Jesus is the Vine
John 15:1 – 17
Jesus is the Vine
Leave or Remain?
What gets your vote?
Are you all about Leave? Or Remain?
Do you remember when we used to have those conversations?! It seems like such a long time ago now, doesn’t it?!
But once upon a time, the argument for Leave or Remain was all-consuming, wasn’t it?
It seemed like the most important question facing us as a nation.
And while, no doubt, the implications of that question will continue, we’ve learnt this year that there are more pressing issues, than whether we Leave or Remain.
But John 15 drags us back to those days, of the option to Leave, and the argument to Remain, not in terms of our relationship with the European Union, of course, but our relationship with Jesus.
A major theme of this passage is whether we remain with Jesus, and what that will look like, . as we seek to live the Christian life.
If you’ve been with us recently, you’ll remember that this part of John’s gospel unfolds on the night before Jesus dies.
He’s been sharing a meal with his disciples, and perhaps they’ve just begun their journey through the city, towards the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus will be arrested.
And he’s been preparing his friends for life without him.
If we’re Christians, we’ve only ever known the Christian life without Jesus physically present, but that was almost unimaginable for these first disciples, who have only ever known what it is to follow Jesus when he’s right there with them, so Jesus has been teaching them what it will be like to live the Christian life, when the Christian experience is, what ours is every day.
Jesus is the true Israel who brings fruitfulness 1 – 8
And I’d say all of us probably think that whatever Jesus is talking about, being fruitful sounds much better than being unfruitful.
So it’s easy to read this section and immediately jump to the personal implications for us;,
What does it mean to be fruitful?
What does he mean by remain?
And we’ll certainly get to that, because that’s important.
But we mustn’t miss the massive point that Jesus is making, even by this metaphor he uses.
“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, and so on.
We’re already wondering about what does it mean to be pruned and to bear fruit, But Jesus’ disciples would have looked at each other in amazement at this point;, “Did he really just say that?”
The image of a vine was a common picture in the Old Testament and other ancient literature.
And that makes sense; vines were everywhere.
But in the Old Testament and wider Jewish thinking, the vine always stood for the nation of Israel.
Isaiah 5 is a good example, where Isaiah describes how God had prepared and cared for a vineyard;, the nation of Israel.
And then when the time came, he went looking for the fruit, but there was only bad fruit.
God wanted to see justice,
He wanted to see righteousness,
But there was none.
And every time this image comes up, the dominant picture is, failure.
Failure to live up to God’s intentions,
No justice, no righteousness.
And so there’s this hanging expectation in the Old Testament, “who is going to replace the vine?
Who can fulfill all that the nation of Israel was unable to achieve?”
And so another one of the vine passages, Psalm 80 concludes,
16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at your rebuke your people perish.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
A son of man, that is, a human, will come, and he will be the fulfilment of the vine.
It will be because of him, that God’s remain with God rather than turning away.
He will be the one who brings justice and righteousness.
And so we can see, why this is a loaded term;, I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
This is still God’s vine. We’re talking about the continuation, fulfilment of that Old Testament image.
And Jesus says, “All of that points here.”
He’s saying I’m the “replacement” or the fulfilment of Israel.
What the nation couldn’t achieve, because of their sin,
Because they threw off God’s pattern and wanted to go their own way,
Jesus is able to bring about,
He makes people, fruitful!
The new Israel is not the disciples,
Because of ancient Israel’s failings, God doesn’t wash his hands of them and say, “I’m going to start again with the church.”
No, the new Israel is Jesus.
We’ve already heard him, in John’s gospel, claim to be the new temple, fulfilling everything that the temple had been created to do;, about meeting God,
And providing forgiveness,
And a place for sacrifice,
And making God known.
That now happens in Jesus.
But even more than just fulfilling the role of the temple for Israel, Jesus is the new Israel.
While previously God’s blessings to the world came thought Israel, that all pointed forward to Jesus. He is the true vine;
Now, that’s a long time to explain Jesus’ metaphor, isn’t it?
But we have to understand it, if we’re to make sense of everything else that Jesus says here.
