Summary: This is the final part of a series I did on the 7 "I Am" statements of Jesus in John.
June 29, 2003
“The True Vine”
I’m going to ask the ushers today to pass around some clusters of grapes. Would you be very careful to grip the clusters of grapes only by the branch, rather than by the individual grapes, and then simply pick off one grape for yourself and pass it on? We don’t want to spread germs here this morning, so please only take the clusters by the branch!
As you’re doing that, we’re going to talk today about Jesus’ prescription for joy—and His prescription for joy is not to seek…joy! Ask the average person on the street what he wants most, and it’s decently likely that his response will be, sadly, in my estimation, “I just want to be happy!” If the primary goal of my life is happiness, then I am destined to live a fairly shallow life! And many people who set “happiness” as their life goals will then proceed to go about seeking to find happiness by pursuing happiness—and they will fail in their pursuit! Happiness as an ultimate goal in life is a fairly shabby goal, and the pursuit of happiness as a life’s work is unlikely to yield such happiness! Two things I’ll say about that: one, instead of happiness, which tends to ebb and flow with the circumstances that attend my life, I’d rather have joy, which transcends the particular circumstances in which I find myself. Two, both happiness and joy are by-products of the pursuit of other things rather than products of the pursuit of themselves. In other words, if I pursue happiness, I’m not likely to find it; if I pursue something else, I might well get happiness in the bargain. Jesus tells us, at the end of the passage we are considering today, in John 15:11, that He speaks to His followers in order that His joy might be in us, and that our joy might be full. But interestingly, the words He speaks which precede this don’t mention the word “joy” at all. Not one time does He introduce the subject of joy until the very end, when He sums up and says, “Hey, I’ve said all of this so that you can have a life that is just full of joy!”
Instead, He talks about vines and branches and grapes. Somehow, the joy that we all, if we experienced it, wouldn’t trade for anything, is wrapped up in vines and branches and grapes! By now, most of you should have in your hands one nice green grape. Consider with me just a few questions, if you would:
Where did this thing come from?
Did the quality of this grape come about as an accident, or was it tended?
Would I rather eat this grape, or the branch from which it came?
If the branch to which this grape was connected had not produced grapes, of what practical use would it be?
How do I know if it is a good piece of fruit or not?
OK, now you can enjoy the grape, if you so choose!
As you turn in your Bibles to John 15, let me mention that we come today to the end of a 7-part series on the subject “Who Does Jesus Say He Is?” We finish with the statement, “I am the True Vine”. The vine was a powerful symbol, and one with which Jesus’ disciples would immediately identify. The vine was a symbol of Israel itself; during the Maccabean period of Jewish history, it was the vine which served to represent Israel on their coinage. This isn’t surprising; scripture, including Psalm 80 and others, so identified Israel. Isaiah’s prophecy declared that Israel had produced bad fruit; righteousness and justice were lacking. The vine had gone bad; those who ought to have been tending and guarding and keeping the vine were failing miserably. Hence, Jesus identifies Himself as the True Vine and His Father as the Gardener.
Further, as the disciples left the Upper Room, where they had shared the Last Supper together, and made their way toward Gethsemane, they would pass the temple. A chief ornament decorating the Temple was a “golden vine with a cluster of grapes as large as a man.” As Jesus gave this illustration, did He have in mind this the Temple sculpture which they would soon pass?
Further yet, consider the elements that had been present at the Passover Meal. There on the table had been lamb; remember John the Baptist identifying Jesus as “The Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world.” There was bread a-plenty; Jesus had identified Himself as the “Bread of Life”, that which we ought to make the prime staple of a spiritual life. And there was wine as well; now, Jesus points to Himself as the Source of the real fruit of life, the True Vine! Follow along with me as we stand and read together John 15:1-8: