The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 15:1 “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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are 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 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples”. (NASB)
People love the idea of Jesus. They love the idea of baptism, a christening, or a symbol of some good work done as an adult in coming to be baptized or parents bringing an infant. They love the idea of Jesus. They love the quaint and nostalgic site of church weddings, baptisms, and the other niceties of religious traditions. What they don’t particularly care for or about are the words, the very words, the doctrine, the teachings of Jesus Christ that teach the eternal and spiritual truths of sin and grace, heaven and hell, and all the other realities associated with a life lived in Jesus Christ or a life lived without Him.
Last week we were reminded that sometimes Jesus uses His words to in metaphors to teach us about His relationship to us and our relationship to Him. Last week it was the metaphor of the Good, as in the noble and heroic, Shepherd. In other places in Scripture Jesus talks about His Church as His Bride and Himself as the Groom. In other places the Church is His body with Himself as the head and we are individual members of His body.
This morning on this Fifth Sunday of Easter and on the day in which Henry James Ulrich has been baptized, Jesus uses the image of the Vineyard. “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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.’ and again, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” A few moments ago Henry was grafted into Christ. He now abides in Jesus and Jesus abides in Him.
Now the word “abide” does not so much describe an action or activity undertaken by Henry or by his parents. “Abide” describes a condition. There are other words that could be used: stand, stay, remain, etc. As you enter Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne you will see a large statute of Luther standing to the left of the road, but the statue isn’t doing anything. It’s just standing there. We have an expression, “Don’t just stand there … Do Something.” The word abide is like that. It describes the way you are.
Thus the branch just abides, remains, stays connected to the vine. The branch can’t survive without the vine. The vine is the source of life for the branch. The branch must remain in … stay in … or abide in the vine if it is to survive.
A branch cannot attach itself to a vine. Either the vine grows the branch or someone has to graft the branch into the vine. That brings us to Philip and the treasurer of Ethiopia.
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. He was a very well off Ethiopian. He was reading Scripture. That meant his hands were busy holding a scroll. That indicates he had a driver. He was traveling from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. That’s a long trip so there were supplies in tow. It was a large chariot because there was room for Philip to ride along. Chariots were the first century equivalent of limousines. Finally the Ethiopian owned a copy of Isaiah and scroll of one of the Old Testament prophets was expensive.
The Ethiopian eunuch had everything except understanding. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30–31) He was reading Isaiah, but He did not understand who Isaiah was talking about.
Is. 53:7 “He 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.” Philip knew and so does everyone who abides in Christ and Christ’s words. They are after all inseparable. You don’t have Jesus without His words, without His doctrine. Strip away what Jesus said, taught, and did and you have nothing left.
As is often the case, the accounts written for us in the Holy Scripture are condensed versions of longer conversations and lesson. What is recorded here is the essence of what Philip said. 35 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.”
Philip began to walk the Ethiopian through the Old Testament and through the person, life, and work of Jesus. The Bible does not tell us how long Philip taught but in whatever time he had been given, Philip made it all the way to the doctrine of Holy Baptism.
35 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ 37 And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”
From the moment Philip began to put the theological puzzle together for the Ethiopian, the word began to abide in him and he in the Word. Through the speaking of the Word of God by Philip, the Holy Spirit grafted the Ethiopian into the Vine and made him a part of the heavenly Father’s vineyard. That is what just happened to Henry James Ulrich. That’s what happened to you when you were baptized.
There is something else you ought to know about Jesus’s statement, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” When we hear that statement tend to think of this as if Jesus said he was the “stock” or “trunk.” Stocks and trunks are different than a vine.
The vine is the whole plant. The vine is the stock, roots, branches, leaves, and fruit. It is the whole package. There is a unity, a mysterious bond between Christ and the Christian. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in” and this bond produces good fruit. Only Christians produce good fruit in the eyes of God the Father.
Jesus says so right here. 5 … “apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
Apart from Christ, apart from faith and trust in Him Jesus Himself, apart from a life lived in connection to Jesus Christ and His words, you can do no good thing pleasing to God. But in Christ, Christ is in you. Thus St. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20).
When Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” He was saying that we are “in Christ,” “with Christ,” “united to Christ,” “one with Christ.”
As long as the branch remains connected to Vine, sins are forgiven, faith is sustained, and the bearing of fruit continues.
It is by the Word of Law and Gospel – preaching and teaching, confessing and worshiping that Christ remains in us and we remain in Him. These are the greatest fruits of faith.
Christ Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. He nourishes us with His Word, with the forgiveness of sins, through the means of grace. The harsh weather of life and those who brush up against us, are used by God to prune us. They may even us clean, but united in the true Vine we are kept alive until the day of the harvest.
Henry James Ulrich was not baptized into idea of Jesus. He was not baptized into some quaint tradition here at little Immanuel. He has been baptized, made a Christian and a part of the universal Christian Church, the Bride of Christ, and a son of God the Father in heaven, and brother to the Son of God, [he has been baptized] into the very person, doctrine, and work of Jesus Christ. And so have you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples”.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen