My Words Abide In You (John 15:1-11)
My Words Abide in You
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 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. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:1-11
This week, I want to think specifically what role the Bible plays in abiding with Christ. Jesus tells His disciples that they are “clean because of the word,” that He has spoken to them, John 15:3. And Jesus tells us here, “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. Abiding in Jesus is related to His Word abiding in us—when we abide in Christ and His Word abides in us, we can pray with confidence. But what is the relation between abiding in Christ and His Words abiding in us? Paul tells the Colossian church to, “Let the word of Christ dwell (abide) in you richly,” Col 3:16.
Here is my main point: You cannot abide in Christ unless you let His Word abide in you.
Why? Our God is a speaking God. The constant refrain of the prophets of God is, “Thus says the Lord…” All throughout the Old Testament the living God is contrasted with false gods because He is a God who speaks. Jeremiah 10 tells us, “Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord… The idols of the nations are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak,” Jer 10:1-2, 5. Over and over again the false gods are exposed as fantasies because they are deaf, dumb, and mute. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him,” Hab 2:18-20. Paul carries on this tradition in the New Testament by simply referring to false gods as “mute idols” in 1 Cor 12:2 (see also Isa 41:23; 46:7; Ps 115:5-7; 135:16). What sets God apart from all of the other false gods? Our God speaks.
And when God speaks, He reveals Himself through His speaking. In the book of Exodus, when Moses is interceding for the nation of Israel, he asks God: “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Ex 33:18-23
“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation,” Ex 34:5-7.
What just happened here? Notice, Moses asks God to show him His glory and God explains that Moses cannot see His face, but will only see His back. Of course, God does not have a corporal body—He is spirit (John 4:24), so “God’s back” is likely a metaphor for an indirect view of God. You will not see Him fully (His “face”). But notice when God passes by Moses He reveals Himself with words. We are not given a description of what the back of God looked like, we are given a proclamation of His name: The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious… Moses “sees” God through hearing God’s Word. This is also what we see in Paul’s admonishment to the Galatians, “1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Gal 3:1-2. Now, Galatia is nearly 800 miles away from Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified. The Galatians were not there to see Jesus be crucified. So what does Paul mean when he says that it was, “before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”? The answer comes from the question of the second verse: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? The Galatians were able to “see” Jesus be publicly portrayed as crucified through hearing the gospel proclaimed to them by Paul. They “saw” through hearing.
There will be a day when, as the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, we shall see God “face to face,” but for now we “see through a mirror dimly.” We are like soldiers away at war, left only with the letters from home that connect us to the ones we love. The letters are not the same thing as being with our loved ones, but they are still a means by which we can commune with them in some way. In the same way, God reveals Himself through the medium of His Word. Which, of course, is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Word of God, made flesh; the Supreme revelation of God (Heb 1:1-4).
This means that if we want to experience more of God, we must read His Word, because Our God speaks and in His speaking, He reveals Himself.
Not only that, but our God acts through His speaking. God’s Word creates what it commands. We see this from the very first page of Genesis where God literally creates everything simply by speaking, “Let there be…” His words are not just revealing but they possess power. God creates the nation of Israel by calling out Abraham by His word of promise, He judges Egypt by sending Moses as with His words to speak to Pharaoh, He makes a valley of dry bones turn into a valley of living persons by sending Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and He creates His new covenant people, the Church, by the preaching of the gospel. Paul tells us that, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” Rom 10:17. God’s Word is the fountain of faith. This is perhaps why Paul takes the preaching of God’s Word with such awful seriousness when charging his young pupil, Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” 2 Tim 4:1-4. Do you see what lengths Paul is going to to impress the weight of the correct preaching of God’s Word to Timothy? He is invoking the most high, holy, and sacred witnesses to attest to the seriousness of this task: preach the Word.
The image of Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus is a fitting one. Jesus calls out to a dead man who has no ability to hear, let alone to answer Jesus’ call. And yet, wonder of wonders, Lazarus gets up and walks out of the tomb! God’s Word creates what it commands.
God’s Word must be applied. Letting God’s Word abide in us is different than letting God’s Word simply pass through us. You can be near God’s Word, but not actually receive God’s Word. The prophet Ezekiel was told that he would be a watchman over Israel, a prophet who spoke God’s Word to them when they were at the most precarious of places. Israel had been ignoring God’s Word over and over again and it had led them to the brink of total destruction. Listen to this dire warning he gives:
As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed. – Ez 33:27-29
And how do the people respond to this?
“As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. – Ez 33:30-32
Do you remember Mark’s definition of a disciple of Jesus from the parable of the sower? A disciple is someone who, “hears the word and accepts it and bears fruit,” Mark 4:20. You can hear God’s Word, and not accept it. That’s the whole point of the parable of the sower—you can have an interaction with God’s word that is only skin-deep.
The fundamental message of the Bible, the gospel, is of no use to you unless you respond to it. Keeping medicine around you is of no use unless you take it.
- Believe the gospel.
- Read your Bible
- Prioritize the preaching of God’s Word