IN THE MEANTIME - ABIDE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 6, 2009
Intro Vid: Escalator Temporarily Stairs [00:00 - 01:38]
How do we live grace in the meantime?
- We abide [John 15:1-11; Luke 24:29; 1 John 2:28]
- We behold [John 15:12-15; Numbers 21:9; 2 Corinthians 3:18 KJV]
- We become [John 15:16-17; Galations 5:25-26; Ephesians 3:7]
Isn’t that video hilarious? I believe it was originally created for a health care company encouraging regular check ups with your doctor so you could stay healthy enough to walk up the stairs if—God forbid—you actually had to. But aside from the exaggerated humor of this clip, what attracted me to it was that guy’s statement and question at the end. “There are two people stuck on an escalator. And we need help. Now, would somebody please do something?”
And that’s a question I hear Christians asking today. Yes, we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But once we know that, how do live it? This is the subject Jesus turns to next in John 15. So please turn there and let’s read today’s passage. The disciples were learning how to live grace in the looming shadow of the cross. We’re learning to live it in the light of the 2nd Advent.
Jesus said, “1I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.”
For years the prophets of the Old Testament had likened Israel—not God—to the vine. Isaiah 5:7 says, “ 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.” Jeremiah 2:21 adds that God planted Israel “Like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.” And in John 15:6 when Jesus warns the disciples that anyone who does not abide in Him will eventually become like a withered branch that is collected and burned, He was probably referring to the prophetic warning they would have been familiar with found in Ezekiel 15:1-8 describing Jerusalem as a useless vine that could be fuel for the fire.
So familiar with this terminology of the vine and its branches were the architects of Herod’s temple, they decorated the entrance to it with the leaves of the vine. The people who coined their money put clusters of grapes on their coins. And so dependent upon that connection were the Jews that they came to believe their salvation came from being from Israel. But Romans 11 describes how Israel had proven unfaithful to is spiritual advantages and had rejected its true king.
So now, after sharing the Lord’s Supper [John 13:2], and then getting up to wash the disciples feet [John 13:4] including those of Judas before his exit stage left [John 13:30], John 14:31 says Jesus is ready to leave the Upper Room. But before Jesus makes his exit, or perhaps on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, as they were walking and talking and maybe even passing a vineyard outside the walls of the city, Jesus pauses long enough to talk about a very familiar image. But instead of using the image in the normal comparison, he tweaks it. He tells them instead in John 15:1 that “I am the true vine. And my Father is the Gardener.”
His meaning, especially thought provoking to these men familiar with its traditional usage, was unmistakable. Jesus was saying institutional Israel can’t save you. Only through a vital connection with Him could men and women be saved. And this is point number one. How do we live grace in the meantime? We abide in Christ. In the meantime, we place our trust not in institutions or genealogies or man made buildings, but in the living body of Christ. Which would soon be dead and broken for theirs on the cross. Unlike Judas, who Jesus could have been alluding to as one who was pruned away, He was telling His disciples to stay with him. Seven times in the first eight verses, He repeats this command. Stay, remain, or as in the KJV, abide in me. Abide in me. Abide in me. Obviously, he didn’t want us to forget point number one!
And thanks to the Anglican preacher and hymn writer Henry Francis Lyte, we won’t! Born in 1793, he was orphaned at 9 years old following the abandonment of his father and the death of his mother who had previously taught him to pray and told him stories from the Bible. Adopted by a school master and trained for the ministry, Lyte spent most of his time in the poor fishing village of Lower Brixham in Devon in England. In poor health throughout his life, he developed consumption which he suffered with the last 23 years of his life. But He continued to preach sermons, write poems and hymns, and serve his parish. He was known to have said, “It is better to wear out than to rust out” and wear out he did. But not before he enjoyed 29 happy years of marriage to Anne Maxwell who comforted him in the death of their infant daughter he named Anna Maria after his mother. His doctor repeatedly advised him to live in a warmer climate. So in preparation for one of his prolonged winters away, he preached what turned out to be his last sermon to his congregation on September 4, 1847 and died shortly thereafter in southern France.
