Read at beginning of service:
Psalm 1:1-6 (NIV)
1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
John 15:1-8 (NIV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
In Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine which is about 1,000 years old. This grapevine has one root which is at least two feet thick, and some of the branches are 200 feet long. Despite its age the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Although 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. (quoted in “The Fruit of the Vine” a message by D. Greg Ebie)
Jesus promises to do the same for us. He is the “true vine” bringing life to each of the branches. The purpose of the vine is to bring nourishment to the branches in order that they might produce fruit. When separated from the vine the branches wither and die. The vitality of our spiritual life is dependent upon our connection to Christ the “true vine.”
For the next few weeks I?m going to be talking about the importance and relevance of this illustration Jesus uses to describe His relationship with His followers. What does it mean to be “People of the Vine” – that is the branches stemming out from the trunk of the vine which is Christ? Why would Jesus choose to use this illustration?
As I begin this morning I believe that each of us must answer two questions. First, are we connected to the vine, or is the life of Christ flowing within us? Secondly, if we are connected to the vine and we are joined to Christ, then how much fruit are we producing through our lives; is there no fruit, some fruit, or an abundance of fruit? One of the primary focuses of this discourse of Christ is that people of the vine produce fruit. People of the vine are fruit-bearers?
JESUS IS THE SOURCE OF LIFE. (Verse 1)
John 15:1 (NIV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the true vine.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus may have said that? I think I may know why. Think with me a moment about what has happened and where Jesus and His disciples most likely are.
If you look at the context of the text you?ll discover quickly that Jesus is speaking to the disciples on the night of His betrayal. But before that happens Jesus and the disciples have been in the upper room. As they celebrated the Passover in the upper room, Jesus had washed the disciples feet and spoke with them about the events that were to take place. After a great deal of discussion with His disciples Jesus ends chapter 14 saying, “Come now; let us leave.”
Matthew, another one of the disciples records in his gospel account that following the Passover meal Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn and then went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). I believe that as Jesus and His disciples are making their way from the upper room to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus continued to instruct this group who had walked with Him for the last three years. Jesus knew that time was running out, but He still had much that He wanted to share with them.
John 15 continues Jesus? teaching with, “I am the true vine” Jesus was a master teacher. He didn?t talk over people?s heads; He used things which were common to those He taught so that they could understand His teaching. So I believe that as Jesus and the disciples were making their way they walked beside something familiar to everyone in Jerusalem?a grapevine.
In this way then Jesus can walk up to the vine and tell His disciples, “I am the true vine.” Now He had their attention; now Jesus was using something that they were familiar with and could understand as an “illustrated sermon.” But why would Jesus not just say ? “I am the vine”? Why did He have to qualify this statement by adding the modifier “true”? In order to understand the answer to this question we have to have a little History lesson.
Grapes are the most widely grown fruit in the world. Grapes have been cultivated as far back as ancient Egypt, 2,500 years before the birth of Christ. The grapevine was a symbol of ancient Israel and is part of Israel?s national emblem. Grapes have always been central to Israel?s agriculture and economy. The climate of Israel is ideal for viticulture. The grapevine represented Israel?s fruitfulness in doing God?s work on earth. This symbol was on Israeli coins during the between-the-testaments time of the Maccabees. There are several Old Testament references that refer to Israel as a vine?
Psalm 80:8 (NIV)
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
Psalms 80:14-16 (NIV)
14 Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, 15 the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. 16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.
In many passages throughout scripture the illustration of the vine is used to describe God?s “planting” of His chosen people amongst the nations of the earth to be His vehicle of “bearing fruit”. People who would bear fruit of righteousness and bring glory to God. However, we also discover throughout the Old Testament that Israel failed to bear good fruit in keeping with God?s desires?
Isaiah 5:1-10 (NIV)
1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. 8 Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. 9 The LORD Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. 10 A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a homer of seed only an ephah of grain.”
Jeremiah 2:21 (NIV)
21 I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?
In the time of Jesus, a golden vine hung over the entrance of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, a gift from Herod. It was made of delicately-twisted gold wire and beads. Israel appeared outwardly healthy, but was spiritually withered. Jesus, in one of many “I am” statements that are recorded in the gospel of John declares, “I am the true vine” In other words He is the one who would fulfill the father?s desire of gathering the nations to Him. He is the one who will fulfill the father?s desire of bearing fruit of righteousness!
In the upper room Jesus had told His disciples some things that would be difficult to understand, but now Jesus could help them to comprehend what He had told them. Two things stand out from what Jesus had told His disciples in the upper room from John 14.
First, Jesus had told His disciples that He was “the life” (John 14:6). Second He said that the Holy Spirit, the “allon parakleton” – that is another of the same kind coming with strength, would come to be in them (John 14:16-18).
John 14:16-18 (NIV)
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Jesus clarifies the upper room teaching with an illustration that we can all understand by saying “I am the true vine.”
I remember learning about plants in science. I remember doing a simple experiment with a piece of celery. It started with an unhealthy and withered piece of celery that was put into a glass of colored water. Now how many of you know what happened? That celery took a big drink of water and stood back up; it looked healthy again (except maybe for where the veins within the stalk had turned red from the food coloring). It could be seen that life had been renewed within that piece of celery.
Everyone living in Jerusalem, and even those rough fishermen among the twelve who walked with Jesus knew that life flowed from the vine into the branches. So Jesus uses this common sight around Jerusalem to bring further understanding to what He had said earlier.
Therefore, Jesus is showing His disciples and us that He is the source of spiritual life. Jesus is the source of life, a resource made available by the Holy Spirit when He comes to dwell within the believer. John spells it out plainly for us:
1 John 5:11-12 (NIV)
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Now before we move any further we need to stop and deal with the first question asked at the beginning of this message, “Are you connected to the vine?” If you are not connected to Jesus through the forgiveness of your sin, if you have not let Jesus rescue you from drowning in a turbulent sea of sin, then you are as good as dead. The life you are living is empty and meaningless because you aren?t connected to the source of life.
Romans 6:23 (NIV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The choice is yours. You can either stay the way you are, or you can choose to be grafted into the life giving vine. All the other vines are lifeless; the branches have no real fruit because there is no life in the vine. But when you are connected to Jesus, suddenly everything will be made new and alive.
THE LIFE SOURCE PRODUCES FRUIT. (Verses 2-8)
John 15:2-8 (NIV)
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Jesus is the life source and His life within the believer is for one purpose?to produce fruit. The question we need to think about for ourselves is, “How much fruit is being produced, is there no fruit, some fruit, or an abundance of fruit?”
Remember, Jesus is talking with His disciples. Jesus is the true vine and His disciples and those who believe in Him are the branches. So when we think about the quantity of fruit in an individual?s life we are talking about believers? that is those connected to the vine. As we said, anyone who is not connected to Jesus cannot bear fruit.
Therefore, the question as to how much fruit is being produced in your life does not deal with your salvation; if you have been saved then you are connected to the vine. Rather the quantity of fruit deals with the issue of what you are doing with the life source that is within you.
Now before we deal with that question, let?s quickly THINK ABOUT THE FRUIT. Some of you may be wondering exactly what is this fruit we are supposed to be producing.
Some have taught that the fruit Jesus is talking about is OBEDIENCE. This fits with the context, those who love Christ will obey His commands.
Others have taught that the fruit is to REPRODUCE OTHER BELIEVERS. One of the signs of life is that it reproduces itself. Fruit carries within it the seed which has the ability to reproduce.
Others have taught that the fruit is the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is the fruitful evidence that you are connected to the vine.
So which one is it? Let?s have Jesus answer that question.
Matthew 7:16-18 (NIV)
16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Jesus says you can recognize the fruit; we are fruit inspectors. So let?s check out the fruit.
? Is OBEDIENCE to Christ?s word something that the life of Christ would produce within the life of a believer. YES!
? Is REPRODUCTION of new believers something that Jesus? life within you will yield as fruit? YES!
? Is the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT a byproduct of Christ?s life at work within a believer? YES!
So what is the fruit of the believers? life that is connected to Jesus, the true life-giving vine? ALL OF THE ABOVE! Those who are Christ?s branches should desire to produce more and more of ALL His fruit.
That brings us back to the question of quantity. How much fruit is your life producing; is there no fruit, some fruit or an abundance of fruit?
The branches that produce NO FRUIT. (Verses 2a, 6)
Does it surprise you that there can be branches connected to the vine which produce no fruit? I believe Jesus identifies two such branches. On the surface we may think both receive the same treatment by the gardener. The fruitless branch is cut off and thrown into the fire; isn?t that right? Don?t jump to any quick conclusions; look with me at what Jesus said.
John 15:2 (NIV)
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
John 15:6 (NIV)
6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
Now lets start by asking, “Are these the same kind of branches?” Both are branches without fruit but notice the difference between the two. In verse two Jesus says the branch is “IN ME,” but in verse six the branch “DOES NOT REMAIN IN ME.”
