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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The True Vine
Text:John 15:1-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The True Vine 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, every nation has some sort of national symbol – in fact, some have more than one. The US has the American bald eagle; for years, Russia’s symbol was the brown bear; China has the mythical dragon, and of course here in Canada we have the awesome and intimidating symbol of the mighty Canadian Beaver.  


Old Testament Israel had a national symbol as well. Do you know what it was? (Hint: it wasn’t the sign of the fish that we Christians put on the back of our cars). No. The national symbol of OT Israel was a vine; a grapevine to be exact. A vine adorned with a cluster of grapes.


That was Israel’s national identity. She was the Vine which God himself had planted. That was true of no other nation, of no other people group on earth. And there’s plenty of historical evidence to back this up. Israeli coins which were minted during the Maccabean age (intertestamental age) depicted a Palm tree on one side and vine & cluster of grapes on the other.


Also, the Jewish historian Josephus notes that the columns outside the temple in Jerusalem (in Herod’s day) were wrapped in grapevines made of pure gold, and the clusters of grapes which hung on those vines (also made of pure gold) were said to be large as a man.    


Now, the imagery of Israel as God’s vine comes directly from the Bible. In Psalm 80 the Psalmist refers to Israel as the vine which the Lord brought out of Egypt and planted in the Land of Canaan. (Verse 9: You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land).


In Isaiah 5, the prophet sings a song of the Lord’s Vineyard. That’s a song about Israel; about God’s people. Similar to Psalm 80, it sings of how the Lord planted and established his vine (his people) and protected them and cultivated them and gave them every chance to produce fruit.


 Then there’s Hosea 10:1 which describes Israel as a spreading vine which brought forth fruit. There’s Jeremiah 2:21 which describes Israel being at one time a choice vine and of sound and reliable stock.  And of course there are numerous passages in the New Testament which speak of Israel as a tree or a vine -- many of which passages are parables of our Lord. In fact, last week Sunday night Rev. Bill Slomp preached on one of those passages from Luke 13:1-9.


And so when we come to John 15 and we hear the words of our Savior: “I am the vine and you are the branches”, we have to understand all that stands behind these words. We not only have to take into account all the imagery that goes with the care and keeping of the vineyard (from the farmer’s perspective) but we also have to keep in mind that this is Israel’s history. A nation and a people’s identity is wrapped up in those words.


The reason this is so important, so very crucial to our understanding of this passage is because Jesus not only says I am the vine and you are the branches (in vs 5), but what does Jesus first off in verse 1? Jesus says I am the TRUE vine. I am the TRUE Vine and my Father is the gardener.


Jesus didn’t say that (he didn’t make that claim) because there were so many Rabbis in his day running around Israel claiming that they were the vine of God. No. Jesus said that because of Israel’s God-given-identity as the Vine which God had planted.


But what happened to that vine? That vine (as Jeremiah puts it) turned against God. The vine became corrupt. It became a wild vine. Isaiah 5 says that because the vine stopped producing good fruit and only bad, it was destroyed by the Lord. And in the New Testament it is said more than once that the ax was already at the root of the tree/the vine because it was not producing fruit. Judgment Day had come for the Vine, for the people of the Lord.


So we have to understand then, that in declaring that I Am the True Vine, (which is the last of the seven ‘I Am’ statements by our Lord in the book of John) Jesus is drawing a contrast between himself and Israel. Jesus was revealing the truth about Israel – that she had become a worthless, fruitless vine; a wicked, stiff-necked, rebellious, unfaithful and unrighteous people who had incurred the wrath and judgment of God, and God would have no more of it.


And He was revealing the truth about Himself: that He was the True Vine, the True Israel. For he had remained faithful and obedient to God; thus He had fulfilled Israel's calling to be the vine of God. He was producing the good fruit of justice and righteousness for the glory of God! And Jesus came to satisfy justice and secure righteousness for all believers by his death on the cross.


And as the True Vine, Jesus was declaring that the only way for anyone (be they Israelite or Gentile) to have eternal life, to be accepted by God and counted righteous by Him, and bear fruit for God’s glory, was to be in Christ; to be joined to Him by faith, and to abide in Him.


