Stay Connected to the Life (April 29, 2018)
Stay Connected to the Life
Perhaps you’ve heard the news recently about a little boy from England named Alfie Evans. Alfie was admitted into the hospital when he was only 7 months old after suffering seizures. He’s been diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition, though the doctors are still stumped. For over a year Alfie has been kept alive by life support systems which help him breathe, eat, and remain hydrated. However, after seeing no signs of improvement, the court has ordered that Alfie be taken off life support. They could make this order because Alfie was on government healthcare. There was a huge battle between Alfie’s parents and the court leading up to that decision. Yet what grabs even more attention is that even after life support had been removed, Alfie continued to live – defying the health professionals’ predictions!
Now, there’s a whole political angle that the news has been talking about with all of this, but I’m not going to go that direction. I just marvel at the fact that despite removing the machines that were supposedly keeping Alfie alive, he kept on living! It’s almost as if there’s more going on here than meets the eye! And in fact, there definitely is more going on here than meets the eye. It is God alone who decides how long a person’s life should be. It is God who determines when a person dies. And despite a health professional’s best estimates, every person’s life is in God’s hands. He is the one behind it all. He is the one who truly gives and supports life.
Why is that? Why does God determine the length of a person’s days? Why does he give differing lengths of time to different people? Well, first you have to realize that God is not obligated to give any length of life. He said quite clearly to the first person who ever lived, he said to Adam that the consequence of sin is death. And when Adam fell into sin, he could have ended it right there. The Bible also says clearly about you and I, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5). You and I were born sinful and therefore also deserve death right off the bat. But God is merciful by giving you a length of days. He is loving by giving you a chance to get to know salvation through Jesus our Savior. And that’s because it is not your physical life here and now that is the most important. It’s not simply for the sake of your physical life that God supports your life. No, there is a far more important, eternal life which God is concerned about. Therefore, he sustains your physical life so that you can have a spiritual life connected to him. “I am the vine” (Jn 15:5), Jesus says. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
So, we are going to talk about that kind of life support today. Not simply that Jesus sustains you physically, but most importantly, that he sustains you spiritually! He uses the example of a vine supporting and sustaining its branches, which is very similar to how life support systems support and sustain the life of a person. The important part that Jesus stresses is to stay connected to Jesus – Jesus, who calls himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Stay connected to the Life because that connection is vital for you. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine” (Jn 15:4). How fitting these verses are this time of year when we are getting out and perhaps doing some gardening ourselves. Maybe you are planting and pruning and weeding. Me, right now I’m trying to keep up with the weeds in the lawn. Mainly because I don’t have much else to garden, but also because I don’t really know what to prune, and I don’t want to kill my shrubs. But there’s something you will notice if you’ve done some gardening – in fact it’s something you count on. When you prune off those suckers on your trees, or when I pull my weeds, I like to lay them in a pile on the patio so that they will get scorched by the sun and die off. Weeds can’t survive when they are uprooted just like suckers and branches can’t survive when they are pruned off the tree. It’s the main trunk of the tree, or the “vine” in Jesus’ illustration, that provide lifegiving sap for the survival of every branch and limb. And that is what Jesus is saying about you as well. When you remain in him, you will thrive and be fruitful. But if you are cut off from him, you will wither and die; first spiritually and eventually physically.
Now, you might be thinking, well that’s really harsh that God would cut off branches that do not bear fruit. Why doesn’t he give them a chance, why doesn’t he wait and see? First, we need to realize who the gardener is – who it is that’s in charge of the pruning. It’s God the Father – God who sees all things and knows all things. Also called the Father because his love is poured out generously and patiently. Second, realize that the word used here for “gardener” is really talking about the person who “tills the soil.” Work is implied; hard, strenuous work. He’s not just a gardener who prunes off a little here and a little there for looks and then moves onto the next tree. No, he’s the one who’s working the soil and doing all he can to help this vine and all its branches thrive! He cares about every limb, branch, and twig, doing all that he can to help even the littlest twig thrive. But when that twig becomes diseased and starts to die, even after he tends to it and tries to graft it on in another place doing all he can to get it to thrive – only after all that work has been put in with still no evidence of a true connection, only then does he remove it for the good of all the other branches.
You can actually think of this on two different levels and in a very interesting way. You know those shoots that will sometimes sprout up from the base of a tree or even from other branches? Usually you trim them off before they get to big. Those are called “suckers.” They are called suckers because they suck nutrients out from the tree and take away from all the other branches. On one level you can think of the whole tree as yourself, and these suckers are all the little things that suck your time, and your resources, and your abilities. It could be things like sports leagues, or working for a promotion, or even a hobby that you enjoy doing. And the important thing to remember is that these aren’t necessarily bad things. But they become bad things when they suck away your time for sitting at the feet of your Lord as it was for Martha who busied herself with preparing the dinner and tried to suck Mary away from listening to Jesus. They become bad things when they suck you away from the support of fellow believers, as was the case with Judas who was busy pursuing money rather than cherishing a fellowship with fellow believers. Think about all the different things that you fill your day and your week with. And then determine whether any of those things are sucking away your spiritual welfare. If there are spiritual “suckers” in your life, cut them out! Or at least trim them back to a manageable level. Because it is your spiritual welfare that is the most important thing in this life. It’s that connection which Jesus is referring to when he says, “remain in me and I in you.” That connection is vital to life.
Now, on the second level – so level one is the individual level, now, level two is your place among every other person. I’ll call it the “kingdom level.” And they are related. If, on the individual level you allow all these suckers to sap your life away so that you are an unproductive branch that bears no fruit, then on the kingdom level, eventually you will be cut off from God’s kingdom and left to wither and die like those weeds being scorched on my back patio. You don’t want that. You don’t want to get to a point where God has tilled your soil, given you attention and tended to your needs, trying to prune off your suckers with no response. Because when there is no response, it means that there is really no connection at all. You might label yourself a Christian, just like a branch might appear to be part of the whole tree, but if there are no fruits of faith in your life, then it proves that your connection to Christ is really a fake one, and eventually you will be cut off and left spiritually dead.
That’s why Jesus urges his disciples saying, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine” (Jn 15:4). And then he also says of his disciple, and to you, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (Jn 15:3). I’m very happy to see all of you branches with me here today, gathered around God’s Word! It means you have cut off anything that could be sucking you away from your time connected to the true Vine. You are here because you know his words are vitally important for your spiritual wellbeing. You are here because you know you have not always produced good fruit. But through your confession all that rotten fruit is laid at Jesus’ feet to be completely removed and destroyed. You are here because you know that you can only produce good fruit if Christ is living in you. And being connected to him through his word you then can produce fruits of faith which are pleasing in God’s eyes! You have been declared righteous by your connection to Christ. And the message that you hear each and every Sunday, the words from God himself are that all your sins have been forgiven! You are spiritually alive and healthy. You are cleaned from all the disease of sin. And you are fruitful through your connection to Christ!
The last verse in this section caught me a little by surprise. To me it seemed to be a little disconnected – like a “glory be to the Father” we seemingly arbitrarily pin on to the Psalms that we sing. To be clear, giving God glory at the end of each Psalm we sing is not at all arbitrary. But I’ll save that topic for another time. I thought that last verse seemed kind of random because Jesus is deep in an illustration of being connected to him, the vine, and then suddenly jumps back from that illustration and says, “This is to my Father’s glory” (Jn 15:8). But I understood the connection when I remembered something that often takes place on the corner of Marlandwood and 31st.
I think it’s on Sunday afternoons that a man selling Bonsai trees sets up his display right outside the Caesar’s Pizza on Marlandwood and 31st. I hope he does it again today so that you all can see it! Whenever I see those bonsai trees I think to myself, “Wow, that man is very skilled to prune those little trees so nicely.” Do you see what takes place? I gave the gardener credit, not the trees. I gave him glory for pruning those trees so nicely. It’s the same that takes place in your life. As your heavenly Father, the divine Gardener, trims and prunes your life – cutting out unnecessary suckers so that you can thrive – it gives all glory to him! When you bear all kinds of spiritual fruit in what you do and what you say, you show yourselves to be his disciples – branches that are connected to him. And that gives him glory and honor.
Stay connected to the way, the truth, and the life. Stay connected to the true vine. It’s vitally important to your spiritual wellbeing. And as you remain connected to the true vine, remember that there is going to be some pruning involved. Sometimes that pruning hurts a little as God cuts off the suckers that maybe you aren’t willing to let go of. But trust him. It’s all in your best interest. As he prunes he also strengthens your connection to the vine so that you become even more fruitful in your faith. All of this gives God glory.