The VineRev. Philip Miller | May 23, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
“I am the true vine” is the seventh and final “I AM” statement in John’s Gospel. The vine is used as a symbol for God’s covenant people, Israel. And whenever this metaphor is used, the emphasis is always on Israel’s failure to produce the fruit that God desired. Here, however, we have Jesus applying this metaphor to Himself because the fruit that Israel failed to bear, He will bear in Himself when He is crucified.
Pastor Miller reminds us that only Jesus provides true access to the living, pulsating, abundant life of God. When we try to find life in anything else, it never really satisfies.
One of my favorite things about the Midwest is how long it takes us to say goodbye. Have you noticed this whenever you’re with people you love or that you know well, and you’re having a good time? You know you have to go but you just don’t want to just yet. It takes you forever to say goodbye, doesn’t it? You kind of linger behind. There’s the living room goodbye, right? And then there’s “Oh, take some of the food with you” goodbye in the kitchen. And then there’s the foyer goodbye, and then the porch goodbye, and if you live in the suburbs, the driveway goodbye, right? It takes like an extra 30 minutes to leave in the Midwest, right? If you’re in Minnesota it takes an hour. Right?
Now something like that is happening in our passage today in John, chapters 13 down through 17. If you’ll remember from the last time we were together, in John 14:31, Jesus said, “Rise, let us go from here.” So they’re seated for dinner, reclining at table. He says, “Let’s get up and let’s get out. Let’s go.” And then 14 all the way through to chapter 18, verse 1, we finally get this.
Chapter 18, verse 1, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” This is the Garden of Gethsemane. So He says at the end of 14, “Let’s get out of here.” It’s time to go and it takes all the way through the end of 17 before they’ve actually left. And so this is kind of the Midwest goodbye, if you will, or better yet, the Middle East goodbye here.
Now, in John, chapter 15, which is our passage that we come to today, Jesus is teaching His disciples and us this secret to a fruitful life that is found in abiding in Him. The secret to a fruitful life is abiding in Jesus.
So grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in John 15:1-17 this morning. If you want to use the blue Bible that’s in the chair rack there by your knees, you’ll find today’s reading on page 901. It wraps over to 902, and let me read these verses to us, and then we’ll pray.
John 15:1: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
In this passage, we have an extended metaphor in verses one through eight, and then Jesus sort of expounds on that metaphor, applying it to our lives in verses nine to seventeen. The very heart of this extended metaphor is this idea of the vine. He says it in verse 1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” In verse 5, He goes a bit further. He says, “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.”
So what I want to do with you this morning, just to organize our thoughts, is break down this metaphor piece by piece, and so here’s our outline. We’re going to look at: The Vine, The Vinedresser, The Branches, The Fruit, and finally, The Sap.
(Chuckles) You say, “What’s the sap all about?” Well, you have to wait for it. It’s at the end, okay?
The Vine, The Vinedresser, The Branches, The Fruit, and The Sap. Okay? Let’s work through it together.
Oh, before we do that let me pray, and ask the Lord to be our teacher as we jump in.
Father, we love you, and we ask now that you would teach us what it means to abide in Jesus Christ. If this is the secret to a fruitful, flourishing life, we want to know it. Help us, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
So, first of all The Vine. The vine. Jesus says, verse 1, “I am the true vine.” “I am the true vine.” This is the seventh and final “I AM” statement that is in the book of John where Jesus takes the ego eimi, the divine name of the Father from the Old Testament, and applies it to Himself with a predicate, a modifier. “I am the true vine.” He says it twice here in verse 1 and verse 5.
Now, what’s interesting is that if you look back to your Old Testament in places like Psalm 80, and Isaiah 5 and Isaiah 27, Jeremiah 2, Jeremiah 12, Ezekiel 15, Ezekiel 17, Ezekiel 19, or Hosea 10, you will that this imagery of the vine is used consistently as a symbol for Israel, that Israel is the vine, and God is tending to the vine. And whenever this comparison is made in the Old Testament, it is always around the theme of Israel’s failure to be fruitful as God intended.
So there’s a foil in the background here, and Jesus now applies this metaphor to Himself. He says, “I am the true vine. The true vine. Unlike the old vine that was not fruitful, I’m here to be a true vine, a real vine, a better vine, an ultimate vine. The fruit that Israel failed to bear, I will bear in myself. The covenant that Israel failed to uphold, I will fulfill through my life. And I will establish a new covenant with God’s people in my body and through my blood as I go to the cross and die in your place and for your sake. I am the true vine.”
