15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
Before we get into the meat of this passage we need to consider the context and set the stage a bit. Just two chapters previous to our passage, we see Jesus and the disciples entering the upper room to celebrate the Passover together. This was likely just a few hours before Jesus teaches on the vine and the branches. In the upper room, Christ knows he is on his way to the cross his time has come. While in the upper room during the Last Supper, we see Jesus teach his disciples these humongous truths:
(a) Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and introduces servant leadership – to love one another (John 13:1-17)
(b) Jesus tells of a disciple who will betray him. (John 13:18-30)
(c) Jesus introduces communion – (Mat 26:26-29)
(d) Jesus introduces the new covenant of his blood (Luke 22:20)
(e) Jesus introduces a new commandment – love one another (John 13:31-35)
(f) Jesus foretells of Peter’s denial (John 13:36-38)
(g) Jesus drops the deity bomb by declaring that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through him…and if you have seen him you have seen the father. (John 14:1-14)
(h) Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16)
Christ, after casually dropping these huge topics on his unsuspecting disciples during this dinner, he says in John 14:31: “Rise and let us go from here!” The disciples, I’m sure, are sitting at the table looking at each other a bit shell shocked asking, “What did he say? Another is coming? A Helper? Who? What was that about eating his body? Blood what? Hey, what about the blood?” As Jesus gets up and moves on…probably leaving the disciples at the table scrambling to catch up with him.
I AM THE VINE AND YOU ARE THE BRANCHES
Christ and the disciples leave the upper room that evening, likely dark by then, and make their way towards the Garden of Gethsemane. It is sometime during this walk that Jesus teaches on the Vine and the Branches. According to various commentaries, there are a couple of possible reasons why Christ compares himself to a vine and defines himself as the TRUE Vine.
Possibility 1: As Christ and the disciples leave the upper room that evening, they walk past the Temple. They would have passed by the Temple gates which history tells us featured a large golden vine with hanging fruit, representing the Old Testament references of Israel as the vine (from passages in Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). I can imagine Christ stopping the disciples in their tracks and pointing up to this golden vine above the Temple gates and saying, “I am the TRUE vine and my Father is the vinedresser…abide in me.” Now, there is a whole rabbit trail we could follow related to Christ as the true Israel from the Old Testament passages, but that isn’t our purpose here. Jesus may very well have used this Old Testament referencing architectural feature, well known by the Jews of the time, to define how he is the True Vine.
Possibility 2: The second possibility is that as they were walking through the Kidron Valley on their way to the Gethsemane, they passed a vineyard along the path which is also a very likely possibility. Again, I can imagine Christ stopping the disciples and saying: “I am the TRUE vine! Abide in me!”
Neither of these can be confirmed historically or through Biblical text, but they provide us with a scene we can visualize and a viable possibility of how this late night teaching adventure occurred.
This passage, John 15:1-11, is about as famous of a scriptural passage as you can ever find and we can only scratch the surface on what is contained within it. I have boiled it down to four points I hope you find profitable:
Point #1 – What vine are you abiding in?
Point #2 – What kind of fruit are you bearing?
Point #3 – Why does Christ tell us these things?
Point #4 – How do we abide? – The practical side
WHAT VINE ARE YOU ABIDING IN?
Whether or not Jesus was standing before the Temple gates or a vineyard, he looks directly in the eyes of his disciples – who are probably still trying to figure out what they learned a few minutes before in the upper room – and tells them:
“I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…
Quickly jump to verses 5 & 6 regarding the branch that doesn’t abide:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
AND BURNED! Wow, do you hear what he is saying? Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and Jesus is comparing the non-abiding branches to the abiding branches, Those branches that do not abide will not bear fruit and those non-abiding branches are completely worthless, so he cuts them off the vine and he burns them. Just an hour or so earlier Christ pointed out how one of his disciples, Judas, was going to betray him. At this point Judas has already been indwelt by Satan and went to betray Jesus. Jesus, of course knows all this is occurring and tells the remaining disciples about a follower of Christ (branch) who doesn’t abide in him (vine), just like Judas the betrayer of Christ didn’t abide in the vine. Jesus is comparing the abiding disciple to Judas, the non-abiding disciple.
Think about Judas for a minute. He was with Christ everyday for 3 years as an intimate friend, follower, and disciple. He heard every sermon, went to every Sunday school, did every bible study, he went to every retreat and every church event. He may have even gone to the singles dinner. Here is the unbelievable thing to me: I’m sure he even sat in a quiet place one-on-one with Christ, his loving mentor and teacher, and listened to him teach about himself and his fulfillment of prophecy and the law and he did not abide in Christ. Judas spent 3 years under the personal discipleship of the Son of God and he still betrayed him.
