Abba Father. Please Listen!

To be a witness for Jesus, one does not have to be a theologian, although a clear understanding of the Bible’s message is important. To be a witness for Jesus Christ, one does not have to be a bouncing extrovert, but it does help to love people. One thing is essential, however; that is to have strong prayer life. Our Lord makes this clear as He trains his disciples on how to be fishers of people.

Several portions of Scripture tell of Jesus being alone with His Father in prayer, where he found guidance and strength to move on with his mission. There is no better example of Jesus at prayer than the night when He and his disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The evening had been packed with emotion. Jesus described His feelings when he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (v. 38). As we read on in this account, we see the turmoil in the Lord’s mind. Jesus had told Judas that he would betray Him (v. 21). He had told Peter he would deny Him three times (v. 34). His closest friends would leave Him when Jesus needed them the most. William Barclay described that evening in Gethsemane as “life at its grimmest and men at their worst.”

Beyond the emotional pain, Jesus was also very much aware of the physical pain he had to endure. Crucifixion is the most inhumane form of execution. Nails piercing His body and a crown of thorns on his head meant severe pain, and we must never forget Jesus was also human. The writer of the book of Hebrews presented our Lord well when he wrote, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way as we have – yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Through His example, Jesus taught His disciples how to handle their hours of trial. He took them to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed, “Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Only Mark’s Gospel uses the word Abba in describing the Gethsemane experience. The word, Abba, describes how strong the relationship was between Jesus and His Father. This is the word children use when addressing their parents with a very personal request. It teaches us that the closer our relationship is with God, the more personal our prayers will be. It is unlikely that we would come to God with such personal questions (such as, how do I face tomorrow?) if He were only a “higher power.” In fact, if God were that impersonal, we probably would not come to Him at all.

We all have our Gethsemane experiences. I can tell you mine, and you can tell me yours. At Gethsemane Jesus reveals how He handles his hour of despair – on his knees before his Father. This is where followers of Jesus need to find themselves regularly.

How good that, in this time of sorrow, Jesus had His Father to comfort and strengthen him for the hours ahead. His closest friends loved him, but their words were empty, and the burdens of the day had overwhelmed them. They had fallen asleep. They were not adequate for the time.

Does this experience of Jesus in Gethsemane communicate a fact to us? It is not that people would not help us to bear life’s burdens. In fact, they want to help, and they do up to a point. But then they have no more answers that will be meaningful in helping us, nor do we have adequate answers for them.

Having spent time with His Father and receiving the strength and direction needed, Jesus tells his disciples it is time to go. His soul was refreshed, and God had given His Son strength to move on so that the mission for which He was sent could be completed.

The disciples witnessed the importance of a strong prayer life if they were to accomplish the mission that would soon be theirs. Wherever life took them in preaching the Gospel, we can be sure they too dropped to their knees many times and asked God for direction and strength to accomplish their mission. Should it not also be the same for Christ’s servants today? Satan would discourage us, but with God’s strength we move on to tell the Gospel, which a post-modern age needs to hear.

The hymn writer, Henry Lyte, must have experienced in his ministry some of what Jesus went through in Gethsemane, for he wrote:

“Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide.

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide!

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, Oh, abide with me!”

The scriptures are true: “The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). However, we must come to Him daily and ask for his guidance. A strong prayer life is essential for all who desire to be powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Don’t Forget the Children

When Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” He invited these brothers to become a part of his three-year training program. This program would prepare them to be his witnesses in all parts of the world. In teaching them the basics of sharing the faith, Jesus taught them not to forget the children.

The Bible talks much about the children and their relationship to God. Moses instructed Israel in this way: “Hear, O Israel. These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8).

These words say to us in America today, teach God’s Word to your children. Let your witness begin at home when your children are small. What an opportunity you have to read them a Bible story before they go to sleep. Let them see you get on your knees and pray to God. When you are driving and the trip gets boring, visit with them about God’s love. Looking at the marvelous creation is an opener for you to point out how God has blessed your family with an exciting world in which to live. Hang pictures and symbols on the walls of your home that will be reminders of God’s presence in your midst.

