“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.” (John 15:5 ESV)
In the Old Testament, Israel was known as the vineyard of the Lord (Isaiah 5:1-7). Yet Israel proved unfruitful. Jesus came to earth to take her place, to fulfill God’s Law on behalf of not just the Jews, but all mankind. He is the vine and those who are attached to Him are the branches. Yet the branches are not perfect and do require pruning. What is not productive, what is not useful to the health of the entire vine is trimmed and pruned.
Jesus used this image of the vine to show how He works in each individual believer so that all will develop as He wants. He trims off our sins and imperfections so the church becomes healthy. This image of the vine and branches also tells us that we Christians are all connected to Christ we are also all connected to one another. Fruit bearing is exercised in the community of believers.
We Christians are all partners, co-workers in the ministry of salvation. We are commissioned to go into the entire world and preach the gospel. The fruit we are to bear involves witnessing to others as well as performing deeds of love, compassion, mercy, and righteousness not just for one another but also for the rest of the world so that they too may know Christ’s love through us.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
The Apostle Thomas was not present the night of the resurrection to witness the appearance of Jesus to his disciples. When his fellow disciples told him they had seen Jesus, his reaction was rather extreme. He rejected their testimony even after hearing their vivid description of Jesus and the wounds in his hands and side. He was very passionate in his unbelief. He would never believe by merely seeing Jesus. He had to place his fingers in the wounds the nails left in Jesus hands. He had to thrust his hand into the gaping wound the spear left in Jesus’ side. He had to touch to be sure because he was afraid to hope that this great news was true.
Despite his great skepticism, Thomas was rewarded with an astonishing blessing: not only did He see the risen Lord, but he was blessed to proclaim an earth-shaking revelation! We are not told that he actually touched Jesus; He did not have to for he saw Jesus alive yet with the mortal wounds on his body. Thomas was so overcome with passion, joy and faith as he witnessed this great reality that he proclaimed “My Lord and My God!” Not just Lord in the sense of Master or teacher, but Lord in the ultimate sense: “Jesus you are God. Only God can do this great miracle.” This is the supreme statement of who Jesus is, the supreme testimony of faith.
Years later as John wrote this he was overcome with emotion as he recalled the vivid memory of that night and the words of faith that no one has ever said in such a way! “My Lord and My God!” John tells us that all the signs and miracles he has recorded in his gospel account culminated in this the greatest sign, the glorified body of the risen Christ, and in this greatest affirmation of faith. John was so overcome with such joy that he offered an invitation to his readers, including us today. “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That means John’s readers. That means you and me. We have not seen but are blessed because we have believed.
But maybe you don’t believe it? Maybe some of you have never said to Jesus “My Lord and My God” and meant it. Now is the time. We have the sure testimony of men and women who saw the risen Lord Jesus. They had no reason to lie. Their testimony is given to us all. Now, you have to choose to believe or reject it. I pray that you will believe.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:8)
In our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 15 we find Paul, like any good detective or attorney, citing the testimony of eyewitnesses as proof to make his case. And his case was to prove the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Our faith in Christ rests on that testimony, the words of those who saw Him alive again! And, as Paul says, there were hundreds of harmonious testimonies that supported this truth, including his own.
Many years ago I formulated a survey which cited these testimonies as logical support for the gospel. I presented it to unbelieving skeptics. I asked what value each person would place on eyewitness testimony in reporting an event with the idea of proving how such testimony verified that Jesus rose from the dead. No one was convinced. Many placed high value on eyewitnesses, but none were willing to admit that the testimony about Jesus was valid. The reason was that it conflicted with what they already believed and implied that they would have to admit that they were wrong and change their ways. None cited their bias as the main reason for disbelief. Rather most stated that eyewitnesses cannot be trusted because the details of what they recall can differ widely and even conflict.
And yet, as Paul said, there were so many congruent testimonies. In addition most of those who testified to the resurrection endured persecution and death rather than deny what they had seen the risen Lord, including Paul. Even a determined conspiracy of lie and deceit would have fallen apart under close investigation and torture.
Christianity is the truth, not a lie! That is why it has stood the test of 2000 years of suffering and abuse. Skeptics will make up any excuse to avoid believing the truth, but still the best testimony is that of the eyewitnesses, you and me, that declares that we have met the Risen Lord! And our encounter with Him forms the basis of our own testimony to others.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
In the church there is a term for what Paul is speaking about with the sentence “All things are lawful for me.” That term is adiaphora, meaning things that are indifferent, non essential for the faith, things that are neither right nor wrong, spiritually neutral. These may concern such things as fasting or what Bible version to use. Such things are determined by individual conscience, not by rule or law. Yet even in such matters, Paul maintains that such adiaphora should not enslave us, we should be overly consumed by such things lest we pursue them to excess or our harm or the detriment of others.
Sexual relationships and acts, however, do not fall into this category. This is because the body of each baptized believer, the entire person belongs to the Lord. Paul’s words were especially relevant to the Corinthian believers who had come to faith out of a pagan culture. Although there were rules, laws and taboos which governed everyday social and business interactions, immorality was the norm. Fornication and prostitution were common as was homosexual activity, though the latter was frowned upon. Christians had to realize that such acts and lifestyles were sinful and had to be abandoned in the Kingdom of God.
Our modern social standards are no better than those of ancient Corinth. Thus when it comes to sexual behavior we must listen to the Lord and abide by His word. Paul tells us that in a marriage a man and a woman become one flesh. Such marriage is God’s standard and rule. There is no debating the issue. We cannot rely on feelings or social standards. We cannot do as we please or what feels good or pleasurable. Paul maintains that Christians should not act like the world in any way since we are no longer part of it. Those who continue in sexual immorality show by their actions that they are not of the Lord. Sexual immorality dishonors God, for it is idolatry, in which the self is worshipped. Thus it has no place in His temple.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
We see our own selves in the thoughts, words and actions of Adam and Eve for their sin serves as a template or model of all sin.
As we approach the feast of Christmas and we look across the world we might be tempted to see few if any reasons for optimism.