The Vine

  • The Vine
  • John 15:1-9
  • Brian Brownlow
  • May 7, 2017
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5-7-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

My sisters can tell you that I was never wrong. Well, I was often wrong, but I wouldn’t admit it. If someone – particular my sisters – tried to point out that I was wrong, I would get mad and argue all day long. As a kid, I was thin-skinned, insecure, and always looking to prove myself. That’s a great combination if you are looking to get into a fight. I had more than my fair share of fights as a kid. Now let me be clear, I’m not telling you this to brag about how tough I was. As a matter of fact, the truth is, this has more to do with how stupid I was than how tough I was. I lost about 90% of my fights. I would get hit about three or four times before I could even get my hands up. I think I had the slowest hands known to man. Occasionally, I would come across a girl that I could hold my own with, but mostly I just took a beating. Fortunately, I never fought – at least not with my fists – my sisters. They probably would have whipped me too!

The problem was that I was self-absorbed. Now my parents raised me right. I knew how to behave and to be polite. I respected my elders and I knew that I better follow the rules or the consequences would not be good. I learned early that “being good” paid off. The problem was, in my heart, it was all about me. I was the center of the universe.

When Moses heard God speaking out of a burning bush, he asked, “What do I tell the people when they want to know by whose authority I am speaking, What do I say?” God replied, “Tell them I am who I am.” This statement of God’s eternal being is picked up by Jesus, who, Scriptures tell us, is co-eternal with the Father. We worship God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because God has existed for all time as a Trinity.

Over the last a few weeks, we have looked at the “I Am” statements made by Jesus. He said I Am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Light of the World. In each of those, Lyndol has shown us how Jesus is the source of all things. HE is the center of the universe.

Today, we’re going to look at a passage from John chapter 15 where Jesus uses a very specific “I Am” statement. I’ll be reading vv. 1-9.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”
John 15:1–9 NAS95
Before we dig deeper into this text, it’s important to talk about the greater context of what is going on here. Jesus has gathered his disciples together and they have shared the Passover meal. At this point, Jesus begins what has been called “The Farewell Discourse.” Basically, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with him. He does that by talking to them about three relationships; their relationship to Him, their relationship to each other, and their relationship to the world. Our passage this morning, the first nine verses of chapter 15, Jesus deals with the disciples‘ relationship to him. In many ways, it’s about discipleship itself – being a disciple.

Let’s look at the first verse: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”
Jesus uses the image of a vine. Specifically, a grapevine. This image would be extremely familiar to all of the disciples. Vineyards were a major part of agricultural production of their day. They knew what vines looked like. They knew how they were tended and pruned by vinedressers. Everything Jesus was about to say about grapevines would have been familiar to them.

In this word picture Jesus is painting, He identifies Himself as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser. This is critically important because Jesus is talking about relationships. In any relationship, there are roles that each member plays. In many ways, those roles determine how we relate to each other in the relationship. Jesus is making it crystal clear that God the Son and God the Father are going to play the key roles in this relationship. He goes on to describe how the Father – as the vinedresser – will ensure that the whole plant is healthy. A healthy grapevine does not grow wild. A healthy, fruitful grapevine gets cut. The dead, unproductive parts are cut off and discarded. But even the productive parts have a season where they are pruned back so that they will produce even more. So, Jesus makes a priority of defining the roles that God (Father and Son) and those who would be his disciples will play in this relationship.

In verse three Jesus makes a statement that seems not to fit with the rest of what is being said here. “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” seems out of place with this discussion about vines and branches and pruning. I mentioned a few moments ago that the bigger context has Jesus meeting with his disciples. Just before this, Jesus has not only eaten the Passover meal with his disciples, but he has also washed their feet. If you’ll remember in that exchange, Peter objects to Jesus washing his feet. Jesus rebukes him by saying. “Unless I wash your feet you have no place in me.” To which Peter replies, “Then not only my feet, but my hands and my head also.” Jesus reassures him that those who have had a bath are clean – they only need to wash their feet. The point Jesus is making to Peter is that he knows Peter’s heart. Essentially, he is saying, “Peter, I know you have a good heart, but you’ve got some dirty, stinking feet!” Furthermore, the only way those feet can be cleaned is for Jesus to do the washing.

I can relate to Peter in so many ways. I can be self-absorbed, hardheaded, and insensitive. I know that Jesus has given me a new heart and it is clean because of what He did on the cross. But, sometimes my feet stink! Perhaps some of you here are like me. If we would pull off our shoes and expose our feet, so to speak, it would get very rank in here! Jesus promises that he can clean that up. So, while verse three may seem to be out of place, it fits perfectly with what Jesus is saying to his disciples, and to us this morning. Being a disciple means being connected to Jesus. Because we are connected, we are clean. We have been given a clean heart if you will. The only way that we can remain that way and to grow is to stay connected to Jesus.