Wise old Solomon shares his wisdom about witnessing to children when he says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” God challenges us to send our children into this world with a spiritual foundation that will enable them to face life with all of its temptations and hard knocks.

My wife’s brother was a navy chaplain during World War II. His ship was sunk in the battle of Leyte Gulf. He was in the water with the sailors for forty hours. In a recent visit with her brother, my wife asked what his feelings were in those frightening hours. He replied, “Naturally we were very concerned. Those waters were shark-infested, and the enemy was nearby. However, I believed God was faithful, and we were in His hands.” The chaplain had been raised by God-fearing parents, and their witness bore fruit in the life of their son who had been in harm’s way. Such a statement reveals the truth of Solomon’s statement.

Matthew tells of an incident that impressed him: “Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’” (Matthew 18:2-6). Jesus is teaching this basic truth: don’t forget the children.

Let us get specific and ask the question, who are these children with whom we are to talk about Jesus? It is quite natural for us to think first of the children living in parts of the world where no one has proclaimed the Gospel for one reason or another. We send our missionaries to these children, and it is encouraging to learn how many of these churches are growing and have huge Sunday schools.

A second group of children who come to mind are the little ones living right here in America where they are surrounded by churches. Why don’t they know the story of Jesus? After all, the churches are in their neighborhoods.

Well, there are abundant answers to this question. One is that many parents are unchurched themselves and have little or no relationship with God. They are fathers and mothers who say, “We are not a religious family. We are not going to force any religion on our children. They can decide about God when they grow up.” Consequently, because the parents are not interested in their spiritual welfare, their children are ignorant of the Gospel.

Another reason is that churches make little effort to reach the children in their neighborhoods. What a tragedy! We send missionaries to Africa to tell the story of Jesus and never mention Him to the children who live within a stone’s throw of our beautiful church with its marvelous Sunday school rooms. It is so sad, because some great stories come from these churches where members have taken these children with them to church.

My favorite seminary professor was Dr. George Aus, the son of Norwegian immigrants. When he was a child, the neighbors invited his family to worship with them. However, they were not able to accept the invitation because Mr. Aus’ job required him to work on Sunday. The neighbors then asked if they could take the Aus’ son to Sunday school. The Aus family gladly consented and the next Sunday the little boy sat beside them in church. There he met the Savior and matured in the Christian faith. God called him to become a pastor and, having special abilities to teach, he prepared to become a theological professor. In his classrooms many of us not only learned a lot of theology, but we were strengthened in our relationship with Christ.

This all happened because a neighbor realized how important a little child was to Christ. He invited this little boy who grew up to be a spiritual giant. It reminds us not to forget the children in our witnessing.

A third group of children are those being raised in church homes. By that I mean their parents belong to the church and attend with some regularity. While having these children in the church is very important, it is also necessary to confront them with Jesus Christ that they might be spiritually awakened to the love God has for them. Let me give you two examples of people who were raised in church homes.

When the children in one of these homes were growing up, their parents purchased a summer home. It was their plan to spend the weekends around the lake. When the kids heard this, they responded by saying, “Good, now we will not have to go to church in the summer time.”

Hearing this, the father explained to the children they had not purchased the cabin to get away from church. Each Sunday they would worship in a church near the lake, and if it ever happened that the cottage was getting in the way of church, they would sell it. Today these children are faithful in their church attendance, although weekends find them at the lake.

The second man does not have that kind of story to tell. His father was always in church; his mother was not quite as faithful. A few days ago I visited this man and talked to him about his poor church attendance. He told me kindly, but firmly, “Dad would never think of missing church. However, us kids seldom saw him sober after 6:00 p.m. Living in our home was not pleasant.” This home forgot it was serious business to be offensive to the children. Today this man is confused about Christianity.

We need strong Sunday schools, confirmation classes, and worship services. Attendance is not optional. Youth programs are to be more than fun oriented. Facilities and programs are only a means to an end. The end is to strengthen the youth’s relationship with Christ.

