Elizabeth Lucille Gregory

Today, I attended a memorial service for my mother, who passed away this past Monday. Elizabeth Lucille Gregory was 80 years old. Her obituary is here: https://grimesfuneralchapels.com/obituaries/elizabeth-lucille-gregory/3194/

I was blessed the last few weeks to spend time with my mother before she passed.  I was able to say goodbye twice, once when she was very responsive and talkative, and then again at the end when all she could do was smile.

I had left mom’s side and returned to Houston barely a day later when Carolyn gave me the call that Mom was gone.  Even though I knew it was coming, it still shook me to my core.  My mother was gone.  I had so many thoughts that rushed through my head that began with “If only…” or “I wish…”. 

At my home, music was playing in the background.  It was “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman.  The song didn’t directly apply to our situation; it’s a song from a father to a daughter.  But I heard the words, “So I will dance with Cinderella, while she is here in my arms.”  And it made me think of my lifetime of walking with my Mom.

I first met my mother when I was very  young….

… that was my mother’s sense of humor, one of the many gifts she gave us.  She wanted our childhoods to be as wonderful as hers.  She told us often of climbing the magnolia tree at her home in Warrington, Florida.  If you saw how my mom walked this last year, it was hard to imagine her climbing a tree, but she had strong, young legs.

She used those legs to carry us when we were infants, then to walk with us when we were children.  She walked along the beaches of Pensacola, holding our hands. She was a constant presence, always there, teaching, loving, caring. 

When I became a teenager, she walked with a different purpose.  I rebelled in a lot of ways and gave her reason to worry, so she used her legs to pace the floor, waiting for me to come home.  I think my sister Carolyn might have paced with her.  Mom might have been mad at my rebellion, but Mom was still there.  Teaching, loving, caring.

Then as I grew into an adult, about 25 years ago, I gained fond memories of double dating with Mom and Bootsie, often to dinner and a movie.  And once, while Bootsie was out of town, Diane and I, and I think Stephen and Marquette, all went country and western dancing.  We made sure Mom got carded at the door and she was tickled over that.  I took my Mom for several spins around the dance floor.  I can’t say it was like dancing with Cinderella, I never thought of my mother as a princess.  I thought of her more like Jackie Kennedy or Marie Tyler Moore.  But the song sounds weird if the lyrics are “so I danced with Jackie Kennedy.”

In these later years when I came to visit, she still walked, but we parked much, much closer to the door of the restaurant.  The night we took her to the 1011 Bistro for dinner with that long, steep ramp to get to the entrance, I think we spent more time walking than dining.  The walk was very long, and for her it was difficult.

The next day, we visited Bootsie’s grave.  Mom needed help getting out of the car.  The soft ground was hard for her to walk on.  Mom’s feet bothered her greatly.  It was painful to walk.

And just last month, her last weekend at home, we were there.  Diane helped her into bed, out of bed, into bed, out of bed, into bed.  Her ability to walk was nearly gone, but not Mom’s capacity to teach, love, and care. 

All of those “If only” and “I wish” thoughts in my head still pop up, but I realized what isn’t there in my head.  No regrets.  Despite the trouble I was, Mom always loved and waited for me to return.  Those that were blessed to know her over the years found a woman that knew how to love, encourage, and forgive like no other.  My mother was an amazing mother, full of love and laughter and life.

The last weekend I we were in her house together, I was scheduled to teach bible study.  Love of the Lord was probably the greatest gift Mom gave me.  I had to teach online because of Covid, of course, so I sat at her kitchen table to teach, and I’m thinking of all those days when I was a child that she sat me down and read to me and teach me.  I’m teaching from the book of Acts, and in Acts 3, a lame beggar is sitting at the gate of the temple called beautiful, unable to walk.  This is Acts 3, verses 6-8 –

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”  And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.  With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

Mom’s last week, she was unable to walk.  She asked, more than once from her bed position, for somebody to help her up.  Her earthly dancing days, her days of teaching, loving, and caring were coming to a close.  The Cinderella song I heard playing said,

So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh, I will dance with Jackie Kennedy
I don’t wanna miss even one song
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone

But she has the greatest gift now.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, she has a glorious new heavenly body without pain or tears.  She sees Jesus face to face, He says, “In my name, walk!’ and then takes Mom by the hand. 

