127. Sing to the vineyard.

[John 15]

Jesus is using the images and ideas, which were part of the religious heritage of the Jewish nation. Many of His stories find their symbolism in agriculture or the timing of the agricultural year. The seasons of sowing and harvesting are often the foundation of Kingdom principles, those wonderful gears of life that rotate in our favour. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God.

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel(Isaiah 5:1-7).

Yet I planted you a choice vine (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel (15:18and 19:10) also likens Israel to the vine.

Israel empties his vine; He brings forth fruit for himself(Hosea 10:1).

You have brought a vine out of Egypt (Psalms 80:8).

My favourite vine-verse is Isaiah 27:2,3:

In that day sing to her,
“A vineyard of red wine!
 I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day.

The vine had become the symbol of the nation of Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Many a great man had counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a new grape on to that vine.

Vines grew all over Palestine and still do. It needs attention to yield the best. They grow in terraces to provide clean soil. Sometimes they grow over the doors of the cottages. They need pruning to flourish. Young vines are not allowed to produce fruit for three years. They are cut back to develop strength and roots. After three years it is pruned in December and bears fruit in the summer. Branches that do not bear fruit are cut back as to not sap the strength of the plant. Jesus knew that the vine could not bear fruit if it were not pruned.

The wood of the vine was good for nothing. It was too soft to use in anything other than maybe a decorative basket. No vine wood was ever used for the Temple altars. The vine wood would be burnt to ashes.

Jesus declares Himself as the source of true life. Only by abiding in Him, fruit will be produced. The Jews were vines, but fruitless. They refused to listen, and became withered and useless. Christians are also fruitless when they practice religion in name only, without the power. They are traitors to the faith.

Paul said it straight out to Timothy:

…having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!(2 Timothy 3:5)

If Christianity is not a full commitment, there is no power. Rather be nothing than a double-minded, faithless, powerless Christian. [Church of Laodicea – Revelation 3:15,16]

When you hear the word pruning, what is your reaction? Is it negative or positive?

Pruning a vine to perfection for maximum yield is a finely tuned job for an expert and experienced vine grower. Just to get an idea of complexity Pliny the Elder, the Roman friend of Emperor Vespasian who wrote an encyclopedia on which many later encyclopedias were based, on Natural History explains:

Thus there are two kinds of main branches; the shoot which comes out of the hard timber and promises wood for the next year is called a leafy shoot or else when it is above the scar [caused by tying the branch to the trellis] a fruit- bearing shoot, whereas the other kind of shoot that springs from a year-old branch is always a fruit-bearer. There is also left underneath the cross-bar a shoot called the keeper—this is a young branch, not longer than three buds, which will provide wood next year if the vine’s luxurious growth has used itself up—and another shoot next to it, the size of a wart, called the pilferer is also left, in case the keeper-shoot should fail.

In the Greek text the words used for “prune” in verse 2 and “clean” in verse 3 are from a related root.  In verse 2 this root is kathairei (the verb) and in verse 3 katharoi (the adjective).

According to the dictionary kathaireimeans to cleanse from which our word catharsis is taken implying relief and release.

It carries the meaning, amongst others, of the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Sometimes it might be used in a medical sense as a process of purging for the sake of being made whole, clean, or pure.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message captures the idea and feel of the passage much more effectively.

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of methat doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken . . . “ (John 15:1-3 (The Message))

Correction and cleansing by the Father is always done in perfect love. It is impossible to be otherwise, even when it does not feel like it. Our Father is love and everything He does, comes from the source of love. Therefore it is for our relief that He cleans us. It is to release us from the filth and waste of a sinful life that He prunes the branches. It is the only way we can live a life of excellence.

 We are already clean by the message…

 …that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,(Ephesians 5:26)

We are being cleansed for our release of our obsession with riches, status and attitude. We are constantly molded by a godless society into a life of care and worry. The cutting away of earthly obsession and sin, is to release us into a life of liberty and freedom in Christ.

Abiding in Christ is the secret and the mystery. The words of Christ are our cleansing.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life, which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.(Galatians 2:20)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.(Galatians 3:27)

Our identity is in Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Every blessing is ours in Christ so that we are full to bear fruit.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,(Ephesians 1:3)

A child needs constant support and communication, to live home and be guided and nurtured. Children will wither on their own.

Life in Christ needs the same things. There is nothing if there is not contact, experience and commitment. We cannot grow up in two houses. It only brings confusion and rejection. Only when we choose the house of God and be an obedient child submitted to the direction and correction of our loving Father, we shall be whole and able to face the world.












108. Do you believe in fairytales?

We are inundated with fantasy these days. Books and movies created a new and vibrant wave of the genre in literature defined as:

the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.

There are so many titles to name. Older ones like the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, newer ones like Harry Potter and all sorts of dragon stories are all prominent in the libraries of children and adults alike. Critics are rife. Do we so desperately need to escape reality that we need the impossible to relieve our minds of the struggle of life? We are, after all, the post-modern society, bathed in the actual, the factual, the authentic and the scientific validity of the real. We do not give ourselves over to the childish belief in some murky product of someone’s imagination.

Do we really need orcs to visualize the face and agenda of evil and destruction? Do we rely on an army of fawns to encourage in battle? Did you not breathe an audible sigh of relief when the eagles saved Frodo and Sam in the overwhelming hordes of Mordor?

