Summary: What does it mean to "remain" in Christ? The imagery of the Vine and the teaching Jesus gave call us to remain in Him and bear fruit.
SECRETS OF THE VINE
One of the perks of my work is that I get to research all kinds of interesting things. I discovered this week that there is a 240-year-old vine still growing in Hampton Court near London, England. It is the oldest and largest living vine in the world with a root two feet in diameter. Planted in 1768 by Lancelot Brown, the fruit of this vine was intended for royalty.
Despite its age the vine produces 500 to 700 bunches of grapes a year that weigh 220 to 320 kg (507 to 705 lb). The largest recorded crops of grapes from the Vine were 1,800 bunches in 1798 and 2,245 bunches in 1807. Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they still bear the sweet and delicious fruit because they are connected to the vine. Life flows from that single root and through out the vine bringing nourishment and strength to each of the branches.
Jesus used several analogies to describe himself. He said, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the light of the world.” Each was a reference to his deity but now he is quite direct when he says, “I am da vine.” Okay, what he actually said was, “I am the true vine.”
This conversation took place on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. At the end of chapter 14, Jesus said to his disciples “Come now, let us leave,” and they left the Upper Room. On the way to the garden they may have passed a vineyard and Jesus would have undoubtedly picked up a branch and said to his disciples, “I am the true vine.” Then he taught them this lesson on the vine and the branches.
Just as the branches on that 240-year-old vine need to be connected to continue to be fruitful, Jesus said we must remain in him. But what does it mean to “remain” in Christ? What kind of fruit are we expected to bear? What are the consequences of being a fruitless branch? In short, what was Jesus saying when he declared, “I am the true vine”?
Let’s study the secrets of the vine together…
1. The Purpose of the Vine
a) Jesus the True Vine – Jesus doesn’t simply say “I am the vine,” he says “I am the true vine.” To what was he comparing himself? Was there a false vine? I believe we must understand Jesus’ words to mean not a copy or symbol; I am the real thing.
The vine and the vineyard were symbols of Israel in the OT. If we turn to Isaiah 5 we will find a song about God’s vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). Three things emerge from this song: God prepares the land and plants a vineyard giving it every possible requirement to be fruitful; when he finds it bears no fruit, God tears it down completely destroying it; and then he explains his anger. We find that the vineyard represents Israel and that the fruit he sought was justice and righteousness, but all God found was bloodshed and distress.
150 years later Ezekiel makes the same charge against Israel in 15:1-8. He asks what the wood of a vine is good for and concludes that you can’t make furniture of out it and you can’t make a peg to hang clothes from it. The purpose of a vine is to bear fruit and only to bear fruit. Israel was failing to fulfill her purpose in bearing fruit that pleased God.
A new vine has emerged now that is guaranteed to bear fruit and that vine is Jesus. What makes Jesus the true vine is his obedience to the Father, in contrast to Israel’s failure.
b) The Vine explained – What is Jesus trying to say? What are we to learn from this analogy? We have already determined that God’s expectation of the vine is (1) to bear fruit. We will come back to this in a moment. Secondly, we find that (2) the branches are the instrument of this fruitfulness. While Jesus produced fruit when we was with us on the earth, he now produces fruit through those who believe in him. We are the branches. Thirdly, (3) branches can only bear fruit in union with the vine. The branches obtain life through the vine; they are sustained by the vine; they produce fruit through the vine. Think back on the Great Vine of Hampton Court: Some of the branches were 200 feet from the root but were still connected. We are 2000 years removed from the physical presence of Jesus and yet we are connected to him and continue to bear fruit through that union. Fourthly, (4) the Father is the gardener. God is into viticulture (he cares for the vine). The branches need to be regularly pruned or cleaned. A vine produces sucker shoots which grow where the branch joins the stem. If allowed to continue to grow, they would suck the life of the vine so many branches would produce little or no fruit. A branch might look leafy and green but to a vinedresser it is a sign to prune. Pruning can be painful in our lives. We can easily lose focus on what is important spiritually and need a painful reminder of how far we have come. If we recall that Jesus’ greatest moment of fruitfulness was on the cross we will understand that this life is not meant to be a comfortable existence. Finally, we see that (5) the Word is the tool God uses to prune us. The Word is a sharp tool; it either cleanses us or cuts us off the vine altogether. If we submit to the hand of the Gardener this painful process is for our improvement and fruitfulness.