Not even a law abiding, God fearing Jew could claim to be a child of God or have any hope of eternal life apart from believing in Jesus, being joined to Him, the True Vine. If you don’t belong to Jesus, you’re not part of the Vine. So that’s what we are going to talk about this morning. Here in John 15, Jesus declares that He is the True Vine. I’m going to highlight two necessities as they relate to this statement by Jesus (the third we will get to next week in our communion sermon):

  1. The Necessity of Being Found in Christ
  2. The Necessity of Bearing Good Fruit


1) The Necessity of Being Found in Christ

First we consider the necessity of being found in Christ. Another way of saying that is: the necessity of being in union with Christ by grace, through faith and trust in Christ. Now. when you hear me say those words (being in union with Christ, by grace, through faith), I trust that you understand that we can no more determine to do that, we can no more choose to be in Christ, in union with Christ, than we can choose to be born or choose to be tall or short or black or white.   


We’re talking about God’s sovereign and gracious choice whereby the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the earth. When preaching on this passage, Sinclair Ferguson stated that the union between the Vine and branches, between the Savior and believers was cultivated exclusively in the soil of grace. All of that is indicated by that little word, by that little Greek preposition that has no so little meaning – that has such enormous, eternal implications: “in”.  


That is the word that is repeated again and again by Jesus. Verse 2: He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit; verse 4 remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Then verses 5-8: if a man remain in me and I in him we will bear much fruit…etc. Clearly Jesus is emphasizes to his dear disciples the importance of being found IN Him (and then of course of remaining or abiding in Him as well).


Now, this is the same word that is used by the Apostle Paul when he is describing what salvation is all about. II Corinthians 5: 17 says, If anyone is IN Christ He is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! Being in Christ transforms us; it makes us new again. Christ (all that he is and all that He has done) becomes our new identity.


Likewise in Colossian 1:27 the Apostle Paul begins his Epistle (his letter to the church) by describing the Gospel as the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now being revealed to the saints (to God’s people). To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


Christ in you, beloved, is the glorious riches of the Gospel. What’s so special, so amazing about that little word/preposition ‘in’ is that it actually means “into”. So that when we speak of believing in Christ or being found in Christ the full and literal meaning is believe into Christ  or being found into Christ.


Nowhere else (in no other Greek literature) is this preposition used in this way. Only here in the Bible do we find this kind of language and imagery of believing into something or someone. Yes, people might believe in Caesar. They believed that he existed; that he was a real man; that he was the Roman Emperor who had real power. But nowhere is it written that people believed into Caesar. Again, that is only ever written about Jesus Christ.


Now, sometimes we find our young people use a similar expression, don’t we? When speaking about their likes or dislikes of music or food, of fashion or technology they’ll say I’m really into this or I’m not into that. I have a son who’s really into the video game Fortnight. And I can tell you that at times this summer when left to himself, it literally consumed his existence. It was all he wanted to play, and then after playing he’d want to talk about his matches; he’d also watch U-Tube videos of himself or friends playing Fortnight. He was into the game – so much so that at times I’d check in on him just to make sure he wasn’t literally sucked into the game J.

That’s a fairly helpful illustration of what it means to believe into Jesus Christ, because it means that Christ is our all in all. He’s our everything! It means we are consumed with Christ. He is who we live for; He is who we think about. We view our lives, this world, and all that happens in this world, and all our relationship in this world from the perspective of our relationship with Christ (which means that we have a Christian world & life view!).


Being consumed with Christ means that it is His thoughts that fill our mind; it is His Word that saturates our hearts; it is His Spirit that pervades and fills our being; it is His will that we long to follow and it is His favor and love that we crave; it’s His humble, atoning sacrifice on the cross that stands as our reason for loving Him and living for Him! 


And so it is His love, His grace, His compassion and His mercy that are ever and always before us – and we talk about it and we sing about it here in church and we tell the world about it – we can’t help but tell others! We are sucked into/caught up into life with Christ!


