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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:I am the Vine, You are the Branches
Text:John 15:5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-09-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 101:1,2                                                                                 

Ps 1:1,2,3                                                                                                       

Reading – John 15

Ps 80:3,4,5,7,8

Sermon – John 15:5

Ps 92:1,3,6,7

Hy 76:2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, when we take the time to look at trees, we get a beautiful reminder of how they sustain the life of their branches and leaves. Some of these trees are also able to produce a harvest of fruit that we can enjoy.

Scripture talks about this too, the importance of the link from a leaf or branch to the rest of the plant. It’s a vital connection. In John 15, Jesus is very clear about what happens to a branch if it’s broken off from the rest of the plant: ‘It is thrown away and withers.’ But Scripture also says that when a branch is well-connected to the rest of the tree, it will thrive. The branch will grow leaves and will even bear fruit.

That’s the central lesson of this ‘I am’ saying of the Lord Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” The truth is that we will never survive on our own. Without Christ, there is no true life. But when God by his Spirit joins us to the Saviour, we have everything we need, and we are enabled to live and bear fruit for his glory. I preach God’s Word from John 15:5 on this theme:

I am the vine, you are the branches.

  1. our life through the vine
  2. our life as the branches

 

1) our life through the vine: Vines and vineyards were a familiar part of life in Israel. Because they were common in that land, we see the metaphor of a vineyard appear regularly in the Old Testament. Israel was compared to a vine, or even to an entire vineyard, one that was lovingly tended by the LORD.

An example of this is in Isaiah 5. There the prophet speaks about everything that God had done for his people. For the LORD was like a farmer who first removed all the rocks from a field, then planted good vines there, and cultivated his vines, protected and nurtured them. If ever a nation had a chance to succeed, it was Israel.

Yet God’s vineyard was sadly unproductive. The LORD looked for good fruit, but He found only injustice and unrighteousness. Psalm 80 sings about this too, how the LORD had delivered his people from Egypt and planted them in a good and spacious place—yet Israel failed to bear fruit. Instead they lived in rebellion and idolatry. It’s striking that when you look at the several Old Testament texts where Israel is compared to a vine, most of them end with judgment on the vine: they would be uprooted and burned up.

Israel failed as a vine, so God planted a new vine, a true vine. And that is Christ. Notice how He says in verse 1, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is the one Israelite who will finally be able to lead a righteous life before the LORD. He is the one who keeps the commands of the LORD in every way. Christ alone fulfills to perfection the words of Psalm 1, for He will be ‘planted by rivers of water and He will bring forth his fruit in season.’

Christ is the true vine, but He doesn’t exist unto himself. See how Jesus connects who He is to who we are. He speaks of the close union that He has with us, his believers: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (15:5).

Let’s first appreciate the miracle of this saying. God had a vineyard before, we said, but the people of Israel did not produce. Yet God didn’t quit the vineyard business. Instead, He sent his Son to be the true vine, and then He grafted us onto him so that we can share in his life. Just like the useless branch can be cut off, so a branch from elsewhere can be grafted on. We are Gentiles by birth, whom Paul calls ‘wild olive branches.’ We didn’t have or deserve the gospel, but we’re now included in Christ.

Like few other images in Scripture, this one reveals how all our well-being and strength are only through Christ. In ourselves, we are dead and unproductive of anything good. What can you do without Jesus Christ? In ourselves, we’re fit only for the burn pile.

But when we are joined to Christ, we are connected to his Spirit and his vitality. By faith, we can share personally in Jesus’s righteous life and his atoning death. Just recall the context of these words in John 15. Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the night before He goes to the cross. By his words it’s becoming clear that only through his death do we come alive! Somehow by his death, the branches begin to flourish.

And in order for us to have life through the vine, there is one critical requirement—something essential to tie us to Christ. If you scan the first dozen verses of our chapter, what do you suppose that requirement is? How do we live through Christ? We must abide. That verb is used eleven times in these verses, in our text too: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.”

We must abide in Christ. We must remain with him. This word speaks of having an unbroken loyalty to Christ, a loving attachment to Christ—like the limb of a massive tree which is joined to the trunk with unyielding force. You abide in Christ by having true faith in Christ, by loving him, by knowing him. You abide in Christ by having his Holy Spirit, for the Spirit connects us to his love and power and wisdom.

Are you abiding in Christ? How can you tell when you are? Is there a special feeling that you have? There might be, at times—you have a sense of peace, a confidence. But Jesus says that this marks a person who abides in him, more than anything else: you bear fruit! We’ll explore this in our next point, but let’s say now that a person who is really remaining in Christ will show this in her attitude and her behaviour and everything that she is.

It’s like how you can look in your backyard and tell that a particular branch has a real connection to the rest of the tree: the branch is budding and blossoming. The connection means an unstoppable and a beautiful result. If your life is joined to Christ, then you’ll reflect this in your conduct.

