I have some radically good news for you this morning. If you stand this morning with Christ, cleansed by His blood, redeemed by His passion, protected by His intercession, waiting His return, you stand here with Him for one reason and one reason only. Jesus chose you. He chose each of us who lean on and depend on Him for our lives, our hope, and our future.
We all know the thrill that it is to be chosen for something. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, it is sufficient simply to know that someone or some group believed us worthy of something – a scholarship, a promotion, an award, friendship – any and all of these would be reasons we would be excited to be chosen. Last year, Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in The Blind Side. Just the day before, she was also awarded the Razzie for what those award givers believed was a particularly bad acting job in the movie "All About Steve." It is the only time someone has received both awards in the same year. Sandra Bullock made headlines, however, when she actually showed up in person to claim her Razzie. She’d been chosen for it.
We, too, have been chosen. But we have not been chosen based on how particularly bad our performance has been. Nor have we been chosen based on how particularly good our performance has been. We have been chosen simply because God has deemed us fit to be chosen. Jesus loves us. God loves us. That is sufficient reason for His act of choosing us. If Sandra Bullock can be honored and accept her awards with joy and grace – both the Oscar and the Razzie – how much greater should be our joy, then, knowing that God Himself has chosen us?
And that’s the truth! God has chosen us! He has chosen you, and He has chosen me. We are handpicked by Him to be loved by Him, to honor Him, to be redeemed and restored by Him, to support Him, to proclaim Him, to return His love, to proclaim His message. We have been chosen to be His sons and His daughters, heirs of His Kingdom, together with Christ. So stop being so down on yourself in everything and remember that despite what the world may say, despite what your bank statement may reflect, despite what friends or enemies may think of you, God has thought you worthy of being chosen.
But His choosing is not an idle choosing. He chooses with a purpose. The purpose of His choosing is specifically so that He can appoint us to bear fruit. In John 15, the apostle goes into pretty significant length about what it looks like and means to bear fruit. He specifically uses the imagery of a vine and its branches. Vines and branches were common images in the ancient near east. Vineyards were an every day sight, which is why Jesus frequently drew upon them for His parables. Even those who did not regularly work in a vineyard would understand to some degree what happened in order to make a vine produce a good quantity of quality fruit. And everyone knew what happened to unproductive vines. Let’s take a closer look at this vine and branch metaphor this morning.
Here’s the thing about vines. Vineyard owners have pretty high expectations of the vines that they care for. They want to see their vines produce a lot of fruit so that the vineyard can be productive and profitable. "The emphasis is on bearing of fruit. That is the only reason for growing a vine; as Ezekiel pointed out long before [in Ezekiel 15], a vine does not yield timber." A vineyard grower isn’t interested in a good supply of limestone. He’s not interested in a bumper crop of corn. He’s not interested in a nice pile of hay for his cattle. A vineyard owner wants the fruit of the vine. "In a vineyard, fruitfulness is not simply desirable; it is imperative; that is the whole point of the vineyard; it is what the vineyard is for." (Morris, 594) And where does the vine produce it’s fruit? On the branches.
So if Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, it’s our responsibility to produce the fruit that God wants produced through Jesus. He is specifically looking to us to accomplish the things that Jesus came to earth to accomplish. He, Jesus – the vine – accomplishes His work through us, the branches. And what is it that He is seeking to accomplish? In Luke 4 Jesus reads from the Isaiah scroll and says, "18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” To preach good news. Proclaim freedom to the captive and oppressed. Give sight to the blind. Announce the arrival of the time of God’s favor on His people.
The good news is the euangelion that we already talked about – it is the gospel message. The captive and oppressed are all of those held by the power of sin and death. The blind are those whose eyes are consumed by the darkness of the Evil One. These are things that we are to do, the ways that we are to bear fruit. And of course Jesus gave His disciples specific instructions which we also talked about – the Great Commission, the reminder of it in Acts 1. We are to go and tell, to make disciples, to call people to respond to the message of what Jesus has come to proclaim. We bear fruit whenever we feed the hungry, give the thirsty a cup of cold water, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and attend to those in prison. (Matthew 25:31ff) Whenever we preach the good news that we are ready to deliver in season and out of season, we bear fruit. Whenever we bear testimony to who God is and what He has done, we bear fruit.
