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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:26–40; John 15:1–8

James T. Batchelor

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, May 3, 2015 

Jesus loves to use word pictures to help His people understand His teachings.  For example: He speaks of His church as the bride and Himself as the Groom.  He also speaks of His church as His body with Himself as the head.  Last week we heard Him teach that He is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His flock the sheep for whom He lays down His life and takes it up again.

Today we hear about Vineyard Jesus.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  Jesus tells us that it is good for us to abide in Him.  Just as it is good for the branch to abide in the vine, so also it is good for us to abide in Christ.  Now, we no longer use that word abide as often as we as we once did.  We may well ask, What does it mean to abide especially what does it mean to abide in Christ?

The word abide does not describe an action.  Instead, it describes a condition.  We have other words that do that such as stand, stay, remain, and so forth.  When I say that a statue stands in the hallway, the statue is not doing anything, it is just standing there.  In fact, the expression, Dont just stand there Do Something, depends on the fact that standing is not doing.  The word abide is like that.  It is not something you do.  Instead, it is the way you are.

A fairly simple understanding of plants makes it fairly obvious that no branch can long survive without the vine.  The vine is the source of food for the branch.  Without food, the branch will soon starve to death.  The branch must remain in stay in or abide in the vine if it is to survive.

Now, a branch cannot attach itself to a vine.  Either the vine grows the branch or someone has to graft the branch into the vine.  In order for us to abide in the vine, someone or something must first place us in the vine.  The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record an excellent example of just how that happens in todays first lesson.

God dispatched an angel to Philip and told him to Journey to a specific place in the desert.  There Philip met an Ethiopian Official who was returning home from Jerusalem.

Apparently this official was very well off.  He was reading Scripture, so that meant there was a driver.  He was traveling from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, so there were supplies for the trip.  Even so, there was still room for Philip to sit down in the chariot with this official.  This chariot was the first century equivalent of a limousine.  On top of that, this official actually owned a copy of Isaiah at a time when all books were hand-copied.  Luke identified this official as the treasurer of the country of Ethiopia.

Although this man was well off financially, he was not connected to Christ.  Philip asked, Do you understand what you are reading? 31 And he said, How can I, unless someone guides me? (Acts 8:3031) He was reading Isaiah, but He did not understand.  Those who abide in Christ know that Jesus suffered and died on the cross to save them from sin and they will recognize the words of Isaiah as words that describe that suffering and dying.

Listen to the words that lead up to the words quoted in todays reading.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turnedevery oneto his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6) Then come the words that we heard quoted in todays reading.  7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7) Isaiah then goes on to say, He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12) This is all part of the great suffering servant prophecy of Isaiah that begins at Isaiah 52:13 and continues on through Isaiah 53.  This is one of the greatest poetic descriptions of Jesus on the cross in the Bible, and it was written approximately 700 years before Jesus was born.

The one who abides in Christ abides in His words, and knows that the entire Bible is about Jesus.  Philip knew that the Bible is about Jesus.  So, Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:35)

Although it takes only a few minutes to describe what Philip did, we should not think that Philips instruction of the official was equally short.  He had to tell him that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  He had to tell him how Jesus unpacked Moses with the Sermon on the Mount.  He had to teach him about the events of Holy Week.  He especially had to teach how Jesus suffered and died and took away the sins of the world and then rose from the dead.  He had to teach how the Holy Spirit gives the faith that receives the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned on the cross.  He had to teach all these things and more.  The Bible does not tell us how long Philip taught, but it would not be unreasonable to think that Philip taught for the rest of the day and, perhaps, on into the next day.  We should not think that it was a few quick sound bites, and the teaching was finished.

We know the teaching was quite extensive because the official knew about baptism, for as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? 38And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:3638) So, the official desired the blessings that the Holy Spirit delivers in baptism, and Philip baptized him.  The Holy Spirit has now connected this official to Christ as a branch is connected to a vine.  It is as Martin Luther said, Whoever is baptized in Christ is baptized through His suffering and blood, or, to state it more clearly, through Baptism he is bathed in the blood of Christ and is cleansed from sins

Jesus compared Himself to the vine and us to the branches.  We must remain in stay in or abide in Jesus if we are to survive.  Separation from Jesus means starvation for us.

A very natural example of this separation happens every autumn.  During the spring and summer, green plants are full of Chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is very green and it gives plants the green color that they have during the spring and summer.  Chlorophyll also helps plants use sunshine to make food and stay alive.  When the weather cools down in the autumn, some tree leaves grow a separation layer.  The separation layer stops the flow of nutrition into the leaves.  The green Chlorophyll goes away and all the other colors of the leaves start to show up.  The colors have always been there.  You just cant see them because of the powerful green of the Chlorophyll.  The beautiful colors of the trees in the autumn tells us that the Chlorophyll is gone from the leaves.  It also tells us that the leaves are dead.  Soon they will fall from the tree, and the branches of the tree will look very bare indeed.  The fall colors are a bittersweet beauty.  The colors can be amazing, but they are a reminder of death the death of leaves that have separated themselves from the tree.

Jesus said, I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away (John 15:12) With these words, Jesus teaches us the sad truth that the church also has those people who grow a separation layer.  This separation layer cuts them off from Jesus.  This means that they are cut off from forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.  They may be beautiful like the autumn leaves, but they are spiritually dead.  Eventually, the Father will take them away.

Jesus contrasted those who abide in Him with those who do not.  He said, If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. This is a very terrifying prospect to be dried, gathered, and thrown into the fire of hell because we do not abide in Christ.  This makes it very clear that there is no salvation except in Jesus Christ.  He is the only way.

So we have learned that it is essential for us to remain in stay in or abide in Jesus.  This is all well and good for the people back then.  They could touch Jesus, talk with Him, eat with Him in general, they could hang out with Him.  But how did they abide when Jesus ascended into heaven?  Indeed, what are we to do today now that we no longer have His visible presence?  How do we abide in Jesus?

Jesus Himself gave us the answer to that question.  He said, If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7) These words teach us that Jesus abides in us when his words abide in us.  It is as Martin Luther said, Christ adds this comment here: Just pay attention to My Word; for everything depends on whether My Word remains in you

So we see that to abide in Christ is to abide in His word the very same word that Philip shared with the official from Ethiopia.  So we see that the Holy Spirit uses the same Word of God to connect us to Jesus and to keep us in Jesus.  All who abide in Christs word, abide in Christ.  They abide in Christ in this life and forever in the next.  Amen

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