I AM - How Jesus Meets Our Deepest Needs 6. The Vine
“I AM…” – How Jesus Meets Our Deepest Needs
6. The Vine
John 15: 1 - 5
Last week we drilled down into John 14 where Jesus declared that He is the only way to the Father. The focus was on salvation; today we’re going to look at our sanctification. We learned about coming to faith and now we’re going to be challenged to be fruitful. We’re moving from knowing Christ to growing in Christ. Here’s our big idea today: If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.
When Jesus says that He is the Vine, He is employing an image that is very familiar to His followers. He often used elements from nature to illustrate His teaching – water, seeds, soil, wheat, fig trees, flowers and birds. Grapes were common everywhere and have always been central to Israel’s agriculture and economy. In fact, the grapevine was the emblem of Israel. Grapes appeared on coins during the period between Malachi and Matthew. At the time of Jesus, a golden vine hung over the entrance to the Temple.
In our culture, it would be as if Jesus were walking through a field of mealies and drawing life lessons from them. But the image of the vine and its fruit has far deeper spiritual symbolism. The grapevine represented Israel’s fruitfulness in doing God’s work on earth.
God’s “Grape” Expectations God has always had “grape expectations” for His followers. He is so sold on fruitfulness that He breaks out into a sad song in Isaiah 5: 1 - 4. Instead of producing sweet grapes, His people had offered only sour substitutes: “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
This lament continues in Jeremiah 2: 21: “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” God’s people had become filled with hypocrisy, greed and all kinds of evil instead of the fruits of righteousness, justice and mercy. God’s desire has always been for His people to be fruitful. This goes all the way back to Genesis 1: 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number.”In fact, a Christian who does not produce fruit is a contradiction in terms.
Amidst the excitement of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus drops a bombshell and tells them that He is going to die. He then gathers His disciples together in a quiet place, in the upper room for one last supper. Lamb is served for the Passover meal because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Bread is broken because He is the bread of life and the fruit of the vine is consumed because He is the true vine.
He then provides comfort to the anxious disciples - “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Later in this chapter He promises that the Holy Spirit will be their encourager, teacher and comforter. Then comes this a remarkable revelation and quite a contrast as the scene changes from palm branches in the midst of a noisy crowd to the leaves of a vine on a quiet night.
Characters in the Vineyard There are 3 characters in this extended allegory.
1. Jesus is the true vine v. 1a
In contrast to faithless and fruitless Israel, Jesus is the fulfillment of all that they were not. We could translate it this way: “I myself am the vine, the real one.”
2. The Father is the farmer v. 1b, 2
The farmer’s primary task is to grow grapes. In order for that to happen, the ground must be cultivated and fertilized, pests must be controlled, weeds must be pulled, the roots must receive water, the vines must be cared for and pruning must take place. A vine needs a farmer in order to produce grapes.
A vineyard is planted for a different purpose than a flower garden. We plant flowers because they’re pretty. A vineyard is planted in order to get grapes. The goal is not flowers, but fruit.
3. We are the branches (v. 2 – 5)
Our job is simple. If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful. The only way for that to happen is if we stay tenaciously and faithfully connected to the foundation of the trunk.
A Walk in the Vineyard Are you ready to buckle up? I see 4 levels of fruitbearing in our passage that are demonstrated with these 4 baskets. Basket 1 “does not bear fruit” NO FRUIT Basket 2 “does bear fruit” MEAGER FRUIT Basket 3“bear more fruit” MORE FRUIT Basket 4 “bears much fruit” MUCH FRUIT Here’s the principle. God the Farmer loves us so much, and is so committed to displaying His glory, that He actively cultivates our lives so that we will move from no fruit, to meager fruit, to more fruit, to much fruit. Friend, which basket represents your life right now? If today were harvest day, how many grapes would be in your basket? Here’s the good news. More is always possible because you and I were created for this very purpose. A true Christian will bear fruit.
How do we move from little fruit to a lot of fruit? How do we go from meager fruit to more fruit to much fruit? If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.
There are 3 ways to grow more fruit –
1. Prepare for Pruning v. 2b
Pruning is done so that those who bear a meager amount of fruit will bear more fruit. New shoots, called “sucker shoots,” must be cut off because they can end up sucking the life out of the vine, causing grapes to not grow. Good pruning creates a strong root system, improves the health of the vine and most importantly, increases the yield.
