Tag Archive | Answered prayer

The True Vine and the Branches

For the first-century Jewish men who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards would have been familiar. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine, and the disciples would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard.

They would have recalled the words of Hosea saying, “Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1a). The prophet Isaiah’s words were equally familiar, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isaiah 5:7a).

Unfortunately, when Jehovah looked for healthy grapes in His vineyard, all He found was worthless fruit (Isaiah 5:2). When He looked for justice and righteousness, He found idolatry and bloodshed. Israel failed to be the healthy vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:7).

I’ve been doing a 7-day YouVersion Bible reading plan by Lysa TerKeurst based on her book Finding I Am, in which she explores the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. The final “I Am” statement is found in John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”

Lysa says,“In essence, what Jesus is saying in this I AM passage is—I am doing what you could not do. I am the true Vine. Israel, you were supposed to be the vine, but you couldn’t do it. So, I AM is coming and saying that He is about to step in and fulfill what you could not do.”

She continues, “We are in that same boat, my friend. We cannot do what God has called us to do without Him. We are unable to be faithful to His commands. We have failed over and over just like the Israelites failed time and time again. The Jewish people hearing Jesus that day needed Him to step in as the True Vine. And we need Him to do that for us as well.

Last week, we began a study of John 15:1-11, looking at our heavenly Father as the vinedresser. Today, we are exploring what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine” and how to be branches that glorify our heavenly Father.

THE SETTING
First, let’s look at the setting in which these words were spoken. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate their final Passover together. These words are part of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30), so these words were to the eleven who had been with Him from the start.

John 14 concludes, “Rise, let us go from here.” So it seems likely to me that these words about the vine were spoken as they left the Upper Room and walked through the vineyards between there and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was going to pray.

Jesus was preparing these men for His soon departure for heaven. The suffering of the cross was ahead of Jesus, but He wanted these beloved friends to know He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. He would continue to nourish and sustain them, through His Spirit which was with them and would be in them. As the Vine, Jesus is our source of life. He is the source of all real strength and grace to His disciples.

I AM
Jesus begins with “I am.” These words were clearly received by those who heard Jesus teach as a claim that He is God. Earlier in the book of John we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John‬ ‭8:58-59‬) Why this extreme reaction to two small words. To the Jews, it was the name of God revealed by Abraham in Exodus 3.‬‬‬‬‬

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus‬ ‭3:13-15‬)‬‬‬‬‬

THE TRUE VINE
Jesus was saying He is “the True Vine”- the real thing, the genuine vine in contrast to Israel, a nation which had degenerated and become a wild vine. “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭2:21‬)‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

THE VITAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The vine is the source of life for the branches. It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine.

But this is a mutual relationship. The branches abide or maintain an unbroken connection with the vine. Without this, they are unable to bear fruit… in fact, without the vine they will shrivel up and die.

But John 15:4-5 says that not only do the branches abide in Jesus, the Vine, but He also abides in them. The branches need the vine, but the vine also needs the branches. Without them there would be no fruit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John‬ ‭15:4-5‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬

THE PROMISES OF ABIDING
For those who abide, Jesus gives two promises. The first is that of bearing much fruit. What kind of fruit does this refer to? I think there two possible types of fruit produced.

First, we should experience a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬)‬

But when we look at this parable of the vine in light of the Old Testament passages above, I believe there is another possible “fruit” – the same fruit God was looking for when Isaiah wrote these words. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah‬ ‭5:7‬) The fruit of justice and righteousness were what God was hopeful to see from Israel as a nation. Malachi 3:6 says the Lord does not change, so I believe He is still looking for justice and righteousness.‬

The second promise is found in John 15:7-8, the promise of answered prayer. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John‬ ‭15:7-8‬)‬

In addition to these promises of a fruitful life and answered prayer, a life of abiding is a life filled with joy. Jesus brings this lesson to an end with these words. “

THE TRUE VINE AND BRANCHES
For the first-century Jewish men who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards would have been familiar. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine, and the disciples would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard.

