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Showing posts with label Jesus' I AMs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus' I AMs. Show all posts

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh

Introduction
My son, Gavin, will turn 23 in just a couple weeks.  He was the very first of my Mom’s grandchildren.  After we had a child, the dam broke for my siblings and the nieces and nephews just started coming one after another.  I’m not very good with names, so it started getting tough to keep up with everyone’s name.  My sister thought she was gonna have twins at one point.  I said, “That’s awesome!” (but I was thinking “How in the world am I gonna tell them apart and remember their names?”)  My sister said, “Yeah twins!  Isn’t that amazing?  And one will be a boy and one is a girl. But I’m not sure what to name them?”

Well, I’m a fixer and an innovator and I’m practical.  So I said, “I think you should call the girl Denise.”  “That’s a pretty name,” said my sister, “but what about the boy?  What should I name him?”  I said, “Denephew.” …Cause then it would be Deniece and Denephew…

That's not really a true story, but I thought it was a funny joke about names.  This summer, we are reviewing the names of God in Scripture.  God has many names that represent His multifaceted character.  And He has told us His names because God wants us to know Him and what He is like.  So through this series, I challenge you to expand your thinking about God.  God is infinite and it is not enough to know Him only in one way.  You should strive to know God better and understand His many qualities. So far, we have learned:

  • God is Elohim – A Triune God who is Three in One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • He is El Shaddai – the Almighty, All-Sufficient God who is everything you need
  • He is Abba Father – and you can relate to God like an infant to a loving daddy
  • Today, we learn God’s eternal name – Yahweh

Exodus 3:1-6
1
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Have you hear this story?  God asked Moses to go tell the Pharaoh of Egypt to let God's people go.  God was going to use Moses to lead the Hebrew's out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.

Exodus 3:13-15
13 
But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,[e] the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.

This is my eternal name,
    my name to remember for all generations.

 

Yahweh - I AM WHO I AM
People in the ancient Middle East were very superstitious.  They believed you could manipulate a god if you knew its name.  In Egypt, where Moses grew up, they had many, many gods.  The Egyptians used their gods’ names and magical spells to manipulate nature.  But amidst a the thousands and thousands of Egyptian gods, which one was speaking to Moses from the burning bush?

 

There is only one real God.  All others are fakes or idols or demons.  God reveals His proper name to Moses, which shows He is eternal and He cannot be manipulated.  God reveals His name is Yahweh, and it’s a word that is hard to translate.  It means something like “I AM WHO I AM”.  You get the sense of the unchanging, eternal quality of God’s character.  He is who He is.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Notice that it is also present tense.  It is not, I WAS or I WILL BE.  It is I AM.  God is not some forgotten relic of the past or something we look forward to in the future.  God is RIGHT NOW.  And He is always RIGHT NOW. 

 

One thing that is hard for mortal to comprehend is that God created time.  If God created time then that means at some point time didn't exist.  We can’t imagine an existence without time.  The human mind tries to mark everything by what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  Sometimes, we are so consumed by our infatuation with time, we forget to live right now in the moment.  Many people spend years in counseling because of emotional scars from their childhood.  Their past keeps them from living a full life in the present.  Others are so filled with anxiety about what might happen in the feature they are unable to live fully in the present, right now.


God is not like that.  God is the great I AM.  He is always, RIGHT NOW.

 

Yahweh and Jehovah

Ancient Hebrew writing is weird.  First of all, they write backwards, from right to left.  Some scholars think this is because ancient Hebrew was written on clay tablets or chiseled into stone and it was easier to chisel from right to left.  They would hold the chisel in their left hand and a hammer in their right (because most people are right handed).  This made it easier to chisel sentences from right to left.  Many ancient languages that were primarily engraved on stone went from right to left. It wasn't until people started using paper and ink that it became more common to go from left to right (because going right to left would smear the ink on the paper).


Another weird thing is ancient Hebrew didn't have vowels, only consonants (vowels weren't invented until much later).  So a name like Bill, would be spelled BLL.  The vowel sounds were just assumed. So God's name Yahweh was spelled YHWH.  Nobody in the ancient world complained or thought it was dumb not to have vowels; they were just thrilled to be able to write down sounds for the first time.