Pruning must take place in order for grapes to grow. Dead wood must be ruthlessly removed and live wood must be cut back drastically. You and I have been reborn in order to reproduce but the only way for that to happen is through a painful pruning process.
Let’s go back to the purpose of a vineyard. The goal is grapes, not lush leaves or creative colours. Everything else must be sacrificed for the sake of the harvest. Are you being pruned right now? If so, ponder these points:
God does not prune us indiscriminately. He knows what He’s doing because He always follows a precise plan. Since He’s working to make us more like Christ, He only removes what is necessary and avoids unnecessary injury.
Pruning involves pain. The Father’s pruning knife is sharp but it is not designed to ultimately damage or destroy us. He uses all sorts of unpleasant things to prune us – circumstances, failures, ruptured relationships, illnesses and trials in order to get us to bear more fruit.
Pruning can last a long time. The pruning process doesn’t continue for one day, or for one week, or one year. We really can’t say, “Well, I’ve been through that, and I’m glad there’s no more pain coming my way.” In fact, the longer a grapevine is alive, the more pruning it needs. Some of us who are older in our faith may need more pruning than we think we do.
2. Deal with discipline v. 3
A branch will grow rapidly but will not necessarily go where it should. Left to itself, it will head to the ground, where it will become coated with dust, mud and mildew. A gentle gardener will pick up the branch and tenderly tuck its tendrils back into the trellis where it can do what it was created to do – bear fruit.
Friend, are you playing around in the mud of sin? Allow the heavenly gardener to clean you off and pick you up. Sometimes He sends discipline our way in order to get our attention. These painful measures are designed to bring us to repentance so that we can get back to the business of bearing fruit. This is“the best good news you didn’t want to hear.”
Deal with the discipline that God may be sending your way and remember that the Gardener corrects in order to redirect. The Gardener has plans for you, and His actions are intended to move you towards the place He wants you to be. Sometimes He disturbs us so He can shock us with growth.
You may wonder what the difference is between discipline and pruning. While they both hurt and they’re both for our good, discipline primarily comes as a result of sin while pruning deals with the problem of self.
You don’t have to stay where you are right now. You can fast forward to fruitfulness but you must run to Him, not away from Him any longer. God’s discipline is always intended to be redemptive and restorative. He is more interested in propelling you toward fruitfulness than He is in punishing you. Is there a meager amount of fruit in your basket? Don’t spend a minute longer languishing in the muck and mud of sin. You are not stuck where you are with no way out. Allow Him to lift you up. If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.
3. Resolutely remain in Christ v. 4
If we want our baskets to be full of fruit, then we must actively abide in Christ. This is a call to vigilance. We must stay closely connected to Christ at all times. Jesus is saying something like this: “Live in such a manner that you are at home in Me and that I am at home in you.”
v. 8 - This is not a suggestion but an imperative. When we settle in with the Saviour we will demonstrate abundant fruitfulness and bring glory to God. Conversely, if we do not remain in fellowship with Christ, our baskets will be empty and we’ll bomb out spiritually.
Apart from Christ you will not be able to grow fruit that remains: “For apart from me you can do nothing.”
If you have the courage to take a look at your life and can’t find any fruit, you need to work out why that is. Perhaps you’re not saved or maybe you need to repent of some sin in your life.
The Christian life is a supernatural life and none of us can live it apart from a dogged dependence on Christ. We can do nothing apart from Him. All our attempts to produce Christian character will be fruitless and frustrating apart from cultivating a close relationship with the Vine. Have you been drifting spiritually? Are you neglecting the spiritual disciplines? A branch disengaged from the vine will dry up and decay. It’s time to strengthen your attachment to Him. James 4: 8: “Come near to God and he will come near to you…”
Here’s the encouraging thing. Our job is not to produce fruit, but to bear fruit. Faithfulness is our obligation; fruitfulness is God’s concern. It’s not a matter of me trying to get some fruit to flourish; my job is to trust and obey and abide, and He will grow His fruit in me and through me. My responsibility is to stay as closely connected to the vine as I can. When I am faithful, I will be fruitful.
The result of spiritual fruitfulness is that God will be glorified, we will grow and we will go with the gospel so that others will come to Christ.
Be the man or woman God has created you to be. He has formed you for fruitfulness. Prepare for some precise pruning. Deal with discipline. Resolutely remain in Christ. If you do, you’ll have more fruit than you can handle.
It’s time to ask Christ to take our lives and use them for His glory because apart from Christ the Vine we are nothing and can do nothing. When we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.