Let’s look at how he continues in verses 4-5: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Jesus leaves no room for misunderstanding here. He states explicitly what all of us know from experience. Left to our own devices, we will always mess things up. If left to my own devices, I will become self-absorbed and view everything as if I am the center of the universe. I have to be connected to Jesus in order to bear “good fruit.” In this case, Jesus is using the image of fruit to describe faithful living. Living in a way that honors God and brings glory to the Kingdom. Our life can only be fruitful if we are connected to Jesus, who is the vine.

I know the rule is to never mix metaphors and we already have grapevines and stinky feet. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will keep us from getting too confused by me adding one more. Jesus’ disciples were very familiar with the image of a grapevine and its branches. That picture, that image, made perfect sense to them. Many of you here may not be as familiar with grapevines. What all of us at in 21st-century are familiar with is electricity and light. I’d like to show you something that I think may be helpful for us.

I think everyone here knows what this is, it’s a power strip. It provides extra outlets so that additional appliances can be plugged into it and receive power for their needs. (Note: At this point I will plug two or three lamps into the power strip.) Of course, all of you are way ahead of me. You know that these lamps are not going to light just by plugging them into the power strip. The power strip has to be plugged in. Okay, let’s try that. At this point I will plug the power strip’s cord into one of its own plugs. Well, that didn’t work either. Of course, the power strip has no power of its own. It has to be plugged into a power source – an electrical outlet. Let’s try that. Amazing how that works isn’t it?

We can do all kinds of things. Go through all kinds of motions. We work like crazy and put everything into place, but unless we are plugged into the source of power, nothing happens. Jesus’ disciples understood exactly the point he was trying to make. It was just as obvious to them as this demonstration is to all of us. Those men didn’t know about electricity, but they knew about grapevines. The vine produces the branches and the branches produce the fruit. If the branch is cut off from the vine, in any way, there will be no fruit.

I want to point out something else that I think is very important in these verses. It’s the way Jesus uses the word “will” here. It’s a promise. A promise that Jesus makes to all who are his disciples. He says if we remain in him, he will remain in us; furthermore, if that happens we will bear fruit. He does not say that we might. He does not say that it could happen. He says that it will happen.

God’s promises are always good. He will never let us down. In both Matthew chapter 7 and 12, Jesus says that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. When we become a disciple of Jesus Christ we are a good tree. Sometimes our feet get dirty and stinky but Jesus washes them clean. Our heart is still good.

Now, we can’t embrace the dirt and the stink mind you! I don’t think I have to go down that road with us today. It should be enough just to state it. We don’t get to embrace sin and our dirty, stinky feet. If we do that, we’re not a disciple. We are not connected to the vine. Occasionally, we will get those dirty stinky feet and Jesus promises that he will come and clean them. Our lives, as disciples of Jesus Christ, must bear fruit. There are no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” on this issue. When Jesus talks about false prophets he says that you will know them by their fruit. That’s the context of Matthew seven that I mentioned a few seconds ago. When Jesus is talking about bad trees and good trees, He makes that comment about knowing false prophets by their fruit. Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit.

In verse 7-8, Jesus narrows that promise to say that when we abide in him and he is in us, that we will receive whatever we ask. This is not a magic formula – it’s not abracadabra. He says in the latter part of that section, “This is to my Father’s glory.” It isn’t about conjuring up some selfish desire. We will be connected to God and we will be living in that beautiful place where we desire what he desires. His heart will be our heart. As true disciples we will reflect the nature of God.

This time of abiding can sometimes be difficult. Jesus has already said that God will, at times use his pruning shears on us. He does so in order to get rid of the dead wood that’s growing in our lives. He’s also doing it because he knows that it will make us even more fruitful. Sometimes the Father, who loves you, will prune you. At other times the enemy, who hates you, will try to destroy you. Grapevines need to be pruned in order to be healthy. They can also be attacked by bugs and extremes. During the late spring, many of you, who have fruit trees, worry about that late freeze that would kill your fruit. Satan is like that. He is like a cold, icy wind that comes to destroy the fruit. Remember that what God does he does to make you healthy and strong because it will produce even more wonderful fruit. Satan wants to destroy the fruit. Sometimes it’s hard for us to discern the difference because we often feel very similar. There is discomfort when we are being pruned. The best advice I can give you during those times is to continue to abide in Jesus. Keep putting one foot in front of the other in faith believing that God is going to bring you through. If Satan is attacking you, his power is diminished when you remain faithful to God, believing that you will see the fruit of your faith.

In verse 9, Jesus closes this (and connects to what he says next) by identifying what the “connection” to the vine is. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”

It is, of course, love. The images we have used here today are helpful for us to understand. But, of course, the connection, the abiding, is not an electrical cord or the stem on a plant. It is the love of God. I just described the difference between a Father who prunes us out of love and an enemy who attacks us out of hate. It’s the love that we have that will allow us to abide no matter what is going on around us. It is not always spring, but love never fails.

As we move into a time where we celebrate Holy Communion together, I’m going to lead us in prayer. My prayer will be that you will experience God’s love in a real and tangible way this morning. My prayer is not that you will hear me talk about the love that flows through Jesus, but that you will feel that love.