Being found in Christ is our joy, our hope, our everlasting reward. And this joy, this hope, this reward is something that Jesus has already shared with his disciples. Look back at chapter 14: 15-20. There Jesus is speaking words of encouragement to his disciples to prepare them for the dark hours which lay ahead. The time of Christ’s crucifixion, death and departure was near, so Christ wanted to assure them that they would not be alone. They would not be left as orphans.


Before he leaves, before He goes from earth into heaven to be with the Father, He promises that He would send Another Counselor from heaven to earth so that the disciples would not be separated from Christ – in fact; they would be nearer to Christ than ever before! But notice, in verse 17 Jesus says of the Spirit that they already know him, for he lives with them and will be in them!


By that Jesus is saying that they already know the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit was with Christ throughout His ministry. Jesus was baptized and anointed with the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit empowered Christ for ministry; the Holy Spirit accompanied Christ every day and all along. The Holy Spirit was with Christ and had been with the disciples all along.

And so after his resurrection, when Christ ascended into heaven, and when He and the Father poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church at Pentecost, the Spirit came to dwell, to tabernacle within the hearts and souls of the believers – so that the Spirit of God dwelled within them!


And that is exactly what Jesus means in verses 19-20 when he says: Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 


The main point in all of this, is that this is what God does for us and in us. This is what Christ came to accomplish for his disciples, and for you and for me. This is why Christ came to earth; this is why He suffered and died on the cross. He did it all to take away our sin and guilt; to wash us and make us clean, to that you and I could be joined to Him. That He could live in us, and we could live in Him and into Him.


The words of the hymn ‘And Can It Be’ come to mind: And can it be that I should gain An int’rest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!  That’s the glory and hope and joy of the Gospel: Christ in you.     


2) The Necessity of Bearing Good Fruit

So that is the Necessity of Being Found in Christ. But there is a second necessity in our text and that has to do with Bearing Good Fruit. That necessity is highlighted in verse 2: Speaking of the Father as the Gardener: He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (trims clean) so that it will be even more fruitful.


Then again in verses 5-6: 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. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.


So we note that there is both an encouragement on the one hand, and a warning on the other.   It’s also interesting that this is the only one of the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus where He expands the metaphor and makes a reference outside of Himself. Previously, Jesus declared that He was the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the Door, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, and the Way and the Truth and the Life. But here Jesus refers not only to Himself as the Vine, but He refers to the person and work of the Father who is the Gardener, the caretaker, or as the older version calls him, the husbandman who cuts and prunes the vine.


And what a contrast we see here; and how appropriate this is to consider on the week of self-examination. Notice, the action which the Father, the Gardner takes differs in accordance to the fruit bearing potential of each branch. And on a personal note, this requires every one of us here today to look at our own heart, to examine our lives and to ask ourselves: am I a fruit bearing branch that is connected to the living vine? I am living as if I am in Christ? (We might be able to fool others, -- those who can only see on the outside – but we can’t fool the Gardener/Father).


And Jesus doesn’t leave it up to us to determine what this fruit is, or what this fruit looks like. He tells us. For example, in verse 7 the fruit of being connected to the Vine, of being into Jesus and one with Jesus is that we will be a praying people. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is not a promise that somehow God will be a genie in a bottle, granting us everything we ever could want or wish for -- a hundred million dollars and a hundred lifetimes to live out all of our fantasies and pleasures. No.


Because if we’re truly into Christ, if we’re joined to Christ by faith, then His Word will dwell in us richly (just as Paul says in Colossians 1:16); and when that happens, we not be asking for gold and silver and fame and fortune; but it means that we will take every thought captive, and we will be thinking God’s thoughts after Him; and we will be wanting and desiring for us and for others ONLY what God wants and desires and knows that is best for us and others! 


So the fruit of being joined to Christ by Faith is that our prayers will be sanctified as we seek to do God’s will and as we seek to be all that God wants us to be. Another evidence of this fruit is that we will love God and obey His commandments. Verses 9-10 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain/Abide in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and abide in his love.       


