Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 6/16/02
"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3, NIV).
Our topic for today is found in John, Chapter 15, where Jesus told His disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He 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" ...If 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" (John 15:1-2, 6-7, NIV). Preachers use this passage to prove that if we do not obey the commandments, we will be cut off and cast into the eternal fires of hell. The passage does not say that, nor is it referring to our destiny after death. It speaks symbolically of our relationship to Christ, our Vine, and God, our Gardener, in the here and now.
Misconceptions occur when the Western mind tries to logically process the words which were penned by an Eastern writer. The Jews thought and spoke in symbols, such as "Our God is a rock," meaning He is steadfast and unmovable. We think more logically, and would just say, "Our God is steadfast and unmovable." This is why it takes the Holy Spirit to open up the scriptures, and interpret what they mean for us today. The words of Jesus capture our imagination, burn in our souls, and move our spirits to action, and yet, they are often mystical and sometimes difficult to comprehend, especially when we try to twist them into our own ideas. This is why God knocked Saul of Tarsus off his horse on the Damascus Road, and called him to be an Apostle, a bondslave of Jesus Christ. The Lord put this fiery Jew into a Roman jail, I believe, so that he would pen the great epistles which bring Jesus' words into focus for us and give meaning to concepts sometimes mysterious and difficult to understand.
For example, Jesus uses the metaphor of vines, branches, and a gardener who prunes off the dead branches and throws them into the fire. Paul says it this way: "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames" (I Cor. 3: 11-15, NIV).
Every week, we light a candle here to remind us that our God is light and He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Fire burns, but scientists tell us that it does not really destroy matter; it only changes it from one form to another. Burning wood does not destroy it, but changes it into ash, a different form of matter. In these verses, the apostle is speaking of building on the foundation of Christ Himself, which alone, will survive the consuming fire. The wood, hay and straw will be burned up, he says, but though the person himself will suffer loss, he will be saved "... as one escaping through the flames. "Our works must pass the test of fire. If they are ordained by God, they will survive; if they are of our flesh, they will be burned up, but we ourselves will be saved. This is not what the church teaches, but it is what the Apostle Paul said, and as for me and my house, I will stand with him, rather than with popular church doctrine.
On another occasion, Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matt. 7:21-23, NIV). Here, He is speaking of people who were serving God on their own steam, by their own direction, rather than by His. To put it another way, their works are fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, rather than from the Tree of Life. They will not stand the test of fire.
"But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (Matt. 7:26-27, NIV). Both this parable of the house built on sand, and Paul's analogy of building on a foundation of hay, wood, and straw speak of following the Holy Spirit's guidance, rather than the doctrines of men or the dictates of the carnal mind.
When Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, God had been silent for four hundred years, the time between the end of what we know as the Old Testament, the Book of Malachi, and the beginning of the New Testament. During those dark centuries, God did not speak to Israel through prophets or judges or kings. When God was silent, bleak despair must have weighed heavily on His chosen people. Into this gloomy world of people walking in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), the Light of the World was born, the One who brought light unto every man (John 1:9; 8:12; 9:5). In Him, Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Isaiah 9:2, RSV; See also Matt. 4:16). Light is a beautiful metaphor for truth, for life and for God Himself. Because Christ lives in us, we are light bearers to the sin weary world (Matt. 5:14). The Apostle Peter said, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9, RSV).
Of the vine and the branches, Jesus said, "Remain 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. "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.... If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15:4-5,7-8, NIV). It could NOT be plainer that we cannot bear fruit by ourselves. "Apart from me," He said, "you can do nothing." Would to God that each of us would meditate on this verse every time we get ready to rush off and save the world. Christians have suffered untold guilt and frustration because of what they thought they needed to do and did not or could not do. "Apart from me, you can do nothing." Last week, we read about Jonah, who was sent on a mission by God, but decided he did not want to go. He found out that it does not pay to disobey the Lord. On the other hand, if He does NOT send you, and you go anyway, your works will not stand the test of fire.
When I asked the Lord about this week's lesson, He gave me the title, and a graphic of grapes growing on a vine. When I began to write, He showed me that when we are connected to the Vine, we are intimately joined with the Lord (Zec. 2:11). We are one flesh with Him, as Paul's comparison of us to parts of a human body makes clear (I Cor. 12:12-27). But more importantly, we are connected to Him in the sense that His life's blood flows through our spirits, transforming us into His image and likeness and renewing our minds (Rom. 8:29;12:2). Our "job description" is FIRST to be joined to Him. This must happen before anything else can. If the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead dwells in us, it shall quicken, or make alive, our MORTAL bodies (Rom. 8:11). This means a lot more than just healing us of our diseases, discomforts, and pains. It means that we are MADE ALIVE by the living God dwelling within us.
