3 May 2015
Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Acts 8: 26 – 40
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
1 John 4: 7 – 21
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
John 15: 1 – 8
Jesus the True Vine
15‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
A number of years ago I saw a book for sake by Francis Schaeffer called How Then Should We Live? Ooo I thought, that looks interesting! I bought it. However, the book sat on my shelf for years and I kept on wondering what Francis Schaeffer thought was the way we should live.
Jesus left us in little doubt in his parable in John 15.
John begins this gospel passage by setting up a graphic image involving three parties:
• The Vine (Jesus)
• The Vinedresser (God the Father)
• The branches (Christians)
It would then appear that the branches exist in one of two states:
• They are removed by the Vinedresser and thrown into the fire if they bear no fruit
• They are pruned by the Vinedresser in order to produce more fruit
You notice that there are no neutral branches here. No branches just hanging around in the sun and admiring the grapes. Either they are cut off and burned or they have unnecessary bits cut off and they channel their life-giving sap into producing fruit.
Neither of these options can be described as comfortable. The pruning shears affect both groups.
Now there is no use whatsoever in being a branch who is prepared to be pruned but has no sap – no juices flowing from the roots with which to grow grapes. Jesus then goes on to explain exactly how to make sure that the branch does have sap: it is to remain closely attached to the vine. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing
Now we’ve just discussed that there is no safe option in doing nothing. The branch that does not bear fruit is cut off and burned in the fire.
So really there is only one constructive option that has an ongoing happy and productive life and that is the branch who remains closely attached to the vine and is prepared to be pruned. That vine will bear a lot of fruit.
So we’re called to be fruit-producers.
Now every now and again a branch will manage to evade the pruning shears and two things happen:
• Firstly, the extra sap required to grow the branch gets diverted from producing fruit and the fruit begins to shrink
• And secondly, the expanding branch sooner or later comes across a neighbouring branch and finds its tendrils feeling their way around and over its neighbour’s fruit.
Just like that it has turned from being a fruit producer to being a fruit inspector! O dear! I think you know where I’m going with this.
We know (because we’ve just laid out the parameters Jesus spoke of) that before long this particular branch will feel the Vinedressers pruning shears taking it off at the base before it gets chucked into the fire, but the sad thing is the damage fruit-inspector vines do to other branches before they are lopped off.
Jesus calls us both to two things only:
1. To remain closely attached to him, and
2. To present ourselves regularly for pruning.
We don’t have to produce the fruit. He will do that through us if we are in the right condition. Fruit will happen. That is how to produce fruit: to let him do it through you.
Many people are puzzled by this business of fruit production. How do I know what the fruit is?
Well, a good question: we all produce different fruit. But also a bad question. It’s not your concern what the fruit is. God produces the fruit. The tasks you and I have are simple: remain close to Jesus and be open to being pruned.
8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
The language can be a bit misleading here. This does not mean God is glorified if you both produce fruit and become my disciples. It means God is glorified when you produce much fruit because that is how you become my disciples.
As the Good News Bible puts it: 8 My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples.
Remember, don’t focus on the fruit – that way you only become worried about your own fruit or you become a fruit inspector – concerned about someone elses fruit. Neither is your business. Your business is to remain close to Jesus (the branch remains in the vine) and to allow God the Father to get rid of those parts of your life that are not useful (the Vinedresser prunes the vine). Then the fruit will come!
Be a fruit producer, not a fruit inspector!
God bless you.