An old saying goes, “As the twig is bent, so it will grow.” In a day when our children are exposed to so many bad influences, the voice of our Lord speaks loudly to the Church and the Christian homes of America: Don’t forget to evangelize the children! Amen.

No One is Beyond Hope

The story of Zacchaeus, recorded in Luke 19, is one of my favorite Bible passages. I have preached on these verses more than any other Scripture. I have also asked that this be the sermon text for my funeral. Although it is disappointing the story appears in just one Gospel account, I am thankful Luke introduced us to this little man in his book.

Jesus was walking through the streets of Jericho. Zacchaeus, a Roman chief tax collector, was one of many people who wanted to see Jesus, but he was having trouble. He was a short man and could not see over the crowd that was following Jesus. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree. When the Lord saw Zacchaeus, he looked into the tree and said, “Come down. I must go to your house today.”

This irritated some people who were “super holy.” They said, “Look, he has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

We have to surmise what might have happened during the next few hours. I like to believe that it turned out to be an overnight visit. Just imagine Zacchaeus coming into the house and announcing to his wife that their dinner guest that evening was the popular teacher and worker of miracles by the name of Jesus. I think perhaps Mrs. Zacchaeus was not very excited about what was happening. However, she probably thought it was just a part of life with an egotistical, obnoxious husband in a day of chauvinism.

It was after dinner that I believe Jesus and Zacchaeus got into an in-depth conversation about the tax collector’s life. We do not know the details of their conversation, but it is evident from Zacchaeus’ response that Jesus talked to him about his lifestyle. I believe our Lord told Zacchaeus that his stealing was wrong and it would bring him great wealth, but no happiness. Obviously he had no relationship with God.

Now comes the morning, and Jesus and Zacchaeus meet for breakfast. Zacchaeus tells Jesus it has been a hard, long night. He saw his wrong and was anxious to make a statement, which Jesus suggests he make before the crowd assembled near Zacchaeus’ front door. His statement was, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Now hear these words of Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this man’s house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Zacchaeus was a new man. It teaches the lesson that every witness for Christ must understand no one is beyond hope.

This is the Gospel; it brings hope to those who believe. Isn’t this a marvelous story? Can’t you hear someone say, “Well, the story turned out fine, but I can understand why the other Gospel writers did not include it in their books. Zacchaeus was a thief! He belonged in prison. He could have been a CEO of one of today’s corporations who receives an outrageous salary while ordinary people lose their life’s savings by investing in their now bankrupt companies.

Nevertheless, let’s consider why this story is so important for all of us to hear and tell.

This story reveals Jesus’ mission: He came to seek and to save the lost. This clarifies the mission of the Church and enables us to ask if our mission is in focus with Christ’s mission.

When the angel announced to Joseph that Mary would have a child, he said, “. . . he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Now thirty-three years have passed, and Jesus confirms himself: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Notice, Jesus is teaching that people living without a personal faith in Him are spiritually lost. This is not what society says today. Our humanistic culture teaches humans are basically good, and what is bad about them can be fixed. Thus we send these poor sin-sick souls off to the psychologist when what they need is a good conversion experience. By this I am not saying there is no need for good psychiatric care. We know new medicines and treatments have done marvelous things for people living with deep depressions. However, we also know the truth of St. Augustine’s statement: “Man is restless until he rests in God.”

Zacchaeus had lost his way. He thought money would buy him all he needed in life. That is being lost. When Jesus pointed out his spiritual condition and showed Zacchaeus a way out of his dilemma, the crooked tax collector became a new person.

In this story of Jesus helping Zacchaeus, we see the power of the Gospel. Money had captured Zacchaeus’ life. The Bible says he was wealthy. Because he had obtained this wealth in an unethical way, he had few if any friends. Can’t you hear Zacchaeus say, as we hear it said today, “Who cares about friends if you have money? Money will buy all the friends you need.” However, Christ proved to be more powerful than money. He broke that power in Zacchaeus’ life and set him free. He even taught Zacchaeus how to get joy out of his money. What a change!