They would have recalled the words of Hosea saying, “Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1a). The prophet Isaiah’s words were equally familiar, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isaiah 5:7a).

Unfortunately, when Jehovah looked for healthy grapes in His vineyard, all He found was worthless fruit (Isaiah 5:2). When He looked for justice and righteousness, He found idolatry and bloodshed. Israel failed to be the healthy vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:7).

I’ve been doing a 7-day YouVersion Bible reading plan by Lysa TerKeurst based on her book Finding I Am, in which she explores the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. The final “I Am” statement is found in John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”

Lysa says,“In essence, what Jesus is saying in this I AM passage is—I am doing what you could not do. I am the true Vine. Israel, you were supposed to be the vine, but you couldn’t do it. So, I AM is coming and saying that He is about to step in and fulfill what you could not do.”

She continues, “We are in that same boat, my friend. We cannot do what God has called us to do without Him. We are unable to be faithful to His commands. We have failed over and over just like the Israelites failed time and time again. The Jewish people hearing Jesus that day needed Him to step in as the True Vine. And we need Him to do that for us as well.

Last week, we began a study of John 15:1-11, looking at our heavenly Father as the vinedresser. Today, we are exploring what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine” and how to be branches that glorify our heavenly Father.

THE SETTING
First, let’s look at the setting in which these words were spoken. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate their final Passover together. These words are part of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30), so these words were to the eleven who had been with Him from the start.

John 14 concludes, “Rise, let us go from here.” So it seems likely to me that these words about the vine were spoken as they left the Upper Room and walked through the vineyards between there and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was going to pray.

Jesus was preparing these men for His soon departure for heaven. The suffering of the cross was ahead of Jesus, but He wanted these beloved friends to know He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. He would continue to nourish and sustain them, through His Spirit which was with them and would be in them. As the Vine, Jesus is our source of life. He is the source of all real strength and grace to His disciples.

I AM
Jesus begins with “I am.” These words were clearly received by those who heard Jesus teach as a claim that He is God. Earlier in the book of John we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John‬ ‭8:58-59‬) Why this extreme reaction to two small words. To the Jews, it was the name of God revealed by Abraham in Exodus 3.‬‬‬‬‬

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus‬ ‭3:13-15‬)‬‬‬‬‬

THE TRUE VINE
Jesus was saying He is “the True Vine”- the real thing, the genuine vine in contrast to Israel, a nation which had degenerated and become a wild vine. “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭2:21‬)‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

THE VITAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The vine is the source of life for the branches. It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine.

But this is a mutual relationship. The branches abide or maintain an unbroken connection with the vine. Without this, they are unable to bear fruit… in fact, without the vine they will shrivel up and die.

But John 15:4-5 says that not only do the branches abide in Jesus, the Vine, but He also abides in them. The branches need the vine, but the vine also needs the branches. Without them there would be no fruit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
‭‭(John‬ ‭15:4-5‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬

THE PROMISES OF ABIDING
For those who abide, Jesus gives two promises. The first is that of bearing much fruit. What kind of fruit does this refer to? I think there two possible types of fruit produced.

First, we should experience a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬)‬

But when we look at this parable of the vine in light of the Old Testament passages above, I believe there is another possible “fruit” – the same fruit God was looking for when Isaiah wrote these words. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah‬ ‭5:7‬) The fruit of justice and righteousness were what God was hopeful to see from Israel as a nation. Malachi 3:6 says the Lord does not change, so I believe He is still looking for justice and righteousness.‬

The second promise is found in John 15:7-8, the promise of answered prayer. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John‬ ‭15:7-8‬)‬

In addition to these promises of a fruitful life and answered prayer, a life of abiding is a life filled with joy. Jesus brings this lesson to an end with these words. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”(John‬ ‭15:11) ‬Let’s aim for unbroken connection with the True Vine, Jesus Christ, so we can bear fruit that glorifies our heavenly Father.

