Expository Sermon on John 15:1 – 17
Bellevue SDA Church 9/1/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
Here’s the audio for this service, which features the dedication of Jay and Erica St. Michell’s baby boy Elliott. First you’ll hear Erica’s uncle, Mike Gammon, tell the children’s story. Then you’ll hear Elliott’s older sister Violet, joining with cousins and friends, singing “Jesus Loves Me.” Pastor Maylan Schurch preaches a sermon on John 15:1 – 17 (one of Erica’s favorite passages.) Jay and Erica and Maylan offer prayers of dedication for Elliott, and Shelley Schurch extends the dedication to the entire congregation. To hear the audio, click the triangular “play” button at the left edge of the line just below.
Please open your Bibles again to John chapter 15.
It is a privilege for me to be able to have a part in dedicating another of Erica’s and Jay’s children. This happened when Violet was born, and it’s happening again with Elliott today.
As a pastor I can’t really dedicate someone’s child to the Lord. It is the parents who do that, and that is why I asked Jay and Erica to help me with this morning’s worship service. They have chosen the Scripture reading, which I will preach on in a few seconds. They chose the person who told our children’s story. Violet and her cousins and friends provided the special music. Jay has chosen the closing song. And at the end of this sermon, I will invite Jay and Erica to bring Elliott to the front for his dedication.
I would like to thank all of the family and others who have put today’s service in their schedules. And it’s a double privilege for me, because once upon a time, back in the Shoreline church, I helped dedicate Jay as a baby to the Lord.
As I mentioned, the family chose the Scripture for today’s service. The first 17 verses of John chapter 15 happen to be one of Erica’s favorite passages.
These are some beautiful verses, but they are even more significant when we remember that when Jesus spoke them, He was just a few hours from being captured in the garden of Gethsemane, and taken to several trials, after which He would be crucified the following afternoon.
So these are important words, because they were important to Jesus Himself. This would actually be the last conversation He would have with His friends before the mob and the soldiers came to separate them.
When I was a kid in church school, I would read these verses with a bit of concern. For one thing, they talked about bearing fruit, and people who talked about these verses always implied that bearing fruit meant winning souls to Jesus. And when I was a kid, I hadn’t won any souls to Jesus. I would worry that I was not “bearing fruit.”
Another feature of these verses that concerned me was Jesus’ talk about pruning. Pruning meant cutting twigs off branches. And I got kind of worried about the kind of pruning God might do to me. I knew it would not be literal pruning, but maybe it would hurt – not physically, maybe, but emotionally. Maybe God would deprive me of things. Maybe my life would become dutiful and dull.
Well, I needn’t have worried. As we go through these verses, I think you’ll see how encouraging they are. As we go along, I’ll be building a sentence, phrase by phrase. So if you’d like to poise your pen or pencil and get ready for that sentence, I just wanted to give you a heads up.
Because by the time we leave this morning, I believe will be carrying with us a deeply encouraging sentence which will not only keep us where God wants us, but will bring joy not only to us but to Him and to His Son. And we owe them so much, don’t we? Let’s find out how to make them happy.
By the way, John chapter 15 comes immediately after John 14, where we hear Jesus say that we should not be worried, because He is going to prepare a place for us, and soon He will return to take us to where He is. And John 15 follows right along and tells us how to be ready for that happy reunion.
John 15:1 [NKJV]: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Bible scholars and students think that maybe, as He and His disciples are walking away from the Last Supper, out of the city toward Gethsemane, Jesus notices some grapevines, and pauses to use them as a little parable of how close He and His Father want to be to us.
And this is really close, isn’t it? If Jesus is the vine, and we’ll learn a little bit later that we are the branches, and if God is the gardener, that’s close. That’s nearby. That’s constant care and nourishment.
In fact, let’s start our sentence now. This sermon is going to have four parts, but they’re not really four sermon points, just one sentence that gets longer after we add each phrase.
So thinking of what we just read, here’s the first part of this sentence. Here’s what Jesus has told us so far.
God and His Son stay close to you and me . . . .
And remember, that’s not the whole sentence, so put a “dot-dot-dot” after it, because some more is coming along.
Closeness is something I have noticed that naturally happens between a parent and a little baby. Last week we saw Daniel and Cesia’s newborn boy Benjamin right here, for the very first time. And back when Elliott first showed up at church, Erica would not let him out of her arms. When I walked up and took a look at him, I assured Erica that I would not touch him, or even just pat him on his little cheek. I said, “I’ve been shaking a lot of people’s hands.” Nurse Erica told me “Thank you” in an earnest and grateful voice.