It may not be money that has captured your life. Another power may hold you captive. It might be alcohol, drugs, immorality, homosexuality, hatred, selfishness, greed, or a craving for social acceptance. Whatever it is, Christ can set you free. Is that not what we need to hear? Does this not give us hope?

This story can give us a positive attitude as it teaches us never to give up on people. God created us with the capacity to change. We do not have to remain the same people that we often do not like. It is true that we cannot change ourselves, but God can change us.

Think how often we have given up in despair convinced a person was beyond being changed. We have pleaded with a friend or a relative to change. We have pampered, scolded, encouraged, and humiliated, but nothing changed. “I give up!” was our cry of defeat.

However, then we read this story of Zacchaeus. How many had given up on him? Yet Christ changed him. Someone might reply, “Yes, but I am not Jesus.” How true. But when you go in Jesus’ name with His Word, the same Holy Spirit accompanies that Word, which was given by Christ.

Think of what this story can mean for a struggling congregation feeling it has no future. In rural areas, many church populations continue to decrease while farms get larger. A pastor serving one of these congregations once made a healthy comment about the future of his congregation. He said, “I do not know what our membership will be in another fifty years, but I do know this: there are many lost people in our area to whom Jesus came to minister. If our congregation will only catch this spirit, we could be just as large, if not larger, than we are today.”

It is important that we know when to share this Gospel. There are times when people are more receptive to God’s Word. When sickness and death invade the neighbor’s home, he or she might be more open to the message of God’s love than when they see themselves as self-sufficient. Remember that Zacchaeus was probably more depressed then he let on to be. Maybe it was just the right time for Jesus to speak to him. Could that not be equally true in the life of your friend when his or her marriage is breaking up or when a child has been arrested for selling drugs?

Jesus being in the home of Zacchaeus has given me a lot to think about. I hope the story has blessed you in the same way it has me. Just never forget – no one is beyond hope. It must be the conviction of all who go in the name of Jesus to tell the marvelous story of the Gospel. Amen.

At Jesus’ Feet

The writer of the third Gospel, St. Luke, was not one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. However, he was a very close friend of St. Paul and traveled with him on his missionary journeys. Luke had access to many written documents regarding Jesus’ ministry. He was a vital part of the early Church. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke used some of this written and oral tradition to assemble his Gospel.

It is interesting that, in his Gospel, Luke tells of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home in Bethany. None of the other three Gospel writers tell this story. It must have left a deep impression on Luke. We can only assume Jesus told the disciples about His visit with the sisters, for they had gone on to Jerusalem. Telling His experience with Mary and Martha gave Jesus an opportunity to teach another basic lesson in being fishers of men. The lesson is this: In order to grow in your relationship with Jesus, you must sit at His feet and learn from him. Now Jesus teaches His followers (this includes us) about the importance of sitting at His feet and learning from him.

Martha was in the kitchen preparing a good meal for Jesus. It was her way of showing love for the Lord, who probably had not enjoyed a home-cooked meal for some time. Mary could not have cared less about eating. She wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. So she sat at his feet and was all ears. This irritated Martha, and finally she had an emotional outburst.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Now let us assume Jesus asks the disciples what they learned from his visit with the sisters. One could have said both loved him but had different ways of showing it. Another might have replied that it shows no two disciples are alike. You have to allow for different personalities. A third one could have responded that sometimes we have a desire to make others behave like we do. Still another could have stated that Martha loved Jesus, but she did not have her priorities straight.

I imagine Peter would have come with the final word: Not to be critical, Lord, but I think you were a bit hard on Martha. She is a woman of action and wanted to show her love by feeding you. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? It is deeds, not creeds, that matter. This is where our Lord speaks to all of us.

Many people wish they had a personal relationship with Christ. If this is a sincere wish, the Bible makes it clear that we can have that relationship. Jesus says, “He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). When we sit at Jesus’ feet, He teaches us some interesting facts about ourselves.

First, we are precious and important to God. We are the crowNng work of His creation.

