Summary: God wants us to bear fruit that will last. We can do that by remaining connected to Jesus, the true vine.
What does it mean to be human? That’s the question we’ve been asking since the beginning of February when we began this series on humanity. What is the nature of true personhood? How can we best fulfill God’s desire for us his creatures, us his people? We’ve seen how God made men and women in his own image and put them in the garden of Eden, intending them to be a people with whom he could relate one to one. But that image was spoilt by their rebellion. Their sin made it impossible to relate to him the way they were meant to. Still, that didn’t mean an end to his plan to create a people for himself. So what did he do? First he chose Abraham to begin a new nation, a nation that would show to the world how people were meant to live in relationship with him and with each other. Then when Israel failed to fulfil their destiny, he sent his own son, Jesus Christ, to replace Israel, or better, to fulfill all that Israel was meant to be.
That brings us to today’s passage. Jesus begins this, the last of his so-called ’I am’ sayings, with the statement: "I am the true vine." Now we might just think this is another of those parables that Jesus uses all the time. This time he wants to illustrate how his followers will gain their strength and growth from him. But in fact it’s much more than that. The grapevine, or the vineyard, was one of the classic Old Testament pictures of Israel and its inhabitants. Our first reading today is one of those passages that refers to Israel as a vineyard, that foretells the vineyard being abandoned as a sign of God’s judgement.
Well now the true vine has appeared. Jesus is the true Israel, the one true example of God’s people. Finally God’s plan has been fulfilled. Here is one who fulfils all of God’s desires for his people. He’s obedient to the father - see it there in v10. He abides or remains in God’s love. There’s no wavering or question over whether his obedience will continue, whether his attachment to the Father is permanent. No, here is the one who will do all that Adam and Eve were unable to do.
But God’s plan goes further doesn’t it? Not only has he sent Jesus to become the new Israel. He’s also called out a new people to become Jesus’ brothers and sisters. The disciples are the first of that new family of God. No longer are they his servants. From now on he calls them his friends. Why? Because those whom God has called, he has justified. Those whom God has justified he’s also glorified. (that’s what we read 2 weeks ago in Rom 8.) How has he glorified us? By giving us his Holy Spirit to live within us. So we’re now enabled to gain true personhood, just like Jesus. Even if this glorification isn’t yet complete, even if we have to wait until Christ returns to see our fallen bodies renewed, we now know that our humanity is no longer condemned to suffer from the flaws of the fall forever. So Jesus speaks to his disciples to encourage them and to inspire them to continue his calling as the new people of God.
Well, what can we discover about true personhood from this fairly well known passage in John 15?
The first thing we discover is that true personhood involves 2 things.
connection with the one true Human Being
The first is being connected with the one who is the fulfilment of God’s plan for his creation. If Jesus is the True Israel, the true people of God then we need to stay connected with him, in the same way that he remains connected with the Father. The image he uses is of a vine with all its branches stretching out to catch the sun, but drawing its nutrients from the vine, in order to bear much fruit.
The picture is self explanatory isn’t it? If you’ve ever seen a grapevine while it’s being pruned you’ll know just how quickly the leaves begin to shrivel up once the branch has been disconnected from the vine.
That raises an interesting question. It’s amazing how many Christians think it’s OK if they stop connecting with God’s people; if they stop reading the Bible; if they’re never mixing with others who can encourage them in their relationship with God. They’ll say they can be a Christian without any of that. Yet if you think about this picture it seems ludicrous to even consider it. We’ll see as we go through the passage, being part of the body of Christ (to change the metaphor a little) is part of abiding in Christ.