Nothing Beyond Jesus; Abide In Him

Painting by: Steven Dawson

Text:  John 15:9-17

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
While you were a helpless babe (dead in your sin) or when you were rebelling against the Lord later in life, the Lord hunted you down, grabbed ahold of you, put His name upon you, placed you in the ark of His Holy Church, and made you His own. 
The Lord did this—for you and to you.
It is He who made you what you now are, His friends.   It is He who declared you righteous, gave you faith, and placed you in this church; all as complete and total gift.  Everything that you are and will do and will be, originates not with you, but with the gracious Lord who will bring to pass that which He wills. 
It is truly a remarkable thing that you and I have been chosen by the Lord.  It is a marvelous fact that you and I, as Christians, originate from Christ and that the Lord Jesus will see us through. Furthermore, to have the Holy Spirit and to be branches connected to the Vine, by our baptisms, is indeed much.
Without a doubt, it is much to have the Spirit.  To retain the Spirit though is more.  That is to say, many people begin the Christian life by the Spirit—by abiding in the Lord’s love—but then end up finishing in the flesh. 
This is really the temptation of all of us.  This is the desire of the evil one as well. 
Permit me to explain. 
The Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments has placed you in Christ Jesus.  Like a dead and helpless branch you were grafted into the True and Living Vine.  Then once connected to the True Vine, you were called to simply abide in the Lord’s love. 
What does it mean to abide in the Lord’s love though? 
To abide in the Lord’s love is not for you to cultivate a high degree of morality or to get busy and to do stuff in order to abide.  But rather to abide in the Lord’s love is to stop trying in your own power.  That is to say, to abide is not to get busy and do stuff, but rather to abide is to simply remain; to trust, believe, stay, and rest in the Lord’s care.  To abide in the Lord’s love means that the Lord will work in you to strengthen your faith towards Him and He will work through you to show fervent love towards your neighbor.  To abide is to not leave.  To abide is to remain in Jesus, to be in His church where you are reminded of your baptism, declared to be saints from the Word, and where you receive the body and blood of the Lord for the forgiveness of your sins.    
But like a dog returning to its own vomit, we foolishly resist this abiding in the Lord.  We abandon the Lord’s care and return to our own power, our own strength, our own narrative, our own agenda, and our own endeavors.  Otherwise stated, “Jesus wants us to have this mind picture of a branch lovingly grafted into the main vine.  If the branch does absolutely nothing, the main vine will incorporate the branch into itself and the branch will thrive.  If the branch tries to contribute anything to the process, it will mess up the process.  The branch will go into rejection and die.”[1]
There is no doubt about it, like children, we don’t like to abide, we don’t like staying put.  We wiggle.  We squirm.  We are antsy.  We are always trying to spot the nearest exit sign to we know our escape route.  It isn’t that we have had too much sugar and that we are ADHD, but rather this resistance to abiding is due to mainly two reasons.
The first reason is that we forget that the Lord has chosen us out of sin, death, and damnation unto life; we begin to believe the idea that ‘we’ were the ones that chose Him.  We inflate our abilities, downplay our sinful condition, and then selfishly take credit for choosing our life of faith.  We treat Jesus as if He is just another kid on the playground lineup for a game of dodgeball, and we did Him a favor in picking Him.  We persuade ourselves into thinking that we could have done anything, we could’ve chosen any other religion, but we chose Jesus.  The poor lad is fortunate to have us, since we are so wise.  Lucky little fellow!  Thus, this whole abiding thing is really not that serious.  Abide in Jesus and His love?  Abide in Jesus by being receptive and dependent?  Nah, that is too restricting and too overbearing, besides we were the ones that chose Jesus! 
As a result of this mentality, when things are going well we just go on our merry way.  We tell ourselves that we are masters and commanders of our Christian life; therefore, it isn’t so much about us abiding with Jesus, but rather about Jesus keeping up with us.  After all, this mentality sees Jesus as a needy lap dog trailing behind us biting at our heels from time to time in order to be noticed. 