Something else that complicates language is how the sounds of letter can change over time and also in different places.  Everyone in America knows how to pronounce the name JOHN (say it to yourself).  However, if you go to Germany, the same name spelled JOHN will be pronounced Yan, because J in Germany has a Y sound.  If you go to Mexico, it's pronounced Wan, because they give J a W sound.


Another letter sound that shifts arounds is W.  In America, you would say, "What do you want?"  But in Russia, it might be pronounced "Vat do you vant?"  This changing sound of letters has affected the way the name of God has been passed down through the ages and even produced an alternate name--Jehovah.


Starting around 300 BC (the time in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament), Jew’s became very superstitious about using God’s name.[i]  The third of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not misuse the name of the Lord.” Or “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7).  A proper interpretation of this is that God's people who represent Him shouldn't misrepresent His character by their bad behavior.  Well, many Jews began to misinterpret the third commandment to believe they shouldn’t even say or write Yahweh at all (even though God said Yahweh was to be His name for all generations).  So, the Jews from 300 BC on began to substitute the Hebrew word for Lord (Adonai) instead of saying or writing Yahweh.  Others would intersperse the vowels from Adonai into the consonants for YHWH (because they had invented vowels by that point) rendering the word YaHoWaiH or JaHoVaH.  This is where we get the word Jehovah, which is common way to say God's name today.  The superstition about saying or writing God's name has persisted throughout the centuries right up until our time.  In most translations, you will find Yahweh translated as LORD, with the word in all capital letters,  Whenever you LORD written in all-caps in the Bible, it indicates the word is actually Yahweh.

 

Jesus is Yahweh
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  However, many people read the Bible and remark that the Old Testament seems much harsher than the New Testament.  Perhaps you have felt that way.  Sometimes people will say, “I like Jesus, but I don’t like the God of the Old Testament.  Jesus is so loving, but God is so vengeful in the Old Testament.” 

 

I can understand how some people could get the impression that Jesus is somehow different from Yahweh in the Old Testament.  However, that’s an oversimplification of the Bible that doesn’t really hold true.  If you study and understand the Bible, you will find mercy in grace in the Old Testament too. For instance, God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt before they were good people.  That's mercy and grace.  You also find judgment and vengeance in the New Testament.  Have you read Revelation?  It's full of God's vengeance and plagues and judgment.  We see "Old Testament" style vengeance and judgement in the New Testament book of Acts too.  Remember the time the Holy Spirit struck Annanias and Saphira dead on the spot for lying to Peter in the New Testament Book of Acts?  (Acts 5:1-11)   And there are many other places throughout the New Testament where we see the God of the New Testament acting just like He does in the Old Testament.  It's just that the New Testament primarily focuses on Yahweh invitation to humanity to be reconciled with God.  Also, understand than the New Testament is less than a quarter of the length of the Old Testament.  So to call the Old Testament harsh and the New Testament sweet is a na├»ve oversimplification.  

 

Jesus in the New Testament and Yahweh in the Old Testament are the same God.  In fact, Jesus even specifically called himself “I AM” (the translation of God’s name, Yahweh).  While arguing with the Jews about what it means to be a child of God and to follow God, Jesus said he was God.  In John 8:58, Jesus referred to himself with the ancient eternal name of God when he said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!”  Remember how I told you the Jews were extremely superstitious about God’s name?  Saying God’s name was enough to get a person stoned to death and the Jews in John 8 tried to stone Jesus to death.  However, because Jesus is Yahweh, the great I AM, He was able to disappear and escape unharmed.

 

So many people only see Jesus as their friend or their buddy.  Jesus is a friend for sinners, bu a true friend is someone who tells you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it.  Furthermore, Jesus is more than just your friend.  Jesus is the eternal, all knowing, all present, all powerful God of the universe.  We would be fools to forget it and only think of Jesus as our buddy.

 

The God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament are one in the same. There is no difference whatsoever in the character and actions of the Old Testament and New Testament God.  He is who He is.  Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can disregard it.  The Old Testament focuses more on the power, judgment, and sovereignty of God.  The New Testament focuses more on God’s reconciling mercy, love, and grace.  It’s not one or the other.  It’s both.  That is why Jesus preached throughout the Gospels, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) 

 

The Bad News you don’t want to hear because it makes you feel uncomfortable is that you have sinned, and the consequences of your sin is death and eternal punishment.  The Good News is Jesus/God loves you so much He paid for your sin by dying on the cross.  He took your place.  Therefore, you can repent and be saved.  However, you must repent and let God be the absolute Lord of our life or you are in eternal danger.