But before he died, he wrote the tune to the hymn “Abide With Me.” And after he finished preaching his last sermon, that evening he added the words we still sing today. They were based on the disciples who meet but do not recognize the resurrected Jesus walking down the road to Emmaus and their invitation in Luke 24:29 to “‘Stay [abide] with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”
But whether we’re like the disciples in Emmaus who didn’t recognize Jesus, or whether we’re like the disciples who remained with Jesus in that Upper Room and followed Him to Gethsemane, the main point they emphasize is the same and is as relevant now as it was then. Jesus wants us to stay, remain, or abide with Him. And if we’re His disciples, we will want to! And choose to. Every day until Jesus literally comes again. 1 John 2:28 says it this way: “28And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” That’s some good advice. That’s why I write that verse in the covers of books and Bibles I give away to dads and grads and everyone else. How do we live grace in the meantime? Whether we recognize Jesus as being near us or not? We abide in Him. We remain in Him. We stay with Him. That’s point number one.
Moving on, John 15:12-15 adds, “12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
Previously, Jesus had implied that the disciples were his servants. In John 13:13, Jesus said, “13You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.” And in verse 20 of chapter 15, he reminds them of that so they won’t be surprised by the ridicule and persecution they’ll be facing shortly. But now that’s he talking only to the disciples that have already demonstrated a willingness to abide and stay with Him, Jesus now wants them to behold Him in a new way. No longer does He want them to see Him as the only the true vine and Lord above all. Now, he wants to remind them that they are also really friends. Why? Because Jesus has made known everything to them. And because true friends are willing to die for each other.
That’s what Jesus hoped Judas would understand when He washed his feet. It’s what He hoped the rest who remained would remember and be known by when He said in John 13:34 “Love one another as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” So how do live grace in the meantime? We behold him differently. We see Him as the true vine and Lord above all but simultaneously we see him as our friend.
Whenever I think of this concept, I always think back to the lines from the classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web. Charlotte is a talking, gray spider that basically saved Wilbur the talking pig’s life. For those of you who have not read it yet, I will not ruin it by going any further. For me, the punch line came near the end of the book when for a variety of reasons Charlotte and Wilbur must say good bye. But before they do, Wilbur with a questioning look in his eyes asks, “Why did you do all this for me? I don’t deserve it.” Charlotte replies, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you.” In a tender moment, right before Wilbur says good bye, he states, “I would gladly give my life for you—I really would.”
Sometimes, I think that we as adults make Christianity harder than it should be. But Christianity is actually pretty simple. And maybe that’s why Jesus pointed Nicodemus to a story the people back would have told their children and grandchildren. This one wasn’t a fairy tale, it just sounded that way. The story is told in Numbers 21. In Numbers 21, the children of Israel are in the wilderness, they have left Egypt, they’re in route to Canaan, they’re wandering around. There comes a point where they begin being bitten by a whole slew of poisonous snakes. And apparently, the poison is so serious that people are dying like left and right. So Moses goes to God in prayer and says the people are dying. What do I do? Numbers 21:8-9 says, “8The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ 9So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
Crazy children’s bedtime story? Nope. Jesus used it as exhibit A in his discussion with Nicodemus in John 3:14-15 to illustrate what true friendship looks like. And in the same way that people looking at the bronze snake were healed, so everyone who believes in Him would have eternal life when He would be lifted up on the cross. That’s what Jesus meant when He said in John 15:13, “13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
But how do we do that? Some of us don’t even want to share our waffles at breakfast much less die for those who would like a bite! All joking aside, how do we live grace in the meantime? Point number one: We abide in Christ. We stay with Him. Even when we don’t feel Him near or recognize His presence. And point number two: We behold Him. Not just as the true vine and Lord above all, but as our tremendous friend. But how can we behold Him today? Certainly, there are many ways. But I’ve found these three among the most effective. I talked about one of these three “beholding principles” at nearly every chapel talk on Fridays all school year long. I call them PRS. Which stands for Pray, Read, Share.
