“Birth and Reproduction”
May 06, 2018
By John Partridge*
John 15:9-17 Acts 10:44-48 1 John 5:1-6
Have you ever witnessed the delivery of a baby?
In the past, fathers paced nervously in the waiting room while mothers gave birth. In more recent years the fathers were not only invited into the delivery room but participated in Lamaze and other birthing classes that were designed to calm the fears of parents and maybe even help the process a little. Some families even video the whole thing. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I can think of few things that would be more embarrassing to watch later in life. Can you imagine some parent showing that video at their child’s wedding reception? Yikes. Patti and I have video of Lina’s delivery, although hers is almost certainly different than most. In Lina’s video there’s a knock at the hotel room door, Patti answers, and seconds later, she’s holding a baby.
Just like that, we were parents.
But why is your pastor talking about babies and delivery videos on Sunday morning? Simply because our connection with the birth of babies, the importance that we put on such events and the emotions tied to them, are decidedly similar to an important spiritual message. In the physical world, babies most often come into the world because two people loved one another, and the physical expression of that love allowed the creation of a new life. But some people might be surprised to discover that our spiritual experience is really not so very different. In John 15:9-17, Jesus says this:
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus’ entire focus is on love. He says, my father loved me, and so I passed that love on to you. Jesus wants us to stay in love with him and he says the way to do that, is to keep his commands, to actually do the things that he has asked his followers to do. Jesus says that we are not his servants, because servants act out of blind obedience. Instead, we are friends, because we have been told about the plans and the business of the one whom we follow. Everything that God has told Jesus has been told to us. And all of this results in our selection as people who will go and bear fruit.
What does that mean?
It really is as simple as it sounds. In the physical world bearing fruit is often understood to mean some sort of reproduction. Children are referred to as being the “fruit of their parents.” Trees, bushes and other plants bear fruit and their fruit contains the seeds necessary to raise up another generation of those same plants. In the spiritual world, our calling is to produce new spiritual life.
But that still seems a little confusing.
Most of us understand where babies come from, but how exactly does one go about making spiritual babies? Once again, despite our initial fear, it isn’t that difficult. In Acts 10:44-48, we find Peter and some of his friends who have been called by God to visit in the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. This really is a big deal because a good Jew would never set foot in the home of a Gentile let alone someone who was a representative of the oppressive occupation of the nation of Israel. But not only did God call Peter to go to such a place, something amazing happens while he is there.
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Peter answers God’s call to come to the home of a Gentile, a Roman Centurion, and preaches there. Cornelius and his family were god-fearing people and Cornelius himself prayed regularly and gave generously to the poor. But they did not know about Jesus and so God commanded Cornelius, in a dream, to invite Peter into his home and there Peter tells them the story of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.
And then, the impossible happens.
The Spirit of God descends upon the people gathered in that house, just as it did among the disciples at Pentecost, but this time, the people who received the filling of the Spirit were Gentiles and not Jews. The Jewish followers of Jesus that had come with Peter were astounded. The Gentiles were “those people.” Good Jews weren’t supposed to associate with them. Gentiles were generally unclean and perhaps even thought of as less than human. Jesus’ teaching that God loved Gentiles was a radical idea that the Jews wrestled with, but this… this was truly stunning. Here they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles, even among their enemies, in a way that only the disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had ever seen. There could now be no denying that Gentile followers of Jesus were loved every bit as much as his Jewish followers, their belief in Jesus was every bit as genuine, and every bit as acceptable to God, as the Jewish believers. This was surprising, unexpected, and shocking. And Peter realizes that he has no choice but to baptize these new believers in the name of Jesus, welcome them into the family, and teach them as much as he could over the next few days.
This was a seismic shift in the world of Peter and the disciples. In that world, gods were often thought of as being local or regional. People often would change gods when they moved to a new place. Despite the fact that Israel’s god had always claimed to be, and was always worshipped as, the one god who created the universe and everything in it, many people still thought of God as being only the god of Israel or only the god of the Jews. And despite Jesus often teaching that God’s love extended to the Gentiles, and despite the fact that Jesus himself had often offered grace and acceptance and even teaching to various Gentiles, this idea of local ownership persisted. But now, these Jewish followers of Jesus, including their leader Peter, were witnesses to the outpouring of God’s spirit. There could be no denying that God loved the Gentiles, or that the Gentiles were accepted by God as equals with the Jews, or even that people who had been thought of as their enemies, had been invited to be a part of God’s family.
All… really did mean… mean all.
Through baptism, these new believers were born into the family of God. It didn’t happen by accident, but it happened as a result of the love that God had for them, as well as the love that Peter and the other believers had for Jesus.
And the result of this spiritual love is the birth of new spiritual life.
But once again, we end up asking ourselves, “What does this have to do with me?”
And once again, the Apostle John has a good answer. (1 John 5:1-6)
5:1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
John says that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God, that’s birth. And everyone who loves God, is God’s child. And if we love God, then we will love God’s children by carrying out his commands. This echoes what we have heard in the book of James where we were taught that while we are saved by faith and not by works, we expect that saved people will naturally do good works. Similarly, John says is that while faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us, saved people will naturally do the things that God has commanded them to do.
John says that Jesus is different because he was born in two different ways; he was born of water, that is, as a human baby to a human mother, and he was born by blood, that is, through death and resurrection. This uniquely qualifies Jesus to lead us, not only as a human leader, but as a spiritual one.
So where are we when we put these simple ideas together?
First, when we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are born as the spiritual children of God.
Second, as the children of God, we should naturally do the things that God has commanded us to do.
Third, Jesus has commanded us to go and bear fruit. That might mean that Jesus wants us to display the fruits of the Spirt, such as love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, but Jesus is careful to specify that we are to not only bear fruit, but to bear fruit that lasts. The fruits of the spirit are good, and they should indeed grow out of a life lived in devotion to God, but Jesus specifying fruit “that lasts” leads us to understand that Jesus is talking about the birth of new spiritual life.
Fourth, the way that we can bear fruit, the way that we can be a part of God giving birth to new spiritual life, is to obey Jesus’ command to love. We are called to love one another, to love people who are different from us, to love the outcast, to love the disconnected, and even to love our enemies. And, while we are loving them, in fact, because we love them, we are, like Peter, called to tell them about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
And when, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through you, those people come to faith in Jesus Christ, then spiritually speaking, the love between God and his people results in the birth of a new creation in Christ Jesus.
That is the story about the birds and the bees, the story about spiritual birth and reproduction.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last… (John 15:16)
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.