Remain in me, and No branch can bear fruit by itself are true and significant, because Jesus is the new Israel, he sits at the centre of what God is doing in the world.
Jesus embodies and represents the people of God.
So when we remain in Jesus, not only are we connected to him, we’re connected with all of those who truly are God’s people.
This is the only relationship that determines whether you truly are one of God’s people.
Sometimes we can start imagining that our relationship to a church denomination, or to another person is the deciding factor of whether we’re truly connected to God.
Maybe our Christian parents, perhaps a spouse.
But since Jesus is the embodiment of God’s people, and the centrepiece of God’s purposes for his world, this is the relationship that matters more than any other.
Which is why Jesus spends to much time talking about remaining!
So that’s the context.
Let’s have a listen to what Jesus says.
Verse 1 again, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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.
We can’t miss the fact that the focus here is on fruitfulness.
That might make us a little nervous. It sounds like we’re going to have a performance appraisal as a follower of Jesus.
The church staff are all doing our staff appraisals at the moment, and part of us perhaps reacts against the idea that something similar would be required of us as Jesus’ followers.
But we don’t want to miss those wonderfully comforting words down in verse 15, I no longer call you servants, I have called you friends, we tend not to run our friends through an appraisal process, do we?!
But because Jesus counts these disciples and those who follow them, ie us, as his friends, he wants us to be fruitful.
So much so, that making us fruitful is shown to be the work of the Father in us.
Verse 2, God is gardener, He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, and he prunes the fruitful branches so that they can have even more fruit.
God removes what is dead and unfruitful (v 2)
A branch that bears no fruit, isn’t really part of the true vine, and so it will be cut off.
That is, God will, in time, remove from his church, those who bear no fruit.
Not because he’s impatient,
Not because he doesn’t want to waste his effort or investment on someone who’s struggling, not at all, but because fruitfulness is an essential marker of following Jesus.
There has to be some impact from being connected to Jesus, and if there’s not, it suggests there’s actually no life-giving connection.
They’re not a true branch.
The New Testament is brutally honest on the fact that there are some among God’s people, who perhaps identify as belonging, they consider themselves connected to Jesus, but they’re not.
Their lack of fruit gives them away,
They don’t remain in Jesus, as he’s about to explain,
And because Jesus is the true vine, their lack of relationship to Jesus, means they have no relationship with God.
We’re probably supposed to think of Judas as the classic example o
He was around Jesus, connected to him, he looked the part.
But there was no fruit.
And that’s the evidence that he had no real relationship, and so he was cut off.
He faces God’s judgment.
We’re not talking about Christians being cut-off by God, losing their salvation,
But people, perhaps in the church, connected to Christian people, but not to Christ, and so they’d never known salvation in the first place.
Perhaps all talk, but no changed life.
God prunes or cleanses his people for greater fruitfulness (v 3 – 4)
But others face a prospect, which sounds similar, though we can see the outcome is very different.
God prunes or cleanses his people for greater fruitfulness
every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
There’s no getting around the fact that this implies some cost or some hurt.
Pruning is done by cutting!
There is some discomfort, some painful stretching, in the work that God does to make us more fruitful.
God longs to see us grow in our love for him and others,
Our commitment to his people,
He longs to see our hearts, and thoughts, our priorities and attitudes changed,
He longs to see us become more and more like Jesus, and less and less entangled in sin.
In the Old Testament “being fruitful” was shorthand for doing anything that was evidence of your repentance, and living out your identity as one of God’s people.
It’s why justice and righteousness were help up as the examples of fruit.
And so in order that we might be more like that, God does his work in us.
It’s God who makes his people fruitful.
When Jesus tells the 11 that they’re clean in verse 3, that’s basically the same word as prunes in verse 2.
Pruning, cleansing, it’s the same idea.
And sometimes, when we’re on the receiving end of that, it can feel like we’re being cut off entirely, can’t?
It doesn’t feel like, God’s working towards us being more fruitful!
And maybe it’s only later, that we understand and see what God was doing in us and for.
That incredibly difficult time,
He wasn’t cutting us off, he was training us to be more fruitful.
