Good Branch … Bad Branch? (Part #2)
John 15:3; 7-15
Turn to John 15. Last week as we introduced this passage we saw where there were four characters: the vine grower, God the Father; the vine, Christ; the good branches, true believers; and the bad branches, false believers. And we differentiated between false believers and non-believers. False believers will appear as those who believe, whereas non-believers will openly admit that they do not believe. So, this passage is dealing with false believers, and though the Lord may prune our lives as believers to make us more like Himself, the reference in this passage is that these are false believers whom the Lord cuts off.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
John 15:2a, 6 (LSB)
And where we ended last week was looking at character qualities of the true branches. In other words, what does a person look like who truly serves and follows Christ, as it would be difficult to read this passage and miss the connectedness of the vine to the branches, of Christ and the believers.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit from itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
John 15:4-5 (LSB)
Jonathan Edwards emphasized this. He said that this union expressed in the Scriptures means that we become partakers of God’s fullness. This was Paul’s prayer (Eph 3:19), that we would be filled up to the fullness of God. And this is important to understand, that we cannot become like, well this is the way the Lord made me, so I am what I am. No, for the Bible speaks about us displaying part of God’s beauty and holiness and blessing, therefore, these are qualities that you and I must strive for. John Piper speaks about this as well, saying that the true branch becomes infinitely happy on the vine, loving on the vine, and calm on the vine. That these qualities become mine when we are connected to Him.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
John 15:7-8 (LSB)
Qualities of the true branch, those qualities that (vs 8) prove our discipleship, and last week we looked at:
- Perseverance (vs 7a)
An enduring faith, a life of faithfulness to Christ, that we know the voice of the shepherd and that we would follow the Shepherd.
- Prayer (7b)
That we would be ever asking the Lord for spiritual growth, that we would lean on Him for all things. A desire and yearning to be fruitful. That we would abide in Him. And now as we move along this week, the next one is found (vs 9).
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”
John 15:9 (LSB)
- Love (vs 9)
Before Jesus came to the earth the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him, (Is 42:1), “Behold, My Servant [Christ], whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul is well‑pleased.” See, there is such pleasure in the Father towards His Son, as the Son is the object of the Father’s delight. We know this of course, in our own families, that as parents when we see our children do well, we tend to beam don’t we? Jesus also said something very interesting in John 10:17, “the Father loves Me because I lay down My life.” I know I am digressing here a little, but good to be reminded as parents to be quick to complement our children when they strive to do well. And I think that this is good not always when it happens, though that is good as well, that after our child does something, to say “good job.” But I believe there is something special about saying to our kids or grandchildren after the fact. When you are tucking them in or if they are older, maybe later at night, and saying, I saw you do this or I heard something today; and I am so proud of you, or I loved what you did here. When Jesus was baptized, and the Father said, “this is My Son in whom I am well-pleased,” do not ever think that the Son would not relish that statement, to hear such a thing from His Father. Robert Martin wrote that:
“Jesus clearly is the object of his Father’s love. He is the special object of his delight and active devotion. And Jesus understands this. He knows this wonderful reality from the experience of his communion with his Father in eternity. And he knows this from his Father’s declarations.”
Robert P. Martin, “Christ, the True Vine” 28
Do your own children know from your declarations, that you delight in them? I wonder how we as humans could ever imagine the love of the Father for the Son, and the love of the Son for the Father? But here is the amazing part of the verse is that we are being welcomed into this love.
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”
John 15:9 (LSB)
And I am sure that we will fully realize this love even greater when we are in His presence someday, but such a pity to not realize it now. And that this love was placed upon us before the foundations of the world, and (Eph 1:4-5) before the world began He adopted us [who believe] as sons and daughters. And then of course Ephesians 3:
“[S]o that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being firmly rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
Eph 3:17-19 (LSB)
When it says that we need to know the love of Christ. Imagine the spotless, the unconditional, the selfless, the giving, the noble love of Christ for us that never ends. No one can be loved like this, outside of the love of Christ. And then our verse this morning says to abide in this love. To have the security of this love, and of course, to express this love toward others. This means that those who may have hurt you, those who may bug you, those you find it so hard to get along with, to love them this way, the character quality of love. The next character quality of the one who is a true branch.
