Sermon title:  CHRIST IS THE VINE, WE ARE THE BRANCHES

John 15:1-17

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, March 15, 2020

 

 

We today aren’t as familiar with grape vines

as Christ’s apostles were.

 

First century Israel was an agricultural country,

with sheep and vineyards everywhere.

 

So, Jesus’ listeners easily understood

his references to sheep, shepherds and vineyards.

 

And in John chapter 15, our Lord uses a grape vine

to illustrate his close relationship with us believers.

 

This is still part of Christ’s final message to his apostles,

the night before he goes to the cross.

 

Here Jesus compares himself to a vine, “the true vine”

 —with us believers as the branches

growing along that vine,

and with God the Father as the gardener

who tends the vine and takes care of it.

We aren’t as familiar with grape vines, as the apostles were,

but I’m sure we’ve all seen a grape vine

either in real life, or in photos or drawings.

 

So, when our Lord starts giving this illustration in John 15:1,

we can follow what he’s talking about.

 

He says,

 

1 “I am the true vine,

and my Father is the gardener.

 

Notice, Jesus says he is the “true” vine.

 

There are other vines.

 

In Deuteronomy 32:32, Moses said of the pagan nations,

 

Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom

    and from the fields of Gomorrah.

Their grapes are filled with poison,

    and their clusters with bitterness.”

 

That vine of Sodom and Gomorrah is not the true vine.

 

In Jeremiah 2:21, God says to the people of Israel,

 

I had planted you like a choice vine

of sound and reliable stock.

How then did you turn against me

into a corrupt, wild vine?

 

And in Ezekiel chapter 17,

God again spoke of Israel as an unruly vine.

 

But Jesus is the “true” vine.

 

And his Father—God the Father—is the gardener.

 

Christ goes on to say, in Verse 2,

 

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.

 

Very few of us are gardeners,

but pruning a fruitful branch means cleaning it.

 

How do you do that?

 

Well, I looked at a couple websites

on how to prune grapevine branches,

and all that I learned was

that it’s a complicated process.

 

So, what did Jesus mean, when he said,

 

“every branch that does bear fruit

he prunes

so that it will be even more fruitful”?

 

Well, pruning means cleaning,

and in the next verse, Jesus tells the disciples,

 

3 You are already clean

because of the word I have spoken to you.

 

The “word” Christ spoke

is what cleaned, or pruned, the disciples.

 

Commentators generally agree

that “the word I have spoken to you

refers to the whole teaching of Christ.

 

The disciples heard that “whole teaching of Christ”

during the 3-1/2 years they spent following him.

 

And we, too, hear that “word I have spoken to you”

when we read the Gospels

and when we read the letters

of the New Testament writers

who were taught by Jesus.

 

We hear the word,

and we allow it to mold our thinking

and to change our behavior.

 

We take on Christ-like personalities,

and we reflect Christ in the things that we say and do.

 

So, as Jesus said of the apostles,

he can also say of us,

You are already clean

because of the word I have spoken to you.

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Then in Verse 4, Christ goes on to say,

 

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.

 

When it comes to a literal grape vine,

it’s obvious that a branch can’t bear fruit by itself;

it must remain in the vine.

 

If you cut off a branch from a grape vine

and took it home and hung it on the wall over your couch

it would not go ahead and produce grapes there.

 

And Jesus is saying the same about us:

 

Neither can you bear fruit

unless you remain in me.

 

If we separate ourselves from Christ, and leave him,

we won’t be able to bear any good fruit in our lives.

 

Then in Verse 5, he continues,

and makes the same point again, to emphasize it:

 

5 “I am the vine;

you are the branches.

 

If you remain in me and I in you,

you will bear much fruit;

apart from me you can do nothing.

 

But, it’s much more than

just a matter of not bearing fruit.

 

Jesus goes on to say,

 

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.

 

That’s what grape growers do

with branches that become detached from the vine.

 

They throw them away.

 

And those branches that are no longer attached to the vine

draw no moisture from the soil

to nourish and sustain them.

 

They dry up and wither.

 

So, the grape grower throws them away

He throws them into the fire

to burn them up.

 

Jesus had already begun this illustration

by saying in the first two verses,

 

1 “I am the true vine,

and my Father is the gardener.

2 He cuts off every branch in me

that bears no fruit.

 

And now he adds to that

this more dire warning:

 

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.

 

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

 

How are we to understand it?

 

Various commentators try to explain it in various ways,

but the Apostle Paul offers a similar illustration

in Romans Chapter 11

that might help us better understand Jesus’ words.

 

It’s a rather lengthy discussion Paul gives there in Romans 11,

so you may wish to turn there

to follow along.

 

In this case, Paul uses an olive tree,

rather than a grape vine.

 

And he is addressing the Roman Gentile believers

and comparing them

to branches grafted into an olive tree

after the Jews fell into unbelief.

 

The unbelieving Jews were like branches broken off,

and the Gentiles were like

branches from a wild olive tree

grafted in by the gardener.

 

He begins in Romans 11:13 to say,

 

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles.

 

And then he continues in Verse 17,

17 But if some of the branches were broken off,

and you, although a wild olive shoot,

were grafted in among the others

and now share in the nourishing root

of the olive tree,

18 do not be arrogant toward the branches.

 

If you are,

remember it is not you who support the root,

but the root that supports you.