So, in the Old Testament the way to God was through the old Covenant and through temple sacrifice. Now that Jesus has come everything changes. Jesus says, “I am the true temple. I am the true sacrifice. I am the true covenant. I am the true way to the Father. “I am the true vine,” you see.
Verse 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.” Verse 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.”
And once again, we see the language of mutual indwelling, don’t we? We’ve been learning about this the last few weeks, this perichoretic dance of love that typifies the triune community of God. Three persons, one in essence in the dance of perichoretic love with one another. And now Jesus is inviting us into union with Himself. “Whoever abides in me and I in him.”
It is in Him that we have life. It is in Him that we find love. It is in Him that we come alive into ourselves. In other words, Jesus provides true access to the living, pulsating, abundant life of God. Jesus provides true access to the living, pulsating, abundant life of God. Jesus provides true access to the living, pulsating, abundant life of God. We were made by Him and for Him. We were made to come alive in His love. He is the true source of our life.
You know, we talk about, in human relationships, we talk about life-giving relationships, don’t we? We say, “These people are my people. They are life-giving relationships. They encourage me and speak life into me, and they strengthen me and give me wisdom. I love to be around those people, because when I’m around those people I’m more alive because they are pouring into me.”
Do you see? Jesus here is the ultimate life-giving relationship. It is in our connection with Jesus that we find ourselves coming truly alive. And apart from Him, we shrivel and die, right?
See, friends, we are inescapably spiritual beings. Just as we draw in physical life from food and drink, from things outside of ourselves, we draw in spiritual life in sustenance from Christ, as we imbibe Him, as we ingest all that He is. He is the Vine. We are the branches. Our life is contingent upon Him. We try all the time to find life in everything else but Jesus. We try to find life in our career. We try to find life in romance. We try to find life in money and travel and family and sex and all kinds of things. But it never works in the end, does it? Because only Christ can give us the abundant life that we are so desperate for. Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. There is life in Jesus.
The second thing we see here in this metaphor is The Vinedresser. The vinedresser. Jesus says in verse 1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” I am the vine. I have life in myself for all who will abide in me, and it is my Father who is tending to, caring for the life of the vine. And by the way, it’s pruning season. (chuckles) This is what vineyards go through.
Verse 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.”
Jump down to verses 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.”
So there are two kinds of branches that are attached to the vine here, and the vinedresser approaches them differently, you see. The fruitless deadwood is removed; it is burned. But the fruitful living branches are pruned to become even more fruitful. So both kinds of branches receive cuts, right? Both receive cuts, and there are cuts that remove, and there are cuts that reinvigorate, that lead to more fruitfulness.
So if Jesus is the vine, and His disciples are the branches here, He’s letting His disciples know that a cutting is coming. They will feel the vinedresser’s knife. The question is will they abide and become more fully alive and attach to the vine so that they bear fruit, or will they fall away, wither, and die?
Now Jesus already knows the answer to this question. Look at verse 3: “Already,” He says, “you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”
Now at first glance, this sounds like it doesn’t fit here, this sentence: “All of you are clean.” But in Greek it’s very obvious what’s going on here. It’s a play on words. The word in verse 2, the Greek word for “prune” is kathairo. It’s a verb. In verse 3, the Greek word for “clean” is kathairos, a noun. It’s the same word; they’re related.
So to prune is to make a clean cut, you see. It’s to clean. It’s to promote fruitfulness, and Jesus is saying, “Look, you’re already pruned. You’re already clean by my Word, which I have spoken to you, which you have believed. You are already pruned. You are already clean.
Now immediately our mind goes back to chapter 13, because the last time Jesus used this word “clean” was in chapter 13. Look back with me to John 13:10 and 11. Jesus, you’ll recall, is having a conversation with Peter. He says, “I have to wash your feet.” Peter says, “You’ll never wash my feet.” He says, “I have to or you have no part in me.” And he says, “Then wash my whole body.” And then Jesus said, “You don’t need a whole body wash because you’re clean.” Right? Remember? He says, “‘And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” Same word.
So here you have two different people. You have Judas and Peter. Peter will deny Jesus three times. Yes? He will be cut to the heart with remorse, but in the end, he will attach more deeply to Christ. He will strengthen in his connection with Christ through repentance and faith, and he will become abundantly fruitful. But Judas, who will betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, who will also be cut to the heart, will in the end, disconnect from Christ. His connection will be broken. He will fall away. He will wither and die.
So both Peter and Judas will experience similar cuts. One will abide deeper in the vine and come alive and be fruitful and live. The other will recoil from the vine and wither and die. Each man is responsible for their own choices, you see. But Jesus wants us to see there’s a sovereign vinedresser who is presiding over all of this as well. The Father’s pruning cuts away what is dead and fruitless and cultivates what is alive and fruitful.
