John 15:1-17 The Vine and Branches WC McCarter
These chapters in the Upper Room Discourse really minister to my soul. The passages tell me about the Gospel, that Christ would humble Himself to wash the disciples’ feet, that He would humble Himself to the point of death on a cross in order to pay for our sins. The footwashing is profound imagery of Christ’s love for those who are being saved. Our passage today has profound imagery that equals that of the footwashing, but comes in verbal form. In between we have heard the promise of another Helper, the Holy Spirit. We have been assured that the Bible we have is completely trustworthy because the Holy Spirit has overseen the process. Jesus has promised that He is going to prepare a place for His disciples. In the meantime, during the age of the Spirit, He has promised to leave His peace, love, and joy. What great promises He has made in these chapters; what profound theology we have learned; and what great reminders of the Good News! May the Lord continue to speak to us today as He has in previous weeks.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Bearing Fruit (1-4)
Israel was referred to in the Old Testament as a vine (and almost always in a negative context), but now Christ calls Himself the “True Vine.” He is not the fulfillment, but an entirely different vine. He has been the true vine all along. Just as God was King of Israel, but the people wanted a king from their own ranks and that was proven to be destructive and now the people of God have had Him restored to His rightful place as King in the person of Jesus Christ; so, too, must we find our life, nourishment, and all things in Christ who is the True Vine.
Jesus has been speaking about His relationship with the Father all along. Now He calls God the Father the Vinedresser or Gardener. A Gardner must do two things to a vine: he must cut off bad, dead branches and prune good, living branches. Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter are two great examples bad and good branches. Judas was dead and was cut off. Peter had life, but needed pruning. A gardener is careful with a vine. He uses patience and a skillful hand to do his job. He only cuts off those branches that he knows are lifeless. When we moved here, we had a couple of trees that we kept in the house. One was left in the car too long during the transition and it died. We threw it away. The tree that I keep in my office got crunched and some branches died. I cut those off and only pruned the others. I went to cut one branch and saw that there was a green sprout coming out. I saw life, so I cut off the dead part and left the small growth alone so that it could continue to blossom. The Father is careful to do His pruning well. If He sees life, even the smallest bit, He only prunes and does not cut off the branch.
The purpose of a vine is to supply the branches with everything they need to do what they were created to do. The purpose of the branches is to produce fruit. A branch must remain in the vine in order to be what it was created to be and do what it was created to do. A severed branch bears no fruit, but only shrivels up and dies.
Bearing Much Fruit (5-8)
The Lord repeats again in verse five that He is the vine, and He makes clear that the disciples are the branches that He has been referring to. Now He pushes the point that much farther. Not only does a branch bear fruit, but a branch that is in Him will bear much fruit. Only two options are given: you are either abiding in Christ and bearing much fruit or apart from Christ and bearing no fruit at all. Not only will those who are apart from Christ bear no fruit, they will have no life. There is nothing lasting or significant that is done apart from Christ. Unbelievers do many wonderful things in this world, but they only last for this age. Nothing eternal is done apart from Christ Jesus.
The branches that bear no fruit are cut off, cast out, withered, gathered to be thrown into the fire, and burned. This is the standard process, but the imagery is intense. Dead wood is good for nothing, but to be burned. God has no use for unfruitful branches; they neither bring Him glory or have any kind of lasting effect in this world.
Verse seven tells us how someone abides in Christ: His words must abide in that person. Then, and only then, can you ask what you desire and it be done for you. The twin duties of healthy Christian living are introduced here. The Christian is to keep God’s word and pray. These two things make for a life that is satisfying, healthy, and productive. To abide is to reside. You must live in this each and every day, that is, live in light of the things of Christ. That is what it means to abide in Him – that every thought, decision, action, and reaction would be directed by your union with the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Jesus leaves the vine and branches illustration for a while, He stresses that disciples bears much fruit. This is what glorifies the Father. I have never forgotten my study of Thessalonians where the Apostle commends them for their love, but cheers them on to love more and more. He wanted them to abound in love. That is what Jesus is encouraging here. Not only does He want His disciples to bear fruit, but He wants them to bear much fruit. Fruit, of course, stands for all sorts of things. It is love evidenced by joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and much more.
Full of Joy (9-14)
The Lord promised, in last week’s text, that He was leaving His peace for them. Now, He promises that His joy will remain with them. Let me assure you, Jesus wants you to be full of joy. The Christian life is not supposed to be boring or sad. It is to be lived in the fullness of the joy that Christ gives.
His commandment is not difficult or burdensome. The Lord has taught us how Christian love works. In love for the Father, Christ has been obedient to Him. In love for Christ, we are to be obedient to Christ. He has told us to love one another, and there is no greater love than the one who is willing to lay down his life in behalf of his friends. Jesus now calls the disciples His friends.
Chosen By Christ (15-17)
A beautiful exchange is made in these last verses that we will look at today. Servants do not know the plans of their masters, only friends are in the know. Jesus has made the disciples His friends and no longer calls them His servants. The plan of God has been revealed to these men, and God’s plan of redemption has been revealed to us as well.
Another stunning detail about this friendship is that the disciples, and us by extension, did not choose the Lord, but He chose us. Because He chose us we must obey His commandments and fulfill our commissioning to bear God-glorifying fruit that remains. When we hear “commandments” I think we automatically think of rules, regulations, and religion, but that is not what the Lord is talking about. For example, Bridget and I love one another. She does not give me a list of rules that I must keep in order for us to have a healthy marriage. Yet, she has certain desires and expectations, and I do those things because I love her. She does the same thing for me. This is a healthy relationship. Jesus wants the same thing with us. He is constantly giving us what we need. We, too, meet His expectations as best we can.
At the end of verse 16 and in 17, Jesus reiterates two things He has been hammering all night: prayer and love for one another. Prayer is a major part of abiding in Christ, as we have already noted. The Christian life is not passive. Christ wants us to actively take part in this abiding. He will abide in us, and He wants us to abide in Him. He will give us everything we need, and we are to actively ask for it in prayer.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) You must realize that your life is in Christ and nothing meaningful or eternal is accomplished apart from Him. Your eternal state depends on Him. Thus, He says, “Abide in Me.” You must get into His word and obey His commands. Live each day while leaning on Him.
(2) The vine and branches imagery is a wonderful picture of our relationship with Christ. It is only an illustration and does not explain everything, but it does help us understand a good bit. It teaches us that we are completely dependent upon Him. He gives us life. He gives us nutrients. It teaches us that we are partakers in the fullness of God. It also teaches that we do not become God ourselves. A branch lives, grows, and is fruitful, but it never actually becomes the vine. So, we are reminded again that Christ is the supplier and we are the recipients of grace and life.