“Jacob came for a bride from his own people. He desired Rachel, but he did not get Rachel at first, but Leah. After he learned to love Leah as much as he did Rachel, he got Rachel as well. In the beginning Leah had all the babies, her womb was most fruitful. But then Rachel conceives. Israel shall be a fruitful vine. Jesus came for Israel. He wanted to marry Israel, but He did not get Israel. He ends up with the bride He did not desire at first, the Gentile church. After He learns to love the Gentile church, then He gets Israel. In the beginning, the church has all the babies. But in the end, Israel becomes a fruitful vine.” (Jacob Prasch).
What is the relationship between Israel and the Church? Does God have one ‘chosen people’ or two? What is the relationship between God and his people? Who is the fruitful vine?
These were the subjects addressed at a conference in Johannesburg, I attended earlier this month. It was sponsored by Messianic Good News, an organisation dedicated to take the good news of Jesus to Jewish people. It was a great encouragement to spend a week with Jews who love Jesus and who have a passion to make him known within the Jewish community. I hope we can build on this relationship and support their work in the future. Following our day with Chawkat Moucarry looking at Islam earlier in the year, and with Juge Ram on Hinduism and Sikhism yesterday, I hope that early next year we can arrange a teaching day on Judaism and learn how to share our faith with Jewish people.
Please turn with me to John 15 and let us examine the meaning of this image of the vine and the branches.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)
Jesus makes three main assertions: God the Father is the Vineyard Owner. God the Son is the Vine. God’s People who remain and bear fruit are the Branches.
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Hands up if you own one of these? (a GPS unit). If so, do you remember what life was like before you had one? I do. Painful. The low point for me came the day I got lost in Bedford. I had gone there for a meeting and forgot the location of the road. After a fruitless half an hour trying to find my way, I was ready to give up and drive home. Then James Hughes, the former curate, phoned. “Where are you” he said. “I don’t know” I replied.
“Let me help you” and he then proceeded to open up his computer which had street maps of England. Having identified the name of the road I was parked in and the name of the road I was heading for, he literally talked me there road by road, on my hands free phone, of course. That is what made me realize I needed a GPS. I never leave home without Sean Connery now – or at least a digitized version of Sean Connery’s voice. You know when you have arrived because he says “shaken not stirred”.
Do you know how GPS works? You turn it on and type in the post code. No, that is not what I mean. Do you know how it works? “When people talk about “a GPS,” they usually mean a GPS receiver. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is actually a constellation of 27 Earth-orbiting satellites (24 in operation and three extras in case one fails). The U.S. military developed and implemented this satellite network as a military navigation system, but soon opened it up to everybody else.
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2). That pretty much sums up the news this week doesn’t it? Formless, empty and with lots of darkness. Although we are two weeks away from the end of European Summer Time, it seems the sun went away a long time ago. The nights are drawing in and the days shorter. But its not shorter days that has made this week seem particularly dark. Robert Peston, the BBC’s business analyst summed up the decision of the government on Wednesday to invest a cool £500 billion in the UK banking sector, with the understated heading, “Armageddon Avoided”.
In his words, “there’s been a co-ordinated global attempt to prop up the financial system and save individual economies from a deep dark recession.” It will take a while before we know whether we have avoided a ‘deep dark recession’ or just a short grey one. £500 billion is a lot of money. Considerably more than even the US government has provided for its own banking sector. On Wednesday, the US treasury secretary Henry Paulson warned that some US banks will still fail despite the $700bn government rescue package to shore up the financial system. Talking to some of you who work in the City, it seems there will be a few more sleepless nights ahead. What I find surprising is how few analysts predicted the global impact of the failure of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. One might say, in the words of Genesis 1:2, “darkness was over the surface of the…” city. But the verse goes on to say, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3). It was on a similarly dark day that Jesus stood up in the Temple in Jerusalem and cried out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).