Mom is walking, Mom is dancing, Mom is living again, and she’s waiting for me, and she’s waiting for you.  She sees Bootsie again.  Her peace and joy is eternal.

I love you, Mom, and I miss you fiercely.  Thanks for all your love, laughter and life.  But I will see you again, Mom.  Jesus says he has prepared a place for us, a mansion with many rooms.  I know my room will be just down the hall from yours.  And if I know you, Mom, every Saturday you’ll come to my room and make sure I’ve cleaned it before I can go play.

I love you Mom.  It’s time to say goodbye for now.  I’ll see you soon.  Maybe we can climb that magnolia tree together.


Acts 3-4, The Power to Stand

  I.      Introduction

Interesting lesson for me to study this week.  This month, we’re in the book of Acts, and we’re up to Acts 3 & 4.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the church usually assigns a range of scripture and a suggested title for the lesson. This week’s lesson from Acts 3 & 4 is called, “The Power to Stand,” and when I first read the scripture, I didn’t see a message that spoke to me.  It’s about Peter healing a lame beggar.   Let’s get our first scene, Acts 3:1-8,

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Now, I believe in miracles.  In fact, I did an entire lesson once on the miracles that God still provides for His people.  But I think in Old Testament times, God did his miracles primarily to demonstrate his power and to pave the way for his Son appearing and fulfill His prophecy.

Today God still does miracles, but he seems a lot more selective about when and where He does those miracles. I know Pastor Samara when he has taught here at the church has story after story of miracles that God still does today in the Middle East.  Here in America, I hear many stories of miracles of God healing cancer.  Saving people from certain death in an automobile accident.  I myself have personal miracles I’ve seen in my life that can only be contributed to God.  I believe in miracles.  I don’t believe in coincidences.

But God doesn’t provide miracles on demand.  I know we all prayed for a miracle for our sister Teresa, but as we know, God did not answer our prayers with a miracle so that we could still have Teresa with us today.  Instead, we will have to wait to see our sister Teresa someday in the future.  Nothing focuses our prayers more than when we are powerless against overwhelming obstacles. 

As y’all know, I’ve been asking for prayers for my mom.  She’s been in physical pain as well as a significant decrease in her mental faculties recently.  Two weeks ago I had planned to get a Power of Attorney from her and had a meeting with her lawyer setup, but her decline was so rapid, we lost the opportunity to get a power of attorney while she had the competency to sign it.  We may yet get a miracle and Mom’s mental state improve, but for now, we’re just muddling along without it.

She has another issue that seems attached to our lesson today.  Her ability to walk has been impaired for some time; she has curled toes.  Some curl up, others down, two of her toes crossed over.  She even had a toe surgically removed because it was difficult getting shoes on.  She had a cane and then a walker.  Now that she’s transitioned to a memory care facility, she’s in a wheelchair. 

Like the lame man at the temple gate, I’d love to give hope to my mother that she can walk normally.  So as I’m studying, I see Peter say,

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.

Wouldn’t I love to be able to say that to my mom?  “In the name of Jesus, walk?”

This man in our scripture was born lame.  Never played freeze tag or kick-the-can as a boy.  Never ran a race.  And in those days, he really had no occupation available to him except… begging.  But then one day, God stepped in, in the form of John and Peter who gave him more than he needed.  More than physical healing, but spiritual healing.

Do you know how we know God loves us?  Because God sent His only Son to take the place of our punishment.  Belief in this sacrifice brings salvation from eternal punishment for the sin nature we all know we have. 

But what is this salvation?  Salvation is a rescue and it’s ongoing.  Imagine a lifeguard jumping in to save a drowning swimmer, and then says, “I saved you!”  And then tosses him back in.  “Now you try!”  That doesn’t make any sense.  Either you are saved, or you are not.

There are actually two different words used for salvation in the bible.  In the Old Testament, the word salvation is “yesha.”  It means freedom from what binds or restricts and thus effects deliverance.  It is the root word for the very name of Jesus, Yeshua.

In the Greek, in the New Testament, the word translated as salvation is “soteria.”  It means to provide recovery, to rescue, to provide for one’s welfare.  The word for “salvation” is used 45 times in the New Testament.

