Monday, October 23, 2023

Giving Up Leads to Fruit

I have been spending some time reflecting on harvest during the fall season.  With all of the fall community celebrations along with apples, fruits, preserves, there is an atmosphere of celebration in enjoying the fruit of labor.

I am reminded of something Jesus said during the fall season of his life.  In the upper room, he had his final Passover with this disciples and friends.  Soon, he would be the new Passover.  There, he instituted a new, weekly Passover when he transformed the meaning of the cup and bread.

His choice of words bears some reflection.  In Matthew 26:27-29, he said, And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” 

When Jesus gave them the cup of Passover wine, he assigned new meaning to it.  For wine to be associated with the new covenant evokes the common scriptural images of a bountiful harvest that comes because of the favor of the Lord.  Part of this imagery includes the joyful abundance of wine (Isa 25:6; 55:1-2; Hos 2:21-22; Hoel 2:18-24; Amos 9:13-14).  For years in my Bible reading, I did not notice the abundance of wine as a sign of God’s favor.  This way probably because of the negative connotations associated with strong drink.  However, in these cases it is not about drunkenness, which the Bible condemns, but about an abundant harvest that is a sign of God’s favor due to human faithfulness.  For example, in a message of hope for future restoration, Isaiah 25:6 says, On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  On the other hand, the lack of wine is a sign of God’s disfavor and judgment to due sin (Jer 48:33; Hos 2:8-9; Joel 1:10; Hag 1:10).  For example, due to Israel’s consistent sin, in Hoses 2:9 God said, “Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season.”  (This may offer a subtle message that God’s favor has returned when Jesus turned water to wine in John 2.)

Jesus’ choice of words also bears reflection.  Jesus could have said, “wine,” and all of the above images related to wine would still be there.  However, he said, “fruit of the vine” and connected it to his blood which he would shed for our sins.  The connection of wine, fruit, his blood, and his death is a powerful reminder for us.  When he shed his blood on the cross, his death bore abundant fruit.  It was the restoration of God’s favor, expressed in a new covenant that has been inaugurated by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross.  This calls to mind when Jesus announced his impending death with this explanation in John 12:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Truly, Jesus’ death bore much fruit. 

It occurs to me that we also need to “die” in order to bear fruit for God.  His death, burial, and resurrection is the pattern for our new life in him, which we demonstrated by being buried with him in baptism, dying to ourself, and being raised up as a new person in him (Rom 6:1-7).  When we truly die to ourselves in him, our death will produce abundant fruit.  The only way to bear fruit is in giving up of ourselves.  

One practical example of this in action comes from 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:6-11 and also bears reflection.  In pointing out some of the poverty-stricken brethren’s overwhelming generosity in giving to needy brethren, the text goes on to say this. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:10-11).  The self-sacrificing spirit in the name of Christ will not only produce an abundant harvest of thanksgiving to the Lord, strengthening the faith of the brethren, but God will also continue to bless with more seed for more harvests!


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