given at a conference in Switzerland in 1964)
15:1,2,4; 1 Peter 3:18.
There are two
words to be underlined in the fifteenth chapter of John. The one
word is 'true' - "I am the true vine" - and the other
is 'abide'. which occurs eleven times in the chapter.
If you look at
these three chapters in John's Gospel, chapters 14, 15 and 16,
you will be impressed with one thing. (This is one way of
obtaining the real message of any part of the Bible: try to sense
the atmosphere of what is being said.) How do these chapters
impress you? In them there is an atmosphere of crisis and
uncertainty. There are questions in the atmosphere, and there is
doubt and there is fear. Look back in chapter fourteen and you
hear Thomas saying: 'Lord, we do not know where You are going.
How can we know the way?' Philip says: 'Lord, show us the Father
and that will be sufficient'. You see, there are questions in the
air. The disciples are uncertain, not knowing the meaning of
things. They want to know what it is all about. In their hearts
they are saying: 'Where is it all leading us?' There is the
feeling that a great upheaval is about to take place and that
everything is about to be shaken. And they were right. In a few
minutes the Lord Jesus will be saying: "They shall put
you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever
killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God"
(John 16:2). 'They will put you out of their whole
religious system, and when they have done that they will kill
you. Having killed you, they will think they have done a good
thing for God.' Of course, that was their way of looking at it,
but there was another way of looking at it, and it was this that
was really causing the tension in the air.
What Jesus was
really pointing to was the repudiation of that whole historic
religious system. That whole system of Judaism was about to be
put away. These disciples had already begun to lose faith in that
system, but their trouble was: What is going to take its place?
Judaism may be a poor thing, but perhaps a poor thing is better
than nothing, and here is Jesus saying that He is going away and
leaving us. What shall we have left? It is rather impressive, is
it not, that Jesus says: 'I am going away; yet abide in Me.' The
disciples were asking: How can we abide in someone who has gone
away and left us? That will be worse than our Judaism!
That, you see, is
the setting of these chapters, and chapter sixteen is the answer
to those questions and doubts.
Before we go on
with this, may we not say that there is something very much like
that in the atmosphere today? If you were living in any other
part of the world than Switzerland, you would be full of
questions as to what is going to happen next. The whole world is
full of that question, and even Christians feel that we are
coming to a great crisis. Many Christians have already lost faith
in the religious system. Much that they were brought up in, much
that they believed in and hoped in, and much that they thought
for a long time was the true thing, has disappointed them. There
are very many Christians who are disappointed with Christianity,
and they are seeing that it is something that is going to be
shaken and perhaps removed. The big question that is in the heart
of many Christians is: Where are we going to? What is it all
leading to? What really are we going to have in the end?
That is exactly
how these disciples were feeling. Israel had been called 'God's
vine'. The Psalmist said of God: "Thou broughtest a vine
out of Egypt" (Psalm 80:8), and at the time that
the Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples, that vine had
proved false. It was not giving fruit to God or to man. It was
disappointing everyone. It only had the name of being a vine, and
was not a true vine. Jesus said: "I am the true vine".
Everyone was asking: What is truth? The common people were asking
that, and Pontius Pilate will presently say: "What is
truth" (John 18:38). The answer of Jesus is: "I am
the true vine". 'Abide in Me and all your questions
will be answered and all your uncertainty will be removed. Abide
in Me and you will know what is true.' That is the immediate
setting of these words.
But there is a much bigger
context to these words than perhaps you recognize. And here is
another thing that you must always try to discover when you are
reading any words of the Lord Jesus. Anything that He says is not
just something for an immediate local situation. What Jesus says,
even though it just be one thing, has the whole counsels of God
in it. It comprehends all the ages. I venture to suggest that you
never saw that in these three simple words: "Abide in
Me"! When Jesus said that, He was getting right back behind
everything to the great eternal factor, and in those simple words
He was taking up the one thing for which He came into this world.
It is the question with which the whole Bible is occupied from
beginning to end, and the one question which comprehends
everything that Jesus came to answer. The question: In God or
outside of God? That sounds very simple, but it comprehends all
the ages. It is the question of all time and eternity.
We must open that up a little
more. In the beginning, when everything came fresh from the hands
of God, the whole creation, including man, was in God. God was
the sphere of everything. He was man's sphere - man lived and
moved and had his being in God. I often wish that we had a fuller
account in the Book of Genesis of what things were like at that
time, but we have to draw our conclusions about that by seeing
what they were like afterward. We have enough there, however, to
show us that it had been a very blessed condition. God was man's
environment - and that is a very blessed condition. It is like a
beautiful garden, the Bible says. Man walked in a beautiful
garden with God, and there were no weeds or thorns there. Man did
not have to fight adverse things in that garden. You know, there
are some gardeners who are very particular. You take them to
gardens that you think are wonderful, and they are not a bit
excited about them. They have such a high standard that they are
bound to find some fault somewhere. Jesus says here: "My
Father is the husbandman", and God is a very
particular gardener. If He says 'It is very good', then it
must be very good. We are told: "God saw
every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good"
(Genesis 1:31), and that is how it was when all things were
in God. We do not know how long it was like that, but while all
was abiding in God, it was all very good.
