Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 5, 2017
Open your Bibles to John 15:1-11. Today, we continue our journey through the Gospel of John. Today we find ourselves at a familiar portion of text, the Vine and the branches. There is a lot in this text, so we will get right to work. Let us read it, pray, and see what the Lord has for us this morning.
To begin, I want to draw your attention to the first two words, “I am.” This is the eighth time in the Gospel of John that Jesus speaks this way about himself. John 6:35, I am the bread of life. John 8:12, I am the light of the world. John 8:58, before Abraham was, I am. John 10:9, I am the door. John 10:11, I am the good Shepherd. John 11:25, I am the resurrection and the life. John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life.
As I stated, last week, one of the things you look for when studying Scripture is repetition. Obviously John wants to remind us of something as he writes out his narrative account of Jesus. John wants us to know that Jesus is the I Am. What does it mean that Jesus is the “I am”? It means that Jesus is God. As I have stated in the past, the reason that we can say this is because of what takes place all the way back in Exodus 3, 1500 years before Jesus was born.
When Moses asked God what His name was, God replied in Exodus 3:14, “ “I AM WHO I AM.… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Therefore every time John mentions this, he is intentionally pointing to the divinity of Jesus. Jesus is the “I Am.” He is not just a man. He is not just a teacher. He is not just a prophet. He is God. If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, then you don’t know Jesus. For to know Jesus is to know him as God.
The True Vine
These statements of “I Am” are not stated in the abstract. They have context to them. In our text for today Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is making a comparison of himself to a vine. Why? Some people may want to take the easy answer and say, Jesus used this because Jesus wanted to use something familiar to the people of Israel. It may be true that grape vines were common, but if you only see Jesus using a metaphor due to an object oriented teaching strategy then you are missing the depth of what he is saying.
The vine was an extremely important object in the Jewish faith. In the front of the Temple there was a massive golden vine. The Jewish Historian Josephus who lived between 37 and 100 A.D. said this of Herod’s Temple , “The gate opening into the building was, as I say, completely overlaid with gold, as was the whole wall around it. It had, moreover, above it those golden vines, from which depended grape-clusters as tall as a man” Likewise, it is said that some of the coins of Israel had the symbol of a grape vine. The vine was a symbol of Israel. But why was this?
Because this is one of several ways that God referred to Israel. Psalm 80:8, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.” This is a reference to when God delivered the Israelites out of the hand of Pharaoh and took them to the Promise Land.
Unfortunately, this vine of Israel didn’t do so well. It was a rebellious vine. The people of Israel did not trust in the Lord and obey his word. Isaiah 5:7 says, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” Likewise 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? 22Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord GOD.” The vine of Israel did not produce the fruit that God desired. God desired justice, but found bloodshed. God desired the fruit of righteousness, but found nothing.
If Israel was the vine of God, why were they so degenerate? Because the nation of Israel is not the true vine, they are merely a shadow of the true vine. Jesus is the true vine. Jesus is the fulfillment of justice, both in His upholding of the law and the payment of our debt. It is through the true vine of Christ that God is just and the justifier. Likewise, unlike Israel, Jesus is perfectly righteous. In fact he is the righteousness of God as it says in Romans 3:22 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, that we so desperately need. Unlike Israel, Jesus is not rebellious and wild, but perfectly obedient. Just a few verses early in John 14:31 Jesus says, “but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Therefore, Jesus is a better Israel. And no longer are God's chosen people those who abide in Israel, but God chosen people are those who abide in Jesus Christ. As as Jesus says, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.
My Father is the Vinedresser
So if Jesus is the vine, what does this make God the Father? Jesus tells us that the Father is the vinedresser. What does that mean? A vinedresser is the one who is ultimately in control of the vine. The vinedresser is sovereign over the vine. It is His vine to do with it as he pleases. He has authority over the vine. The ultimate goal of a vinedresser is fruit. This is why the vinedresser planted the vine and cares for the vine, for the purpose of producing fruit.
So what is the fruit that the Father desires? I believe the answer is found in verse 8-10, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” The ultimate fruit is the glory of God. This is the chief end, or purpose, of the vine and its branches. This is why the vine of Christ was planted upon the earth, to glorify God.
So how is God glorified, by proving to be disciples of Jesus. What does it mean to prove something? It means to display evidence supporting. Imagine two 8 year old boys playing together, and one boy says to the other, I can throw this rock and hit that tree. The other boy says prove it. The other boy winds up and lets it fly, nailing the tree dead center. He has proven to the other boy that he has in him the power to hit that tree with a rock. God is glorified, when the world looks upon people and recognizes that we have the power of Christ within us. And what is this power? It is the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus just spoke of in John 14 that produces in us the power to walk in God's way, the power to obey the commands of Christ. So the fruit is obedience to Christ, that proves that we are his disciples, that ultimately gives God glory.
If the vine does not produce fruit, it is of no use to the vinedresser, for it is not fulling its designed purpose. This is why the nation of Israel, and the Old Covenant was declared to be obsolete; the nation of Israel was not producing fruit. Perhaps the best illustration of the rejection of Israel is found in Mark 11:12-14 with the cursing of a fig tree by Christ. This is what it says, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Verse 20, “As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” Jesus desired fruit, however, none was found, therefore the tree was of no use to him, so it was cursed. This action by Jesus seems odd if you don’t understand that it is a picture of God’s rejection of Israel. God came in the person of Jesus and found no fruit in the nation of Israel. Why was there no fruit? Because it was not the season for fruit. The season for fruit was to follow the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In our text this morning, the vinedresser has two roles: First, the removal of fruitless branches. Second, the pruning of fruit bearing branches.