 

Conclusion
I want to do something strange as we close.  Right now, you are on Holy Ground in the presence of a strange and Holy God.  When Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “Take off your sandals for you are standing on holy ground…” 

 

So now, in the presence of Holy Yahweh in this Holy place, I invite you to take off your shoes…

 

Now, Bow your head and close your eyes.  Imagine that Yahweh is with you right now (because He is).  Feel the heat from the burning bush warm on your skin.  God is calling your name...  He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of your ancestors.  I am the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament and the God of today.  I am Yahweh—the Great I AM.  I Am Who I Am.  I do not change.  You cannot control me.  You cannot make Me who You want me to be, but I can make you into the person you were designed to be.”

 

Now talk to Yahweh… or just listen to what He would say to you for a few moments…

 


Amen.



[i] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yahweh

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Introduction
The glorious Good News of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave.  The evil powers of the world threw everything they had at Jesus.  The arrested him, tried him in the middle of the night before a kangaroo court, tortured him, and crucified him.  Judas betrayed him.  His disciples deserted him. Peter denied him.  They threw him in a tomb and thought it was over.  The darkness came.  It lasted all through Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday morning.  But then, then the Light of the World rose up out of the grave!  The shadows were shot through with Light.  Darkness can never over come the Light!  Jesus said, I AM the resurrection and the Life. And he proved it.  Lots of people talk a big talk, but Jesus is the only one who said the big words, "I am the resurrection and the life..." and then also backed those words up with action.

Christians are an Easter people.   Just as Jesus overcame the grave, Christians find hope and resurrection in all circumstances (with God’s help). Though this is not the way we would choose to celebrate Easter, we celebrate it anyway.  And it is a celebration!  Jesus is alive!  Christians are an Easter people and we always find a way to have hope, and life, and joy and peace when none of these things should be possible.  And it drives the Devil crazy!

For nearly 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus.  Who was he?  How did he have such a tremendous impact on our world?  How can the people who call themselves by His name be so determined and so able to rise up above the disasters of this life?  How can following this man--a man who was not educated or powerful or wealthy or of a high standing--lead people to find light in the darkest times?  Who is this man and how is he still relevant today?

And so people in our world, non-believers--have try to rationalize it or explain Jesus and the Christian movement away.  They have speculated this or that about Jesus.  However, if we really want to know about Jesus, perhaps we should listen to what he said about himself.  He told us exactly who he is and why he came and why it matters.  Using seven statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

I AM the bread of life.  In other words, I am the only one who truly satisfies our soul.
I AM the light of the world, the one who overcomes darkness.
I AM the gate, the only way into God’s sheltering presence.
I AM the good shepherd, the one who knows everything about us and takes care of us and even lays              down his life for us.
I AM the true vine, the One who makes our life fruitful and sweet.
I AM the resurrection and the life, the one who rises from the grave and gives us eternal life.

Today, I want to share the last “I Am” statement Jesus made.  And this is a very important message to which you need to listen and take to heart.

John 14:6
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."

Living in a Pluralistic Society
First, I want to look at the last part of Jesus’ statement, because we must come to grips with this first.  It is very important.  Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father except thought me.”  That is a hard statement for many to accept. 

America is very diverse and that can be a very good thing.  I love food, all kinds of food, and I am grateful in America I can enjoy Mexican food, Italian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and many other varieties as well.  (You can tell I love to eat!)  And it's not just food.  We have benefited greatly in our country from a variety of ideas, points of view, backgrounds and histories, and philosophies.  And since there is so much variety, we have learned to be a tolerant people who are gracious and allow people the freedom to think and act and even worship in a variety of ways.  This is all good and we should cherish it.
However, along with diversity there comes a danger.  There is the danger that we begin to think, in our quest for tolerance, that all ways are equal and that truth is relative.  In our quest to to get along with everyone, we may begin to believe that everyone is right about everything (for to say someone is wrong would be to offend them or to say some ideas are wrong would be "intolerant").  Is the truth relative?  Does every individual get to decide for themselves what is truly true?  Can my Truth be different from your truth?