That terrible hardship when it felt like God was far away, and I wanted more than anything else for it to stop, that was actually God at work, cleansing me, because he longed for more fruit from me, demonstrating that I really do belong to him.
As he stripped away other things I might be tempted to rely on, or put confidence in, he prunes me to make me fruitful.
Some of the hardship and suffering we face as Christians, is this work of God in us.
And maybe, this season of our lives;, COVID-19, lockdown, isolation,
If this is hard and painful for us,
If we feel God’s Word running against the grain of how we feel, and what we want for ourselves, then perhaps this is a time of God pruning us for fruitfulness.
Of course the proof is only at the end, isn’t it?
Are we more fruitful?
It seems also, from verse 3, where Jesus reassures the disciples, You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Ultimately it’s through Jesus’ death that his followers are cleansed;, but it seems here that sometimes the tool by which that becomes effective is Jesus’ Word.
It’s the Word of Christ that prunes, cleanses, his followers, enabling us to bear more fruit.
Why do we keep teaching the Bible here at Dundonald?
Why, when Coronavirus hit, did we not throw out our plans to teach through John’s Gospel, and instead teach a series called 10 Tips for Surviving COVID-19, Or even to sound a bit more biblical, a series all about “How to be fruitful in a time of Coronavirus”?
Now, I know, you can call the series whatever you like, What matters is the content.
Because it’s God’s Word to us through Jesus, that prunes us and equips us to be fruitful.
And so the same is likely true for how the unfruitful branches are cut off.
Ultimately, Jesus’ teaching feels too hard for some.
Jesus’ words cut across things that people value too highly, and so they give up the pretence of acting like one of God’s people.
But that doesn’t catch God off guard. “Oh look, I’ve lost a few more people, I really had better be more careful in future.”
No, God is the gardener who is in control of all of this, he’s the one removing these fruitless branches, because they didn’t ever belong in the first place.”
To be fruitful we must remain in Jesus (v 4 – 8)
And so the solution to fruitfulness, the one thing we have to do, in order to achieve God’s purposes for us, is remain in Jesus.
Verse 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.
Fruitfulness comes from remaining in Jesus.
A Christian who is able to live out God’s purposes for them, is a Christian who remains connected to Jesus.
This is the old language of “abide.” Though that’s not a word we use very often, which is why the NIV translators have used the word remain.
If we want to be fruitful, we have to remain in Jesus.
A branch that’s cut off from the vine and just dangling in the wind isn’t going to bear fruit, is it?
Try that when you’re pruning your garden at the end of summer;,
Cut of every branch, and see what kind of fruit or flowers you get next season?
None at all!
If a branch is to be fruitful, it has to be connected to the life of the vine.
And through his death on the cross, Jesus offers us life. True life, eternal life, the life of the new creation.
We’re cut off from life because of our sin, and so we need to draw on the life that Jesus offers us, in order to be fruitful.
This also means, that when someone points to aspects of their life, and say, “Look at all the fruit I’ve produced.
I’m not a Christian, I don’t trust in Jesus, but surely God will be pleased with me because of all of this stuff I’ve done.”
No, No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine,
Which is to say, whatever that person’s life is producing, it’s not fruit.
It’s not what God is looking for.
And therefore that assessment we saw earlier still stands;, it will be cut off.
Verse 6, 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.
This is an image of judgment out of the Old Testament.
Even what we might call good works, if they’re done disconnected from Jesus, ultimately count for nothing.
Not saying people who aren’t connected to Jesus can’t do good things;, be kind, be generous.
But what God longs for, they can’t produce.
If we remain in Jesus we’ll listen to his words (v 7)
And then in verse 7, we get a bit more detail about what remaining in Jesus looks like.
There’s a parallelism here that tells us that part of what it means to remain in Jesus, is to have his words, remain in us.
See it there; 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
Remaining in Jesus, means having his words within us.
