The passage we just heard read, John 15:1-8, just may be one of the most familiar passages in all of the Bible… and one reason for its familiarity is that it contains a very recognizable biblical image: Jesus’ statement, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me you will bear much fruit.’ This image of a vine and its branches is easily understood even if you don’t have any background in grape growing... branches need to be connected to a vine to grow grapes. But, when Jesus first spoke these words about a vine and its branches he wasn’t trying to create a timeless image… no, he was trying to calm his disciple’s fears and embolden them in their prayer lives. You see, he first said these words to his disciples following their final meal together just hours before his arrest… and it was during this meal that Jesus had told his disciples he was leaving them and they couldn’t come with him… and this had confused and frightened them. Now, Jesus did try to calm their fears by telling them that once he was gone the Holy Spirit was going to come to live with them and be present in them. But this hadn’t helped much because they didn’t fully understand all that this meant at the time. Jesus then tried to settle them down by telling them that though he was leaving them soon, he’d be coming back to be with them someday. But, Jesus telling them this didn’t seem to help all that much either. Jesus had said he was leaving and they couldn’t come with him and his disciples were upset. And it is in the midst of all of this that Jesus said the words we heard read earlier. Let’s look at them together. John 15:1 (turn to this page 764).
Before we look at these words in detail, can I tell you something? This passage that we are about to look at scared the tar out of me for years… and it may still scare some of you. It scared me was because of the way I’d heard it taught… with the emphasis on the pruning off, the throwing away and the burning of the fruitless branches. All I could imaging was that my ‘fruit’ wouldn’t meet up to God’s standards and I was destined for the fire. I’d heard people teach that this ‘fruit’ Jesus was talking about was how many people I’d led to Christ and with people like Billy Graham out there leading thousands to Jesus I knew I was in trouble. I’d also heard others say that this ‘fruit’ is ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ that St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Galatians… fruit is things like: love, joy, patience, kindness and self-control. Well, every time I failed at being loving or kind or self-controlled all I could imagine was that I was about to become one of those pruned off-branches destined to be thrown into the fire… and we all know what ‘being thrown into the fire’ ultimately means. Well, I am here to confidently tell you that this passage isn’t about this at all. If you have ever had any of these fears related to this passage take a deep breath. This passage was meant to encourage you… make you bold… bold in following Jesus and bold in your prayers… not to scare you.
But, the first thing we have to talk about in order to see that this was a passage intended to encourage us is the fact that this passage is full of very specific, first century Jewish language that would have made perfect sense to Jesus’ disciples, but it’s language that doesn’t naturally resonate with us 2000 years after the fact. And this highly Jewish, first century language starts right with Jesus’ first words in verse 1, ‘I am the true vine and my father is the gardener.’ When Jesus said this he wasn’t setting up some new metaphor for talking about spiritual things. No, the Jewish people had long believed that the nation of Israel was ‘the true vine of God.’ And they also believed that God was their vine keeper and theirs alone. Why, they were so convinced of this that they’d hung a large grape vine made of gold over one of the doors in the temple and they’d also stamped a grapevine on one side of their coins… it’s not beyond reason to say that the vine had become Israel’s national identity symbol... a symbol of their special connection to God. And they were also certain that the ‘fruit’ God wanted to grow in them was obedience to all of the regulations of the religious law. In other words, ‘good fruit’ was keeping the rules. And Jesus first words say, ‘It isn’t true that Israel is God’s vine. I am the true vine.’ This is pretty strong stuff! And he was also claiming that you had to look to him, not Israel’s rules and regulations, to see what kind of fruit is valuable to God. And then he goes on to say in verse 2 that ‘the branches that ARE bearing fruit God ‘cleans.’ The word in the Greek, (kathiro) doesn’t mean ‘prunes’… it means ‘cleans.’ Now, it gets a bit complicated here; ‘cleans’ was not a horticultural term. No one spoke of ‘cleaning’ vine branches in the first century. But the word ‘clean’ did have a huge meaning in the first century Jewish world. In fact, one of the biggest issues in all of Jewish life was whether something was clean or unclean. Being clean meant you could be in the temple… you could be involved in sacred things. And this was true for everything from simple objects to people! But, if something or someone was found to be unclean, the temple and everything that went on in the temple was off limits. So, when Jesus said that God ‘cleans’ the branches of His vine the disciples would have known immediately that Jesus was telling them that God was making the branches connected to Jesus sacred… ready to be used for sacred purposes. And Jesus goes further in verse 3 saying, ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’ I feel it’s almost impossible for us to understand how radical Jesus’ words would have sounded in the moment… in a world filled with washing rules and don’t eat rules and don’t touch rules all designed to keep people ‘clean,’ for Jesus to say that our believing his word is what really makes us ready to serve and worship God, it would have been mind-blowing… but that is exactly what Jesus was saying.
