************ Sermon on John 15:5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 13, 2003
"I Am the Vine"
"I am the vine." These are the words of Jesus to His disciples after the events of Palm Sunday, after the Last Supper, after Judas left in order to betray Him.
Don't forget, this is one of the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus that we are studying this year during Lent. In these statements Jesus wants us to think of God speaking to Moses out of the burning bush; at that time God identified Himself as "I Am Who I Am." By using the same expression, Jesus claims divinity, He claims to be God's equal, He claims to be part of the eternal Godhead.
I Israel as the Vine
A "I am the vine." Imagine that you are a Jew living at the time of Jesus. You go to the Temple for worship. Do you know what you see as you enter the Temple area? You see a hand-made vine made of gold with grape clusters as tall as a man. Imagine, too, that you go to a shop to buy something. As you hand the shop-keeper a coin you admire the outline of a vine and branches engraved on the face of the coin. Why is there a vine by the Temple, and why is a vine engraved upon the currency? Both of these are reminders to you that Israel is the vine of the Lord.
B This imagery of Israel as the vine of God is to be found over and over again in the pages of the Old Testament. I think of Psalm 80. I invite you to turn there with me:
(Ps 80:8-15) You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. (9) You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. (10) The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. (11) It sent out its boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River. (12) Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? (13) Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it. (14) Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, (15) the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.
C We come across the same sort of imagery in Isaiah 5. Isaiah sings "The Song of the Vineyard," a song the Lord put in his heart. I invite you to turn with me to this passage:
(Is 5:1-6) I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. (2) He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (3) "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. (4) What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? (5) Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. (6) I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it."Just in case his audience does not get the point, Isaiah drives home the message in the next verse:
(Is 5:7) The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
D Ezekiel also uses this image of Israel as the vine of the Lord. In Ezekiel 15 the Lord compares the people to a vine, speaking of it as a low creeping woody plant, useful for nothing but burning. Israel has reached this sad state because of unfaithfulness.
We see the same image in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 2 we hear Jehovah making a lament about Israel:
(Jer 2:21) 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?
E The message of the vine is the same – whether it is in Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah: Israel was an imperfect vine. The vine of Israel was not producing as it should. When the Lord, the divine Gardener, walked through His vineyard, He found only bad fruit.
This can only have bad consequences: that's why Israel was sent into exile, that's why Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, that's why Israel was replaced by the New Testament church.
F This is not the last word the Old Testament has about the vine. We can turn again to Psalm 80 and we hear a promise:
(Ps 80:14-15,17) Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, (15) the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself ... (17) Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
I also think of the future hope Isaiah has about a branch, a shoot:
(Is 4:2-3) In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (3) Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.
(Is 11:1,10-11) A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit ... (10) In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. (11) In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people ...
I want you to notice that in these texts the Old Testament sees a branch, a shoot, a choice vine that will bear the fruit Israel did not seem able to bear.
II Jesus is the True Vine
A "I am the vine." Some 700 years after Isaiah, this is what Jesus says. That is not all that Jesus says. Did you notice how He starts off our passage? Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." Everyone listening to Jesus knows exactly what He is saying because they know what the Old Testament says about the vine.
First, Jesus is saying He is the branch, the shoot, the choice vine that Isaiah and the other prophets saw coming.
Second, Jesus is contrasting Himself to Israel. Jesus says He succeeds where Israel fails. Jesus says He takes Israel's place as the vine of the Lord. Jesus says He bears the fruit Israel never did or could. Jesus says He fulfills the Father's expectations so that the Father is never disappointed when He looks for fruit on the vine of His Son.
"I am the vine." Jesus says He is the culmination and fulfilment of all the Old Testament language and imagery about the vine. The vine of Israel had been planted in a good land, but it failed to produce and therefore was pruned. Whole branches had been cut off and thrown away. Much had been burned. In the midst of all that destruction comes Jesus, the true vine!
B "I am the vine." Jesus is the One Who bears the fruit the divine Gardener is looking for.
Now, don't forget when Jesus said this: after the events of Palm Sunday, after the Last Supper, after Judas left in order to betray Him; before the arrest, the trial, the whipping, the mocking, the crucifixion, the death, and the grave.
"I am the vine." Jesus is saying that He produces the fruit the Gardener is looking for by means of the cross and the grave.
What is the fruit Jesus produces, fruit that makes the divine Gardener happy? I think of His life of obedience.
(Jn 4:34) "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.And, Jesus was obedient in a way Israel never was and in a way we never are too. He was obedient to death – even death on the cross.