And prayer is primarily about praising God for who He is. For what He’s done. For what He promises to do. Kids are really good at this. My kids praise God for spaghetti, for making clouds, for doggie shampoo, for helping him pass his 12's times tables [they can go on and on and on]. So much so that at dinner time if I'm really hungry, I just do the prayer myself because who knows how long Josh or Lydia will go before they're done praising God! Another thing about prayer that kids just seem to know it’s always okay to ask God for anything in prayer. And God always answers every single one. 1 John 5:14 says we can be confident of that. Especially when we ask according to God’s will like Jesus did in Gethsemane. So that’s the first thing you can do today to behold Him as a friend. You can talk to him as a friend through praises and prayer requests.
The next thing you can do to behold Him more today is you can read about Him. The best place to do that is the Bible. Especially the Gospels. The next best place to do that is in books about the Bible. I’m reading one right now called Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. It’s fascinating. There’s always new things to discover and appreciate more. But reading the Bible for a relationship is different than reading it for research. To fill in the blanks in the quarterly. I suggest you read it for a relationship with Jesus if you really want to behold the true self-sacrificing friendship of Jesus.
And lastly, to behold Him, you should share your prayer or what you’ve read about Him that day with someone else. You could do this by phone, fax, email, blog, in person, in prayer, or simply in response to how your day is going. Barna says 78% of Americans won’t be going to any church this weekend. But 71% of them are interested in talking about why you did! Where you work is a humongous mission field! So read in public. And be prepared to share what you’re reading and why.
But the coolest part about praying, reading, and sharing is that it is changes us. When we behold Christ more and more, as that song goes, the things of this earth grow strangely dim. 2 Corinthians 3:18 KJV says it this way, “18But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” So don’t delete your bad playlists. I can remember pastors telling me to burn my CDs that aren’t Christian. I never tell anyone to do that. Why? Because the things of this earth will grow strangely dim not suddenly dim! And because my standards for that which is appropriate are so much lower than God’s!
Besides, we love our children not because they listen to all the right things and avoid all the wrong things—we love them because they are our children! Right? As parents, we expect our children to be growing and maturing. We expect mistakes. We deal with rebellion and disobedience. We teach, we nag, we beg, we warn, we discipline—but we never disown. And neither does God. We know this is true because Jesus didn’t disown Judas. Judas disowned Jesus! Right? That’s what I think Jesus means by pruning in John 15:6. That’s what withering on the vine looks like. And that’s why Ezekiel warned us against it. He knew the day could come that if you don’t choose to behold Him, you will eventually disown Him. It happened to Judas. It could happen to you.
So fight the right fight of faith. 1 Timothy 6:12 says, “Fight the good fight of faith.” And the right fight is the fight of faith. Submit to Jesus. Draw close to Him, and James 4:7-8 says if we draw close to God, God will draw close to you. Our job is to abide in Christ. Point number one. And behold Him as our friend. That’s point number two. And then, miraculously, we become more and more like Him. John 15:16 says, “16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” Max Lucado says it this way: “The longer we walk in the garden, the more likely we are to smell like flowers.”
Galations 5:25-26 says, “25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Instead, let’s do what Paul did in Ephesians 3:7 which says, “7I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.” So what’s our job? What does God want us to do? How do we live grace in the meantime?
Our job from now until the day Jesus comes again, is to stay connected to Christ. And that is something the weakest baby Christian can do. If you can fall out of bed, you can abide in Christ. And if you stay connected to Him and practice some simple but not easy ways to behold Him, God will help you become more like Him moment by moment and day by day. He is the true vine. We are the branches. That’s the way Christianity and a relationship with God worked with those disciples back then. And that’s how we live too can live grace in the meantime.