In his classic distopian book 1984, George Orwell’s tackled this question when the lead character, Winston Smith, is arrested for thought crimes by the thought police.  The interrogate, O'Brien, tells Wintson Big Brother controls what is true.  Winston argues that 2+2=4.  This is true.  It cannot change.  O'Brien says disagrees.  He argues that if Big Brother says 2+2=5 and society gets enough people to believe it then that becomes the truth.  What do you think?  Does can the truth be changed?  Can 2+2 eve equal 5?

With some things there are is more than one way to skin a cat.  However, not with your soul, not with God, not with the purpose of life, and not with eternity.  Jesus is either the only way, the only truth, and the only life or he is not.  You must decide.  Regardless of whether you accept it or not, Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.  Your assent or disagreement to this truth does not change the truth of it in any way.  You do not determine the truth about Jesus.  He is the Great I Am.  He is who He is regardless of what you believe.

Jesus is The Way
You cannot be a Christian by default.  What I mean is, you are not a Christian merely because you were born into to a Christian family or live in a Christian community.  Nor is being a Christian simply adhering to a certain set of beliefs.  Following Jesus is a lifestyle. 

In the very beginning, Christians were not even called Christians.  The term “Christian” was not used until later.  At first, people who followed Jesus and believed he rose from the grave were called members of “The Way” because Jesus said, “I Am the Way…”

The Christian life is a life of action.  Jesus and His disciples lived the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere they went, the brought healing and hope and love.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We live the way Jesus lived.  We love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we love our neighbor as our selves.  We listen to guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and do and say as He leads.  Just as Jesus only did what the Father told him to do, so we seek only to follow God’s will for us as well.

And this is the way it is supposed to be.  It brings God’s perfect Kingdom to earth, more and more.  And as we live this way we find healing and hope and incredible fulfillment because it is the very purpose for which we were created.  There cannot be another way.  Jesus is the way.

Jesus is The Truth
Now it could be possible to do all the right things, but to do them for the wrong reasons.  There are many in our world today who have accepted that you are to be kind and loving and a good neighbor and a good citizen.  There are many who even volunteer or give generously to charity.  Some do all these things without believing in Jesus.  (Every person—whether Christian or not—should be eternally grateful that Jesus so fully ushered in the principle of “Love Thy Neighbor” that even those who are not Christian still accept this beautiful Christian principle as true.)

However, it is a dangerous thing to divorce the Way of Christian living from the Truth of Christian living.  For when you separate the Way from the Truth (the way you live from the reason why you live that way), your best virtues slowly erode away.  It is not long before you start asking, “Well, why should I care if COVID 19 kills some old person or someone with asthma or diabetes? I am young and healthy and the coronavirus won’t hurt me.  Why do I need to practice social distancing?”  Or you might think, “Why should I obey the law if I’m cunning enough to break the law and get away with it and not get caught, I will have an advantage over everyone else and I will get ahead.”  I mean, if there is no God and we are just animals and it’s just survival of the fittest, why should a person accept the foolish notions Jesus taught—things like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “the greatest love is shown when someone lays down their life for someone else”.  If you don’t accept that Jesus is the Truth, then why would you follow Jesus' way?  It might all start to look like just a bunch of foolish nonsense.

Jesus is the Truth!  His truths have been admired by people from all religions throughout all time.  These are not the words of a madman or liar.  They are the words of someone more divinely inspired than any  spiritual leader who ever lived.  Could it be, they are the words of the Son of God himself.  That is what Jesus claimed.  He said, "The Father and I are one." (John 10:30)

So if you accept that Jesus us the way, you must also search to know the Truth He taught and the Truth He still want to teach you today.  “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), for it is a tremendously powerful force when you live the right way and you know why you are living that way.

Jesus is The Life
For those who follow the way of Jesus because of the Truth of Jesus, Jesus is also the life.   He is eternal life, for when these bodies we inhabit eventually wear out, we will be given a new body and live in a new heaven and a new earth God will create.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we will rise too!  It is an amazing and liberating understanding that there is more to life than just the few years we live in this world.  There is life after death!  And the promise of God is that all the wrongs and decay and suffering and sickness and sorrow of life in this broken world will be wiped away.  What a wonderful, glorious hope we have!