(Jn 6:38) For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
What is the fruit Jesus produces, fruit that makes the divine Gardener happy? We have been put on the earth to glorify God and to live for Him forever. Israel did not do that and neither do we. But Jesus, He came to give God the glory. Remember what Jesus said on Palm Sunday. He said,
(Jn 12:28) Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."The Father was glorified by the triumphal entry in which Jesus was recognized and greeted as King. The Father was glorified by the virgin birth. The Father was glorified by the miracles and teachings. The Father was glorified by the upcoming crucifixion and death. The Father was glorified by the resurrection from the grave.
What is the fruit Jesus produces, fruit that makes the divine Gardener happy? The harvest that especially makes the divine Gardener happy is the saving of many souls. By means of the cross and the grave Christ produces a crop of saved souls. Don't forget, God sent Jesus not to condemn the world but to save the world (Jn 3:17). How we thank God that we see that this morning with the profession of Eric and Henry.
III Bear Fruit by Remaining in Christ
A "I am the vine." How do we fit into this? How does Eric and Henry fit into this? In our text for this morning Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches." Let's make sure we properly understand this. Often we have the wrong idea here and think of Jesus as the stock or the trunk and of ourselves as the branches that grow on and get their nourishment from and through the stock or trunk. But Christ does not say, "I am the stock, I am the trunk." Rather, He says "I am the vine."
What is the vine? The vine is the whole plant – stock, roots, branches, leaves, and all. "I am the vine; you are the branches." Do you realize what Jesus is saying about us here? We can highlight three things:
First, He is saying we are part of Him. The vine/branch imagery means that we are "in Christ," "with Christ," "united to Christ," "one with Christ." Between the Savior and His people there is a unity, a bond of fellowship and love and life.
Second, the vine/branch imagery also means that we, in and with and through Christ, replace Israel as the vine of the Lord.
Third, the vine/branch imagery means that when Christ, the vine, produces the fruit Israel never did, Christ produces fruit through us. This is a very important point: when Christ, the vine, produces the fruit Israel never did, Christ produces the fruit through us. In other words, when we bear fruit, it is Christ's fruit we are bearing and it is Christ Who is bearing fruit in us. So, when the divine Gardener walks through His vineyard looking for fruit, He looks for it in Eric's life and Henry's life and your life and my life and in the lives of all those who are part of Christ.
"I am the vine; you are the branches." Being in Christ, ours is the joy and responsibility of bearing fruit, visible fruit, fruit that all the world can see.
Topic: FruitThat farmer had it right – those closest to us should be able to testify that we are Christian because of the fruit we bear.
Title: Evidence of Faith
In "Living Faith" Jimmy Carter writes:
A group of Christian laymen involved in missionary work approached a small village near an Amish settlement. Seeking a possible convert, they confronted an Amish farmer and asked him, "Brother, are you a Christian?"
The farmer thought for a moment and then said, "Wait just a few minutes." He wrote down a list of names on a tablet and handed it to the lay evangelist. "Here is a list of people who know me best. Please ask them if I am a Christian."
-- Phillip Gunter. Leadership, Vol. 20, no. 2.
Topic: ChristiansAs you move along on your faith journey through life, will people say about you, "Probably Christian"? Will they have to guess? Or will they know by your fruit?
There is a biographical directory of Nobel Prize recipients. Among the information provided for each winner is religious affiliation. For James Watson, discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, the paragraph says simply, "religion: probably Christian."
B In our text Jesus tells us very plainly how we are to bear fruit, more fruit, much fruit: we are to remain in Christ and He in us.
(Jn 15:5) "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.We are to "remain" in Christ: we are to live in Him; we are to find our life, our source, our nourishment in Him; we are to open our hearts to Him; we are to keep fellowship with Him. With the Apostle Paul we are to say, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20).
Jesus tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing. Listen to what He says in verse 4:
(Jn 15:4) Remain in me, and I will 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.A branch by itself cannot bear fruit; it needs to be part of the vine. In the same way, we the branches cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Christ, unless we remain part of the vine, unless we continue in fellowship with the Lord.
As I showed the boys and girls, if Christ is in us, He can do all things through us. But without Him we are as helpless as a limp glove. We need to remain in Christ. We must meditate on the Word, remain steadfast in prayer, confess our sins, and strive for obedience. We must actively seek the Lord and a life of fellowship with Him.
C Yet, we know from elsewhere in Scripture that this is not the whole answer. We know that life with Christ involves God's electing love. As Jesus put it in our Bible reading,
(Jn 15:16) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit ...It is God Who chose Eric and Henry and everyone who believes. He chooses them and appoints them to go and bear fruit. So all that we can do is yield to Christ and let Him have His way with us.
"I am the vine; you are the branches." Christ bears the fruit Israel never did. And, it is our job to bear Christ's fruit. But, we can bear fruit only if we remain in Christ.
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