Salvation is the work of God whereby He transforms a soul from the grip of eternal wrath and condemnation to one of eternal life. God provided this option from His great mercy and provided everything necessary to make it possible.  Scripture says that salvation is of the Lord.  And salvation is only from the Lord. 

II.      Salvation is from the Lord

This concept is important to understand.  Salvation as a gift from the Lord is part of the Five Solas that define the Protestant faith –

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.  It is in the holy word that we find the basis for the remaining solas.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone, and this is the complete summary of all five solas.

All of these are completed by Christ.  Man contributes nothing.  All main branches of Christianity – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant – all agree that Jesus is central to our salvation.  But what separates us is that little Latin word, “sola.”  Alone.

Catholics would say that our salvation is in Christ “and.”  Baptism, the sacraments, confession, attendance at mass, penance, and other good works are necessary to salvation.  Catholic theology places equal weight on church and tradition which are contributed by man.  Human additions to the five solas which are all accomplished by God, in Christ alone.

Jesus + nothing = everything.

So in Acts 3, Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – three in the afternoon.  There was a man who had been lame from birth that begged at the gate called Beautiful.  When we asked Peter and John for money, they responded in a way that changed his life.  “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Lots of things happened suddenly.  All the people were astounded and rushed to Solomon’s colonnade, a porch on the east side of the Jerusalem temple.  Peter began to explain the Gospel to them.  Members of the ruling council, the same ruling council that had Jesus flogged and crucified, were there and became highly agitated.  They had Peter and John arrested and thrown in jail.

The next day, Peter and John were brought before the religious rulers and asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?”  And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said in Acts 4:7-12,

“Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed,  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter tells the Pharisees that it is in the name of Jesus, whom you crucified but God raised from the dead, that this man was healed.  Then he quotes Psalm 118:22 to let the religious leaders know they fulfilled prophecy, “the stone you builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.”

And then, the fourth sola,

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The Priority of Salvation

Peter is an uneducated fisherman, but he stands fearlessly in front of the most important religious leaders of his day and says that salvation is the greatest need of their soul.

In many ways, man hasn’t changed over the centuries.  We seek self-esteem or money or popularity or power.  But our greatest need is salvation.

We are dead in our sins, we are defiant in our souls, and we are doomed to hell.  Romans 3:22b-23 says

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We are separated.  We are hopeless.  We are helpless.  We are lame and we cannot walk.  And our holy God will not tolerate our sin in His presence.  The perfect good will destroy evil, no matter how slight in our eyes.

God gave the Israelites a sacrificial system to atone for these sins, to atone for their evil.  When they sinned, an innocent lamb would die in their place.  But was temporary and had to be renewed every year.

The prophet Isaiah declared that one day a Messiah would come, to take away the sins of the world as a final sacrifice.  Centuries later, John the Baptist paved the way with his announcement in John 1:29,

“Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

Our debt of sin was so great that only God could pay it.  And Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by dying on the cross.  For us, forever.  Romans 5:9-11,

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

So how much does God love us?  1 John 4:9-10,

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

And Hebrews 9:11-15 elaborates,

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God. For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Our sins separates us – we cannot stand before a Holy God that will destroy sin in His presence.  We needed a mediator – someone to step in between us and God.  1 Timothy 2:5-6,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

How many mediators qualify for this position?  Who can identify with our sins * and* identify with a Holy God?  There is only one mediator.  Not two, or three.  Just one.  Mother Mary is not a mediator.  The catholic saints are not mediators.  Solus Christus.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

By His death on the cross, He reconciled us to God completely. Our sins, past, present, and future were paid for.

By his perfect life, keeping the Law perfectly, His righteousness was given to us.  2 Corinthians 5:21,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Solus Christus.

The Exclusivity of Salvation

So how many other ways are there to salvation?

I’ve tried to sign up for websites the promote Christianity, but a lot of times I get religiosity instead.  The site tries to appear to appeal to many beliefs and not offend anybody, and call all these beliefs “Christian.”  They are not.  Sometimes, God is described as being at the top of a mountain, with many paths leading to the top.  Other times, it’s described as a wheel with God at the center, and different beliefs are the spokes.  In the end, they say, as long as we are sincere, we all get to the same place, regardless of what we believe.

That’s a terrible misunderstanding of what Christ teaches.