“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.”
John 15:10 (LSB)
- Obedience (vs 10)
Here again, we see from (vs 9) that Christ loves this way, so we should love this way. And now from (vs 10) that Christ is obedient this way, so we should be obedient this way. And Jesus says that we are to keep His commandments, to keep what He told us. Now we could leave this here and move on to the next verse. But there are some very important things to notice, and we see this in:
“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:14-15 (LSB)
If we just left it at (vs 14) we might get the idea that following Christ means obeying Him only. But when we add (vs 15) we see a much greater motivation than simple obedience. Jesus commanded this, so I must do this. Of course, this is true. But when you add the truth that we are His friends, this obedience has a much greater depth. To obey someone is on one level. In fact, we are to obey those who rule over us. We may have to obey those who have no love for us or those whom we do not necessarily even always want to obey. The analogy here is that slaves must be obedient to their masters. In Egypt, the Israelites had to obey their taskmasters or they would be punished or even lose their lives. But Jesus said things to us like, My yoke is easy, My burden is light. This is because He calls us friends. Sometimes obedience is for the benefit of the one giving the orders. Yet this obedience is for the benefit of us, as the One giving the order is One who greatly loves us. Because if these things came from a taskmaster, they are only a list of legal requirements that must be fulfilled. But the commands that Jesus gives are for our joy to obey.
Many of you might be aware of a book written in 2006 by John Piper called What Jesus Demands of the World, which he has rewritten and the same book is now called All That Jesus Commanded. And he changed the title to give Christians a better understanding of what Jesus has asked of His disciples to obey for their good and for their joy. And Piper has gone through the gospels and listed every command that Jesus gave (50 of them). Some are unique, whereas some are repeated in more than one gospel. Some of these include: you must be born again; repent of your sins; come and follow Me; believe in Me; love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; rejoice and leap for joy; worship God; do not be anxious about anything; humble yourself; love your enemies; love your neighbour as yourself; lay-up treasures in heaven; what God has joined together, do not separate; give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s; do this in remembrance of Me; let your light shine before men; and make disciples of all nations, and baptize them.
This is a good exercise for those of us who are reading through the New Testament, to make a note of every command that has been given to us. And as you get into the further books of the New Testament, the writings of Paul, Peter, James, and John; they give us some more details about the commands of Christ, and more is said to us about being born again, repentance, joy, humility, love, our responsibility to government, and the guidelines for marriage. As I mentioned in the marriage seminar, the Bible is very straightforward in giving marriage guidelines and roles to husbands and wives, as sometimes Christianity can place such a focus on many things that the Bible does not address. The Bible doesn’t address our reaction to Covid, whether to get vaccinated or not. It doesn’t tell us which house to buy or car to buy, or whether to decorate our house for Christmas or not, though we can often speak like it does. The Bible doesn’t even tell us where to work. It does tell us not to be lazy and for husbands to provide for family. But in many ways, it gives us much freedom.
Paul says that we are not to judge in many areas such as food or drink or the celebrating of certain days. He told those who are circumcised, do not become uncircumcised. And those who were not circumcised, he said don’t become circumcised. He spoke about doing things for conscience’s sake, as some of these choices are personal choices that we must decide every day for what is best and what is right for us. But not regarding what Jesus has clearly commanded, as these are not optional. And they are all clear commands of Christ that must be obeyed and are for our good, and best display the heart of God.
