Jesus: The True Vine

 

A vineyard in Israel

A vineyard in Israel

John 15:1-27

Jesus is known many different ways throughout the Gospels.  He’s the Light, the Life, the Gate or Door, and the Good Shepherd.  These are all apt and wonderful ways of describing our Lord; they help us understand the nature of His character and His work.  The metaphor of the Vine and the branches is not so much a description of Jesus than it is a way to consider discipleship – the relationship between Christ and His people.

Throughout the New Testament there is the basic requirement of all believers:  to be IN Christ.  This is not an option; we are to abide in Christ.  But what does this really mean?  What it does NOT mean is that we lose our identities when we become disciples of Christ. We do not dissolve into God’s cosmic consciousness like a drop of water in the ocean.  That’s Buddhism, not Christianity!  In fact, for Christians the exact opposite is true:  we find ourselves in Christ!  It’s like the person we are deep down inside is set free, and it is only as we remain IN Christ that we become the kind of person God intends for us to become.

1.      A vine has branches, John 15:1-6

It’s an odd fact while Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus’ last night on Earth in amazing detail, John, the most intimate Gospel of all, leaves out what might be the most important event of that night:  the Last Supper!  John, who wrote his Gospel after the other three, was probably well aware of their content and felt it necessary to record something else:  a vital teaching on discipleship.

(a) Products of the Word, verses 1-3

This is a masterful teaching that blends reality and figure so perfectly that a correct interpretation is possible without having guess at what Jesus was saying.  It’s also a teaching as old as the Old Testament (see Isaiah 5; Psalm 80; Jeremiah 2, for examples), so the disciples would have been familiar with imagery.

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.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  (John 15:1-3 NIV84)

Jesus calls Himself  the “true vine.”  The Greek word used here is alethino, which properly means “genuine.”  Jesus is “genuine vine” as opposed to a counterfeit vine.   Jesus’ purpose in His use of alethino is clear:  it is not Jewish blood or adherence to a particular set of doctrines that results in salvation but rather simple faith in Him.  For the disciples with their deep-seated Jewish concepts, what Jesus said was truly revolutionary:  Israel (or the Jewish faith) is NOT the true vine, HE IS.  These disciples needed to understand that the most important thing for them from now on was to be “related” to Jesus, the genuine vine, not the plastic vines of their heritage. 

The Heavenly Father is the one who “tills the ground,” or “tends the vine.”  This is important and almost never preached on.  Why is the mention of the gardener so important?  It’s because of what he does, which is revealed in verse 2.  You don’t have a vineyard for no reason; there is a purpose:  a vineyard is supposed to produce fruit.  The gardener’s job is to tend the vine; to cultivate healthy, quality branches that produce fruit.  Sometimes this job involves skillfully removing branches that don’t produce any fruit.  Jesus may have had mind Judas when He said this.  As the saying goes, “one bad apple spoils the bunch.”  A fruitless branch – a Christian who professes Christ but refuses to bear fruit – weakens the whole plant – the Body of Christ.

Branches – believers – that are producing fruit, the gardener – God – prunes, or encourages to bear even more.  This a powerful statement of how God works in believers to keep them clean or pure.  This cleansing in the life of the disciples was the result of “the Word” Christ spoke to them.  It was belief in His Word that justified them, but this cleansing was effected at Pentecost and it is the presence of Christ in the life of the believer today in the Person of the Holy Spirit that cleanses them.  It’s sanctification, the process of becoming Christ-like.  We are justified by the Word and sanctified by the Spirit.

(b)  Connectivity, verses 4-6

Remain in me, and I will 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.  (John 15:4 NIV84)

The imperative, “remain in me,” with its corollary, “I will remain in you”  shows how close a relationship ought to exist between our Lord and believers.  It’s more than an attachment.  We are IN Him and He is IN us.  We are in Him by faith – our faith in Him – and He is in us by the Holy Spirit.  The evidence of this spiritual connectivity is that a believer will be bearing fruit.  If one who says to you they are a Christian yet you see no evidence of the corresponding fruit, you have to wonder what’s going on!   Jesus makes it so simple, and in fact, Christianity is simple, though not easy. 