 

19 Then you will say,

“Branches were broken off

so that I might be grafted in.”

 

20 That is true.

 

They were broken off because of their unbelief,

but you stand fast through faith.

 

So do not become proud, but fear.

 

21 For if God did not spare the natural branches,

neither will he spare you.

 

22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God:

severity toward those who have fallen,

but God's kindness to you,

provided you continue in his kindness.

 

Otherwise you too will be cut off.

23 And even they,

if they do not continue in their unbelief,

will be grafted in,

for God has the power to graft them in again.

 

When Jesus spoke his words about the vine and the branches,

it was just moments after Judas Iscariot

had gone off to betray him.

 

That’s why, when they were still at the table for the Last Supper,

Christ told the apostles,

“not all of you are clean”

 

But now that Judas has left,

and he is addressing the remaining faithful eleven apostles,

he says, “you are clean.”

 

The unfruitful branch had been cut off,

and the remaining branches had been pruned, or cleaned,

by hearing and obeying the word Christ spoke to them.

 

So, by remaining in Christ ourselves,

we can rejoice in the words he speaks to us.

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And now in John 15:7,

Jesus returns to discussing

the blessings we enjoy by remaining in him.

 

He says,

 

7 If you remain in me

and my words remain in you,

ask whatever you wish,

and it will be done for you.

 

Because we belong to Christ

and believe his teachings,

God answers our prayers

and pours out his blessings on us.

 

Continuing in Verse 8, Jesus says,

 

8 This is to my Father’s glory,

that you bear much fruit,

showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

Judas Iscariot showed himself not to be one of Christ’s disciples

by his acts of betrayal.

 

But we show that we are Christ’s disciples

by bearing the fruit of a Christ-like personality

and Christ-like conduct,

in obedience to Jesus’ teachings.

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He goes on to say in Verse 9,

 

9 “As the Father has loved me,

so have I loved you.

 

Now remain in my love.

 

How do we do that?

 

How do we remain in Christ’s love?

 

He tells us in Verse 10:

 

10 If you keep my commands,

you will remain in my love,

just as I have kept my Father’s commands

and remain in his love.

 

And the reason Christ wants us to keep his commands

is for our own good.

 

He is like a loving parent

who gives good, sound instruction to their children,

to benefit them and help them succeed in life.

 

God’s commands in the Bible

are for our own good,

and following his commands brings us happiness.

 

So, Jesus says in Verse 11,

 

11 I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete.

 

Satan offers temptations,

and tells us the lie

that pursuing sin will bring us joy.

 

But it doesn’t.

 

Satan tempted Judas Iscariot

with those 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus.

 

Judas Iscariot thought it would bring him happiness

to get all that silver,

but it brought him misery instead.

And that’s what all of Satan’s temptations end up producing:

misery, not happiness.

 

But following Jesus’ commands brings joy.

 

And his chief command is love.

 

He goes on to say,

 

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.

 

That is the greatest love, isn’t it?

 

We’ve seen movies

where a heroic soldier

lays down his own life to save his buddies.

 

Or, where someone else

takes a bullet

to save another person.

 

And that’s what Christ has done for us.

 

He laid down his life for us,

and he calls on us to show that same love

for one another.

 

And then he says,

 

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

 

15 I no longer call you servants,

because a servant

does not know his master’s business.

 

Instead, I have called you friends,

for everything that I learned from my Father

I have made known to you.

 

What a precious privilege we have,

for the Lord to call us his friends.

 

God calls Abraham “my friend” at Isaiah 41:8,

and that is repeated in the New Testament at James 2:23,

where it says again that Abraham was God’s friend.

 

And now we, too, have that precious privilege

of being called “my friends” by the Son of God.

 

He says,

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

 

As his friends, we have received,

not just his command to “love one another,”

but also everything else that Jesus taught.

 

He says,

 

... I have called you friends,

for everything that I learned from my Father

I have made known to you.

 

Christ has explained the Old Testament to us,

and has filled the New Testament

with the teachings he gave to the Apostles

to pass on to us.

 

In the Great Commission at Matthew 28:19 and 20 he says,

 

go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them

in the name of the Father and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit,

and teaching them to obey

everything I have commanded you.

 

And he says here,

 

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

 

But this shouldn’t give us reason to boast about ourselves.

 

The credit doesn’t go to us, but to Christ.

 

In John 15:16 he goes on to say,

 

16 You did not choose me,

but I chose you

and appointed you

so that you might go and bear fruit

—fruit that will last

and so that whatever you ask in my name

the Father will give you.

 

The connection between God’s sovereignty and our free will

has puzzled philosophers and theologians for centuries.

 

And their debates

usually generate more heat than light.

 

But Christ makes it plain here:

 

16 You did not choose me,

but I chose you

 

We enjoy freedom of choice.

 

Indeed, the Scriptures urge us

to make the right choices.

 

And we all experience in our own lives

how we pay the price

when we make bad decisions.

 

But somehow, on a supernatural level,

God actually chose us first.

 

That’s a mystery to us, too.

 

But, it’s another reason to be grateful to our merciful Lord,

and another reason not to boast about ourselves.

 

Still, on a day-to-day basis

we must use our free will

to obey Christ’s commands.

 

So, he reminds us again in Verse 17,

 

17 This is my command: Love each other.