Jesus prayed this prayer for His disciples: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world" (John 17:22-24, NIV). It is only when we are in Christ that the world will believe we are from God. When we go out on our own and say what we have learned from men, the world looks at us in disgust. They do not recognize the Father in us. However, when we are one with Christ as He is one with the Father, we see His glory and the world sees His glory in us as well.
God's glory is a marvelous, marvelous gift. It shown round about the manger when Christ was born, drawing the shepherds and wise men alike. It glowed on the face of Christ when He was transfigured on the mountain. It filled the Disciples with wonder and awe when they physically touched the risen Lord, and it poured out in power and might on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit baptized them with tongues of fire on their heads. The same glory which raised Christ from the dead turned the ancient world upside down. It flowed from heart to heart, mending souls and healing broken bodies and minds, delivering men and women from the power of the evil one, displaying the wonder of the Christ to principalities and powers. It shouted to creation, "Now are you being delivered. Soon the burden of sin and death and decay will be lifted from you and you will be returned to the pristine condition you enjoyed in the Garden." Hallelujah. The power flowed because the men who had walked and talked with Christ were connected with Him on a cellular level. They were bearing His glory and declaring His name to all they met because His life coursed through their spirits, through their blood, through their very DNA. They had been born anew from on high, and from the throne, seated in heavenly places with Him, they conquered the known world, not with a sword, but with the unconditional love of God. Connected to the Vine, they bore precious fruit to the hungry world, and Saints of the Most High, being connected to Him is the ONLY way any of us can bear fruit to the dying world.
How do we connect with the Vine? All religious systems have evolved because men have made formulas, created doctrines, and organized committees, trying to figure out how to do it. This is why the world yawns when they hear about another church group, another bible study class, another effort to please God. What does any of that have to do with their pain, their hurt, their confusion, their darkness? The other night, I was talking to the Lord about the back pain that has plagued me intermittently this spring. I asked Him why? What I heard was "The heathen are in great pain." I knew He was referring to my oft repeated statement that when God manifests His Sons, we will speak peace to the heathen (Zech. 9:10). My pain eased, but the heathen are still struggling with pain and despair and sickness, both physical and emotional. "Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?" (Ps. 2:1). They are angry and rebellious because God has always worked through a remnant, and they were excluded, left out, cut off from the goodies, the Covenant relationship Israel enjoyed with God. Soon, the rest of this prophecy will come to pass, for God has set the King of kings and Lord of lords upon His holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6), and has said to Him, "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Ps. 2:8-9, KJV). The breaking in pieces like pottery is symbolic language meaning that the world (the heathen), will be ruled by the love of God and brought into submission to Him the way His Sons are.
The short definition of the kingdom of God is that everywhere the King rules, there is the kingdom. There is NO place in the Universe where God does not reign, but in some places, the heathen do not see him YET. In fact, in some churches, the brethren do not see Him yet either, having projected out into the future, a return of Christ where He establishes a literal reign on David's throne in Jerusalem. Those who believe this, have not seen the reign of Christ NOW. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18), He said to His disciples just before He ascended. Dare we doubt it?
Being connected to the Vine means that we are IN Christ. We cannot put ourselves there. That is a "God-job" from start to scratch. My helpers here, Sherry, Jan and Al are great gardeners. Beautiful plants grow and flourish when they till the soil. I asked Sherry to bring us a visual aid today from her garden. Here, we have a beautiful bouquet of flowers which she just picked, and here, a bunch of dead flowers that she picked earlier, which have died because their life line was cut. The beautiful flowers will die soon, as well, because they are no longer connected to their life source. The dead flowers, are fit only to be tossed into the flames and burned. This is what Jesus and Paul were talking about. The Gardener prunes off the dead branches, and throws them into the flames so that the plant will be stronger, healthier and able to produce more fruit. A cluster of grapes has no say about its life on the vine. It takes nourishment from the vine, but it did not do anything on its own to be on the vine. It grows and flourishes at the good pleasure of the vine and the gardener. Likewise, we do not have any will of our own or any say in our life in Christ. Connected to the Vine, we take our marching orders directly from the Gardener, and "as He is, so are we in this world" (I Jn. 4:17). In the lives of His elect, God is in the process of pruning the dead wood, trimming off the rotten parts and throwing them into the fire. He does this so that what remains will be strong, healthy, and fruitful in Him. The fire of God is consuming off all the dross, so that we may bear precious fruit in Jesus our Lord. "Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." When God has finished His work in us, the world will see the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, in us, in Him. Lord, haste the day. Glory to the Father. Glory to the Son, and Glory to the Spirit, to Three in One. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Bearing fruit in the kingdom"
"Entering into rest without dying"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web, on 6/15/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last edited on 10/29/08.