First, we can be sincerely wrong.  I sincerely believed 2020 would be anything other than what 2020 turned out to be.  Hurricane Delta because we finished the alphabet and had to start over at the beginning.  Day 225 of 24 days to flatten the curve.  And what happened to the murder hornets, anyway?  I think I missed the attack of the murder hornets.  So I sincerely believed 2020 would be something awesome, but I was wrong.  We can be sincere and we can be wrong.

And second, Jesus didn’t leave us any other option.   He said that His way is the only way and all the other ways are wrong.  If His way is the truth, then everything else is false.  Peter emphatically says in Acts 4:12,

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Salvation is found in “no one else.”  Peter says our salvation is through a single person that was crucified and raised from the dead.  Jesus and only Jesus bore our sins, and by his wounds we are healed.

Last month when we were working through the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus, at the end of the book of John, Jesus starts talking about His death.  Jesus reassured His disciples that Jesus would prepare a place for them.  But then John 14:5, Thomas spoke up and said what everyone was thinking,

“We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus’ answer to this question removes all other options  Jesus’ answer gives an answer that points the disciples along the correct path.  John 14:6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus didn’t say, “I know a way.”  He didn’t say, “There are lots of ways.”  He said He was THE way.

Imagine you wanted to go to a World Series baseball game.  To get in, you need a ticket.  You can’t just walk up and say, “I’m a good guy, let me in.”  They would look at you like you’d lost your marbles.  But then a guy walks up and says, “I bought a ticket for you.”  Then can you enter? 

Others may say, that doesn’t seem fair.  That seems so exclusive.  Heaven should be a place for everyone.  Everyone is welcome, right?  Well yes, everyone is welcome… as long as you have a ticket.

God doesn’t send anyone to hell.  The most favorite verse in the bible is John 3:16,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in shall not perish but have eternal life.

The entire world is welcome, but they must accept this gift of the Son.  But not choosing Christ or rejecting Christ outright, most people choose hell.  In saying, “that’s not fair,” or saying “that can’t be the only way” or even “what about all those non-Christians, are they going to hell?” that is a choice * not * to accept Christ as the only way, which is the same as choosing hell.  Matthew 7:13-14,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

It is only through Christ alone, our only Savior, our only Hope, our only Mediator, that we are saved.

The Necessity of Salvation

What if I don’t want to be saved?  Is it really necessary?  Don’t good people go to heaven somehow?  That seems fair, doesn’t it?  Acts 4:12 –

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

It’s interesting to me that this verse doesn’t end with “by which we can be saved.”  The verse says “by which we * must * be saved.”  Is the bible translation correct?  Let’s look at the Greek word for “must,” “dei”.

necessary, in need of, behooves, right and proper, necessity brought on by circumstances or by the conduct of others toward us.

It doesn’t matter where you live.  Europe.  Africa.  China.  California. New York City.  Austin.  Houston.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or red or yellow or purple.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, or even if you don’t know if you’re male or female.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re capitalist or communist.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat.  You must be saved.

We cannot do it on our own.  In fact, I believe that’s one of the biggest obstacles to accepting the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, is believing somehow we can work our way to heaven, using our earthly efforts.  We cannot save ourselves.  Drowning people drown without a lifesaver.  Or as Hebrews 2:3 puts it,

“how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?”

III.      Conclusion

Returning to more personal experiences, in our sister Theresa’s last days, everybody prayed for a miracle.  She’s too young to be taken from us, that’s what I was thinking.  But we were unable to save her.  Doctors were unable to save her.  Theresa was unable to save herself.  She needed a lifesaver.

My mom cannot walk without assistance.  I wrote that sentence two weeks ago, she cannot walk without assistance, and revised it twice, but now she cannot walk at all.  She wants to.  But she can’t.  And I can’t help her.   Doctors cannot restore her ability to walk.  She needs a lifesaver.

Our verse started with Peter saying,

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 

My whole lesson came together in my head with the direction of the Holy Spirit this week in an unconventional matter.  His miracle is still true today when we are seeking hope.  It’s like Peter said, “Theresa, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  It’s like Peter said to my mom, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 

Philippians 3:20-21,

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Revelation 21:4,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Our scripture today should resonate with us and give us hope.  Peter said,

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The power to walk, to have new resurrected bodies, to live in eternity with no more tears and no more pain, awaits all those that accept Jesus Christ.  And this salvation is found nowhere else.  Sola Christus.  Scripture alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone.