But then came the tragedy: Man
and the creation fell out of God. We speak about 'the fall', but
have we ever realised what a terrible thing that fall was? Man
and the creation fell out of God - and they fell into Satan. So,
the New Testament says, "the whole world lieth in the
evil one" (1 John 5:19). In God? Or outside of God? In
God? Or, not just out in a vacuum, but in Satan?
Now that is the great question
that Jesus came to answer in His own Person, and that is why we
read that little fragment from Peter's letter: "Christ
also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God"... back into God!
We have pointed out that there
are two sides to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. There is
the one side of the Man in God. Jesus lived His life on this
earth in the Father - He said: "I and the Father
are one" (John 10:30). He always abode in God,
and that was a lifelong battle for Him, for Satan and all his
kingdom set themselves to drive a wedge in between Christ and His
Father. We will not stop to look at all the ways which Satan
employed, but the whole earthly life of Jesus was one continuous
battle to prevent a gap coming in between Him and His Father.
Satan did not trust this business to his demons - I don't think
he could trust any of them to do this. I think Satan had
said: I must do this, so it was always Satan who was mentioned in
this connection. No doubt he drew upon all his forces for this,
but he set himself personally at the head of them to try to open
this gap between Christ and His Father.
Jesus triumphed in this battle.
On the one side, as the Man in God, Satan could not separate Him
from His Father. I do want you to recognize that this is
something that you and I have to know about, for there is just
one thing that Satan wants to do with you and me. It is to
separate us from God, to get us away from Him, and he will use
anything in our lives to do that. On the one side he will use our
sufferings and our adversities. When we are going through a bad
time he is always very near to whisper: 'You see, God does not
love you. He is not with you - He is against you. You have
evidence that He is against you, for if He loved you you would
not have to suffer like this.' If we allow a doubt about God to
come into our hearts when we are having a bad time, we shall find
ourselves away from the Lord, and it is much easier to get away
from the Lord than it is to come back to Him. It is a lifelong
battle to keep our fellowship with the Lord unbroken. If Satan
cannot break it in our sufferings he will sometimes try it in our
prosperity and blessings. He offered Jesus all the kingdoms of
this world and said, in effect, 'I can make you great and
prosperous in this world.'
But we must get
over to the other side of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus -
the Man out of God. When Jesus was 'made sin for us' - and He was
made sin for us in the end - He went out from God. I never fail
to be more and more impressed with that terrible thing that
happened. Here is this Man who had fought a lifelong battle to
abide in God. It had been His one great object never to be
separated from His Father, and He had won that battle in Himself,
but here at the end He is crying: 'My God, why hast Thou forsaken
Me? I am where I have fought the battle so that I should never
be. I am outside. I am forsaken of God. I am separated from My
Father. I am like that scapegoat away back in Israel, upon whose
head the priest laid his hands and transferred the sin of all the
people. He then led the goat far outside the camp, away until it
had gone right out of sight. Then the priest drove it away and it
was alone in the wilderness, where it died in its loneliness. I
am like that now. I am not only forsaken of men, but I am
forsaken of God.'
But that is where
all men would be but for Jesus Christ. He suffered, "the
righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to
When Jesus was
crucified all His disciples were scattered abroad everywhere. You
might have had great difficulty in finding them if you had tried
to. Two of them went down to Emmaus. Where poor Thomas was hiding
himself we do not know, nor where Peter had gone to after denying
His Lord. They were all broken and scattered.
Do you notice what
happened after the Cross, when Jesus was raised from the dead? He
knew where every one of them was and He brought them all back
together. He reunited them in Himself and the last picture we
have of them is that they are all together in Christ. They would
agree that it is nothing but desolation to go out from God. It is
not a garden, but a wilderness. Peter would agree with that, and
so would Thomas. When the Prodigal Son went out from his father's
house, he went out to bankruptcy, from a garden to a wilderness.
When he came home he came to a life of fruitfulness and of rest.
Do you see
something of what the Lord Jesus meant when He said "Abide
in me"? 'Outside of Me it is just a wilderness. There is no
fruit there. If you abide in Me you bring forth much fruit'... "Herein
is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John
15:8). God's satisfaction is the one great thing through all the
Bible. His satisfaction is now in His Son, and if we abide in
Christ we abide in God's good pleasure and shall bring forth much
fruit. If we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us - as we are
supposed to have - we shall know in our hearts whether we are out
of fellowship with the Lord or whether we are abiding in the Lord
and we shall know because we shall feel that we are in the
wilderness when we are out, and that we are in the garden when we
are in. Jesus was very emphatic about this. He knew what a
tremendous thing it was and so, eleven times in a short chapter,
He said "Abide... abide... abide in Me."
May the Lord keep
us abiding in Christ! All other things will prove to be false and
only what is true will stand us in good stead to the end. "I
am the true vine... Abide in Me".
That is only one
way of saying: 'We must know the Lord and our place in the Lord'.
What are you abiding in? Are you abiding in people? Are you
abiding in conferences? Are you abiding in a religious system?
Well, all these things will pass, and the time will be when there
will not be any more conferences and when you will not be able to
depend upon any people. The whole religious system will
disappoint you, but if you know and abide in the Lord Jesus, it
will be all right to the end.
First published in "A Witness and A
Testimony" magazine, Nov-Dec 1964, Vol 42-6