Before we get there, though, let’s say more about our life through the vine. Because a vine and its branches need attention. Vineyard owners and fruit farmers will know that you can never take productivity for granted—you’ve got to work with your plants. And of all the fruit-bearing plants, it has been said that vines require the most attention. For example, there’s the tying of the vine to the supports so that it grows in the right direction. There’s the breaking up of the soil around the roots, and fertilizing, and chasing away birds.

And then there is pruning. Jesus spoke of this earlier: “My Father is the vinedresser” (v 1). What does that mean? God is the vineyard owner. He planted the true vine by sending Christ to earth, and now He watches over those who believe in him. The Father cares for us as branches. When He prunes, it has a two-fold focus: cutting off the dead, and trimming the living. Jesus says in verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

If there is a useless branch, like the long leafless twigs that no longer produce, they are cut away. The vinedresser will lighten the vine of these useless branches, for these slowly rob the vine of its strength. By removing them, the rest of the vine is strengthened.

But even the living branches are pruned. For instance, the vinedresser may cut back some of the growth from the previous seasons, and in spring he may break off some of the new shoots. That’s because if there are too many clusters of grapes on a branch, it can weaken and even crack. It seems strange to us, to prune a healthy branch, to cut it back. Short-term, there is less fruit. But the vinedresser is thinking longer-term: because of his pruning, the vine will actually become stronger, and it will yield more grapes.

In this way God prunes our life in Christ. God is always busy with us, and He knows when our faith needs strengthening, when it needs focusing. So He prunes. Maybe God takes something away from our life. He removes a blessing that we once enjoyed; He cuts back on a gift we received. Or God bends us in a new direction. The new and uncomfortable direction comes through a challenge, maybe an illness, a conflict. Perhaps we are tested through a temptation, through opposition. We grieve, we struggle, we get hurt.

We don’t enjoy the pruning process. There are times it seems like we have been diminished. Maybe our energy is reduced, our joy cut back. But in all things, God prunes us with skill, for He knows the benefits that will surely come.

And in all things, God prunes us for this purpose: to improve our connection to the vine, our attachment to Christ! This is God’s will for us, that we’d become more reliant on Christ and his cross. He desires that in struggle and loss, we would look less to ourselves and more to him, that we’d come to value our Saviour above all—to cherish that life-giving bond with Christ.

I think that every child of God prays to be made more fruitful. With our life we want to bless other people and glorify God. We have a longing to be used by the Lord in his kingdom—and that is good!

But there is something uncomfortable here. If I want to be more fruitful, and to enjoy the fullness of life in Christ, then I should expect to be pruned. Underline Jesus’s words, “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes.” Every branch: so you and I are not done growing, not done suffering. Because God wants more fruit from us.

Perhaps the worst judgment that God can bring to a person is to let him alone. Then we never feel the pinch, never have the blessing of growth. No, it’s because God loves us that He prunes us, removing what is bad, strengthening the good.

And what about ‘every branch that does not bear fruit?’ Remember how Israel had failed to produce and were judged for it. In John 15, Jesus was surely thinking about Judas Iscariot, the disciple who’d already left to betray him. He would bear no fruit, so Judas was cut off.

Christ knows there will be others. There will be those who seem to be his disciples but do not abide in Christ. Such branches are broken off. We see this most clearly when a person is put under church discipline and finally excommunicated. They are removed from the church and the blessings of salvation because they don’t show evidence of being united to Christ.

Beloved, this confirms what a beautiful and what a serious thing it is to have life through the vine. The Father has joined us to Christ, and now He expects that we’ll bear fruit. This is what our life as branches is all about.

 

2) our life as the branches: Near the entrance of the grocery store is a huge section of fruits and veggies. It’s colourful and impressive: more kinds of produce than most of us will ever get around to trying. Yet it’s a picture of what Christ calls us to bear. We’re called to be fruitful!

So what do we mean by fruits? The fruits are the good things that come from our life in Christ. It’s your generous behaviour, and your gracious words and godly attitudes that originate from your renewed heart. Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Every good tree bears good fruit.”

If you believe in Christ, if yours is a real faith in him, then you’ll see its natural outworking. You can’t tell the branches of an apple tree to stop producing, because they won’t. And you can’t tell a believer to stop producing, because if we truly confess the Saviour, then we want to give him our wholehearted service. We want to bear fruit for him.

The classic text on ‘fruit’ is well known. Probably some of the children could sing it for us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

We notice how Scripture speaks here not of fruits but of the ‘fruit’—singular!—of the Spirit. That’s because these nine are all part of the Christian character; each of them will belong to a renewed and holy life. Unlike having an orchard, you can’t pick which fruit you’re going to specialize in—a person who is connected to Christ should bear each of these, together: the fruit of his Spirit.