To God be the glory.

I AM The True Vine

I. Introduction

We’ve been going through the 7 “I am” discourses of Jesus.

  1. I AM the Bread of Life
  2. I AM the Light of the World
  3. I AM the Door
  4. I AM the Good Shepherd
  5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life
  6. I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life
  7. I AM the True Vine

We’ve already covered the first 6, now we are at the 7th and final “I AM” statement. So far, during the first 6, Jesus has given these “I AM” statements to explain His relationship with the Father, and His relationship with us. These metaphors – Bread, Light, Door, etc – were chosen by Jesus not just for their imagery, but because each one of them had special meaning to the Jews. The Bread reminded them of God’s provision of manna, the Door reminded them of the sacrificial blood over the door prior to the Exodus, etc. Jesus has spoken to the Jews, the Pharisees, the Believers and the non-Believers, and the Gentiles. And now we come to the final “I AM.”

This one is different. Jesus is saying goodbye to the 12 disciples. Judas has already left to betray the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, and Jesus knows He will soon be arrested, tried unfairly, scourged and crucified in accordance with scripture.

Jesus and the 11 remaining disciples have left the Upper Room in Jerusalem and are walking together through the Kidron Valley toward the Garden of Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives. That might sound like a lot of walking, but it’s not. Here’s a photo from the Jerusalem walls near the East Gate where you can see all three locations.

Did the disciples understand Jesus’ impending death? I’m not sure they fully understood. All through the Upper Room Discourse in John 14, Jesus says He’s going away and then coming back. He has to go away so the Holy Spirit will come. Thomas then says, “Lord we don’t know where you’re going.” Jesus gives them comforting words, and ends John 14 with essentially saying, “let’s go for a walk.”

And then gives them the 7th and final “I AM” in John 15:1-11 –

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

II. The True Vine

This time, Jesus isn’t speaking to Pharisees or Jews or Gentiles. He’s speaking to His followers. I mean literally His followers. Jesus said, “Let’s go for a walk” and they followed.

The words Jesus speaks to them are words of comfort and hope and how to live while we wait for His return. And as always, Jesus chooses a metaphor that has great significance when He called Himself the True Vine.

The disciples would have understood this vine a little differently. Imagery of the vine, the vineyard, its relationship to the nation of Israel was used throughout scripture. If fact, during this walk through the valley of Kidron, they probably had a view of the temple and the gold vines decorating it. I’ve seen some estimates that the gold used for the vine was worth as much as $12 million in today’s money. I went looking for a picture of these gold vines to show you…

… but then I remembered the temple was destroyed in 70AD. Duh. In fact, the amount of gold on the temple may have been a motivation for the Roman soldiers to not leave one stone unturned, also in fulfillment of scripture. So here instead is a model representation of what it may have looked like –

But why “the True Vine?” Is it in comparison to something else? Scripture like this one from Isaiah 5:1-7 shows the vine is a metaphor for Israel –

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

So this is the message the disciples understood. The vine was Israel and despite everything the Lord did for the vine, it yielded only bad grapes.
So that’s the context – Israel is, or was, the vine. Christ is the true vine. But it’s not just Israel that has fallen short – Romans 3:9 –

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.

So it’s not just Israel that yielded bad grapes. Israel failed. Gentiles failed. All of man’s attempts at his own religion failed. It will take God Himself to succeed where man fails, that’s why Jesus is the true vine. The word true in the Greek is alathenos, “that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine.”

III. Bear Fruit

Let’s look at our scripture again, John 15:1-11 –

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

There’s some repetition here. Let’s begin with the words “bear fruit” which is repeated 6 times.

Now this is not bear fruit. This is a bear, and this is some fruit.

Now, I’ve sat in on several lessons over the year that focused on the phrase “bear fruit.” Sometimes it was used to emphasize the need to make disciples. Other times it emphasized on the need to do good works. But I finally realized while studying for this lesson while those lessons didn’t resonate with me, and let me explain.

A few years ago, Diane asked for a Methley plum tree for her birthday. I’m not sure how long ago that was. Three years, maybe? So far, it’s just a tree. It’s grown nicely, it’s probably 15 feet tall now.