I’ll tell you one thing I’ve never seen in all my first-time introductions to new little babies. I have never seen the parents casually lay that newborn down on the pew, all by itself, and wander away and have long conversations with people. No, being a mom or a dad of a newborn means utter and continuous closeness.
And that’s what’s happening here, with God and His Son. Jesus is the vine, and His Father is the caretaker of the vine and the branches.
Maybe the idea of God and His Son Jesus wanting to stay close to us isn’t a very familiar one to you. But if you look back through the Bible story, you’ll find that God and His Son, and the Holy Spirit, have always been close, as close as they dare. Creation was a joint project among the three of them. And when it came time to create humanity, God didn’t simply speak Adam and Eve into existence, as He had done with the other parts of creation. Instead, He knelt down in the dirt of the garden, and personally formed Adam, and then Eve with His own hands. That’s closeness.
And it’s even closer when we remember that God created us in His image. He wanted us, in some way we are not quite sure about, to look like Him. Both Violet and Elliott are created in the image of their parents, and we all are created in God’s image.
And then, when Adam and Eve sinned, God didn’t back away, but instead walked through the garden and had a quiet conversation with them. And even after He had to banish them from the garden, He returned again and again, sometimes with an audible voice. God spoke aloud from the top of Mount Sinai. And there He gave Moses instructions for building a beautiful tent, so that God Himself could live right there in that tabernacle, maybe no more than 50 yards from the nearest family tent. And of course when He sent Jesus to become one of us, and live among us, and die for us, and then live within us, that’s closeness.
So what should I do, what is my part, in maintaining this closeness? Jesus will give us more details in a moment, but I need to ask these divine beings to come even closer to us.
This is not a scary thing to do. Elliott has absolutely no problem with being close to Jay or Erica. That’s where he feels safest. In fact, when I see a parent holding a child, and if the child is old enough to look around and really notice what’s happening, you’ll notice that when a strange grown-up approaches, the little kid will stare with concern at the grown-up, and will suddenly turn his head toward mom or dad, and hug them close.
And since Jesus called God almost nothing besides “Father” in the four Gospels, He is strongly signaling that this is the way God wants us to think about Him. Because it’s true. In Psalm 103, verse 13, David says, “As a father pities [or shows compassion to] his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.”
So we need to open our hearts to this heavenly presence. “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus.” In Revelation 3, Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock,” and then suggests that we invite Him in.
Now it’s time to add another phrase to our sentence. Let’s pick it up again at verse one.
Verses 1 – 2: “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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
So now let’s add some more to the sentence we are building. What is Jesus telling us?
God and His Son stay close to you and me . . . carefully pruning us . . .
Again, you’ll need to leave a dot-dot-dot, because we aren’t done yet.
So, what about this pruning? Does it hurt? Will God’s figurative pruning be unpleasant for us? Well, I’ve discovered it doesn’t have to be. It depends on our attitude.
Think of it like getting a haircut. The only time Elliott might dislike a haircut will be maybe when he’s given his first one. Over at Crossroads Mall there is a combination barbershop and styling salon which seems to focus pretty big on kids. I don’t remember what all they have in there, because I just happened to glance through the window as I walked by, but I think they have little cars the kids can pretend to be driving as they get their hair cut. There might even be a plastic horse they can ride on. Everything is bright and colorful, and the people who cut the hair are really nice, and fun. I don’t remember my own first haircut, but I have been told that it was a traumatic experience for all of us involved.
Or think of this heavenly pruning like a parent teaching you to drive a car. This is where parental pruning gets really serious. My dad taught me to drive on prairie gravel roads. Some of those roads were just basically one lane, and you drove along, kicking up dust behind you, until you came to a hill.
And then, with much fervent admonition from your father, you approached that hill cautiously, and you slowed ‘way down, and you guided your car as much to the right as you could without going into the ditch, and you hoped against hope that some crazy hot-rodder wouldn’t choose this moment to roar over the top of that hill from the other direction, and slam into you. So on every one of those first driving-instruction trips you take with your dad or mom, you get pruned.
Or think of it as learning to sing from a voice teacher. John Berggren, my voice teacher at Northern State College in South Dakota, assigned me religious music to practice. And he quickly picked up that when I was supposed to sing the word “Lord,” I always sang “Lard.” And he pruned me. “No,” he said. “It’s not Lard, but Lo-oo-oord.”
And I didn’t resist that pruning. Instead, I accepted it gratefully. I said, “Whoops. Sorry,” and did my best to sing it the way he wanted me to.
