In Pakistan we had many Muslim friends who actually enjoyed discussing “religion” with us. For some it was a ‘sport’ to see if they could stir us up or maybe to reveal how much they knew. For others it was a genuine desire to learn what a Christian really believed and how it contrasted, or not, with Islam. One example of a common conversation concerned the person of Jesus Christ, what he said about himself and what the Bible taught about him.
Of course, one of the controversial issues Muslims have with Christian theology concerns the divinity of Christ. Does the Bible really teach that Jesus is God? Did Jesus ever teach that he was God? If they had read the Gospels at all, I would sometimes ask them, ‘Why do you think that the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day persecuted him and eventually condemned him to death?’
The answer to this question being that there were a few reasons, but the key one was because of his teaching and particularly his claim to be equal to God. Let me give you an example which is relevant to our Psalm for today.
In the OT God revealed himself to Moses as “I AM” – God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)
NIV notes say: I am… “The name by which God wished to be known and worshiped in Israel – the name that expressed his character as the dependable and faithful God who desires the full trust of his people.” (# 45)
In John’s gospel Jesus uses the same phrase concerning himself a number of times and the Jewish scholars understand the implications. In John 8:58-59 we read:
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him…
Jesus also said the following:
I am the bread of life… I am the light of the world… I am the resurrection and the life… I am the way and the truth and the life… (John 6:35, 8:12, 11:25 and 14:6)
In Psalm 80 we read that the imagery of a Vine depicted Israel – You transplanted a vine from Egypt… [but now] Your vine is cut down… (verses 8 and 16).
But, in a remarkable chapter in John’s gospel we read these words of Jesus:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
NIV notes say: “The vine is frequently used in the OT as a symbol of Israel… When the imagery is used, Israel is often shown as lacking in some way. Jesus, however, is ‘the true vine’.” (# 45)
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:1-9)
The Jewish religious leaders knew exactly what Jesus was teaching and they considered it blasphemy and so sought to kill him. On one occasion he confronted them – Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. (John 10:36-39)
As mentioned, there were a number of reasons the Jewish religious leaders hated and persecuted Jesus, a key one being his claim to be one with the Father. Sadly, today this is still a problem for some people (not just Muslims), but to come to understand this wonderful truth is to enter into true freedom in our knowledge and relationship with the One who is the great “I AM.”
If not your experience already, may your eyes be opened to see the One who is the true Vine, the One in whom you can find strength and nourishment for life, and the One who loves you and desires for you to remain in his love, thereby being fruitful in all you do, for the glory of the Father. Amen.