That includes obedience, which comes up in the last section,
But also just a life that is shaped more and more by Jesus’ words. Jesus said plenty of things that were not explicit commands to be obeyed, and those words too ought to be shaping our lives;,
- If we take to heart Jesus’ warnings about the future, they’ll change our priorities,
- If we’re shaped by his teaching about his own ministry of coming to save lost people, we’ll become more humble and see ourselves rightly,
- If we try to live our lives in the light of Jesus’ words to the outsider and the downtrodden, we’ll love people more, and act for justice even when it doesn’t benefit us,
- If we dwell on his words about eternity, we’ll grow in our concern for lost people, and be spurred on or evangelism,
And you’ll be able to think of other ways in which Jesus’ words remain in us, and therefore what it means to remain in Jesus.
The word “remain” to us, sounds a bit passive. If you’ve been in the doctors waiting room with lots of other people, and after a while you’re the one remaining, it means you’re sitting there waiting for something to happen!
But clearly if remaining is to take Jesus’ words into our being so that we become more and more like him, it’s not passive and idle.
If we remain in Jesus we’ll pray the prayers God answers (v 7)
But as we do this, as Jesus’ words remain in us, we’ll become more and more like him, we can see that from the examples we just listed,
Jesus’ priorities will become our priorities,
And so our prayers, will become more and more in accordance with God’s will.
Which is why Jesus can say, still in verse 7, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Jesus has said something like this already. We saw it back in chapter 14.
But before I start praying for a Ferrari to turn up outside my house tomorrow morning, we can already see that that’s not what Jesus is talking about!
If my life is the life of Jesus the true vine flowing into me, and if his words remain in me in all those ways we thought of and more, clearly the Ferrari prayer is not on the agenda;,
I’m going to be praying for things that Jesus wants,
I’m going to be praying for things that bring glory to God.
The vine is an image that shows the closeness of relationship we have;, connected to Jesus and his Father.
We’re in Jesus,
Bearing fruit because we remain in him.
Here we see the extraordinary impact, remaining in Jesus has, on us;
We’re enabled to pray prayers that are the very will of God.
Don’t we long for our prayers to be answered?
Wouldn’t you love to be able to pray, knowing that God will say, “Yes, let’s do that”?
There’s no silver bullet to that, but the answer is to remain in Jesus, and his words remain in us.
If we remain in Jesus, we’ll bear lots of fruit (v 8)
So here we see the fruit on view in this section defined at its broadest.
The fruit that Jesus longs for us to bear, and that God works in us to bring about, comes about in answer to our prayers, and is to God’s glory.
Anything that comes about because God answers the prayers that we pray in Jesus’ name,
Anything that is to my Father’s glory, as Jesus says, is the fruit that’s on view here.
Have you ever prayed, and asked God to help you be obedient, to keep Jesus’ commands, as he says in verse 10?
Maybe it’s to resist temptation,
To treat someone else in certain way when you don’t feel like it,
Perhaps it’s for costly forgiveness.
When God answers that prayer, and is glorified in your words and your actions, that obedience is, fruit.
Have you ever prayed and asked God to enable you to love someone?
Maybe someone really un-lovely?
When God answers that prayer, and is glorified in your love, your love is exactly the kind of fruit Jesus is talking about.
Have you ever prayed that you’ll be able to share the good news of Jesus with someone?
That seems to be on view in verse 16, that you might go and bear fruit, the going seems to be pointing us to evangelism.
When God answers that prayer and gives you the opportunity to speak, and is glorified as you hold out the words of eternal life,
We mustn’t be too tight in defining this.
If you’re a Christian, if you’re connected to Jesus and drawing on him for life, and living for his glory, then everything in your life that flows out of that relationship is fruit.
I find it really encouraging that we’re not given a picture, and told, “make your fruit look exactly like this!”
No, because yours will be different to mine,
And ours here in London will look different to another Christian in another part of the world.
Perhaps we need to resist the temptation to compare the fruit we produce to what someone else’s relationship with Jesus is producing, and simply remain in Christ, ensuring his words remain in us, and asking him, for the fruit which brings glory to God.
We mustn’t say fruit doesn’t matter!
But to focus all our attention on trying to produce fruit when we should be focussing on the vine, is to make a terrible mistake.