And let’s think a bit more about this fruit: you produce it for others! The branches of the vine don’t generate fruit for their own sake, but the fruit is for farmer and his happy customers. In the same way, believers don’t produce fruit simply to please ourselves. It’s too easy for our Christian life to be self-centered and focused inward. We often think about what we personally gain from our faith in God, things like my peace and confidence. But fruit is for sharing. Christ wants us to bless others, to be the kind of people who feed others by our words and works.

So that’s a question for us to reflect on: Is your life in Christ fruitful with good works? Is it full of the kind of things that bless other people? Can you someone reach out and benefit from being near you? For instance, do you bless others by your financial giving? By your prayers for them? Do you bear the fruit of patience in the home, the fruit of kindness for your nonbelieving neighbour?

A danger sometimes is that our life has a lot of “religious foliage.” We can have fine-looking leaves on Sunday, when we are seen to do all the right outward things—but there might be little fruit. Scripture tells us that’s a possibility, even in God’s vineyard, that someone is a branch that bears no fruit. Is there no fruit of serving others, no fruit of repentance from sin, no fruit seen in a life a prayer?

A fruitless person has not known the power and grace of God. This is a difficult truth: a fruitless person isn’t connected to Christ. If there’s all leaves and flowers, and no fruit, you’re not alive in him. Remember Jesus’s warning: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away.”

But there’s this encouragement too: “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (v 5). When we depend on Christ as the true vine, then the branches begin to flourish. And notice the progression in fruitfulness in this section of John 15. Jesus begins mentioning those who ‘do not bear fruit.’ Then He speaks of branches that bear fruit. Then how they will bear ‘more fruit,’ and finally, in verse 5, how we must bear ‘much fruit.’ From the possibility of none to the reality of much: a progress in fruitfulness.

It’s a miracle, and it’s possible. It’s possible to bear much fruit because our God is a patient farmer. He doesn’t give up on his branches, but He helps us. Remember how He prunes us in perfect wisdom. God also gives people into our life who can help us, like our parents, or our fellow believers, and the elders, and godly friends. Be willing to listen to the godly people in your life, and they’ll help you to grow in Christ.

What else helps you to bear fruit? When you know the Word of God. For good reason the Scriptures are compared to seed that is scattered on a field. The things you read in the Word, the things you hear in church, the things you study at club, these are the seeds that spring to life and bear much fruit. So if you want to bear fruit for God, open his Word, and God will bless.

When we talk about bearing fruit like this, it’s important to stay practical. Each of us should consider in what real and concrete ways we can actually become productive as branches. One thing to do is to reflect on your gifts. The Scriptures tell us that the Spirit gives to each member some ability, gifts, talents that can be shared.

Some people are inclined to say that they’ve been left out of Christ’s gift-giving, that they have nothing to contribute. But if you’re branch, and you’re connected to Christ the true vine, there is already a fruit-producing life in you—an ability, a potential that you should explore. How can you serve?

Another thing is to look for opportunities to produce. Let’s not wait for a random moment of harvest, but learn to see the needs that are around us already. See how you can bear fruit among your family at home. And reflect on the congregation, how you can bless those who are ill, those struggling, those who are lonely.

This is one of the principal ways we can be fruitful: we bear fruit for God through our involvement in his church. When we involve ourselves in congregational life, when we pay attention to the people in the pews around us, when we participate in fellowship, it’s guaranteed that we’ll see places for fruitfulness. You’ll see that you can show mercy. You can encourage. You can give and pray.

If you’re a student, think about your fruitfulness at school too. There are people there who need support. At school, there is good work to be done with all your heart, a godly example to set. There is a potential harvest where you live as well, in your neighborhood, or at your workplace—many people are living apart from the true vine.

There is much to be done. No, not every branch will yield a bumper crop. In some seasons of our life, there is less. But there’s always fruit where there is a genuine life in Christ! And like the hardworking farmer, the Lord rejoices in the good harvest of his people. Jesus says, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (v 8).

Let’s underline again how our fruitfulness is possible: it can only happen when we are connected to Christ. He is the vine, we are the branches. You will be fruitful when you remain in Christ—abiding in him. We abound with fruit because we abide in Christ! As He says: “Without me you can do nothing” (v 5). If you will bless other people and glorify God, then you must be connected to Christ. There is no other way.

Throughout John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit has been telling us that it is in Christ alone that we live. In Christ alone we have forgiveness, we have renewal of life, we have purpose, and an everlasting hope. In our text we hear it one more time: Without Christ, you can do nothing. But with Christ, you can do all things—all things, through him who gives you strength. Remain in Christ, the true vine, and you will be a branch that is living and fruitful always.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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