And then Jesus says, ‘Remain in me as I also remain in you.’ Now the Greek word that is translated ‘remain’ here… or dwell or abide depending on your translation, is ‘meno’ and it is the verbal from of the word that gives us ‘dwelling place’… home… an abode. But to the Jews the word meant more than this; it was the primary Greek word used to speak of the ‘dwelling place,’ the home, the abode of God among his people… in other words, it was a really important word that immediately made Jews think of the tabernacle and the temple. I can’t even begin to tell you how significant this idea of God having a dwelling place, a literal home, among the people of Israel was to the Jews. But take my word for it, when Jesus said, ‘Remain or abide in me as I also abide in you,’ he could not have stated his ongoing desire to be with and in his disciples any stronger. He was telling them… actually commanding them… to live in him, to dwell in him, to remain in him, to make their home in him… and Jesus was also promising to continually live in, dwell in, remain in, abide in, make his home in all who abide in him. And he states very clearly what this abiding in him looks like in verse 5. ‘I am the vine. You are the branches.’ Abiding is a vine and branch type of connection… and he went on to say, if you do abide in me, I’ll abide in you and you will bear much fruit.’ Now, let’s just think for a moment about what Jesus had told his disciples. Who is God is really taking care of? It’s those who abide in Jesus. Who is God really present with and living in? Those who abide in Jesus. Who is God is really using to produce valuable fruit? Those who abide in Jesus. Jesus’ big point was this: his disciples did not need to worry; and you and I do not need to worry either. We can be continually and eternally connected to Jesus. Think about this: when you abide in Jesus, when you become so entwined with him that his life becomes your life and your life become his life, all of the power and the presence of God’s Spirit that flows through Jesus’s veins flows into your veins as well. And the result is that your life becomes sacred… a life that is set apart and ready to be used by God to produce an abundance of valuable fruit… how amazing is that!
Now, I’m confident some of you are thinking, ‘This is all great, Tim, but what does it have to do with prayer that leads to revival? I thought this is what we are talking about during this series?’ Well, hang on because that is exactly where Jesus takes us next! Look at what Jesus says in verse 7! ‘If you do remain in me and my words remain in you ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.’ That’s a pretty strong prayer statement. ‘Whatever you wish.’ I think a better translation might be, ‘Whatever you will… whatever you desire… whatever you hope to see.’ But you get the point. Now, this promise assumes that we are abiding in Jesus; we are called to settling in and entwining our lives with Jesus’ life just like a branch does with a vine. And it assumes that we are allowing Jesus’ words give direction to our lives as well… but, and here is the big point, if we are truly abiding in Jesus and he is abiding in us, if he is our source of life and strength, what on earth would we ever wish for or hope to see in the world that God wouldn’t be more than willing to do for us? And who among us isn’t longing to see revival… in our own lives… in the lives of those we love… in our community and in our nation? But for revival to happen we have to pray abiding prayers… prayer that is rooted in the confidence that we are connected to the true vine and we are the true people of God; for revival to happen we have to pray abiding prayers… prayer that is rooted in the confidence that Jesus word has made us clean, that we can come before God and make our requests known to him without fear; for revival to happen we have to pray abiding prayers… prayer that is rooted in the confidence that God, himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us and empowering us. Abiding prayer is confident prayer that grows out of knowing your life is connected to Jesus’ life in the same way that a vine is connected to its branches. And abiding prayer can lead to miraculous, seemingly impossible, whatever-you-wish answers from God. And right now, one of the most seemingly impossible things that we can imagine happening in our post-Christian, highly secular, self-absorbed, sinful world is revival and yet our wish is that we see revival… a return to a full surrender of individuals and communities and even nations to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a willingness to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit in every moment of every day… and so we must prayers that grow out of all that it means to abide in Jesus, believing that Jesus meant it when he promised, ‘If you remain in me… ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.’ And John must have thought that this promise from Jesus was important because he records Jesus saying exactly the same words in the second half of verse 16… and Jesus says it this time after giving us a list of strong reasons as to why he would even want to answer our whatever-we wish prayers. Starting in verse 9 Jesus says he loves us like his father loves him. Now that’s amazing! Then in verse 14 he says that we are his friends. We throw this word ‘friend’ around fairly casually… but in the ancient world saying someone was your friend was a huge, lifelong commitment. That’s amazing as well. Jesus even added this in verse 15… he doesn’t think of us as his servants! Now, think about this for a moment: who would have argued with Jesus if he’s said that he DID think of us as his servants? He’s Jesus for heaven’s sake. But he doesn’t! And he says the proof that he doesn’t think of us as servants lies in the fact that he has told us what he is doing in the world. Servants, Jesus says, are told what to do without knowing why, but Jesus said straight up that he has shared everything with us… and not just any old everything but everything that God told him to tell us… we aren’t in the dark about God’s desires and so we’re not servants… we are his friends! And if that isn’t enough proof that we are important to Jesus he adds this: he chose us; we didn’t choose him… I could say a lot about this but I’m just going to say this: you are so valuable to Jesus, he has so much confidence in who you can become by abiding in him that he went out of his way to find you. And his 1) love for you, his 2) calling you his friend, his 3) sharing His father’s will with you and his 4) choosing you all points to how much Jesus wishes to abide in you and how much he longs for you to abide in him. This is why he says to us, ‘Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you… And knowing all of this should not only encourage us but it should really change our prayer lives!
We firmly believe that for revival to happen… a spiritual awakening on a scale that we feel needs to happen it will take prayers of consecration and repentance… Dave talked about this two weeks ago… and it will take prayers of faith and boldness… we talked about this last week… next week Dave will talk about the need to pray prayers of persistence if we hope to see revival and I hope you can see how important abiding prayers are in the bringing about of revival. Abiding prayers are not just big, bold prayers; they are confident prayers… prayers that recognize that if we have fully surrendered our lives to Jesus AND the working of power of the Holy Spirit then we have been given the green light to go to God and ask anything we wish… and right now our corporate wish is to see revival breaking out all around us!
And here is why we are longing for revival. We live in a world where the vast majority of people are separated from God. People all around us need to be awakened spiritually and connected to the God of the universe. We know that in God’s garden healing that separation is valuable fruit. And we are confident that revival can bring multitudes of people into a new life of surrender to Jesus. We live in a world filled with pain. Human bodies, minds and spirits are broken. We know that in God’s garden healing pain is valuable fruit. And we believe that revival will awaken God’s people to the healing power of the Holy Spirit and multitudes will find release from the bondage of broken bodies, minds and spirits. We live in a world where people are isolated from one another… a world that is full of hatred… a world filled with the suffering of injustice and a creation weighted down by decay… and in God’s Garden healing any of this is valuable fruit… But the only way that we will see the healing of all of this brokenness is if there is an army of disciples of Jesus released into the world through revival… revival in the lives of individuals who change communities and communities that change nations. And we are confident that this can happen because it has happened before… in fact, it was the very same frightened group of disciples that first heard Jesus say these words that just a few weeks later were the center of the greatest revival in history… and you’ll hear all about this at our 25th Anniversary celebration. And we long for this kind of revival here… I’m going quote Jesus one more time. He said, ‘If you are abiding in me and my words are abiding in you, in other words, if you are living your life allowing the power of the same spirit that flows through my life to flow into yours and if you trust me and believe my words are true, then ask whatever you wish and I will give it to you.’ Jesus makes it very clear in this passage that his wish is to live in you and for you to live with him and in him. He wants you to abide in him, take up residence with him and remain in his presence… and together become so entwined that when people taste the fruit of your life they will taste the heart and soul of Jesus… and once lost people taste the true heart and soul of Jesus revival will happen.
I hope you can see how important it is that we pray abiding prayers if we hope to see revival. These are prayers of great confidence, confidence that our hearts our connected to the heart of Jesus… prayers of great confidence that our desires are connected to the desires of Jesus… prayers of great confidence that the fruit we produce will change the world. And I want to close by praying an abiding prayer over you. A prayer that is a bold statement of my wish for each one of you. A prayer that I am confident that God will be happy to answer… a prayer for our revival.