Text: John 15:1-17
Following the Passover meal Jesus walked with his disciples through the streets of Jerusalem. Eventually they would arrive in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the streets of Jerusalem were walls, gardens and palm trees and vines. They were not like the vines that were in the Mount of Olives which were cut back right to the stump every autumn. The vines in the city branched along the walls of houses and were even trained around windows. Jesus used one such vine to introduce his last “I Am” saying.
I AM THE VINE
There are four characters in the illustration. There is the true vine which is Jesus Christ. Then there is the vinedresser who plants and looks after the vine. That is the Father. Then there are unfruitful branches and finally the fruitful branches. In vrs 1 Jesus says I am the true vine. Who then is the false vine? Throughout the Old Testament the vine was used as a symbol for Israel. In Ezekiel 15 God calls Israel a useless vine. In Jeremiah 2, Israel is called a corrupt vine and in Isaiah 5 they are called a fruitless vine. Jesus has two main points.
- WHAT HAPPENS TO UNFRUITFUL BRANCHES
In vrs 2 Jesus says, he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. In order to optimise the harvest, a vine must be pruned. Branches that do not bear fruit must be cut off. Space must be created for air to circulate and for maximum sunshine to encourage the healthy branches to be even more fruitful. What becomes of the branches that have been cut and lie on the ground? It is not taken to the carpenters shed to be made into furniture. The wood from the vine is worthless for any other purpose than bearing sap to make grapes. If it fails in that purpose it has no other use. In vrs 6 Jesus says, 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. Why do you think Jesus gave his disciples this teaching that night? Judas had entered into a deal with the religious authorities to betray Jesus. At any moment he would lead soldiers to arrest Jesus. To prepare his disciples for the shock Jesus helps them to understand that Judas was one of those non fruit bearing branches. He had been cut from the vine and would be thrown into the fire. He was not a citizen of heaven.
- WHAT HAPPENS TO FRUITFUL BRANCHES
Vrs 2 goes on to say, every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. When our heavenly vinedresser sees fruit on our branches it is pleasing to him. But there is always room for more fruit and so He will prune us back in such a way that we become more fruitful. Jesus proceeds in vrs 4 to say, 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. This teaching about remaining in Christ and he in us is the doctrine of the believers union with Christ. If we want his life to flow through us, we need to remain in him. This is the dominant phrase in our text and occurs eight times. The KJV translated the verb as abide. We often say – “I can’t abide that person.” What we mean is that I can’t have that person too close around me. If we are to abide in Christ it means that we need to stick close to him. A branch cannot bear fruit on its own on the ground. It has to be connected to the life-giving sap of the vine. A Christian cannot produce fruit on their own. They need the life-giving sap of Christ to flow through them. How do we do that? In the same way that our heavenly vinedresser prunes us. Through his word and prayer. In vrs 7 we go on to read, if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. If I am to abide in Christ I must pray. But how does he remain in me? Through his word.