Shabbat shalom, Family!
The day has arrived. The Woodward Dream Cruise is upon us.
With approximately 40,000 custom, classic and special interest cars, all gathered in one area on one day, it is the largest single-day automotive event in the world; drawing approximately 1 million people and netting an estimated $56 million in revenue for Metro Detroit!
In terms of the investment people have made in purchasing, restoring and customizing, I estimate (conservatively) the combined value of these 40,000 cars to be about $800 Million! That’s a lot of money, and it also represents a lot of time and energy. Some people take great delight in rescuing something that was broken down and rusty and lying dormant and gradually bringing it to life . It’s a great feeling to accomplish something like that, and it makes for bragging rights, and a really well-restored classic car will certainly get you noticed.
Now, of all the cool cars around, you know what you won’t see cruising Woodward Ave… cars without engines, or cars whose engines are dead…
…unless maybe they’re cruising on the back end of a tow truck.
Chrome Won’t Get You Home
What’s the use of a $9,000 paint job, $5,000 worth of custom wheels and a lot of shiny chrome if the engine is worthless? You’d be the laughingstock of the Cruise. Ask people who restore cars and they’ll all tell you: get it running first and then make it pretty.
So how are things under the hood of your life? Are all the cylinders firing? Is your heart tuned to the heart of God? Is there perhaps a fouled plug or a bad wire in some area of your life causing your ‘engine’ to misfire? Is it high time to check yourself into the shop? Or worse, are you among the walking dead-those with a clean, shiny exterior, but whose hearts are spiritually lifeless – dead even from birth. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Yeshua, that’s you. The Good News is, God is offering complete overhauls – for free! So, let’s talk about what’s powering your life this morning. Look with me at John chapter 15, verses 1-8.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the Gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…
Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to My Father.”
Twenty-six years ago when Alexandra and I moved into our home, Rabbi Loren and Martha gave us a housewarming gift of concord grape plantings, which we planted along the fence between us and our neighbor to the east. They have since flourished! If we get to the grapes before the birds do, we get a nice harvest of grapes. But every year they need to be pruned, and that includes cutting off the branches that are dead. You can’t do much at all with vine wood. The thin branches are far too brittle and the thick branches far too gnarled to craft anything. But I’ll tell you what – it sure makes great kindling for our woodstove!
Did you notice the repetition of the word remain? No less than five times in just these few verses Yeshua stressed how vital it is that we remain in Him. Your translation might have the word ‘abide’ but it means the very same thing: to stay put! The Greek is the imperative form of μένω to remain, continue, stay.
What’s intriguing about this is that not all the disciples were with Him when He said this. You know who wasn’t there? Judas! He had left during the Seder. The other disciples thought he’d gone out to give tzedakah to the poor, but in fact he went to negotiate a price to betray Yeshua to the religious leaders. He wasn’t on a mission of giving – he was on a mission of greed.
If bearing much fruit for Yeshua proves that we are truly His disciples (talmidim), then Judas’ actions prove him to have been an opportunistic traitor. Our outward actions are the fruit of what is growing inside us.
Yeshua’s repetition of the importance of remaining in Him should cause us to consider what it means to really follow Him. It involves much more than walking forward at an altar call and having a momentary emotional experience. Judas spent three years with Yeshua. He may have started out well, but he ended badly. He didn’t remain with Him. A good ending is what matters. To follow Messiah means to follow Him for the long-haul. It means changes in lifestyle, in priorities, and a supreme change in our allegiances.
At the beginning of John 15, Yeshua describes the Father as a gardener – a vinedresser. He cuts off and throws away the dead branches, and He prunes the good, fruit-bearing branches. This is, of course, an extended metaphor. We are the branches. Either you are a dead, useless branch, which will be cut off and thrown into the fire, or else you are exhibiting good and godly actions in your life, in which case God will prune and refine you, so that you might accomplish even more!
Pruning is the cutting away of any part of the branch that is either extraneous (not bearing any fruit) or else might have some sort of fungus, and you don’t want it spreading to the healthy parts. Pruning in our lives isn’t a pleasant process, but He is cutting out those things which are useless or just plain unhealthy. It isn’t fun, but it is necessary. Consider what the writer of the Letter to the Messianic Jews had to say (Hebrews 12:7-11):
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.
But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
So what is God cutting away from your life these days? Are you submitting graciously and obediently to the process, or are you kicking and screaming and fighting it all the way? It’ll be a whole lot less painful and a whole lot more instructive if you submit to the discipline rather than resist it.