I want to believe in the eagles that come when the battle looks grim. I want al the amazing characteristics of an eagle at my disposal. I want to BE an eagle. Yeah, I declare I AM an eagle. I can, because I believe absolutely every symbol and powerful promise of the words of THE Word.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles…
(Isaiah 40:31)

The author of Narnia said this:

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance, which has been hidden by “the veil of familiarity”. The child enjoys his gold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves.

(CS Lewis – On stories) [My emphasis]

The crowd demands a sign. They want to see the impossible, the improbable. They know in their own effort to hold on to hope, that their Messiah should be able to do the unattainable.

Jesus claims He is the Messiah. (John 6:30-40)

Now He has to prove it.

The wonder of their experience in the feeding of the crowd, made them think of the manna in the desert, which was regarded as the bread of God. The Messiah would bring that again. They did not regard the bread of the feeding as heavenly. The manna that was hidden by Jeremiah, had to be produced. They wanted heavenly bread, not the miracle coming from earthly things.

Jesus reminded them that the manna was not from Moses, but from God. The manna was the symbol of the bread of God. He was the real bread of God that will satisfy their inner hunger. Physical hunger is superficial.

The bread of life sustains life. Jesus as the Bread of Life gives so much more than physical life. Real life is a relationship with God and it is only possible through Jesus. Without Jesus there is no life, even if you have bread to eat every day. He is the essential food – the Bread that gives true life.

Jesus invites us to see Him in the Scriptures, then come to Him, as He is accessible, then believe in Him and submit to Him, to share the life that He promises, so that we are liberated to find God. God begins the whole process to draw us through the Holy Spirit.

True life brings true satisfaction. Deep soul hunger is satisfied in this life. More than life on this earth we are safe in death. We have everlasting life, God-life.

Do we recognize God’s message in an envelope we do not like? (6:41-51)

We cling desperately to our own private arguments, our private prejudices and private goals for our private victory in life. Holding on to our own ideas is a sure path of defeat.

We listen without learning, in criticism and resentment, our superiority, indifference and self-importance blind us to truth.

God draws us. The word used is helkuein, which means to draw with lovingkindness (Jeremiah 31:3). The word implies resistance. The same word is used to draw a heavy-laden fish net at shore, the drawing of a sword (John 18:10), and Paul and Silas drawn before the magistrate (Acts 16:19).

If you cannot enter into the promised land you will wander in the wilderness. If you fear the giants and pagan nations of the promised land, you will have no part in the promise.

The people were hearing familiar things (6:51-59)

In the ancient ritual of animal sacrifice, part of the flesh was given to the priests and part to the worshipper for a feast. At the feast the god himself was invited as a guest. Even the pagans believed that the god entered the meat and they were literally eating the god. The meal left them god-filled to have the dynamic vitality of the god.

The mystery religions of the first century had the story of a god who suffered, died and rose again. It was often shown in a passion play and the believer had to learn from it so that the identity of the god could be taken on. He had to identify with life and death and rebirth. When he and the god became one, he was safe from death.

Ancient people dreamed of becoming one with a god. They were longing for it. Their eating and drinking in religious ritual symbolized true union. They understood the language. John is interpreting the words of Jesus with the deep inner results that the Holy Spirit intended.

The flesh of Jesus was the mind of God taking human shape. Accepting Jesus was to become one with God.

Blood is life. Without blood there is no life. The Jews believed the blood belonged to God. They could not eat the blood of an animal. (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 15:23)

Jesus remains external until we make Him part of us. We must feed our hearts and minds and souls on Him until we are filled with the life of God.

Here is the true teaching of the Lord’s supper. Not only the bread and wine, but also every meal where we sit and enjoy the humblest of food, we become part of God who provides it. God is not limited to church-life. He is all life. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper is expanded to include our entire being and existence, everywhere we go and with everyone we meet.

Some found it difficult to believe. It presented as an intellectual stumbling block. (6:59-65)

At the heart of a religion there must be mystery, for the simple reason that at that heart there is God. In the nature of things man cannot ever fully understand God. Any honest thinker will accept that there must be mystery. [William Barclay – Daily Study Bible]

There must be surrender to accept Him as final authority. It is the acceptance of a mystery revealed in Jesus.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

Jesus Himself said:

And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God… (Mark 4:11)

Paul revels in the mystery of Jesus. How beautiful he describes it in Ephesians (1:9 and most of the third chapter). In Colossians he continues to develop this theme. (Colossians 1:26,27; 4:3)

…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, (Colossians 2:2)

The proof for this mystery is the Resurrection and the Ascension.

The power to believe comes from the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit comes the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God. Human life is only worth it, if lived with a heavenly perspective. Think of eating, drinking, sport, work, business, even love. It is all trivial without the Source.

My WORDS, says Jesus are Spirit and life. (6:63)

Jesus was aware of the resistance and rejection.

Even here in this chapter of John we sense the beginning of the end (6:66-71). Jesus predicts the actions of Judas and the coming of the Cross.

The crowds are worked up; great things are happening; many are baptized (John 4:1-3). The tongues are active all over the land – Jerusalem, Samaria, Galilee.

Now, some are drifting away. They saw where this is heading. They knew He was on a collision course with the authorities. Better to stay out of trouble and not collide with the iron fist of the Romans.

They are the fair-weather followers. A cross is to be avoided at any cost. They are challenged.

They have come to get something, but did not reckon it could be the cross.

Years can be cruel, suffering lasts longer than expected. Dreams die, enthusiasm withers, loyalty suffers. We become small and bitter.

Only the love of Jesus can make us expand with honour as was originally intended.

Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you;

(Isaiah 43:4)