What made the difference between Peter and Judas? He says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” You are already pruned because of the Word. It all comes down to the Word. What do you do with the Word of Jesus, you see? To hear the Word, you have a choice. Do you believe it or do you disbelieve it? What do you do? Do you let the Word in? Do you let it penetrate? Do you let it rebuke you? Do you let it draw you close to the heart of God because to believe is to abide, and to abide is to live? The branches have to abide in the vine if they’re going to live, otherwise they die.
Point number three now: The Branches. The Vine, The Vine Dresser, now The Branches.
Verse 5, “I am the vine;” Jesus says, “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.”
The secret to a fruitful life, friends, is abiding in Jesus. Everything hinges on the strength of our connection with Him. It is that connection that makes us alive. It’s that connection that makes us fruitful. It’s that connection that gives us life. Apart from Him, we wither, we die. Not only is there no fruit, there’s no life. And Jesus has already given us the connection between His Word and abiding in verse 3, but He unpacks it further here in verse 7.
Look with me. Verse 7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” So Jesus has already talked about abiding in Him, and Him abiding in us. Now He’s talking about His words abiding in us, His words dwelling in us, residing in us, settling down and making themselves at home in us.
Friends, words have power. Narratives have power. They shape who we are and who we become, yes? We all live from a life narrative, who we are, where we came from, what matters in life, where we’re going, what this life is all about. And for Christians, friends, Jesus’ words form our life narrative. We seek to live into His words, and we seek to have His words living in us. To abide in Christ is to have Christ’s words abiding in us. But more than that, look at verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
You see how Jesus, Jesus is defining “abiding” by circling around and around and around. You see abide in me, my word abides in you, now abide in my love. He’s defining it with each path as He goes by and He layers on these truths. To abide in Christ is to abide in His love.
Again, do you see the language of perichoresis, that the abundant, self-giving love that the Father has for the Son now overflows from Jesus into us. He invites us to make ourselves at home in His love, to settle down and abide in it, so that His love—listen—His love becomes the most important thing about us. To abide in the love of Christ is to allow His love to become our identity and self-definition.
To be, is to be loved by Jesus. Now how do you abide in the love of Jesus? Verse 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.”
Jesus says, “I have loved the Father and obey the Father because of My love, and now I live in His love and pleasure because I obey Him and I live in His love, and His love and pleasure are mine. The Father’s love is my life. It’s my joy, my peace, my strength, my everything. I live because the Father loves me. I live in the love of the Father. And so it is with you. If you love me and obey me, if you obey me you will abide in my love, because to love is to obey, and to obey is to live in love with me.”
Verse 11: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus says, “Look, when you live in my love it leads to joy, that my joy would be in you, and your joy would be full, that your joy and my joy would flow together into a fullness of joyous and united and overwhelming love beyond your wildest imagination.”
Abiding is to dependently welcome Christ’s life into ourselves so that His word, His love, His obedience, His peace, and His joy become our very own, friends. Abiding is to dependently welcome Christ’s life into ourselves so that His word, love, obedience, peace, and joy become our very own. To abide in Christ is to be tethered to Him. It’s to imbibe the life of Christ into ourselves. It’s to be filled with the fullness of Christ. It’s to become like Christ as Christ is in us, which leads us now to the fourth thing: The Fruit.
The Fruit of the Vine, verse 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.”
Friends, if we abide in Christ, it is His life that is actually flowing into us and through us so that it bears His fruit on our lives. You see this. It is His life, the vine, which is bearing the fruit through us. It’s never our fruit. It’s His fruit through us.
“By this (verse 8) my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” When we bear fruit it magnifies the Father’s glory, yes? And when we bear fruit it signifies that we are Christ’s disciples, yes?
All kinds of people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ in Jesus’ day and in ours. But it is the fruit of Christ that will distinguish those who are His true disciples from those who are not.
And listen to me. Bearing fruit does not cause you to be a disciple. Bearing fruit characterizes you as a disciple. You’re a disciple of Jesus Christ by grace through faith in His life on your behalf so that you are tethered to Him. That’s how you are a disciple and that tethering always bears fruit, you see. The fruit is evidence. It is the fruit of the root which is grounded in Christ. It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is never alone. The fruit naturally and necessarily flows from a life-giving connection with the vine of Jesus Christ.
Now, what is that fruit? What is the fruit Jesus has in mind?
