus is not giving a speech on "What kind of fruit do we have to bear in order not to be cut off?" He's nowhere near that, but instead the strong emphasis is placed on "What kind of branches bear fruit?" What kind of branch is that? Jesus will tell it as follows.
5. Please look beginning with verse three. "Through the words I have spoken, you are already clean. Be joined to me. I am also joined to you. Unless a branch of the vine is joined to the vine itself, just as it cannot bear fruit on its own, unless you also are joined to me, you cannot bear fruit. I am the vine and you are the branches on it. If a person is joined to me and I am joined to that person, that person will bear fruit in abundance; because apart from me you can do nothing," (verses three through five).
6. Just as Jesus says, the abundant fruit is not yielded through the efforts of the branches. The branch itself does not have the power to bear fruit. The Lord says, "Apart from me you can do nothing." When the branch is connected to the trunk in a living way, through that life the branch bears fruit. Therefore, what we must truly be careful about is not whether the self is fruitful or not, but about whether or not the self is joined to Christ as a branch through which [his] life passes.
Be Joined To Me
7. This join, this connection to Christ -- we normally express it as "faith." It is the faith that believes in Christ. As a matter of fact, the word "faith" appears over and over in The Gospel According To John. Believing and matters of faith become [a main] topic. But, I would like for us to carefully consider together why it even uses the word "to be joined" even though it is talking about faith. In truth, this is also the word that can be translated as "to abide, to remain." In this gospel the words "join, abide" appear quite frequently.
8. What then can one say about faith from out of that? First what one ought to say from out of this is that in faith the key is "continuity." For John faith means nothing other than "to abide." A person decides to believe in Jesus Christ. It must truly be the key to that person's life. Will [he or she] accept baptism or not? There are a lot of people who fret and stop there. That one point of departure certainly does have a great deal of significance. But, what has the greatest significance is the continuous line of being pulled from that point. You may have had a dramatic conversion, maybe not; during conversion you may have had great excitement, maybe not; in a certain sense whether you had or not doesn't really matter all that much. What matters is that you continue to believe, that you "abide."
9. So, thus, it is a plain fact that this matter of "being joined [or] abiding" has been given emphasis in this gospel, but then on the other hand of the matter, it also means that in certain cases this matter of "being joined [or] abiding" can be difficult to the point of distress. As you already know, when it's easy, there's no need for "being joined [or] abiding" to even be said.
10. As we keep reading and thinking this way, a message about "an advanced notice of persecution" will be found in the text in the second half of this chapter, as might have been expected. It's [in] verses eighteen and following. Jesus spoke in advance about the persecution which his later disciples would undergo. And it became true. About the time The Gospel According To John was written, the church was facing great trials and difficulties.
11. After this, concerning faith, we see the second and more important thing, which is that when faith is expressed with the words "be joined, abide" it doesn't merely mean "the conditions in the heart." "Being joined to Christ" does not just mean to be joined to Christ in one's heart.
12. The reason we even have to touch upon this point is that there are a lot of folks who only think of being joined to Christ to that degree. How are we joined to Christ? We are always to think fondly of Christ. We are not to forget Christ. We are to pray to Jesus. Aren't there people who think like that? -- But, when Jesus said "Be joined to me," it is clear that he did not mean it to that degree. [That's] because if it were good enough just to be joined to Christ in our hearts, then "the advanced notice of persecution" after that would have been unnecessary. Whenever one is joined to Christ only in the heart, one can bypass any amount of distressing difficulty and persecution; [that would seem to be a reason] why [Christ] ought to abide in a heart, secretly, so that no one else finds out.
13. In sum so far, being joined to Christ does take a concrete form and is not just in the heart. It takes a form visible to the eye.
If My Words Abide In You
14. With that I would like us to take notice of the statement in verse seven. Jesus also goes on to say, "If you are joined to me and my words are always in you, ask for whatever you desire, and so then it will be granted," (verse seven).
15. It's hard to understand in The New Interconfessional Version that we have, but in the original text the word "to be joined" or "to abide" is repeated twice. The scripture says, "If you are joined to me and my words are joined to you (if they abide in you)." Thus, during the act of "being joined to Christ" the act of "the words of Christ abiding [in a person]" takes place. In brief, Christ is saying that [a person] is joined to Christ by the word of Christ abiding in [him or her].
16. Well then, what does "the word of Christ abiding [in a person]" mean? By what means and where does it take place, this abiding that the word of Christ does? If it was the time when Jesus used to walk on the earth, you could say, quite naturally, that it took place around Jesus, wherever Jesus' voice reached. Jesus would speak. The people would hear his words and their minds would open. Thus, his words would abide in the people. That's understandable enough. However, the problem is later after Jesus rose from the dead and went back to heaven. At the time when The Gospel According To John was written Christ was no longer on the earth in a form visible to the eye. In that sense we're the same as the people of that time period.
17. Well, in that case what is to happen? How does the connection to or the abiding in the words of Christ who is not on the earth in a visible form take place? [Could] it be through daily scripture reading? [Could] it be the act of retaining the words of Christ as written in the scripture in [the depths of] our hearts? No, it is clear that this statement does not mean such a thing at its fundamental core. That's because people did not have printed Bibles of their own like today, not in the times of Jesus or even in the period when the gospels were written. Since that is the case, where does the abiding of the words of Christ take place? I think you've already realized it; it has been in the places of worship, where [people] gather in the name of Jesus. It is in the places where [people] encircle the Lord's table, the bread is broken, the wine is shared and [they] worship the Lord expressing faith together. That's where it has been taking place, there where the word of God is given, the word of God abides in each person. Even by considering the setting in which this "parable of the vineyard" was spoken you will understand. Where was this spoken? It was [at] "the last supper." For the span of two thousand years the church has been repeating that last supper. Why [has it been doing that]? For the very reason that that has been the place where the word of Christ abides in the people. It has been in this manner that people have been joined to the words of Christ and have been joined to Christ, even to this day.
18. So, Jesus desires that the connection between trunk and branch, the connection between Jesus and us, takes a form visible to the eye in this world. We mustn't be transparent vine branches that are invisible to everybody. Jesus desires the kind of vine whose numerous branches are spreading, so that anyone in the world can see them. In that sense Jesus says to us, "Be joined to me."
19. Also, not only does the Lord require [of us] that he be joined to us, but he has promised that "I too will be joined to you." In no sense [of the word] are we fighting a lone battle. The Lord himself encourages us, saying that "I too will be joined to you" no matter what the situation, when we still express faith in Christ, are joined to the church, and trying to live as Christians in a form visible to the eye. What a joyful [situation]!
20. Also, since Christ is saying that "I too will be joined to you," we no longer need to worry one bit over whether we ourselves are fruitful branches or not. "Even though I've been practicing the faith for a long time, I am hardly changing ...," "I haven't been able to [accomplish] a thing for God..." It doesn't matter so much how we look to our own eyes. There is no need for us to worry at all because Jesus says "If a person is joined to me and I am joined to that person, that person will bear fruit in abundance." These are the words of the faithful promise from Jesus. The important thing is that [we] are to be joined [to him]. We are to be joined in a form visible to the eye. At all times no matter when, we are to be joined. People don't see and measure the abundance of the fruit. If we are joined [to Christ], then ultimately God the Father will see the abundant fruit in our lives.