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John 15 and the Mission of God

August 2, 2012

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

This verse represents the final “I am” saying of Jesus which affirms his deity, identifying himself with his Father (Exodus 3:14). There are lots of nuances to this verse connecting this mission of the New Testament church with that of Israel. Many of us would like to draw a hard and fast line between the OT and the NT. The truth of the matter, however, is that we are dealing with one continuous story. There is no sense in which there is a break in the story. Instead, there is an unfolding story that happens in the NT with the incarnation of Jesus. Looking at the mission of OT Israel in relation to this NT passage is valuable as we seek the mission of God as modern Christians.  Three observations here:

(1)          The mission is God directed. In the book of Isaiah, there are two “vineyard songs.” These come in Isaiah 5:1-7 and 27:2-6. There, God is pictured as singing over (5:1), judging (5:5-7), keeping (27:3), watering (27:3), and protecting (27:5) his people. The point here is that the Lord is the captain of his own mission. He calls his people to fill the whole world with his image (Isaiah 27:6), but he calls the shots, equips his people, and judges those against his mission.

(2)         The mission is fruit producing. Elsewhere in scripture, the people of God are pictured as plants that make fruit (Psalm 1, Hebrews 6:7-8). Fruit, by its very nature does not benefit the one who produces the fruit. Instead, it is for the enjoyment of others. When we produce fruit, we spread the mission. The mission is about blessing others. The call of Abraham in Genesis 12 was essentially God saying, “I’m going to be so good to you, so that you can be good to others.” The fruit we produce is nourishing, refreshing, and life giving for others. No fruit tree ever ate its own fruit. So…this puts a spin on the common refrain, “I’m a good Christian so why doesn’t God ever bless me?” Maybe that’s not the plan. Maybe you are going through a season of being an offering poured out for the benefit of others, much like our Savior endured.

(3)         The mission is about the source. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine…” This echoes much of the OT call for the fidelity of Israel (Hos. 8:14). Fidelity to the source is key to the mission. God is the source. We must place our hope in Jesus and the promise of redemption both now and final at the end of the age if we hope to align ourselves with God’s mission to be a blessing. Other trust is inadequate at best and antithetical to the mission of God at the worst. Christian’s trust, for example, in Chick-fil-a is misguided because Chick-fil-a is not the vine. There is no hope in a restaurant chain to bring about the righteousness of Christ…only a Savior can do that through the work of his Holy Spirit. Our mission as NT Christians is connected with the OT mission of unobscured fidelity to the one who owns and controls it all.

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