There’s no plums on it, though. I tried shouting at it, “bear fruit!” But it’s still just a tree. A tree without fruit. Now to be fair to the tree, as if the tree cared, I read it may take five years or more before we’d see plums on the tree. So here’s my point: I cannot command the tree to bear fruit. The tree will bear fruit in season and when the time is right. That’s what the tree’s purpose is. It’s made for bearing fruit when the conditions are right. As you can see, the grapefruit tree right next to it is bearing quite a lot of fruit, looks like it’s going to be a bumper crop this year.

No doubt Jesus wants us to bear fruit – verse 8 says

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

But I realized that it’s not written as a command, as though Jesus says “now get your lazy rear ends off that sofa and go bear me some fruit.” But bearing fruit as His disciples will bring glory to God.

But “bear fruit” isn’t the only phrase repeated. “Bear fruit” is repeated 6 times, but the word “remain” or “remain in me” is mentioned eleven times! Remain, remain, remain in me, remain in me. Without remaining in or abiding in Jesus, there can be no fruit. Jesus desires communion, fellowship, to be united with Him. The life of the Vine will flow through us, and then we have fruit.

So the reason previous lessons where I was told to “bear fruit” didn’t resonate with me is that I don’t believe that’s what Jesus was emphasizing. Abiding in Him is what He is emphasizing. Abide in Him, and we will bear fruit. Then and only then are the conditions right. We were made for bearing fruit, and we bear fruit naturally when the conditions are right.
So what kind of fruit are we talking about? Not bear fruit, we already talked about that.

But your Christian character is fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

When you are abiding in Him, this fruit grows naturally in the right conditions. If you do a self-examination and discover you are missing fruit – say, forebearance or patience, then the solution is not to try harder to be patient. The solution is to abide in Him.

Your love and righteousness is fruit, Philippians 1:9-11 –

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

This is righteous love. Some love isn’t love, it just masquerades as love. If a child says, “I want to play in traffic!”, is it love to say, “ok, dear, whatever you want, you can have.” I think the word love is misused in the news media when they really mean self-indulgence. It’s not the same thing as practical, righteous love.

And you’ve heard me say that good works are not necessary for your salvation, and it’s true. Your salvation is 100% based on just believing in Christ Jesus and what He has done for you. But… good works are fruit in that belief, Colossians 1:9b-11 –

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

Your good works which spring out of your faith in Jesus bring glory to God. Good works are good fruit.

And also just being thankful to God is good fruit, Hebrews 13:15-16,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

God loves it when you thank Him and praise Him, because He knows that you know He deserves praise.

IV. The Gardener

This good fruit does not come naturally. It comes supernaturally. Our sinful nature remains when we give our lives to Christ. The difference now is that we have the ability to say no to sin, if we abide in Him.

We don’t do this on our own. Verses 1&2,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Verse 1 says that Jesus is the vine, and His Father is the gardener. I don’t know about you, but I have some reservations if I’m going to be pruned.
I looked up some information on growing a vineyard and taking care of grape vines. Turned out to be pretty complicated. Here’s some information from the Texas AgriLife Extension and Elton Vineyards –

Dormant pruning is a critical component of the grape production system. It provides the mechanism to maintain the training system, allows one to select the fruiting wood, and to manipulate the potential quantity of fruit produced. Because of the way grapevines grow and produce fruit, growers must prune annually. Fruit is only produced on shoots growing from one-year-old canes. Therefore, healthy new canes must be produced every year to maintain annual production of fruit.

Turns out if you don’t prune enough, wild growths sprout, cause excessive shade for other sprouts, and the amount of fruit is greatly diminished. The idea of pruning includes allowing some but not too many sprouts for this year, and allowing just enough new sprouts to be productive next year.
Our lives have a lot of these wild shoots. Our efforts on our own become distracted and wild and they take up a lot of time. We grow a lot of branches, but those branches just provide shade. No fruit.

When we abide in Jesus, the Father is the gardener that prunes. How much pruning in a vineyard is an art. But one of the things I read about pruning a vineyard is that a lot of pruning yields the best results. Sometimes pruning 90% of the wild growths is necessary.

The Father’s way of pruning us are innumerable. They may be through issues with a job, or health, a parent or a child. The pruning never seems easy or comfortable, does it? God is basically taking either useless branches and cutting them, but much of the time pruning the vineyard involves remove branches that were productive last year. I discovered that once a branch has born fruit, a new branch with new buds is needed for next year’s fruit.