Remaining in Jesus means loving others as God has loved us 9 – 17
And Jesus unpacks this a little more in the last section, where he says that remaining in Jesus means loving others as God has loved us.
You can see in verse 9 that the idea of remaining in Christ now has a further explanation as Jesus says remain in my love, and verse 10, If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.
How do we show that we love Jesus?
Obedience, submitting our behaviour to someone else’s will is hardly a popular idea today, and yet our example is none other than Jesus himself, who says there in verse 10 I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love
If we’ve known Jesus’ love. We’ll obey him.
Thinking, “I know better than Jesus what’s good for me”, or what choices I should make in my life,
Or what my relationships should look like,
Or “I’m going to decide for myself how I treat other people, and not listen to what Jesus says”, that’s a step towards no longer remaining in Jesus.
I tend not to think of, disregarding Jesus’ commands as a failure to love him, or a step towards removing myself from him, though clearly that’s how Jesus sees it, If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.
And the particular command that Jesus holds out for our attention and obedience here, is the command to love.
See verse 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.
We cannot say we’re a Christian, we’re one of God’s people, unless we follow this example of love.
We’re familiar with these words from Remembrance services every year.
But in our familiarity, we can miss the obvious question;
“why is the greatest love, love for friends?, in this case, especially those who are God’s people.”
Why is it them?
Why is love for God not the greatest love? Or love for Jesus?
Now, of course the very next day Jesus lays down his life for these friends, and us also, so he’s setting up the very high cost of love.
But also, it’s harder to love people than to love God, isn’t it?
People annoy us more!
The disciples will misunderstand each other, and have differing opinions, just read the rest of the New Testament, and so to love each other, other Christians, in those circumstances, will show their commitment to loving Jesus and obeying his commands, to doing the hard work, of remaining in him as his Word soaks down into them.
Our love for God’s people, will demonstrate whether we really do love God.
Thismakes me stop and ask myself, “Do I love God’s people?”
I’d have no hesitation answering the question, “Do I love God?”,
But loving God’s people, feels, more costly,
That causes more interruption to my day,
That impacts my plans more,
Loving God’s people costs me money
My command is this: Jesus says, verse 12, 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, as the cross looms large, dispelling any myths about the cost of this kind of love.
The way to remain in Jesus, is to keep his commands.
To love with the costly, other person-centred love we see at the cross.
But this kind of love will be evidence that we truly are remaining in Jesus.
And it’s a kind of fruit.
And so I wonder, if we’re praying, for this kind of fruit? The fruit of loving others, especially God’s people, with the costly love we’ve learnt from Jesus.
Do we pray that the disciples’ pattern of being chosen, and appointed, and sent out, to bear fruit that will last, will in some derivative sense apply to us?
Do we have confidence that we’re praying prayers our Father in heaven longs to answer, not because we’ve earned the right, or chosen Jesus, but because the life of Jesus, the true vine, is flowing through us, and his words are within us, so we long for the things that are on his heart.
Is the life of Christ so at work in us, that we long to love as we’ve been loved?
I said that the dominant theme associated with this image of the vine was Israel’s failure to be fruitful.
How comforting it must have been then for Jesus’ disciples to hear these words, and for Jesus, not to lay out some manifesto of all the demands he places on his disciples,
Jesus doesn’t rattle off a big long list;, “If you want to be fruitful then you must, .
Read the right books,
Go to the right church,
Mix in the right circles,
Be able to explain your faith in these 3 different ways”,
No, none of that.
Simply, remain in me.
It is the one thing that every single one of us can do.
To say that it’s simple is not to say that it’s easy.
We constantly faced with a choice, aren’t we?
Do we remain in Jesus, his word remaining in us,
Or do we listen to, and take on board, get swept away by, the prevailing message of our day?
Are we remaining in Jesus such that his priorities become our priorities? Or do we think we know better what we need and what’s good for us.
There is always pressure, to leave, to not remain.
But the picture here couldn’t be more clear, could it?
The only way to be fruitful,
The only way to bring glory to God,
The only way to truly love, is to remain in Jesus.