And we want to bear fruit. Because the point of the branches of a vine is to be fruitful. Do you know what a good vinedresser does when he finds a branch that is either anemic or completely unfruitful? He doesn’t water it and try to coax it along. He doesn’t move it closer to the light or try to put it in more favorable soil or weather conditions. No, he just prunes it or excises it and lets the matter be done! The unfruitful branches will be cut out and tossed into the fire to be burned. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus suggests to us that there will be both those who are His and those who are not His that grow up together in the same field, and it will be impossible to tell the difference before the harvest at risk of the true grain. There are some of us in the church who do not belong to Christ, and we reveal that we do not belong to Christ because we fail to ever bear any fruit for His kingdom and His name.
Some of us are truly Christ’s, but our walk is weak and slow. We may have not born much of any fruit for many years, perhaps one or two clumps here and there. The branch is worth keeping, but just barely. What does the vinedresser do in that case? He cuts the branch in order to prune it. And sometimes, he cuts vigorously.
Perhaps you find yourself today wandering in some trial and wonder what in the world is going on. The Lord is in the pruning business, seeking to make you a more productive branch of the vine. Perhaps you feel accosted from all sides. Take courage, the Lord is working to make you better. Perhaps you are a faithful student and teacher who regularly produces fruit, but God knows you can do better yet. God is not afraid to cut deeply in order to draw out the best from us. Oftentimes the deepest wounds produce the greatest fruit. Take courage in the pruning times, because God will bring you out better for it in the end. He is the Master Gardener. His cuts are true, and He does not make mistakes.
Pruning is necessary for us. We all start out as loathsome sinners, far from God. It is a long journey back home. It takes a lot of pruning to get us producing fruit again. As one commentator said, "Left to itself, a vine will produce a good deal of unproductive growth. For maximum fruitfulness extensive pruning is essential." (Morris, 594)
God’s primary method of pruning is by His Word. He says so clearly in the third verse of John 15. We are cleaned – pruned – by the word that Jesus has spoken. We’ve all had those moments – I hope we have, I should say – when the word of God has pricked us and reminded us of where we are straying or where we are failing to live up to what God has planned or intended for us. Where we are not doing what we are clearly told to do, what we are clearly gifted for doing. As the Word of God works in us, we can be transformed as our mind is renewed and restored, as we learn to surrender everything over to God.
But here’s the thing about fruitfulness. A branch isn’t fruitful on its own. The branch must be part of the vine in order to thrive and grow and produce. It has become increasingly fashionable, especially among those from my generation, to be "spiritual but not religious." To "love Christ but not the church." To believe that Christ died for me, but not believe that He requires participation in a corporate body of believers. It’s fashionable to try to be a solo branch on the outskirts, with no connection to the body, but some claim to be the body anyway. And it doesn’t work. We are made and designed for fellowship and communion. We need each other. We need all parts of the body to function ourselves. After all, even if we are the brain of the body (which we aren’t), we still need the feet to get around and the hands to do any work! We are only one part – our part is vital to the whole, but it is only one part.
A branch gains all of its sustenance from being part of the vine. It does not have its own root system in order to obtain nutrients from the soil. It is dependent on the vine of which it is a part. A branch may be taken from another vine and grafted onto a new one, but it is still dependent on the new vine. We are all, after all, but transplanted branches taken from the dying vine of the world and grafted into the eternal new body of Christ.
Let’s pause and recap for just a minute. We have seen that we need to be fruitful. We have seen that it is for this very fruitfulness that God has chosen us through Christ. We have talked about what it means to be fruitful. We have declared the necessity of being part of the body in order to be fruitful. We have talked about God’s use of His Word to prune us so that we can be even more fruitful. But what does any of this have to do with Imagineering what the church is to be like?