Verse 12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Do you want to know what kind of fruit Jesus wants? “Love one another as I have loved you.” He serves, He sacrifices, He gives of Himself of loyalty and love for His friends, for you, for me. And He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command, and I command that you love one another as I have loved you.” I want you to serve one another. I want you to sacrifice for one another. I want you to give up yourselves for one another with love and loyalty. That’s the kind of fruit I want to see in your lives.
Verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
Now this phrase, “Go and bear fruit,” scholars will tell you, I didn’t see this until this week, but scholars tell us there’s a parallel here. The syntax is obviously parallel to “Go and make disciples.” Go and bear fruit. Go and make disciples. This is commissioning language, and all around it. I chose you. I appointed you. I am sending you. It’s an echo, a little prefiguring of the Great Commission, you see. It’s just subtle but it’s here. You have a mission. You will be my witnesses. I haven’t gotten there yet, but soon you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. You will bear my name among the nations, and you will go and bear fruit. And that fruit means making disciples of all nations, and that fruit will abide.
Weird word. It’s the same word as “abide in me.” That fruit will abide. How does fruit abide in the vine? He’s mixing the metaphor on us, but the point is, just as you abide in me and bear fruit, which means more disciples who will then have the opportunity to also abide in me, their lives tethered to mine, their branches grafted into mine, their disciples; just as you, are disciples, many branches, one vine; united in the love of Christ as one new people, that’s why He ends with verse 17. “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Friends, only Jesus’ life in us can produce the abiding Christ-like fruit of loving obedience, joyous self-sacrifice, and faithful mission. Only Jesus’ life in us can produce the abiding Christ-like fruit of loving obedience, joyous self-sacrifice, and faithful mission. It is this fruit, you see, that proves that we are disciples of Jesus. It is this fruit that glorifies the Father. It is this fruit that flows from our abiding relationship with Christ. And apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Friends, could it be that one of the reasons the church is so often anemic in this world today is that we’re trying to produce fruit by our own efforts, by our own gimmicks, by our own strategy and cleverness and political alliances, when all along, the real vital thing is to simply abide in Christ? (applause) To know Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to trust Him, to surrender to Him, to abide in Him, to love like Him. What if it’s actually, really that simple?
Finally, The Sap. The Sap. Jesus doesn’t label the sap. He doesn’t call it out directly, but it’s here. Let me show it to you.
All along the question that we have to ask is if the branches, we are branches, right? If we draw our life-giving nutrients from the vine, what carries it along? What makes it flow in? If sap in a vine, sap is what enables the nutrients to flow from the vine into the branches, right? What is it that enables Christ’s life to flow into ours? Well, Jesus has told us all along.
Verse 7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
We remember in a previous chapter, John 14:13–14, Jesus said something very similar, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
And don’t you see? Prayer, prayer is the sap. Prayer is what enables Christ’s life to flow into ours. The prayers of the saints, mediated by the presence of the Spirit, is the life flow of this dynamic interrelationship that we have in Christ. Whatever we need, we ask for it, and it’s ours.
Now, isn’t it so obvious, friends, that these promises are not a blank check to get whatever we want in life? These promises are in a very specific context: abiding in Christ so as to bear much fruit. So if we are the branches, and we’re intended for fruitfulness, and we’re abiding in the Vine, the question is: What do we most need from the Vine in order to be most fruitful in our lives? You see, that’s the question, and Jesus says, “Whatever it is you need, I am the Vine. I will give you all that I have in order to make you fruitful. My Father is the vinedresser, and He’ll do whatever it takes to make you bear much fruit.”
And so, friends, do you see in prayer we open ourselves up to the abundant life of God for us, and in us, and through us?
You want more of the life of Christ, friends? Ask, You want more obedience in your life? Seek. If you want His love, His joy, His presence, find. If you need courage to act sacrificially toward others, pray. If you want to be more fruitful and multiply the mission of God in your life and to the ends of the earth, implore of Him. Do you want more surrender, more humility, more spiritual sensitivity? Pray in Jesus’ name. If you want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you, because here’s our take-away.
Jesus is life. Jesus is life. Do you know this life? Do you abide in this life? Is this life-bearing fruit in your life?
Oh, Father, we want to be alive. Teach us to live. Forgive us for spending so much of our time looking for life in the wrong things, looking forward to a vacation more than we look forward to being in your presence, looking forward to when the virus is gone and we can get back to normal, when life will matter. Oh. And all along you’re saying, “Come to me, abide in me. You will become more alive than you could ever imagine.”
Forgive us for neglecting your presence.
Father, teach us to waste time with you. Teach us to find life in you. Teach us what it means to allow you to live through us and in us, so that we can say with Christ, or say with Paul, about Christ in Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Help us to connect more deeply. I pray that you would flow into us more richly, that you would live through us more fully.
We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.