Second, we are sinners. We were born with a sinful nature, and this throws us out of a relationship with God. However, God loves us so much that He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to suffer and die for our sins. Through this sacrifice, Jesus Christ has atoned for our sins. On the third day He was raised from the dead and won for us victory over sin, death, and the devil. If in faith we receive Him as our Savior and Lord, our sins will be forgiven, and we will be brought into a living, personal relationship with God.

However, from there we are to move on as God’s servants. Sitting at His feet, Jesus gives us a new burden. We are to reach out to those who do not know Him that they too might be saved. He will make us witnesses for Him. He will open our eyes to show us how we need to grow in our faith and be not only forgiven of our sins, but also empowered to overcome them. This includes the subtle sins of self-righteousness, jealousy, unkindness, and the list goes on. At His feet we continue to get better acquainted with ourselves. It may be discouraging, but through it we get a look at what we can become in Christ. That makes it encouraging.

The text tells us Mary sat at the Lord’s feet. This is understandable. Jesus was in the room, so Mary plopped down in front of Him. How do we sit at Jesus’ feet?

The most common answer to this question is well known. Open the Bible in the quietness of your own person. Read the Scriptures and hear God speak. Ask the Holy Spirit, who has inspired this Word, to make it known to you. He will answer your prayer, and you will have a clear understanding of God’s will concerning many problems that bother you. A faithful devotional life (sitting at Jesus’ feet) is essential for those who want to grow in their relationship with Him.

We also hear His voice in the worship service under strong preaching of God’s Word. The preacher does not have to be an orator. However, he or she must expound God’s Word clearly pointing out the Law, which convicts us of our sins, and the Gospel, which presents Christ who forgives our sins. There is no substitute for dynamic preaching and teaching of God’s Word. A church is strong or weak depending on its preaching and teaching.

D. G. Hart, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, has written, “Because the Bible is clear, anyone who can read its words should be able to understand its meaning, no matter what the reader’s education. The problem is that not everything in Scripture is easy to understand. That is why we need people specially trained to help us understand what the Word is saying.”

This is the danger of small group Bible studies where everyone’s insight carries equal weight. People look for the best surgeon when needing a tumor removed, the best lawyer when going to court, and even the superior ice cream when planning a dessert. Yet when it comes to the Bible, questions of expertise and proficiency are not essential. When someone suggested a lay person’s interpretation of the Bible was as good as a minister’s, John Calvin, Father of the Presbyterian Church, said, “God assigned to ministers of the Word the duty of dividing or cutting it into small pieces. The doctrine drawn from the Bible must be preached so that we will be informed.”

Calvin went on to explain the metaphor of dividing the Word of God. “Unskillful interpreters of the bread of life,” he suggested, “are like carvers who cut food. Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it in pieces.”

We do not suggest a minister has a closer relationship with God. Neither do we believe that he or she has an elevated position in God’s Kingdom.

It simply means that a minister, who is a part of the Christian Church, has received theological training, and therefore has been set apart by believers to be a teacher of the Word. It is the same as the schoolteacher who, after receiving proper training, is licensed to teach in our public schools.

I wonder sometimes if the average congregation expects strong preaching of the Word. It is the consistent preaching of the Word that fills the pews of our churches. Poorly prepared sermons will not satisfy the spiritual hunger of those at a worship service. Seminaries should be held accountable for the kind of preachers they send into the churches. Congregations should be held accountable to send some of their most gifted people to the seminaries for training. Only then will our churches be filled and the name of Christ be lifted up in its rightful way.

Just remember, as Jesus trained His disciples then, and as he trains us now to be fishers of men, He emphasizes a personal relationship with him. That comes by sitting at his feet. Amen.

Apart From Me You Can Do Nothing

Christian art is rich in its symbolism. Most common of the symbols is the cross reminding us of Christ’s suffering and death as a payment for the sins of the world. Another symbol is the vine and the branches. In the Old Testament, the vine symbolized Israel. Isaiah writes, “The vineyard of the Almighty is the House of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7).

However, Israel became a bad vine. Jeremiah writes, “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine” (Jeremiah 2:21)?

For good or bad, the vine became a symbol of Israel, God’s anointed. On the walls of the temple hung the symbol of the vine. This symbol became the basis of Jesus’ parable as he instructed His disciples in another important lesson of becoming fishers of men. He says, “I am the true vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

If one were not acquainted with Jesus, he would have thought his words were arrogant. He claims to be the true vine. He is not a vine, but the vine. He is also the true vine. All others were false. I am your only source of spiritual life. Apart from me you can do nothing.

The vine, once presented as Israel, is now Jesus Christ. Whereas Israel became a corrupt, wild vine, Jesus remained the true, pure vine. To complete the picture, Jesus taught that attached to the vine are branches that bear fruit for the Lord. This is a symbol of the Christian whose life is attached to Christ, and through whom he or she has come into a living relationship with God.

This symbol of the vine and the branches gives a beautiful picture of the relationship between Christ and His disciple. I pray you see yourself as one of those branches of the vine.

The church of my childhood baptized infants. It taught that in this sacrament the child was grafted into Christ. At six days of age I was grafted into Christ. God entered into a covenant relationship with me. However, this was only the beginning of a relationship that would grow. My parents were instructed to introduce me to Jesus Christ, which was partially done through our family devotions. Church attendance and Sunday school were a part of our family’s weekly routine, and close relationships with other Christian families made up much of our social life. The branch was being nurtured, and it was beginning to mature.

As a teenager I became a part of the Pocket Testament League in which we promised to spend a few minutes each day reading the Bible and praying. One morning I was walking home after delivering my papers, and I read this verse: “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Through this verse Christ spoke to me in a very personal way. There, alone with God in His Word, I committed my life to Jesus Christ.

This was my spiritual awakening. He had walked with me and blessed me through my family and church. Now this relationship with God came into focus; He was to be the Lord of my life. This did not mean I would be without sin. It meant I would experience the daily forgiveness of my sins and a continued growth in my relationship with the Lord. I trust that many of you have had a similar experience. It is what we call growing up in our baptismal covenant.

Jesus continues to teach that His Father is the Gardner who watches over the vineyard. He teaches, ” . . . Every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (v. 2b). Some interesting commentaries have been given on how God does this pruning. St. Paul says difficult times can be a part of this pruning. He had a physical affliction, which he labeled a “thorn in the flesh.” He asked the Lord to take this affliction away, but God said, “No, my grace will be sufficient for you to endure the hardship that comes from it.” Paul then concludes, “When I am weak, then I am the strongest,” and he was content with the way God had answered his prayer.

It is some of our most trying times that force us back to our Heavenly Father for comfort, strength, forgiveness, and direction. This is a part of the “pruning process.”

The Word also says, “He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit” (v. 2a). One may ask when the branch is thrown away (v. 6). The answer is found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The rebellious son had walked away from his father. He was a detached branch from the vine. His life was bearing no fruit, and while the father still loved him, the son would have nothing to do with his father. This was a conversion experience. The father received the prodigal rejoicing that his son who was lost had been found; the one who was dead was now alive. To use the symbol of the vine and the branches, the converted son was restored into the vine as a branch and began to bear fruit.

The day of discarding the branches does not come until the day of grace is over. It is not a pleasant thought, and we therefore prefer not to dwell on it. However, hear Jesus’ words: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” From a statement like this one can understand that Jesus was no universalist. Not all people are saved. If they are lost, it is because of their unbelief. The extended arms of our Heavenly Father continue to reach out to the unbelievers, and through Christ He offers them salvation. It is His desire that none should perish.

What a picture this symbol gives us of the close relationship we can have with our Lord. Christ is the Vine with the branches growing out from the vine. This is the Church as it comes to people in the name of Christ to minister in body and spirit. This is the Vine that brings the Good News of the Gospel through the branches. This is the Vine that feeds the hungry, cares for the ill, seeks justice for the afflicted, and reminds each individual that, in God’s sight, he or she is a precious and important individual for whom Christ died.

With these marvelous words from the Savior, the disciples in all generations have a better understanding of what Jesus meant when he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Softly and tenderly He calls us to come home. Amen.