The Removal of the Fruitless Branch
So let us being by talking about the branches that the vinedresser removes. Who is Jesus referring to? The verse says that God takes away every branch that does not bear fruit. So the people that are taken away are those who bear zero fruit, not some fruit, or a little fruit, but no fruit. Once again, what is fruit? Fruit is the glory of God through obedience to Christ. The life of the fruitless branch is a life in complete rebellion to the will of God. It is a life that has zero evidence that proves that you are a disciple. It shows not sign of life. It is dead.
The end result of these branches that are cut off is found in verse 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.” I don’t' know about you, but this sounds a lot like hell.
Now the question becomes are these fruitless non-abiding branches people who were once Christians and lost their salvation, or were they never Christians. In think the answer is clear, they were never Christians. The reason I can say this is because all Christians bare fruit. If there is zero fruit, then they were never alive in Christ.
Likewise, if we argue that this text teaches that you can lose your salvation then this position undermines previous text that we have already read in the Gospel of John. Specifically, John 6:37-40, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” And also John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” Not to mention numerous other text that support the perseverance of the saints.
So who is Jesus talking about? He is talking about the Judas's of the world, hypocrites. Those who claim Christ, but who are never Christians. Judas had walked with Jesus for almost three years, and it wasn't until this very night in the upper room that the branch of Judas was cut off from the vine of Christ. Sure Judas may have looked like all the other disciples on the outside, but inside he was a dead branch bearing no fruit of for the glory of God. Real obedience flows out of a heart that loves Jesus. Judas did not love Jesus.
The visible Church has always and will always have fake Christians amongst them. I have no doubt that we have some amongst us right now. It is quite possible that they don't even know that they are fake Christians. Some day, however, they will be cut off from Christ, and sent to be burned in the the fire that is never quenched.
The Pruning of the Fruit Bearing Branch
The second purpose of the Vinedresser is to prune the branches. Now the branches that are pruned are those who are already bearing fruit. It may not be much, but there is no doubt that there is fruit to be seen, which means there is life coursing through their vains. These branches are of course real authentic Christians. They are the the 11 disciples that remain in the upper room with Jesus. They have been loved by Christ and will love Christ in return.
Now notice, as we stated earlier, the ultimate goal of the vinedresser is fruit. Therefore, he will do what he needs to do to obtain more fruit. Therefore, no fruit bearing branch is off limits. Every branch that bears fruit will be pruned. If you are a Christian, God will prune you. In fact, if there is no pruning, it may be because you are not a true Christian and it is merely a matter of time before you are cut off entirely.
But what does it mean, God will prune you? What is he doing when he is pruning a Christian? Once again, remember that fruit is glorifying God through obeying him. When there is a part of your life that is not in line with God's will, God desires to prune it away. He wants to remove all non God glorifying things in your life. Perhaps it is an adulterous relationship, perhaps it is inappropriate friendships, perhaps it is drunkenness, perhaps it is watching inappropriate shows, perhaps it is pride, perhaps it is gossip, perhaps it is greed. If there is something in your life that undermines your ability to obey Christ, God wants it gone.
The Tool of God in the Pruning of Christians
The question is, how does God do this? How does he prune the life of a Christian? Does it happen while we are sleeping? No, he does it through His Word. Look at verse 7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” They key to bearing fruit is abiding in Christ. This begins at the moment of conversion. The moment that you repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, but it does not end there. It is merely the beginning. To abide in Christ means that the Words of Christ abide in you. To abide means to dwell. To abide in Christ means that the Word of God takes up residence in your heart.
Palms 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Later on this night, Jesus will pray in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The way that Christians bear more fruit in their life, is by hearing and doing the Word of God. The pruning shears of God is the Word of God.
Once again, this is why we do what we do at Cornerstone Church. This is why every week we open up the Bible and meditate on it for 45 minutes. This is why we encourage all of you to come to Sunday School and join a Bible study. This is why we want all of you to read the entire Bible this year and every year for the rest of your life. So that you can bear more fruit for the glory of God. However, we must remember that it is not just about reading the word of God, it is about living the Word of God. As disciples were are called to do all the Christ commands.
Your Joy May Be Full
And here is one of the best parts. Being pruned by God, may hurt as he cuts away things in your life that feel like a part of you, but it is for your joy. Look at verse 11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.“
Abiding in Christ by the Word abiding in you, is not a burden, it is the pursuit of joy. Too many of you think that submitting to God's will is is a killjoy. That God is a mean old man sitting on the front porch yelling at the kids playing in his yard to be quiet. This is not the case at all, God is a God who desires to unleash you in becoming who he designed you to be. God desires you to reach your full potential, to be entirely free from sin and things of this world that weigh you down. He desires you to be full of joy. And true joy is only found in Christ, and Christ is on every page of this book. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Therefore, if you wan to have an abundance of joy and to bear fruit 30, 60, or 100 fold, saturate yourself with knowing and living the Word of the Lord.