I don’t know how much to read into this or try to explain. I think the Father’s pruning for each of us is personal. He knows us, He knows what must be removed. He knows what must be encouraged, and He knows what has already born fruit and is past its time.

I think of the major changes in my life. Some of them might be self-inflicted as I tried to prune myself. But some of the others were definitely the work of the Father. My stepfather passed away 3-1/2 years ago now. I still think of how much life was in him and how he blended two families together so well and with so much love.

I suppose he bore his fruit, and it was time for pruning for the next generation. Every person that was touched by him is growing new shoots because he’s gone.

Was it necessary? Was the time right? Sometimes maybe I get the idea that I could have a better idea, that maybe he should still be with us a little longer. But I abide in Jesus, and I trust in Him. And through the pruning, I learn more of God’s character. Hebrews 12:11 puts it this way –

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

I take consolation in that there is a purpose, an eternal purpose, for all things, and God causes all things to work together for good for those that love Him. All things. The branches that remain, the branches that are pruned. If I trust in Him, there is a harvest of righteousness and peace.

V. Branches of Nothing

In John 15:5-6,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

We are dependent on Jesus, He is the vine. Jesus says the branch alone does not bear fruit, and neither do you or I. Apart from me, He says, we can do nothing.

Wait. What does He mean by nothing? Aren’t there lots of people that accomplish stuff, and some or even most of them do it without Christ, don’t they? We build large cities and skyscrapers, but build cars that go fast and rockets that go even faster. We travel to space and to the bottom of the ocean. Isn’t that something?

But Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing. The Greek word Jesus used was “u”. It means no. Not. Absolutely negative. Without. I didn’t misunderstand Him. He means nothing. Our earthly accomplishments are dust in the wind.

This a statue, or what’s left of a statue, called Ozymandias in Egypt. Originally, archaeologists believe it stood 62 feet or nearly 6 stories tall. This is all that’s left, and the poet Percy Shelly wrote a poem that ended like this –

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Earthly works are no more than Ozymandius. Nothing remains. We are called to do more. We are called to eternal works. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 expound upon testing and it speaks of a “judgement seat”. Many Christians do not have a firm grasp of our eternal life, believing that somehow we show up at the throne and God evaluates us on some sort of bell curve, giving rewards to some and punishments to others. But that’s not it.

Others believe that Christians aren’t judged at all, believing that Christ paid the price for our sins. But that’s not accurate either.

If we have faith in Jesus Christ, our names are written in the book of life, and there is no condemnation. But no condemnation doesn’t mean no judgement. The judgement seat for Christians weighs our good deeds. There’s no punishment, there is no risk of hell, but there are rewards for treasures stored up in heaven.

If we spend our life in pursuit of pleasure, lust, self-indulgence, or anything that does not bring glory to God, this verse, like John 15:6, says those branches are burned up. That effort was worthless. If one does not abide in Jesus, there are no rewards. The Christian is still saved, but the smell of smoke lingers in his hair.

A life abiding in Christ is a life of gold and silver and precious stone. A life attached to the true vine produces fruit that brings glory to God. Without Christ, our earthly works have no meaning. They are just burned up and forgotten.

The world teaches differently. We have our bread and circuses, we have our show and tells, but without Christ, it’s all a mirage. What lasts are the fruits of the spirit, the fruit of righteousness, the lovingkindness we show to one other in Christ’s name, and the thanks we give God for His many blessings. That’s what lasts for eternity.

VI. Conclusion

So one day, your life and my life will pass through the fire of judgement, to test the quality of our work. I don’t know exactly what these rewards are, but I know if the Lord Jesus is giving special rewards, I want to be in that line.

When Jesus says He is the True Vine, we should remember He encourages His followers to

  • Abide. Fellowship, trust, love.
  • In Him. It’s all about Jesus, not us.
  • Bear Fruit. Fruit of character, changed life, good works, and thankfulness that brings glory to God. A natural production of fruit that grows with pruning and under the right conditions.

It’s what we were made for. To know God and make God known. To abide in the True Vine and bear fruit that brings glory to God. Ephesians 5:8b-10 –

Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

That’s good fruit.

To God be the glory.