Acts 2:42-47, John 15:1-17
The Path of Discipleship: Sermon 11
Our family was talking about ticks, their purpose and why the Lord has seen for them to exist. I was preparing my wise thoughts, looking to that great day when we will see God’s light more clearly. I started to say: “Someday, I am going to ask God...” when I was interrupted by my daughter, who with shockingly accurate listening skills responded: “Daddy, you don’t have to wait to talk to God, you can talk to God now”.
You can talk to God now.
Thursday, the River Church pastors gathered at a restaurant to discuss some topics, and we prayed before the meal. After we were done meeting, and a few of us were leaving, a kind looking woman came up to us and asked if we were all part of the same church. She started to quote how nice it was to see Christians working together, that this is what the body of Christ should do, and when believers gather together and love one another we bear witness to the world of Jesus Christ, as he prayed we would. This person, from Philadelphia, was meeting a friend from North Jersey and Titusville was middle ground. We shared another moment or two, and then left with the thought that it was highly unlikely that we would see each other again in this life, but that the joy of eternal life awaited us, and we’d look each other up in heaven, remembering this encounter. We would be together forever in the kingdom of God.
Togetherness in God’s kingdom
We are nearly complete with looking at the Path to Discipleship Map. Next week, we will conclude during Pentecost Sunday with a call to take at least one step in our discipleship during 2015. The Map we’ve used has 99 possible steps to take, with more that could easily be created. We want to move from Christian faith as a tourist experience, to a life where we are familiar with God’s ways, and close to the Lord. In a word, we want to experience togetherness.
Discipleship is being a follower of Jesus Christ. Disciples gather for public worship alongside other disciples. In my daughter's words, we can be together with God, and talk with God, now. In our friend’s words, we have the Lord’s good promise that we will be together forever in God’s kingdom. A good future awaits us. On this final Sunday of Easter, we proclaim that good future comes to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The allegory that Jesus teaches about vine and branches provides such helpful image. . A metaphor teaches about something new or unfamiliar by comparing it with something known. A simile uses words, “Like”, or “as” to make a comparison. Metaphors and simile’s compare one subject, or one thought. Allegories are figures of speech that are extended metaphors, all the details and multiple characters all contribute to the story. If you notice in John 15, Jesus isn’t like a vine. He is The true vine (please notice the I am, which is a reference to the name of God) We are not like branches, we are branches that find life through the vine. Jesus does use simile elsewhere, for example, “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”. Here, the story is that our Christian life needs to remain in Christ.
There are three characters in this allegory: Jesus is the true vine, providing life giving nutrients to the branches. We are the branches whose purpose is to bear fruit. God is the gardener that oversees that the branches are connected to the vine.
The vine/branches allegory teaches about being together with Jesus, being close to him, having fellowship with him. What insights do we find for our living?
1. pruning is not punishment, but rather an exercise that leads to more fruitfulness.
Sometimes, our immediate reaction is to think that any difficulty is a punishment from God. But God looks at our lives in a very different way: He will make the one who bears fruit more fruitful. There are growing pains that accompany this further fruitfulness.
2. Branches need to remain in the vine.
3. You cannot bear fruit if you are not connected to the vine.
4. Remaining in the vine means more fruitfulness.
5. There is a simile for not remaining in the vine. The one who does not remain is LIKE a branch that is thrown away and withers, such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
This simile provides a warning: remain in God, or your life will become like the thing you don’t want. If you don’t remain, it is similar to a branch that has broken off and withers. What do you do with that which is useless? Jesus doesn’t say, the one who does not remain will be thrown away. He says the one who does not remain is like a branch that would be thrown away. We can easily misinterpret this and blame God, but the reality is the verse explains the result of what happens when we chose to not remain.. It is simply a matter of fact.
6. Prayer, and answered prayer, is the natural result of remaining in Christ.
As my daughter reminded me, you can talk with God now. You can talk with Jesus and lay before him your requests. When you are close with Jesus, and are talking with him, it is hard to focus on things that he wouldn’t want. Being close to him makes you want to think like him, and prayer then becomes what God wants, not what you want. One thing that God wants is a prayer that he will answer.
7. God is glorified when we bear fruit and show ourselves to be disciples.
This map is an effort to help us take intentional steps to becoming better disciples. God receives glory when we bear fruit and show who we are. Showing yourself to be a disciple is a natural as your business card identifying the company you work for or your hat displaying the team you root for.
There are two commands that come from Jesus after he introduces this allegory. First, remain in Christ’s love (Vs 9). Second, love one another (Vs 12). Fellowship means staying close to God, and close to God’s people.
The story of the church’s behavior after Pentecost provides for us a picture of all that the church could be. This passage is a favorite among people who read Acts. It is similar to thinking about the happiness of a relationship when it first started. This description paints a happy picture, and we want to stay in that picture. The history of the church is not one that has always lived out the wonderful descriptions of Acts 2, though faithful and fruit bearing congregations should have, at least, several of these dynamics as practices and values.
Four expressions of devotion are practiced by the early church:
1. Devotion to the Apostle’s teaching
2. Devotion to the fellowship
3. Devotion to the breaking of the bread
4. Devotion to prayer
At our core, this is who we should be: following the teachings of Jesus Christ preserved by the Apostles, following together, meeting Jesus Christ through Lord’s Supper, and praying. There is nothing shocking here. Though congregations could also do a review to see if what they are doing/hope to do, fits into one of these core devotions.
What is the result of the early church devoting themselves to these four cores?
1. Everyone is filled with awe
2. Apostles did wonders and miracles
3. The believers were together and had everything in common.
4. They sold the temporal to give to anyone who had need
5. They met everyday at the temple for praise and prayer
6. They broke bread with glad and sincere hearts
7. they praised God
8. they enjoyed the favor of the people
9. the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
There is so much to be said for this passage. But the takeaway feel is this: it is so simple. There isn’t rocket science involved here. Fellowship gives birth to life. Fellowship grows branches that bear much fruit. Our fellowship is with God and fellow believers. As John writes in his first letter:
Our fellowship is with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ (1:3)
“If we walk in the light, as Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purified us from all sin” (1:7)
As I was writing this sermon, a bird was calling in the distance: My mind had tuned out its sound, classifying it as too familiar. But that doesn’t take away the reality that it was calling, and that the calling was beautiful. The Bird spoke. If I didn’t hear it, I was the one missing out. I hope that we don’t miss God’s call to us. Like the bird’s sound, it is quite beautiful, simple, and, if we are paying attention, consistent. It is a call to be close to the Lord, and close to the Lord’s people. This is the best fellowship, and it will bear much fruit.