So what should I do, now that Jesus has reminded me that God wants to carefully prune me? I need to remember that attitude is key. I need to ask for this pruning, and accept it gratefully. I need to pray prayers like David’s “pruning prayer,” the last couple verses of Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”
Now let’s add another phrase to this very important sentence. Because things are getting pretty serious now. We’ve just heard that every of vine-branch which isn’t productive is removed, and while we know that we are not literal branches on literal vines, this is something of a sobering statement.
That’s why I think verse three is especially encouraging.
Verse 3: You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Do you see that word “clean”? That’s the exact same Greek word which is translated “prune” in verse 2, except in verse 2 it’s a verb, and in this verse it’s an adjective. But it’s exactly the same word. So you could translate verse 3 this way: “You are already pruned because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
So there is a way to become pruned or cleansed. In fact, here’s where we add another phrase to our sentence.
God and His Son stay close to you and me . . . carefully pruning us . . . through Jesus’ words . . .
(Again you’ll need to add one more set of dot-dot-dots, because we’re not quite done.)
I don’t know about you, but this makes me breathe is something of a sigh of relief. If the disciples could be “pruned” or “cleaned” by Jesus’ words, I must be able to be cleaned that way also. And this idea of divine words being able to cleanse is nothing new.
For example, Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” So here in the Old Testament there was cleansing and protection from sin through divine words. In fact, Psalm 119 is not only the longest chapter in the Bible, but it’s also a powerful infomercial about the importance of God’s Word and the power it can have. I suggest reading it through, out loud.
So how do Jesus words prune me? Remember, 2 Peter 1:21 says it was the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture. And when Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon Him. And when the disciples preached about Jesus on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and warmed their hearts. And this happened all through the book of Acts, including at the household of the centurion Cornelius. So whenever the words of Jesus are introduced, the Holy Spirit gets to work cleansing the hearts of those who choose to take them seriously.
So it makes sense that we should read the words of Jesus, and apply them to our lives.
As I mentioned, John 15 is a favorite passage of Erica’s, and I imagine that until Violet came into their family, and now Elliott, they had not really realized what heavenly parental closeness. But now they can understand what a loving Heavenly Parent must be feeling toward His children.
In fact, let’s read one more verse, and add the final part to the sentence we’ve been building.
Verse 4: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
Okay, here comes the final part to our sentence:
God and His Son stay close to you and me . . . carefully pruning us . . . through Jesus’ words . . . so we need to abide (or remain) in Jesus.
Do you see that word “abide”? That’s the Greek word meno, and it literally means “remain.” “Abide” is just a more old-fashioned way of saying the same thing.
One of the things which is interesting about this word meno (abiding, remaining) is that Matthew uses it only 3 times in his whole gospel. Mark uses it 2 times. Luke uses it 7 times. But John uses it 41 times—and 12 times here in Chapter 15 alone. John loved that word—maybe because he seems to have been a “closeness” kind of person. Meno is sometimes translated using different English words, like “dwell,” “be present,” “continue” and “tarry.”
And it’s a powerful word. Back in John 1:32, John the Baptist told about baptizing Jesus, and he says that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and that the Spirit then “remained” on Jesus—using that same Greek word. That’s permanent. In fact, in Luke 24:29, when the two disciples walking toward Emmaus discovered that the stranger who’d been walking with them was Jesus, they urged Him, “Abide with us,” using that same word. They wanted Him to stay. They didn’t want Him to leave.
So when Jesus tells us to “abide” or “remain” in Him, He longs for that to be a permanent experience. So how does this happen?
It happens when we let Him speak to us through the words of the Gospels and the rest of the Bible. Some of these words will be encouraging ones, other words will be pruning ones. Let’s spend time with Him in the pages of Scripture every day. Because Jesus wants us to take courage. Let’s listen as He offers us love and joy.
Verses 9 – 17: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 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. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.
In the Gospels, we hear Jesus making it clear that He values children, and took time for them. In Matthew 19:14 He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
As I mentioned earlier, even though I’m taking part in this dedication service, I’m not the one who is truly dedicating Elliott today. This child isn’t mine. I have not been given him to raise. He has been given to his parents. They are the stewards of Elliott’s life. It’s an awesome privilege and responsibility, and that’s why they are here this morning. Jay and Erica will offer prayers of dedication for their little boy. Then after they pray, I will offer a prayer.
Now I would like to invite not only Jay and Erica to come forward, but all of their extended family members who would like to come forward with them too. We’re so glad you can all be here today! I had the privilege of not only taking part in Violet’s baby dedication, but also in her father’s, back in our years with the Shoreline church.