There is a note of judgment in verse 6.  The one who does not remain in Jesus is in for trouble:

If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:6 NIV84)

Notice what Jesus says and what He leaves out.  There is the possibility that a believer may not want to remain in Jesus but nowhere does Jesus say that He will leave Him.  Jesus cuts no one off; it’s all on us to remain in Him.  But what happens to these unfruitful branches?  In all, there are five stages:  he (singular) is thrown out; he (singular) is withered; they (plural) are gathered; they (plural) will be thrown them into the fire; they (plural) will be burned.   When a believer (a branch) separates himself inwardly, eventually he will be separated outwardly; he will be removed from among the body of believers (the fruitful branches).  The idea is that there exists the possibility that there will eventually be many such unfruitful branches.  And because there are so many stages between leaving the vine and being finally burned up, there is plenty of time for repentance and a change of heart.  This dark part of the allegory reminds us of Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5.  Here is how the Church is to deal with an unfruitful member:

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  (1 Corinthians 5:11 NIV84)

2.  Remaining in the vine, John 15:7-15

(a)   Intimate prayer, verses 7, 8

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.   (John 15:7 NIV84)

Here, answered prayer is all but guaranteed if we remain in Jesus.  But, the key is that “His words remain in us.”  The beauty in intimate prayer is that when the Word is in us we will pray in accordance to that Word and God will never fail to fulfill that Word.   And verse 8 suggests an element of pride:

This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8 NIV84)

A fruitful vine is a source of pride to the gardener; a fruitful believer is the glory of God.  Here again is proof of discipleship; as believers produce fruit they “show” (prove) that they are true followers of Christ.

(b)  Joyful living, verses 9-11

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  (John 15:11 NIV84)

The secret to lasting “joy” is making sure that you are in Christ and knowing that He is in you.  But the beauty of verse 11 is two-fold.  First, how wonderful is that that our Lord wants us to be full of joy?  Jesus doesn’t want any of His followers to be dour or morose!  Second, the love of Jesus for us is not just a fact; we are meant to enjoy that love.  Jesus tells us that His love is in us and He tells us that so that we may experience FULL joy.  If the love of God in Christ completes our joy, we don’t need anything else!  He is enough.

(c)  The ultimate commandment, verses 12-15

All the things Jesus “commands” His followers to do may be reduced to one:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  (John 15:12 NIV84)

He’s said this before, but with the Cross so close, Jesus introduces a new element:  what real love looks like:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13 NIV84)

Jesus isn’t specifically referencing His upcoming crucifixion, but rather, this is depth of love believers should have for each other.  This is fullest manifestation of real love.  And, of course, in a short while, Jesus will show His disciples just how much He loved them.

3.  Produce fruit, John 15:16-21, 26-27

(a)  Fruit in spite of opposition, verses 16-21

Jesus had just called His disciples “His friends,” and in truth all believers are His friends.  The foundation of that friendship, though, is not that we are such great people that Jesus wants to be our good pal.  This friendship Christ has with us is not based on our merit or works.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruitfruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   (John 15:16 NIV84)

Jesus specifically chose to be friends with us!  This is not to suggest that man does not have a free will, but to absolutely affirm that without Him, man is impotent.  And, in this case, Jesus is not referring to any kind of predestination to salvation, but rather the choice of who His friends would be.  If Christ chose us to be His friends, it follows that He has “appointed” or “ordained” us to produce fruit “that will last.”  It’s another corollary; it’s logical:  if you are a friend of Jesus, you will produce fruit.  Furthermore, it’s the fruit that is important, not the circumstances.  Even in a hateful and hate-filled world, Christians – friends of Jesus – are to be producing good fruit! 

Friendship with Jesus will result in the world hating you.  One follows the other.  This is not to say we should go looking for trouble or confrontations with unbelievers.  Generally speaking, the world will not be impressed with out love and our fruit for Jesus. 

(b)  The role of the Holy Spirit, verses 26, 27

The whole “vine-branch” analogy is a good news/bad news proposition.  The good news is obvious.  What could be better than being a friend to the Son of God?  The bad news is being a friend to the Son of God will make it difficult to live on Earth without facing some opposition to our faith.  To deal with that, Jesus offered this:

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.  (John 15:26-27 NIV84)

We won’t be going at this alone!  Producing fruit will not always be easy or even desirable, but Jesus personally takes care of this for us by giving us the “Counselor” or “Advocate”, the Holy Spirit.   He is also known as “the Spirit of truth,” in that what He says is always the truth.  The Holy Spirit “testifies” about Jesus truthfully, as we must also.  In a world that hates us, the Spirit testifies to them about their greatest need.  In the Church, He offers comfort.  Whenever a friend of Jesus opens his mouth to talk about Jesus – within the Church or without – it’s a work of the Spirit.  Whenever a believer by word or example points other to Christ, it’s a work of the Spirit.  The world will probably not receive the work of the Spirit, but we must never restrict the work.

In the night before His Crucifixion, the night Jesus had His last meal with His friends, He broke bread and drank wine.  It was natural to talk about “the vine” as a symbol of spiritual fruitfulness.    It was important for the disciples to NOT follow the example of Judas, but to remain in the Vine, in Christ, in His Word and in His love.  Jesus is the true vine – the genuine Vine.  Jesus lived an exemplary life, died in obedience, and arose in power.  In a word, Jesus’ work was FRUITFUL.  He expects that kind of fruitfulness from us.

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