Summary: God answers prayer and gives spiritual fruit to those who remain in the Son.
Jesus often began particularly memorable and poignant explanations about himself and our relationship with God with the phrase, “I am….” Seven are recorded in John:
• “I am the bread of life.”
• “I am the light of the world.”
• “I am the gate.”
• “I am the good shepherd.”
• “I am the resurrection and the life.”
• “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
• And in our text this morning, “I am the true vine.”
The vine or vineyard was familiar, not only from its common place in agriculture, but because God frequently symbolizes Old Testament Israel with this image. Psalm 80 sings of God’s favor to his people: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it” (Psalm 80.8). And later, when his chosen people rebelled against him, God has Jeremiah remind them of the metaphor: “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2.21).
So when Jesus refers to himself as the “true vine,” he uses an analogy which everyone understood, and he claims the promises made to Israel as her Messiah. The people of God were once identified with a particular nation; now they are spiritually united to a unique man. Thus John 15 is a favorite and often studied section of the Bible. Please follow along as I read the first 11 verses.
[Read John 15.1-11. Pray.]
Edmund Gravely died at the controls of his small airplane while flying to Georgia from North Carolina. His wife, Janice, kept the plane aloft for two hours, but did not know how to land. As she left North Carolina airspace, an air traffic controller heard her desperate plea on the radio: “Help, help, won’t someone help me. My pilot is unconscious.” But he could not reach her because after she cried for help, she changed the channel and call out in distress again. Eventually she crashed the airplane.
I wonder if that might be an apt illustration of prayer? From my reading and investigations and conversations, I get the sense that Christians easily lose enthusiasm and faith for prayer. We too quickly change channels, rather than sustain passionate, focused, confident, kingdom-centered communication with the Father.
George Muller lived in the 1800s and is known for establishing orphanages and relying on God. But at one point in the work, all the funds were exhausted, and they were selling whatever could be spared. It was not from lack of prayer, however. During the preceding four days they had asked God specifically for help with this dire need. Then on the afternoon of September 18, 1838, a woman who had been lodging next door, came to the orphanage and gave Muller the money she had brought from London four days earlier. So during the four days spent in prayer, the money was already there.
George Muller: “That the money had been so near the Orphan-Houses for several days without being given, is a plain proof that it was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us; but because He delights in the prayers of His children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much the sweeter. It is indeed a precious deliverance. I burst out into loud praises and thanks the first moment I was alone, after I had received the money. I met with my fellow-labourers again this evening for prayer and praise; their hearts were not a little cheered.”
Disciples of Jesus always find their hearts cheered by answered prayer. And yet, the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, the paralysis of worry and the frenetic confusion of busyness – circumstances often tempt us to be prayerless Christians and, therefore, joyless believers.
John 15 is about productiveness in the kingdom. Just as every true Christian finds great joy in seeing the Father answer her prayers, so the faithful believer longs for effective and useful ministry. So when Jesus, here, connects prayer and fruitfulness as twin privileges available to all who remain spiritually united to him, he provides powerful encouragement for us to persevere in prayer and in working out our salvation by faith.
1. We Are Promised Wonderful Privileges
John 15.7-8: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Notice, first, please…
1.1. The Promise of Answered Prayer
“Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” To be sure, Jesus qualifies, “whatever you wish” – and we will think about that in a moment. But lest we kill the promise with a thousand limitations, first feast your soul on the magnitude of these words! This is a fabulous, even fantastical guarantee of success in prayer! Do you believe this? I would guess that few of us do.