That being the case, we come to the conclusion that we really don’t need the church and we don’t need the Word and Sacraments.  Why would we, we can simply summon Jesus to do our bidding whenever we want.   After all we have created and remade Jesus into the image of a false god, a divine butler who abides with us when we summon Him to our needs.  That is to say, we summon a savior that doesn’t exist, a savior that we have created in our own minds.
The second reason we resist abiding and remaining in Jesus is that this becomes too boring for us.  We look at our culture and even other churches and become seduced with the idea that there is more to the Christian life than simply abiding and remaining in Jesus.  We begin to drink the Kool Aid that Jesus is a means to greater and better things.  We begin to think to ourselves:
“Sure, it is good to simply abide, but wouldn’t it be better if I moved to a higher spiritual tier?  Wouldn’t I rather move to a more victorious status?”
Our ears are tickled and we begin to listen to those who say,
“Don’t merely abide in Jesus being a Sunday only Christian, but be filled by spiritual powers and move to a higher dimension of spiritual greatness.  Simple Word and Sacraments are great, but look at the bright lights, the prosperity, the spiritual experiences, the new hot trends, the phenomenal progress, the new programs, the new methods, and so forth.  Move beyond abiding you na├»ve trivial Christian!  Step out of your traditions and comfort!  Don’t be a lazy Christian.  Move beyond and upward!  There is so much more waiting for you!  Don’t just merely abide.” 
And so, we begin to believe that Jesus can’t be the end game and that by simply abiding in Jesus’ Word and Sacraments we are missing out on so much more.  Ever so slightly we end up chasing shallow and empty promises of greatness.  We end up on a wild goose chase; following a carrot on a stick; looking for the treasure at the end of the rainbow.  After all is said and done though—after all the chasing and climbing—there is no goose or carrot or treasure, just us alone abiding in our sin without Jesus, looking into the great dark abyss of hell and damnation.
Dear friends, “Jesus said, ‘Abide in my love.’  This is the love of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.  This is the great love that lays down life for a friend.  This is the love of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  This is the love of the God-man who stood between God and us and took the full force of the wrath of God for us.  This is the love that bled on the cross and said, [Luke 23:34] ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’  This is the love that rose from the dead and promises us eternal life.”[2] 
Abide in this love—it is for you.
Abide, remain, and stay in the Lord’s love for you.  Keep your eyes upon the Word of God spoken to you.  Guard yourself from believing that you are independent and self-sustaining; watch that you are not seduced away from Christ the living Vine.
Abide in His love. 
Baptized, Saints, hear this today, nowhere in scripture is Jesus spoken of as a starting point, the beginning, but now you must move beyond Him.  Salvation in Jesus is not a launching pad for greater and better euphoric mystic experiences or a baseball base that needs to be rounded before you get to home plate.  Jesus is not a means to another end.  No!  He is the end. He is the alpha ‘and’ the omega.  You do not move beyond Jesus.  Jesus is the beginning and the end.     
Abide in Him; abide in His love to and for you.
Dear Baptized Saints, hear this today, the Lord chose you.  You did not vote on your salvation.  You contributed nothing to your salvation except sin and resistance.  And thank God that this is so, for if anything is left in our hands to enable us to strive after salvation, we would never have certainty and we would mess it all up. 
Dear Baptized Saints, hear this today, the Lord not only chose you as heirs of His kingdom, but also builds the kingdom, fills heaven with saints like you, robs hell, hinders death, and sustains you daily by His Word and Sacraments.  He chose you in order to draw you into His divine life, so that you will abide in His love forever.
Abide in Him, do not leave; stay and receive. 
Dear Baptized Saints, hear this today, the Lord did not leave you in your sins and in death, but staked His life to rescue you.  He delivers to you His purity, holiness, death, resurrection, and Himself in the water, word, bread, and wine.        
Abide and remain in the Lord where His love may continue to shine upon you and carry out all its saving purposes for you and through you.
Dear Baptized Saints, abide in His love to and for you. 
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] James T. Batchelor, “Sixth Sunday of Easter (Confirmation),” LCMS Sermons, (May 8, 2015).
[2] Ibid.

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