However, we are not just waiting to die so we can go to heaven and start real life. No. When Jesus is the way and the truth to us, he is also the life right now.  We begin the new life as soon as we start tof follow the way and truth of Christ.  And to the extend we surrender to His Truth and live out HIs Way, we begin to experience the abundant life He has planned, right now.  There is nothing more fulfilling in this life than living out the ways and truths of Jesus, for that is the purpose for which our Creator designed us.

Invitation
I want to invite you to claim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for you right now.  Would you allow me to pray for you?

Dear Father in Heaven, please help the person reading this today to claim Jesus as their Way, their Truth, and their Life right now.  Help them to surrender all that they are and all that they have to You right now.  Forgive them of their sins.  Save their soul.  Renew a right heart with in them--one that truly desires to follow You completely and obediently.  Help them to know how much You love them so they will love You completely and seek to love their neighbor.  For I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.

Closing
Cling to the hope of the resurrection.  Even in darkness, even in social isolation, even with fears and anxiety looming around, even in sickness, even in the face of death itself, the glorious hope of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave and we will rise with Him!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I AM the Resurrection and the Life


Introduction
I preached this message at the Easter Sunrise Service last Sunday.  It was early in the morning and the sun was just rising.  It is the first service of Easter.  It recalls the dawning realization for the first disciples that the crucified Jesus was no longer dead or in the grave. He is risen and alive.  Such news is so wonderful and extraordinary, it takes time to comprehend.

John 20:1-16
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

A Sunrise Moment
Just as the sunrise dawns new light on the day, Mary finally saw the light the moment the resurrected Jesus spoke her name.  It took a few moments.  No wonder.  No one expects to visit a grave to remember and honor the dead and then find they are not dead, but alive.  Mary is overwhelmed with grief and depression.  All she can think of is how they murdered her beloved Lord.  She assumes the someone has taken the body.  She doesn't notice the "men" she speaks to inside the tomb are angels.  She assumes the man she sees outside the tomb is the gardener; she doesn't realize it is Jesus.  That is, not until he speaks her name.  But in speaking her name, Jesus, the Light of the world, sheds light on the darkness that engulfs Mary.  She immediately recognized her Lord, Jesus.

Do you remember the words Jesus spoke to Mary’s sister, Martha, when Jesus raised their brother, Lazarus, from the tomb?  Jesus did not come when Lazarus was sick and Lazarus died.  When Jesus finally arrived and Mary and Martha were grieving, they said, "If only you had come, Lazarus would not have died."  But Jesus consoled them, saying in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying."  Let's look at his word to themclosely.

I AM… 
These are the same words God said to Moses when Moses asked to know God's name.  God told Moses from a burning bush, "Tell the people 'I Am' has sent you.  This is the name you shall know me by for all generations."  The name is mysterious, but recalls the unchanging character of God.  He is who He is.  He is not defined by our beliefs or doubts.  He simply is and He is the one who defines reality.  And Jesus says, "I AM".  Jesus is God.

I AM the Resurrection… 
Because Jesus is God and rose from the grave, we have the hope of eternal life.  John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we too can rise to new life--even after this life is over.

I AM the Resurrection and the Life… 
However, we aren’t just waiting to die so that we can start our real life.  When we follow Jesus as Lord, we start real life now.  For we were created by God to worship and serve God.  And we live fully to the extent we do that in this life, even as we long for and hope for the Day we shall be set free from this broken world to live eternally with God when He creates a new heaven and a new earth.  You are never more fully alive than when you live your divine purpose. 

Anyone who believes… 
We must believe in Jesus and trust him.  Our resurrection and life does not happen automatically.  It happens as a result of God's grace and our faith.  Therefore, trust in Christ and start living today and hoping for resurrection.

Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying… 
 We all die, but there is eternal life for those believe in Christ. However, there is a second sense to what Jesus is says. Remember, Jesus also said, "If anyone wants to follow me, he must take up his cross every day and follow me." And he also said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it. But if you lay down your life, you will truly live." So, we must deny ourselves and let our own selfish ambitions die so that we can come alive in Christ and begin to truly live. Christ's way is infinitely better than you own plans. You must trust him and follow him, even when it means dying.

Conclusion
So, let’s cling to the hope we have because of the resurrection because Jesus said, "I AM the resurrection and the life."




