Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 63. Jesus The True Vine Chap 15v1-7. Presentation 63. Introduction.
The True Vine
I suspect that there are more Christian cripples in the church than we care to admit. People who are overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy and the more they struggle to try and please God the more their sense of failure is reinforced! They want to be able to hear God say;
“Well done good and faithful servant.”
But they fear the day is coming when they will stand embarrassed in his presence – their head covered in shame!
We need to be clear about two things:
First, God wants us to succeed. Satan seeks to distort our understanding of God and paint a perverse picture of him as a God who has set us up to fall and to fail! And we become so afraid of incurring his displeasure that we are paralysed in our Christian service. We are like a deer caught in headlights, unable to move! But God is more concerned to encourage than to criticise.
Secondly, God makes no unrealistic demands of us. He always provides everything necessary to enable us to become the people he wants us to be. It is against this background that we are to understand the passage before us.
In the last hours of his final discipleship training class Jesus made a very remarkable claim, “I am the True Vine”. The significance of this symbolism would not have been lost on his disciples. The vine was the emblem
of Israel as the thistle is the emblem of Scotland.
The vine spoke of the fruitfulness of God’s people.
In the O.T., when Israel is referred to as the vine,
it is often in the context of failure. Despite God’s
lavish care, instead of producing sweet spiritual
fruit, Israel served up sour grapes.
Instead of bringing pleasure to God, Israel had set
his teeth on edge. There was a deep-seated
problem in Israel that needed more than barrow-
loads of spiritual manure and careful husbanding.
Against this background of failure Jesus said, ‘I am the True Vine’. Jesus was the new and fruitful stock that had been introduced to God’s bleak and barren vineyard. At last, here was a new plant producing good fruit. And that fruit brought pleasure to God’s heart.
God had said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” Matt.17v5. At last in his vineyard there was a fresh, sweet, fruitful vine stock available into which barren branches could be grafted. As a result glorious new possibilities for fruit-bearing had been created.
Why had the people of God failed before the arrival of Jesus? Quite simply, the stock of human nature was tainted, twisted and bitter. It naturally produces stubborn disobedience and selfish self-absorption. Parents will tell you that they did not have to teach their children to say, ‘No’. That response comes quite naturally to a child!
Our twisted natures affects all that we are and all that
we do. So that when Jesus says, ‘without me you can
do nothing’ what did he imply? Just this, ‘you can do
nothing to please God for what you naturally do is in
some way tainted and soured by the bitter stock of
your sinful natures’.
Gardeners are able to graft a branch from a tree producing bitter fruit into one that habitually produces sweet fruit. The engrafted branch then produces sweet fruit. Why? Because it now has access to a different stock, it has a different life-source to draw from.
Now to be a Christian, to place ones faith
in Christ, means that we are like branches
that have been grafted into Christ.
As such we have access to a completely
Sadly, some people think they can produce Christian character without sustaining a vital faith relationship with Jesus.
Of course, these same people would laugh at someone who carried around an unattached branch from a fruit tree in the belief that one day it would produce fruit.
And yet this is their approach to Christian living. They try to squeeze fruit out of the unattached branches of their lives. They invest a great deal of effort into this process but fail to realise that in order to produce the kind of fruit that brings pleasure to God’s heart, it is vitally important to be united to Jesus.
Three things contribute significantly to the growth and fruitfulness of the believer. The first involves our understanding. There must be an appreciation of our union to Jesus. Many Christians struggle because they fail to grasp this.
Hudson Taylor, in the early days of his missionary service in China was depressed by his fruitlessness. He writes that on many occasions, he had tried to fight his way into the vine. Then one day the truth dawned. He realised, that from the very time he first professed faith in Christ, he had been united to him. For his part he had to recognise that union and act upon it by drawing upon the life of Christ by faith as a branch draws from its rootstock.
Are you familiar with the story of the ugly duckling, perhaps you have seen the animated cartoon? The bit I enjoy most is the duckling’s discovery of its true identity. I can still hear the voice of the actor, Danny Kay, exclaiming, ‘I’m a swan, I’m a swan, I’m a swan’. Recognition of its true identity
proved to be the turning point in the ugly duckling’s life.
Many dispirited, ugly-duckling-Christians have never
truly grasped what happened to them on the day they
placed their trust in Christ as Saviour.
They became engrafted branches in the True Vine with
access to his new nature. They became owners of a life
that is capable of producing fruit that will bring delight
to the heart of God.
The second factor influencing our spiritual development is related to the activity of the vinedresser. Jesus said, ‘Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful’. Have you ever seen a vine pruned? It’s a drastic process.
The first time I witnessed the process was in Iran, I was
convinced that the gardener was destroying the vine.
I later discovered that the plant needed vigorous
pruning to encourage healthy new growth.
We often think that God is hard and severe,
when he begins to prune our lives. We fail to
realise that he only wants to remove those
things that would impede the development
of fruitful Christian character
Amy Carmichael recognised the value of this pruning process and wrote:
“Rid me good Lord of every diverting thing. What prodigal waste it appears to be to see scattered on the floor, the bright green leaves and the bare stem, bleeding in a thousand places from the sharp steel. But with the trusted husbandman there is not a random stroke, nothing cut away which it would not be loss to keep and gain to lose”.
How readily do we submit to the pruning of God in our lives? The method that God uses to purge and cleanse our lives is through the application of his Word. And you will notice that there is a significant relationship between our obedience to Christ’s words and the quality of our fruitfulness.
Thirdly, you will see that a recurring theme of these verses, that of ‘remaining in Christ.’ It occurs nine times in just seven verses.
Two Greek words can be translated as ‘remain’. The first describes a ‘temporary lodging place’ and the second ‘a permanent residence.’ It is the second word that is used throughout this passage.
Jesus is telling his disciples to make him their permanent dwelling place. The Christian is to come to him, not with an overnight bag but with a furniture van. Only by making him their permanent dwelling is there the possibility of developing a fruitful Christian character.
You may ask, ‘How do we make Christ our dwelling place?’ First, we need to recognise the spiritual barrenness and bankruptcy that is ours by nature. We need to recognise that our home grown efforts at pleasing God will always be contaminated by a twisted sinful nature. By ourselves the best we can offer God is sour or shrivelled grapes. We need to grieve over past failure.
We must be prepared to turn our back on our old address that contaminated our daily living and recognise that through faith in Christ, God will move us into a new residence.
He will engraft us into Christ and in this new uncontaminated environment we are able to please God. In other words we are to trust God to do a transforming work in our lives. It is the wonder of this new residence, and access to a new life source that caused Paul to write,
‘If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come’.
Of course it would be wrong to assume that immediately after exercising faith in Jesus, every area of our lives will be pleasing to God. Spiritual fruit does not appear automatically. As we have seen pruning is necessary!
Some, in their attempts to remove any element of struggle from Christian discipleship, have foolishly suggested that fruitfulness and growth are instantaneously ours. And of course the idea of instant fruitfulness is very appealing but it is not the picture that Jesus paints nor is it found in the analogy from nature that Jesus uses in our passage.
God is looking for fruit from our lives. That is something we can only offer when we are united to Christ and the quality of that fruit is determined by our level of obedience to God’s word and our submission
to his pruning activity.
Jesus says to his followers, ‘I have chosen you
to go and bear fruit’. May God help us to
take our fruit-bearing seriously and deliver
us from handing over to him either,
shrivelled up or, sour grapes.