Two weeks ago we talked about the need for the church to evangelize the lost. Last week we talked about the need for the church to take those who have been evangelized and disciple the evangelized into mature believers. Today, through Christ’s metaphor of the vine and branches, I want to talk about the need for the church to equip those who have been discipled.
As we have seen, we are chosen and even created in order to bear fruit. It is our purpose as those created by God to be fruitful and multiply. In Genesis, the command was given so that we would fill the earth. As New Testament believers, the command isn’t to merely fill the earth, but to fill the New Jerusalem with citizens for eternity. We are still to multiply, but the focus is on multiplying spiritually rather than physically. We have briefly mentioned how we are all representative of different parts of the body of Christ, an image that Paul was fond of using. Paul also described in his first letter to the Corinthians how we are each provided with a specific gift or set of gifts that uniquely enables us to contribute to the good fruit that the vine of Christ’s body – the church – is supposed to produce. Those spiritual gifts are just that – gifts of the Spirit. The church has no part in the granting of them.
What the church does have a part in is the using of them. A pastor I once worked under had a phrase that he used to describe the dispersion of spiritual gifts. He called it the economy of God. I heard it from him, though he may have borrowed it from someone else.The essence of the idea was that in the economy of God, nothing gets left unfilled, no job gets left undone, and no equipment is left unused or wasted. God, after all, is perfect, and so is His economy. Everything that is needed is provided, and nothing that is not needed is provided. So we are all gifted to function as different parts of the body. And together as Monte Vista Baptist Church, we have every part that is essential to being Monte Vista Baptist Church. Every need we have to meet, every person we have to touch, every word that needs to be proclaimed, every task that needs to be done, every tear that needs to be wiped by someone from our congregation, the economy of God has provided for someone to do those things from among the people that God has brought into our fold. There is no need that we will come across as a church this week that we are not already gifted to handle.
Likewise, every person in our church has a gift. Every person has something that God has brought them here to accomplish. Many of us have more than one thing. We carry more than one spiritual gift with us. The spiritual gifts that God has granted to us He has not granted whimsically. They are granted with a purpose and to meet a need. So, not only does every need have someone who can fill it, every person has a need they can fill. There is no one who is part of our church who is not specifically gifted for a particular vital area of ministry in our church and among our community. If you are here, it is because God needs you to be here to accomplish the work that He has for our church to do.
I firmly believe that everyone here at Monte Vista has a ministry calling on their life. We each of us have a purpose and a task that we need to be working on. We are a branch that needs to be bearing fruit. As a church, we need to be identifying and properly placing everyone so that everything that we have to do as a church for ourselves and our community is being accomplished, but beyond that, we need to be insuring that every gift that God has brought our way is being properly utilized and bearing its proper amount of fruit.
This is where we as a church have the responsibility to equip the discipled. Certainly God has already equipped every disciple with at least one spiritual gift. But as a community, we need to be making sure that our branches are each properly placed in the vine. We need to be actively working so that each branch has its full opportunity to accomplish the specifically designed purpose for which God has grafted you and me into Him.
As a church, we are in the equipping business. We are equipping ourselves and each other and our corporate body for the task of bearing fruit, to the glory of God. We should be busy helping each other identify our usefulness within the Body of Christ and within our own local expression of that Body. And we should be actively seeking opportunities to use our gifts to the glory of God. This is what I mean when I say that we need to be equipping the discipled. We need to be making sure we are eyes opened to the possibilities around us, making sure that no opportunity is wasted and no gift is left unused.
The unfruitful will be excised. The poorly fruitful will be pruned. And the fruit we do bear will be to the glory of God. Let us therefore, with all of the strength and energy that God has provided, stand firm in the strength of His Name and go forth to accomplish the ends for which He has chosen and created us. May we bear our proper fruit to lay at our Master’s feet. We are chosen. We are gifted. We are responsible. We need to work to equip every member of our body to fulfill their ministry so that all of our branches are bearing their proper amount of fruit.