Monday, March 30, 2020

I Am the Vine


Introduction
Well, spring has definitely sprung!  And the weather Friday and Saturday was glorious.  This is my favorite time of year.  So, although this virus has disrupted all our lives, maybe the weather and the green grass and the budding flowers is some compensation.  So, while you’re practicing social distancing, be sure to get outside and do a little yard work, go for a walk, or just sit on your front porch for a few minutes.  The sunshine will do you good.  Sunshine give you vitamin D and vitamin D is good for your immune system and your emotional health too.

And while you’re watching the world spring to life and grow all around you, think about what Jesus said.  He told us who he is and explained his character.  Using the eternal proper name of God, “I AM”, Jesus said:
I AM the Bread of Life – the only thing that satisfies the deep hunger in your soul
I AM the Light of the World – the One who reveals the truth and lights your way out of darkness
I AM the Gate – the only way into the protective safety of God’s presence
I AM the Good Shepherd – the One who knows you by name and protects you, even at the cost of His own life.

Today, we look at Jesus’ 5th I AM statement from John 15:1-17 – I AM the true vine.

John 15:1-17
1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Grapevines
Jesus said, “I Am the true grapevine.”  I have never grown grapes.  I did find some wild grapes in the woods behind my house one time, which was pretty cool.  They are edible and they’re not too bad, but they just aren’t as good as the sweet, juicy cultivated grapes you get from the store.

Grapes were one of the main crops grown in Israel in Jesus’ day.  Now, I’m not a grape farmer, but here’s what I have read about it.  It takes three years for grapevines to mature enough to produce fruit.  The first year the vines grow up very fast and gardeners train the vines to grow over a lattice.  The second year, the vine may produce some fruit, but only small impotent berries.  By the third year, the grapevine is ready to produce a real crop, but only if the vine has been properly pruned.

Grapes develop only on new growth, which sprouts from 1-year-old wood.  So, in the vine's second fall, the gardener must prune off about 70 percent of the plant, leaving just the main trunk and canes.   Now think about that...  70 percent!  I'm not a gardener and chopping away 70 percent of a healthy looking grapevine until all that was left is a bare, ugly, hacked up vine would scare me to death!

If the gardener fails to properly prune the grapevine in this way, it will not be very fruitful.  But if the gardener, in faith, cuts away 70% of the vines branches, that same vine will grow new branches and shoots and will be fantastically fruitful—producing the wonderfully sweet and juicy grapes we all know and love.

I Am the Vine, You are the Branches
In this I AM statement, Jesus not only tells us who He is, but also who we are.  He is the true vine, we are the branches.  The True vine is the source of life.  It is the part of the plant that reaches down into the soil and draws up life-giving water and nourishing minerals.  These essential elements are distributed out into the branches so they can produce fruit.  Apart from the vine, the branches are useless.

Yesterday, I cut my grass for the first time this season.  Before I could cut, I had to go around and pick up several small, broken branches that had fallen out of trees over the winter.  What are those small broken branches good for?  Nothing.  I pile mine up next to our fire pit and burn them whenever we have a bonfire.

Now, Jesus isn’t talking about agriculture.  He’s talking about your spiritual life and your relationship with God in Christ.  We must remain connected to Christ and when we do and when we allow God to properly prune us, we will bear much fruit.

Spiritual Fruit
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the kinds of spiritual fruit Christians produce:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit.  Now there's something about fruit.  It isn't for the plant that produces it.  It's for others.  The grapes on a grape vine aren’t for the grapevine to eat. Right?  The sweet, juicy grape is not for the vine; it’s for others. Right?  Maybe it’s for the birds or animals or the gardener, but the vine doesn’t eat the fruit.  But every grape (every fruit) has seeds in it.  And if a bird eats the seed andn flies away to another field, the fruit will be digested and the seed will be dropped (in a load of wonderful fertilizer).  It may take root and grow a new vine.  Or maybe the gardener eats the fruit and collects the seeds and plants a new vine, which produces even more fruit.  

Think about the seed/fruit principle in terms of your own spiritual fruit.  When we follow Christ as our Lord, the Holy Spirit grow spiritual fruit in us--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.  And in general, these fruits not only bless us, but hey bless others even more.  So when the world is turned upside down and everyone is full of fear, we have a spiritual "peace that passes all understanding".  And others enjoy this peace in us (or love or joy or kindness...).  But, just like the grapes, inside every fruit of the spirit is a seed--the seed of the Gospel.  And as people see this fruit in us and enjoy it, the also get the seed of the Gospel.  They may think, "Why is this person so full of peace, patience, kindness?  I wish I had more of that."  And they find out the person is a Christian and Jesus' Holy Spirit is the source of their spiritual fruit.  And sometimes, the Gospel seed takes root and grows in their heart too and they begin to follow Christ.  And even more fruit begins to grow in our world.