Do you obey God’s commands? Do you love God so much that on a daily basis you deny yourself sinful pleasures; you refuse to indulge (and die to) your sinful desires? Do you refuse to identify with your unbelieving and ungodly friends, and with this unbelieving and ungodly world? Do you separate from the world and identify with Jesus Christ – who is the True Vine?


Examine your life to see what is true of you. Examine your thoughts to see what it true of you. Examine your behavior to see what is true of you. Does your life, your decisions, your weekend activities resemble the Good Fruit of being joined to Christ, of forsaking the world for Christ, or does it look like you’ve forsaken Christ for the world?


And keep this in mind beloved. In the days of Jesus, the Jewish people were a lot like us. They thought they were already clean too. They thought they were already saved. They thought their piety saved them; that their doctrine saved them; that their Jewish heritage and traditions saved them. Yet the true of the matter was that their hearts were far from God.


Jesus showed them this truth time and time again -- that while they looked clean on the outside – going to church and praying prayers, and giving alms and making their religious oaths – they (like Judas) had withered away and were dead on the inside.


Are you withered in your faith, beloved? Some of you here may claim to belong to the Vine, you may think that you do, but your actions and your passions, and your affections and desires tell a different story. I fear that many young adults are living like Samson – you’re trifling and playing with the things of the world, you are playing with fire, and you cannot expect to escape unharmed. You stand in danger of being cut off from Christ, the True Vine, and of suffering the eternal torment of hell.


So while these words are for all of us today – they are especially for those whose hearts are far from God, whose lives are in bondage to sin, whose conscience is seared and who sin freely without regard for who Christ is or for what Christ has done for us on the cross. So today the Gospel comes to you and calls you to repent and escape the coming judgment. Believe in Jesus Christ & produce fruit in keeping with repentance!


But notice, the Father does two types of cutting. He cuts off all those who do not bear fruit. But he also cuts, he prunes those who do bear fruit so that they will bear even more fruit. Although it may not seem like it, here is the word of encouragement.


Every vine dresser knows that in order for the grapevine to continue to produce fruit, it must go through a pruning process. But this is not a pleasant process for the Vine. Some of you may have ridden through a vineyard in the off season and seen what it looks like. A freshly pruned vineyard looks like endless miles of dead stumps – row after row of short stumpy branches and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the vine dressers killed the Vine.


But what happens in the spring? Those stumps, those pruned branches springs to life and they are filled with buds and blossoms, and they grow and produce even more branches which produce even more fruit! That is a picture of the life of the Christian under God’s faithful care.


The Father prunes us. In fact, one commentator noted that the more experienced the pruner, the deeper cuts he makes. And the trimming, the cleaning, the pruning of which Jesus speaks very often corresponds to the afflictions we face in life. The writer of Hebrews refers to it as discipline. And as Hebrews 12;11 says “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. But later on, however, it produces (it yields the peaceful fruit, or) a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it”.


Pruning produces fruitfulness. Affliction of whatever sort -- be it sickness, suffering, loss, persecution, disappointment, failure, temptation, even the shame and guilt of falling into sin and having to live with the consequences of that sin – that too can be a form of pruning (think of what David went through with Bathsheba; what Peter went through denying Christ); that sinful fall was used by God to prune them, to humble them, to cut away/strip them of pride and lust and power and as a result, cause them to be fruitful men to labor for the glory of the Lord.               

So that is what God does in His Vine. He cuts away the dead and prunes the living. Consider that this week, and pray for God to show you where you stand in relation to Him.


Finally, I will end with this encouragement from Psalm 80: 17-18. When Jesus said I Am the True Vine he was speaking in fulfillment of this verse: Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.  Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.


The Psalmist himself was already looking, already longing in his heart and soul for the coming of the True Vine, wasn’t he! He was longing for, he was looking for the Man at God’s right hand who would come and restore the fortunes of God’s people; who would turns the hearts of the people back to Himself!! And that man was Jesus Christ!


So let us look to Him and long for Him as well, beloved. May we all by grace, through faith be joined into Jesus Christ and produce good fruit that bring glory and honor to the Father. Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Pastor Keith Davis

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