Summary: Broad exegesis of John 15:1-8 to encourage us to be more evanfelistic.
Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
A common depiction of Israel in the Old Testament was as God’s vineyard. For example, notice Psalm 80:8 –
You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
You have cast out the nations, and planted it.
We know how God delivered His people out of Egyptian bondage, let them wander for 40 years in the wilderness because of their lack of faith and then gave them the Promised Land after driving out the Canaanites. In our scripture reading this morning – written hundreds of years after settling in the Promised Land, God is so disappointed with His vineyard that He is not going to take care of it. Judah has failed to produce good grapes – good fruit – and will be punished. They are going into Babylonian captivity! God’s people chose rebellion and idolatry over the Lord. One more passage – from Jeremiah 2:21 –
Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality.
How then have you turned before Me
Into the degenerate plant of an alien vine?
Many of us grew up in a time when almost every house had grape vines. And many families put up grape juice like this. But our knowledge of grape vines and vineyards is very limited today. I also grew up singing “I Am the Vine” a couple of times each month whereas today we might sing it once or twice a year. This morning I want us to focus on the text behind this great hymn – John 15:1-8 – in a lesson about God’s vineyard. I hope you’ll open your Bibles to this beautiful text as we study together. And please take time this week to search the scriptures again to make sure I’ve preached the truth.
Let’s begin by reading this text: “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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” As you know, context is important for understanding a passage of scripture. If we were to read the last verse of John 13 and the first verse of John 18, we would find our Savior’s words about God’s vineyard occurring between the Last Supper and His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. There are multiple lessons to be found in this text but I want to focus on three major points this morning. First of all, Jesus says in verse 1 that His Father or God is the vinedresser. The Greek word appears 19 times in the New Testament and 17 times is translated vinedresser. The other 16 times are all in the parallel accounts of the parable of the wicked vinedressers – Matthew 21:33ff.; Mark 12:1ff.; and Luke 20:9ff. The other two instances of this word are translated “farmer” in the NKJV and that is closer to the literal meaning of the word – “land worker.” God is the farmer and we – the church – are His field according to 1 Corinthians 3:9. In this metaphor, God has planted a vineyard. And, as Jesus declares, God has planted His Son on the earth because He is the vine. That shouldn’t sound strange because in Psalm 80:8, we noticed how God had planted the Israelites as a vine in the land of Canaan. One of the things a vinedresser must do is remove branches that don’t bear fruit. These branches use up nutrients the producing branches need. But he must also prune the branches that do produce so they will produce more fruit. This is not a sermon in horticulture but, since we are the branches, we might want to consider how God prunes us. Perhaps the best example is found in Hebrews 12:3-11 as God disciplines His children. It’s painful at the moment but it’s for a good reason – that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now listen to verse 11: Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Another way God prunes the branches is through the influence of His word as we adapt our sinful behavior to obey His will but we’ll talk more about that in a moment. I want us to press on to our second point this morning and that is: Jesus is the true vine. Four verses later, Jesus will state that He is the vine but He begins by declaring that He is the true vine. And the Greek there means He is the authentic vine – the real vine – the gen-u-ine vine. 24 hours later, Jesus would be dead and in the tomb. Questions will be rushing through the heads of His disciples. He wants them to see that their future does not lie in the national vine of Israel but rather in Him – the true vine. Even after the resurrection, this will continue to challenge them. But six times in these verses, Jesus refers to being in Him. Seven times He uses a word for remaining or abiding. The two thoughts are combined five times. A branch cannot bear fruit unless it remains attached to the vine. If the branch is separated from the vine, it will wither and die. From preacher-lore, the story is told of a man who quit attending church services. The preacher went to visit the wayward member one cold evening. The gentleman welcomed the preacher into the living room where a fire was blazing in the fire place. They sat in silence staring at the fire. After this went on for several minutes, the preached reached over, took the fire tongs and pulled a glowing ember out and placed it by itself on the hearth. The ember slowly cooled off and stopped glowing. The preacher then placed the dead ember back among the coals and it was soon glowing once again. As the preacher stood to leave, the gentleman said he would be back at services on Sunday. Likewise, the branches need the life from the vine to produce fruit. In 1 John 5:11, it is expressed like this: And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. I want to mention one other statement here by Jesus before we move on to the third point and it is found in John 15:3 – “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Earlier, we mentioned how God’s word should have a pruning or cleansing effect on us. But now Jesus tells the eleven that they are clean because of the word He had spoken to them. They had believed Jesus and left all to follow Him. But, shortly before Jesus spoke this verse, He had washed His disciples’ feet. We won’t read the entire passage from John 13 but I want to pick up at verse 10 after Peter had first refused to let Jesus wash his feet and then wanted Him to wash his hands and head along with his feet: Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.” The word would continue to have a cleansing effect on His disciples – His church – as we read in Ephesians 5:25-27 – Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. We now come to the third part where we really find the application of the entire lesson because we are the branches – John 15:5 – Jesus continues speaking, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” First of all, we must abide in Christ. As we previously said, a branch can’t bear fruit if it is separated from the vine. And, if we don’t bear fruit, the vinedresser removes us. Also, if we don’t abide in Christ, we will wither and be cast into the fire. We need to understand this is not annihilation but rather the eternal fire of hell. Secondly, Jesus says we will bear much fruit. Now what kind of fruit is Jesus talking about? As disciples or Christians growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I believe it must be understood that we should be cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. We read about this in Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. I’m afraid most of us have been satisfied with that interpretation. While we must develop the fruit of the Spirit, could Jesus have had a different type of fruit in mind? I believe He did. The laws of nature and reproduction demand that a grape vine produce grapes. That’s what the branches produce: grapes. The apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in the opening chapter of Romans, verse 13: Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I believe it is logical to assume that Paul is using fruit to represent converts or new disciples of Christ. Now turn with me to Romans 7:4 and let’s read this verse together: Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. As David Roper writes in his commentary: “…the marriage illustration suggests the ‘fruit’ of children – spiritual children, that is, new Christians.” And that, my friends, brings us back around to the great commission – which we can’t escape – Matthew 28:19-20 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”