Sunday 24th January 2021
‘I am the true vine…’
Picture yourself out in the garden doing a bit of winter tidying up. Scattered here and there are branches on the ground. Some still have a few withered leaves, others no leaves at all, but both have one thing in common, they are either dead or dying, why? Because they have lost their connection with the tree. As you gather them up you look at the healthy trees in your garden, quiet in this time of winter but come the spring you look forward to seeing fresh new growth as the trees burst into life once more…It’s a familiar picture, trees and branches and the importance of staying connected to the tree, the potential for growth and new life, and it’s also a very good picture and reminder of a life of faith…
As you know, we have been looking together at some of Jesus’ great, ‘I AM’ statements from the Gospel of John. Declarations Jesus made about Himself that teach us something of who He is and what that means. In weeks gone by we have pondered Jesus’ saying:
- ‘I am the bread of life…’ (John 6). In this Jesus reminds us of the sheer abundance of life in Christ – how He nourishes our very souls – in Him we have everything we need…
- ‘I am the Good Shepherd…’ (John 10). The Good Shepherd who knows His flock, takes cares of His flock…
- And last week, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life…’ (John 14). Living for Jesus is the only way to life, we trust in the words of truth from the One who IS the truth, life at its best, now and eternally, is found only through Him…
- And this week we move forward to John 15 as Jesus declares to His disciples, ‘I am the true vine…I am the vine; you are the branches…if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…’
Has there ever been a clearer statement concerning the live-giving power of Jesus and our absolute dependence on Him? Just as a branch needs to be connected to the vine so we need to be connected and stay connected to Christ, the true vine…that is the only way to bear fruit for Him…Before we go any further, let’s pray together: Heavenly Father, Thank you for this opportunity once more to ponder and reflect upon Your precious Word. May this vital teaching on the lips of Jesus speak to our hearts and minds, and all to Your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Jesus said: ‘I am the true vine…’
This image of the vineyard and the vine would have been a familiar one to the disciples. Not only were vineyards a common sight, but this was a frequently used image in God’s word to describe God’s relationship with His people:
- Isaiah 5:7 ‘The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel…
- Hosea 10:1 ‘Israel was a spreading vine…’
But the Old Testament also speaks of how Israel constantly went astray; again from Isaiah 5 we read these sad words as God Himself speaks of His people saying:
‘Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard, than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?’ Isaiah 5:3-4
The Lord promised to bless Israel, His chosen people, but Israel ran after other gods. The Old Testament teaches that Israel let God down again and again…Step forward in time to the coming of Jesus, God’s Son…Jesus came as the New Israel. As Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches it is the night before His crucifixion; time is very short and there are vital truths the disciples need to grasp…Perhaps as they walked together that evening from the Upper Room down to the Mount of Olives, they might have seen the great golden vine painted on the front of the temple, that vine being the national emblem of Israel…I wonder did Jesus point to it as he said, ‘I am the true vine…’
The disciples needed to grasp that truth and live it out if the church was to thrive. And so, do we…When separated from the vine the branches wither and die; in the same way the vitality of our spiritual life, and the spiritual life of the church, is dependent upon our connection to Christ…Let’s unpack this teaching of Jesus a little:
- Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener’. (v1)
- The true vine, the best, this is Jesus, and God our Heavenly Father is the One who tends, cultivates, cares for, protects. God who longs that we will grow and mature in our faith and in that connection to Christ.
- ‘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.’ (v2)
- Pruning is necessary in the garden and even more so in a life of faith. These are both words of warning and of encouragement – our role as believers is to bear fruit for the kingdom – that is living lives that draw others to Jesus and advance the kingdom – and that may at times mean we experience the discipline of the Lord, but that is all part of the life of faith…
- ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you…I am the vine; you are the branches…if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…’ (v4-5)
These verses are for believers; Jesus is not describing how to become a Christian, He is describing how to live as one. The key point is ‘remaining’, or as some translations put it, ‘abiding’. The word ‘abide’ or phrase ‘remain in’ occurs 10 times here in eleven verses.
At no point is the Christian commanded to produce fruit, instead we are promised, that if we abide, fruit will result. So, what does it mean to abide in Christ? Jesus Himself modelled the connection for us: As Jesus loved and obeyed the Father, so, we are to love and obey Jesus. To remain in Christ is to allow His words to remain in us and that means a conscious acceptance of the authority of His Word and a constant contact with Him in prayer. Listen to God. Obey God. Talk to God. That’s what it means to abide.
If you abide in Christ, His word makes a series of wonderful, life-changing promises. Again, let’s unpack these a little:
PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED: ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.’ (v7) That doesn’t mean God becomes like our personal genie, granting us our wishes…the promise is conditional. If we are connected to the true vine, and through that connection we become more and more Christ-like, our prayers will become more and more in line with God’s will. This should shape and encourage our prayers.
GOD IS GLORIFIED: ‘This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples’. (v8) As we obey Jesus, God receives the credit; His name is glorified. God delights to see us reflecting His character – elsewhere in Scripture bearing much fruit is described in terms of lives that demonstrate: ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’. (Galatians 5) That’s a life that brings glory to God…
JOY WILL OVERFLOW: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (v 11) One of God’s greatest gifts to His children, one of the greatest witnesses of the church, is through the peace and joy that is evident in our lives…a peace and joy not dependent on what’s going on around us…
Jesus said: ‘I am the true vine…I am the vine; you are the branches…if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…’ What a graphic, helpful, challenging and encouraging picture this is of Christ’s live-giving power and our absolute dependence on Him. So, here is a suggestion – you know me – always giving out homework! Why not take time this week to study, or write out these verses from John 15? Read through them prayerfully and slowly. Think over what words strike you as you read and ask yourself what is God saying to you concerning your connection to Christ and the fruitfulness of your life. Perhaps you might find it helpful to jot down some thoughts in a journal and return to them from time to time. These are things that will, by the grace of God, strengthen your connection to Jesus the true vine, always remembering that the vitality of your spiritual life, and the spiritual life of this His church, is dependent upon our connection to Christ…
Jesus is the true vine – and we are His people –His Church of today. Let us remain in Him and be thankful for His wonderful promise that as we do, so His goodness, His peace, His love and His joy will flow through our lives and all to His glory. Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for this Your Word. May our connection to Christ remain ever strong and may we bear much fruit for You in the name of Jesus the true vine, Amen.