But for our purposes, let’s consider just these seven words Yeshua spoke in verse 5: …apart from Me you can do nothing.
What did Messiah Yeshua mean by this? First of all, this is just one of countless remarks He made about Himself, as being the most important Person and the pivotal issue in the life of every human being. What audacity! If Yeshua were not God’s promised Messiah and our Savior, one might even think He was a megalomaniac. Who says such things about themselves? As C. S. Lewis observed,
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Rabbi Paul regarded Yeshua as the One who holds the very fabric of time and space together! Listen to these remarkable words he wrote to the believers in Colossae (Colossians 1:15-17):
Messiah is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created, and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together.
It’s true, there are people who have rejected Yeshua, even scorned Him, yet accomplished great feats, made generous contributions, and earned fame, riches and made a reputation for themselves. But will it last? We take nothing with us when we pass into eternity – His eternity, other than ourselves; who we have become as people.
Apart from Yeshua of Nazareth nothing you do will have lasting or eternal value. Eventually these present heavens and earth will pass away. All accomplishments achieved apart from the purpose of glorifying God will be forgotten. Gone will be the hospital wings named after their benefactors, the engraved names of those who donated money to build synagogues and churches. Gone will be the trophies won in competitive events. Gone will be the accolades published in magazines and newspapers. The only things that will survive into the New Earth and the New Heavens are the faithful deeds done for Yeshua’s sake and the souls of those who have fully believed in Him.
So when Yeshua says, “…apart from Me you can do nothing” He is graciously showing you where the line is drawn. He told the disciples these words so that their joy (and yours and mine) might be made complete.
He does not desire that any perish, but that all human beings come to repentance. But He will not force Himself on you. The choice is yours. But recognize that that choice is of eternal importance. You cannot afford to be wrong.
And while it is true that you can do nothing apart from Messiah Yeshua, the Scriptures present us with another, equally vital and important truth:
“I can do all things through Him (Messiah Yeshua) who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)
There is no predicament that cannot be resolved, no obstacle that cannot be removed, no lofty goal that cannot be met, if we approach them through the grace and persistence and power that are ours through faith in Messiah. Even the thing that eventually brings these earthly bodies to an end, cannot touch our soul, and will not prevent God from raising these bodies to everlasting life on that Great Day.
Paul, who wrote these words, knew from personal experience what it was like to live with scarcity, but he also enjoyed periods of abundance. He experienced opposition, hostility, and even physical attack, but he also enjoyed times of support and encouragement and great joy. The point is, he learned the secret of contentment in any and every situation.
But contentment isn’t the goal. Contentment is a byproduct of having the right perspective. If you know that God has forgiven you entirely, and that your name is written indelibly in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and that ultimately nothing the evil one can throw at you can touch your soul, you are in a very good place, indeed!
So it’s an all-or-nothing proposition I’ve presented you with this morning. Without Messiah Yeshua you can do nothing. With Messiah Yeshua you can do all things.
This morning is as good as any for a diagnostic of the soul; but that’s something you and I cannot do for ourselves. According to Jeremiah, one of Israel’s great prophets, our own opinion of our spiritual condition is likely to be overly optimistic. He wrote, The heart is more deceitful than anything else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? This is why if we want an accurate diagnosis of our spiritual condition, it means we must submit to the Word of God.
What is the condition of your heart? Is it tuned to God’s heart? Do the things that matter to Him matter to you? Are His values your values? Are His priorities your priorities?
To the unbeliever, let me just say that a shiny exterior, a slick paint job, fancy chrome accents mean nothing when there’s a dead heart under that hood. Maybe there’s nothing shiny at all, but the world has completely beaten you up. Messiah Yeshua can give you new and everlasting life. He wants to do that for you? Will you give Him your heart, and let Him restore you to ‘factory specs’?
To my brothers and sisters: we need to give more attention to the mechanicals and not worry so much about another coat of polish. Let’s get back on the diagnostic – get back to the Scriptures and draw near to God, and get our priorities back in order; let’s have our interior condition be consistent with our outward appearance. That’s what’s called integrity. Keep your oil topped off (be filled with the Spirit), don’t let untrained or unscrupulous technicians (false teachers) anywhere near that onboard computer (the mind).
Yeshua went on in John 15 to say, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain…
When we abide in Yeshua, our lives will be simple (not simple as in naïve, but simple as in having no pretenses/facades – nothing needing explanation), then we will bear fruit, and that is what we are called to do.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Messiah Yeshua our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (Jude 24-25).