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God’s Treasures of Darkness

As I began this new month of October, I started a new devotional series by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, entitled Growing In Gratitude: A 30-Day Devotional Guide. In the first devotional reading, she defines gratitude as “learning to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from God and from others.” She adds, “This means constantly being on the lookout for blessings, making each day a treasure hunt.” That final phrase immediately brought to mind a Bible verse shared in the comments on a recent Thankful Thursday post I wrote for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.” Isaiah 45:3 NKJV

These words from the prophet Isaiah have taken on special meaning in my life since this verse was shared the comments following that Thankful Thursday post. At the time, I was facing one of the hardest steps of obedience God had ever asked of me. I knew the right thing to do, was determined to obey, yet was in a major battle in my emotions. I made the correct choice, and while the full answer is still in process it was clearly a turning point in some extremely difficult circumstances we have been walking through.

The term treasures of darkness, in the original Hebrew, refers to the blessings God has stored up in His storehouse, ready to bestow upon us as we choose to walk in His ways. Deuteronomy 28:12 uses this same Hebrew word to describe the blessings God has stored up, ready to pour out on us when we walk in obedience to His Word.

“Darkness” can refer to literal darkness, as in Genesis 1:4-5, when God separated the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night. It is also used of figurative darkness, a night season or time of adversity.

The Lord has a storehouse of treasures stored up to lavish upon His children who walk in obedience to His precepts during the dark seasons when circumstances seem overwhelming and we have no light to see what lies ahead.

And why does God do this? That we may know that He is the “I Am”, the true God, the God who has the power to enlighten our darkness. “For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalms 18:28)

My husband and I have been walking through a dark season of great financial pressure, caused by serious damage to our home during hurricanes Ike and Harvey, very little help with repairs from our insurance company, some credit card debt we have been working to pay off, and our inconsistent and limited self-employment income.

When on top of all of this, we learned that our homeowner’s insurance was being cancelled because of the poor condition of our home, I felt like I was drowning emotionally and knew I was going under if I didn’t get some encouragement and help in dealing with my emotions. I reached out to a friend from our church, the wife of the retired pastor who leads our iConnect Bible study class.

Over four years before, when we began looking for a small group to be a part of in our large church, we read in the church bulletin that this small group was beginning a study on Genesis and Creation. This especially caught my husband’s attention since  he had recently written a screenplay that included scenes from the Creation story of Genesis. We visited the next Sunday and have been a part of this close knit class ever since.

The first “treasure of darkness” God gave in this situation was the understanding that we thought we chose this small group over four years ago, because the study posted in the bulletin that was about to begin caught our interest. But in truth, God spoke to my heart, He chose this group for us because He knew we would need the friendship and hard-earned wisdom of this couple in this situation several years later. When I made the initial contact because I needed help dealing with the emotional overload caused by our circumstances, I had no idea that my friend and her husband had walked through a similar situation earlier in their marriage. But God knew.

Other times, especially after difficult steps of obedience, God opens his storehouse and bestows a treasure so big we stand in amazement at His goodness. This past Sunday, we received a blessing that left us in tears and speechless. In the midst of great financial stress because of thousands of dollars of damage to our home, we have also been depending on rental cars and friends for transportation since our car broke down over a year ago and the repairs to get it running again were well beyond our means and the value of the car. For over a year, we have been praying for God to make a way for us to get a dependable vehicle without us adding to our debt (which we have been working to pay off). Sunday, God answered that prayer, through a retired widow who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years. This former nurse for our special needs son came by for a visit and to bring some supplies for David and an anniversary card for Mitch and me. I opened the card and was a little puzzled by the message she had written. “Prayer do change things. Here is some help for your transport needs”… until she handed Mitch and me a certified check which will allow us to buy a dependable used car.

God usually uses people in the treasures of darkness that He bestows upon us when we walk in obedience to Him. But the thing in common no matter how big or small these treasures are is that we know without a doubt it is a gift from God and a clear revelation of His love for us. God’s treasures bestowed in darkness may come through people, but God is their ultimate source and recognizing that makes us fall more deeply in love with Him. Through His treasures of darkness, we know He is the true God, the one who is bigger than any dark circumstances we currently face or may face in the future.