I also want to add two points here when the passage says, you are My friends. One, we must differentiate this between what we might call human friendship. The passage is saying that we are friends of Jesus. Yet I believe we may go too far if we say that Jesus is our friend. Good to note that in the Bible Jesus is not called the friend of anyone. Of course, this does not mean that Jesus does not love us more than anyone else. It does not mean that Jesus does not care for us more than anyone, but it means that Jesus is still our Lord and Master and Saviour and God. Abraham and Moses are called friends of God. Lazarus is referred to as a friend of Christ. Here (John 15:15) we are called His friends, but nowhere is Jesus called our friend. I realize we sing that “Jesus is the friend of sinners,” and I understand this to some extent, but we do need to be careful. Again, this is not to lessen His great love and sacrifice and care and commitment to us, but to keep the proper relationship of who He is to us, He is Lord. As Thomas said to Christ, “My Lord and my God.” A common practice in these Roman days was for a king to extend friendship with someone. They were given access to the king. The king would share with them intimate things. This is evident:
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:15 (LSB)
And we see this in John 8:32 where Jesus says, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And secondly, we also need to realize that this obedience does not make us a friend of Christ. But these qualities and this obedience characterize those who are His friends. And this leads us to our final character quality:
- Joy (vs 11)
As living in the way in which our Lord commands us will bring such joy to our lives. Not always easy, but it will result in joy. Because our greatest joy is a result of doing what our Lord has commanded, and because this will ultimately bring glory to God.
“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
John 15:11 (LSB)
See, Jesus experiences no joy without His obedience to the Father. Therefore, we will experience no joy without obedience to Christ. And good for us to notice that phrase “My joy,” this has spoken to me as I studied this. For it is good to ask the question, is the thing that I am doing, what I am enjoying: is it fulfilling a sinful desire, so that I receive some kind of joy; is it fulfilling some selfish desire, so that I receive some kind of joy; is it fulfilling a wasteful desire, so that I receive some kind of joy; or is it fulfilling a right and proper and good desire, so that I would receive “His joy” the joy of Jesus Christ. When we consider (vs 11) we need to have a proper definition of joy. What does Christ really mean by “My joy”? What does it mean to have Christ’s joy in us?
- Definition of Joy
Biblical joy does not mean that we are always laughing. It does not mean that everything is always going well, for there are times of sadness and heartache and crying out to God. But it does mean that throughout all the good and the bad, the victories and the defeats, there is a peace in the heart of the believer that it is well with my soul, where we might be in a place where we would say, Lord, this is really hard, but I am so glad to be a believer, I am so grateful to have Christ. It is a knowing that even in struggles, everything that God has promised will be fulfilled. Martin wrote:
“Christian joy results from our understanding, loving, and embracing divinely revealed truth …One of the great purposes of God’s word is that in our discovering in it nothing but pure, unadulterated truth, and in our embracing and loving the truth that our Lord has revealed, we may rejoice in all that he teaches us.”
Robert P. Martin, “Christ, The True Vine” 34-35
Christ said to His own, to rejoice for your names are written in heaven, that our Lord owns us and has chosen us, and that God has a plan and purpose for us. This is why we can have joy in places such as a prison, in a hospital room, and in a funeral home. Partly because we know of what is coming. This is why the prophet Isaiah could write while Israel was still in captivity:
“And the ransomed of Yahweh will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
With everlasting gladness upon their heads.
They will attain delight and gladness, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
Isa 35:10 (LSB)
Paul (Rom 12:12) spoke about “rejoicing in hope.” Though he may have currently been in such a terrible situation, he was able to rejoice in that which was to come, in what he hoped for, because he knew it had been promised to him by Christ. In (Phil 1:25) Paul spoke about “joy in the faith.” And I would suggest that our joy is comparable with our faith. That a lack of joy equals a lack of faith. And a lack of faith equals a lack of joy. But great faith equals great joy. Secondly:
- What does Jesus mean by “My joy”?
All of these things: obedience to the Father, embracing the full truth of God’s Word, and knowing what was coming, are all possessed in the life of Christ. In other words, He had everything in His life that produced the kind of joy that He desires for us. Hebrews 12:2, “[F]ixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus knew and believed in what was coming. Therefore, even with the despair of the cross, He was able to experience joy. See, this proves to us that we cannot find true biblical joy outside of this. It cannot be found in things or even people. It can only be found in knowing truth and believing in what God lays ahead for us. And we also know that even the heartaches of life cannot steal this kind of joy because what ultimately lies ahead for the Christian does not waver. And when Jesus says “My joy,” He means the greatest of joy or joy to the uttermost. And to know for us as Christians that this type of joy, to some degree, is attainable for us today. Finally:
- What does it mean to have Christ’s joy in us?
