Summary: God rewards his people with effective works for abiding in the Son.
It seems that anywhere you walked in Jerusalem you saw grape vines. We know from inscriptions and eyewitnesses that vines grew up and along the great wall of the city, and it is likely that many families grew grapes in their own yards.
In addition to the abundance of living vines, craftsmen depicted this plant in commerce, art, and worship. Coins sometimes pictured clusters of grapes. And Josephus (a Jew who lived during the same time as Jesus), described the massive doors of the premier landmark (Herod’s Temple) as: “adorned with embroidered veils, with their flowers of purple, and pillars interwoven; and over these, but under the crown-work, was spread out a golden vine, with its branches hanging down from a great height, the largeness and fine workmanship of which was a surprising sight to the spectators, to see what vast materials there were, and with what great skill the workmanship was done” (Josephus, Antiquities, 15, 11, 3).
A writing in the Mishnah (a collection of Jewish commentaries on the scriptures) says that people could make freewill offerings by purchasing a golden leaf, berry, or cluster which the priests would then attach to the vine which decorated the door. It also notes that this was a custom that all in Jerusalem were familiar with.
Faithful Jews also knew about grape vines because God used this particular plant as an apt metaphor for his chosen people. Passages like:
Psalm 80.8: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.”
Hosea 10.1: “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.”
Jeremiah 2.21: “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?”
Isaiah 5.1-2: “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”
Most of us have seen pictures of vineyards, but few have lived around grapes. Therefore, we may not realize how common and significant and rich was Jesus’ calling himself the “true vine.” Simply mentioning the word brought a rush of memories and feelings and concerns to those who followed him. Our task is to enter well enough into their world that we sense some of the power of this illustration recorded in John 15.
[Read John 15.1-11. Pray.]
Last week we considered how the beginning of 2Peter parallels Jesus’ comments here in John 15. Peter reminds us of the precious and very great promises God made to us, promises which motivate us to passionately pursue godliness. He then warns that a life lived for any other purpose is useless. The key verse is 2Peter 1.8: “For if these qualities [character traits of godliness listed in verses 5-7, specifically: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love] if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I then used that word, “ineffective,” as a possible path for explaining the Christian faith to those who are not followers. When people deny God they face a difficult dilemma: life lacks purpose. I even quoted for you many “honest atheists,” people who admit that, without God, life is meaningless. Of course, such futile philosophies lead to despair, and so these folks “borrow” from God’s world to make a reason to live.
In contradistinction to that bleak answer, Jesus offers a life here and now, significant in its own right and remaining for eternity. Such a life is effective if we “abide in him.” Spiritual vitality comes from God alone (who is the source of all life), through the mediation of the Son, into our souls. There must be a spiritual union between the life of God and your life, in order for the divine power and nature to enter you and produce spiritual fruit.
Peter clearly states that there is a “knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” that does not benefit; it is ineffective. But if you are a true Christian, you want to avoid that! You desire to remain in vital, spiritual union with the Lord, so the power of God makes you more like Christ and enables you to walk in the good works which God prepared beforehand for you. My hope today is for us to learn better how to remain in Christ and, therefore, remain effective all our days.
1. Believing the Word Creates a True Christian (John 15.3)
Everyone born into this world is defiled – spiritually dirty. A man and woman produce a baby human, never a chimpanzee; they also produce a baby sinner, never a saint. Babies may be precious; they are never innocent; this is because the sin nature is passed from parent to child. In addition to this inherited, “original sin,” each of us “soils our own souls” (so to speak) by actual sins.