Spiritual Pruning
Now, God (the Gardener) is no fool.  He knows there are many branches on the Jesus vine who are useless, resource sucking, “no fruit producing” branches.  These selfish people are only hoping to hide is Christ and avoid eternal punishment in Hell.  These useless branches care nothing for God’s glory or Kingdom.  They’re only in it for themselves and what Jesus can do for them.  But God cannot be fooled.  The Great Gardener of our souls knows how to tell a useless, resource stealing branch from branches with real potential.  And God cuts away those useless branches who will never produce fruit and throws them into the fire (because that’s all they’re good for).

I gave my life to Christ and became a Christian when I was only 8 years old.  To start with, I was a very unfruitful branch.  Quite honestly, I became a Christian for merely selfish reasons.  I learned in Children's Church at Pine Forest Baptist Church that if a person accepts Jesus into their heart, they will receive eternal life with God in Heaven, where there will be no more suffering or sickness or death.  It will be a paradise that lasts forever.  And I also learned that if you reject Christ and die, you will spend eternity in Hell, a place of eternal torment from which there is no escape.  Now, it didn't take much to convince me that I wanted to go to heaven and not hell.  So I chose to follow Christ.  It was purely a selfish decision.  I wasn't very interested in serving God or being fruitful.  And for several years as an immature Christian, that's how I lived.

I am so thankful now, that God is abounding in patience and mercy and He waited for me to mature in my faith until I was less selfish and began to bear fruit.  Eventually, I began to realize how wonderful God is and what Jesus had done for me.  And I began to see how I loved Him, becuase He first loved me.  And I also began to see how God loves everyone and I want to love those whom od loves.  I bean to feel compassion for others and want to serve them the way Jesus has served me.  Only then, did I begin to start bearing fruit.

God has been merciful and patient with you--oh fruitless Christian--but how long must God wait on you before you wake up and find your heart warmed to love others and be fruitful?  God will not wait forever.  While He waits for you, you are consuming resources and space that could be used by a more fruitful branch.  Wake up, oh useless branch, and begin to be fruitful lest you be pruned away and thrown into the pile of useless branches destined for the fire!

Even for those who remain in Christ, who truly are good branches, who truly do desire to bear fruit, there is a kind of pruning that must take place.  There are many things in our lives that must be pruned away.  I don't know what percentage of your life must be cut away to make room for fruit.  However, consider the grapevine, which must lose 70% of it's branches to be fruitful each year.  What would it look like if you lost 70% of yourself to God's spiritual pruning?

As we go through the difficulties of the COVID 19 pandemic, much of our lives has been turned upside down.  Maybe we are experiencing a spiritual pruning.  I invite you to consider, what are you learning from these very interesting days we are living through?  What are some things God may be cutting away from your life so that you can be more fruitful?  What are some new things God is growing in you (where less fruitful branches once were) that might bear real fruit for His Kingdom?  Maybe there are some things you should not return to once this is all over and we find our new normal.

Invitation
Jesus said, I AM the true vine.  If you remain in Him, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing and will wither and die.  Then you will be discarded to the trash pile to be burned up later.  The Good News is, you can choose who you will be.  Through the gracious power of the Holy Spirit, God allows you to decide.

Will you choose to remain disconnected from Jesus, chasing your own selfish desires? These are useless. They lead to nothing. They only suck your life away until you are a dried up withered branch that’s only good for the fire.

Or will you try to hide among the other “Christian” branches, just trying to “look” like a Christian and “act” like a Christian but not really producing any fruit for God, hoping you will go unnoticed by the Master Gardener? Let me assure, nothing escapes the Gardener's discerning eye. He knows and will cut away any useless branch, to make room for new branches to grow that will bear much fruit.

I pray that today you will choose to be one of Christ’s faithful, connected branches, allowing God to prune you so you can bear much fruit for His Kingdom. Won’t you pray for God to help you choose to be fruitful today?