In John 14:27, Jesus said:
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
John 14:27 (LSB)
This peace that Christ is referring to is the peace experienced in our walking with God. The peace of God that passes all understanding. The peace that the world cannot possess or give or find. For this peace is the result of the Spirit’s work in our lives, as is the joy of Christ that is now in us. For when we receive Christ, we also receive what is His in His humanly. This is something which Christ possessed. In Romans 15:13, Paul wrote:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Rom 15:13 (LSB)
We do speak rightly about not allowing our emotions to guide us, as we must be guided by the truth. Yet at the same time, our emotions and feelings are part of our lives. Yet it is still the importance here of our feelings, hopes, and joy being dependent upon truth. And as we must teach this, and warn people of following their emotions, though we ought not to downplay the joy that is a result of truth for the Christian. Martin wrote:
“Jesus is very concerned about our emotional life. The Christian life is not just a matter of principle and duty, but is meant to include an experience of peace and joy in the inner man …Brethren, abide in Christ, and you will know the joy of your Lord in an ever-expanding fullness. That is his promise. That is your privilege. That is your duty. Embrace it, even as you embrace him.”
Robert P. Martin, “Christ, The True Vine” 42
Perseverance, prayer, love, obedience, and joy. Qualities that characterize the true believer. Qualities of the true branch. Let’s pray. Lord, may we be as a congregation, both young and old, that understands what a true branch looks like. That we would be faithful, people who lean on You for all things. A people who love all men and women, loving God and our brother and sisters in Christ and even those who oppose us. And might we obey You in all things, and be filled with the joy of Christ. For we ask these things in Christ’s name, amen. There is one last thought regarding this passage and it comes from verse 3:
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
John 15:3 (LSB)
What does that mean? The longer I study the Scriptures, the less apt I am to just skip over something that does not make clear sense to me. And this is not one of those statements that we might at first glance disagree with? But it is one of those statements that we likely do not really understand, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Verse 2, tells us that the Father cleans the true branches. And without getting too deep here, I believe we must simply understand this as the work of cleansing done for us at salvation. We think of a verse like 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Our forgiveness is often referred to in the Bible as a cleansing.
When David had sinned with Bathsheba, he laments in Ps 51, and he asks the Lord to purify him, and clean him, and wash him, so that he would be whiter than snow. And we need to understand that you and I are considered “clean” by God, not because we do not sin, but because God has cleansed us by the sacrifice of Christ, as the Christian has been washed in the blood. But that cleansing did not come automatically, did it? No, it came when we were saved, and we were saved because we believed. And to believe something, there must be a truth to believe. And that truth came to these disciples from the mouth of Christ. So, He is saying, “You are already clean [forgiven, washed, saved] because of the word [the words of truth] which I have spoken to you. Yes, you believed; yes, you repented; yes, and you were saved. But it ultimately came about because you heard from Me the words of truth. In Ephesians 5, Paul speaks about Christ cleansing His church by the truth of His word.
I was thinking that if someone asked me why I am a Christian? I might respond by saying, it is because I have placed my faith and trust in Christ, which is true; or that I have repented of my sins and believe that Jesus died for me, true as well. But if I wanted to go back further, I could really say, that this is the reason I am saved, it is because I heard the truth. And though we would add those things such as, I believed, I repented, I have placed my faith and trust in Christ, it is really meaningful for us to understand that the core of all that, the beginnings of all that is because I heard the truth, the gospel. For this takes the emphasis off of what I did, though I believe that even my faith is a gift from God; but it correctly places the emphasis on the mercy of God, that He in His mercy allowed me to hear the truth. That thought brings me to His sovereignty, for how could I have ever had any control of that? How could I have ever planned my birth so that I would be one of the few to ever hear the gospel?
Folks, you are hearing the truth this morning. And this is the core, the origin of belief, that someone must hear. For how can they believe if they have not heard. So, to hear the gospel and walk away from it unchanged, is probably the greatest sin you could ever commit? For today is the day of salvation. Let’s pray. Lord, I pray for anyone here this morning who may have never truly given their heart to Christ, who has heard the gospel, who knows the truth, and yet still needs to be saved. Give them the courage to renounce an old life, and come to the only One who has live, Jesus Christ, so that all of their sin would be cleansed and forgiven. And all God’s people said, amen. .