Can’t you see Jesus and Peter or John sitting along the shore of Galilee talking intimately about faith? Or Philip sitting with Christ under the shade of a tree? Judas did this as well. He was face-to-face and sitting close to Jesus learning one-on-one with the creator and savior of the universe…he sat listening to Jesus. Can you hear it? “Believe in me, Judas, and it will be counted to you as righteousness.”
Do you hear him speaking the same words to you?
Although he was with Christ for years, he never abided. He didn’t stay close to Christ. His life was not for Christ. His heart was set on something else. He was not IN CHRIST. Judas didn’t abide in the true vine. He abided in something else.
Are you abiding in Christ?
Or are you abiding in yourself?
Are you abiding in your job?
Are you abiding in your family?
How about religion?
How about your good works?
Your knowledge of theology?
What is it for you? – What false vines are you abiding in? Each and every one of these will cause you to be cutoff and thrown into the fire. For me it is usually work, family, my house, computers, pride, and books that I am drawn to abide in rather than Christ.
No matter what you are abiding in, you’ll bear fruit. But you’ll notice that Christ quickly points out that the vinedresser – who is the Father – takes away the branches that do not bear the spiritual fruit of godliness. These fruitless withering branches are worthless. Think about this – the branches from a grape vine are the most worthless of all trees and wood products. They serve one purpose only…to bear fruit. The withered branches can’t be used to build a house. They can’t be used to build anything. They can’t even be burned for heating a house or cooking. They are worthless. The withered branches are tossed in God’s rubbish pile and are BURNED as garbage.
C.H. Spurgeon put it this way in his sermon, “The Fruitless Vine,”
“If it were any other kind of a tree he would at least reserve it for chopping up to make a fire within the master’s house, but this is much an ignominious thing, he throws it away in the corner and burns it up with the weeds. If it were a stout old oak, it might have the funeral of the Yule log, with honor in its burning, and brightness in its flame; but the fruitless vine is treated with contempt, and left to smolder with the weeds, the refuse, and the rubbish. It is a miserable thing.”
Do not become one of these branches. Do not REMAIN as one of these branches. You must abide in Christ to have eternal life. If you don’t abide, you will fall in line with those like Judas who knew Christ, but never abided. They were never in Him. They will never inherit the promises of eternal life.
Jesus uses the word ABIDE – 11 times in this passage (if you count v 16). You think he is serious or what? Here is the definition of abiding:
a) to remain
b) in reference to place: to sojourn, tarry, not to depart, to continue to be present, to be held, kept, continually
c) in reference to time: to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure
d) of persons: to survive, live
e) in reference to state or condition: to remain as one, not to become another or different, to wait for, await one
Definition e) is such a blessing: Wait on Christ. Do not depart. Continue in him, endure…Abide in Christ is the point. He wants you abiding in him. He does not want you abiding in other things. Find rest and peace in Christ.
Moses, in Psalm 91, provides a great definition of abiding for us (my favorite).
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Abiding in Christ is to rest in him, to rest quietly without fear or anxiety to the point that you doze off comfortably in your savior’s arms – at peace.
Let us continue to build the case:
Now, even the branches that are abiding in Christ and are showing fruit get some treatment from the Vinedresser. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes. The Father will prune you in order that you bear more fruit. Do you hear this? God wants you to bear fruit and he will prune you so that each season you bear more and more fruit just as the vinedresser does with grapevines each season.
Pruning – this is another one that you have to hear the definition: “to reduce especially by eliminating superfluous matter for more fruitful growth.”
Each of us have superfluous matter in our lives and the Father is coming to reduce it! He will. I have been through this. I can speak of personal experience on this one. God does not want you to remain where you are…he wants you to be more fruitful. He will remove things from your life so that you will be more fruitful.
Pruning hurts. No doubt about it, pruning is a painful experience that God will take us through. The Father’s desire is to conform you into the image of Christ and he’ll do that be cutting away the junk from your life. That junk might be a job, or a friend, or money, or comfort, or luxuries, or your health. These things will hurt when they are cut off, but you will become more fruitful the next season IF you are abiding in Christ. Here is what pruning looks like:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
2 Corinthians 3:18
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The word “changed” or “transformed” here is where we get our own English word for metamorphosis, which means to change in appearance, condition or character. Here is another passage dealing with the Father transforming or pruning us:
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
When you abide, you will bear fruit, but God will prune you in order that you are made perfect and complete lacking in nothing – IN and THROUGH CHRIST.
What are you abiding in?
What fruit are you bearing, why Christ taught these things, and how do we bear fruit will be discussed in upcoming posts.