Jesus said the Father?s desire is that all who are in Christ will produce fruit bringing glory to the Father. The Father receives no glory by cutting off branches that are in Christ. “Cuts off” is probably not the best translation. The greek word “airei” can be translated this way but can also be translated lift up, or take up, or bear up. In both the Bible and Greek literature, “airei” never means ?cut off? (in the way that we interpret it!) Therefore when some Bibles render the word as ?takes away? or ?cut off? in John 15, it is an unfortunate interpretation rather than a clear translation. “Lifts up suggests an image of a vinedresser leaning over to lift up a branch. New branches (in grapevines) have a tendency to trail down and grow along the ground, but they don?t bear fruit down there. When branches grow along the ground, the leaves get coated in dust. When it rains, they get muddy and mildewed. The branch becomes sick and useless. The branch is too valuable to be cut off, however. So the vinedresser goes through the vineyard with a bucket of water looking for those branches. He lifts them up and washes them off then wraps them around the trellis or ties them up. And pretty soon they?re thriving. Picture Jesus demonstrating this to his disciples as they are walking through the vineyards on the way to Mt. Olives. Perhaps he noticed a branch trailing along the ground and pointed it out to them. God?s desire is to lift up and cleanse those branches in the vine (Christ) which aren?t producing fruit. Why aren?t they producing fruit? Because they are covered by sin. The cleansing and lifting up is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It is the disciplining of chastening acts of God. How long we are disciplined is up to us. When God reveals a sin or sins in our life it is important to confess those sins and allow Him to cleanse us so that He may lit us up off the ground.
Left to ourselves we all would remain branches IN CHRIST, but unfruitful because we are growing in the dirt of this world. The life source is within us; God?s Holy spirit is in our lives, but God does more to make us fruitful. God lifts us up; He disciplines and trains us in order that we might grow and produce fruit. How does God lift up these fruitless vines?
He places us in relationship with other believers. We need each other to grow effectively and be fruitful; none of us can make it alone. I believe this is the single most important thing that God does for us. Being a part of a church and sharing in loving relationships with other Christians is vital to your spiritual health.
He instructs us in His Word. The Holy Spirit is our teacher; through our personal devotions, sermons, teaching and interaction in small groups the Holy Spirit will cleanse and strengthen our lives through the Word of God.
God renews our minds so that we no longer conform to the ways of this world but pursue His kingdom; He teaches us to hate sin and desire righteousness in our lives. When we have sin in our lives we want to be restored in our relationship with God and He is faithful to forgive us.
If we don?t let God lift us up then we are in danger of becoming a fruitless branch that chooses not to remain in Christ (vs 6). If we don?t enter into relationships with other believers, if we don?t apply His word to our lives, if we don?t let the Holy Spirit renew our minds, then we are cutting off the flow of Christ?s source of life that He places within us.
Hebrews 3:12 (NIV)
12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Now don?t miss this warning! These are branches that were once in Christ, but they do not remain in Him. These branches once had the source of life flowing within them; they have produced fruit in the past but not now. They are cutting themselves off from the source of life believing that they can find life in other vines; the deceitfulness of sin has ensnared them. If we turn away from Christ and do not remain in Him then we become a withered fruitless branch that will ultimately be thrown into the fire.
The branches that produce SOME FRUIT. (Verses 2-4)
Not all branches are as fruitful as others. Some branches may have bushels of fruit while another branch may only have a single bushel or a peck or two, and still other branches while not barren have very little fruit at all.
NOW DON?T CONFUSE QUANTITY AND QUALITY. As a believer you are joined to the vine. The life of Christ within the vine is what produces the fruit. Therefore any fruit produced in your life, obedience, reproduction, or the Fruit of the Spirit, IT IS ALL GOOD FRUIT. Christ?s life in you will not produce inferior fruit. Christ, the true vine, only produces the best quality fruit.
However, each of us as branches can restrict the quantity of fruit produced in our lives. Look again at what Jesus said.
John 15:2-4 (NIV)
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
What is it that restricts the production of fruit? In a word it?s SELF.
We love Christ; His Spirit is within us, and His fruit is evident in our lives. But from time to time, more often for some and less for others, we stop relying upon Christ and His life within us and live our life in our own strength. Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself!”
In those times when we stop depending on Christ and rely upon our own strength and ability, it is then that the branch is unable to continue to produce fruit. Often times we may fall into sin once again simply because we didn?t depend upon Christ the source of life to help us.
What does the Father do for the branch that only produces some fruit? Does He cut the branch off and throw it away? No, the Father?s desire is that each branch produces an abundance of fruit; that?s not possible if the branches are cut off of the vine. What did Jesus say the Father would do? “Every branch in me that doe bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
What is the Father doing when He prunes the branches? He is causing us to stop depending upon self in order that we might rely fully on Christ and bear more fruit.
Have any of you noticed, PRUNING IS PAINFUL. But have you also noticed that although pruning is painful, PRUNING IS PRODUCTIVE. When the branches are pruned back more fruit really is produced. The pain of cutting accomplishes what the Father intends?FRUITFULNESS!
Hebrews 12:7 (NIV)
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
The branches that produce an ABUNDANCE of FRUIT. (Verses 5, 7-8)
John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (NIV)
These are the branches that have been properly trained through the discipline of pruning. They have crucified self and have learned that apart from Christ they can do nothing.
Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
John 15:7-8 (NIV)
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Wow! Ask whatever you wish and it will be given you! Such an incredible thought ? such an appeasing and tantalizing thought! However, it is important that the “if” statement be remembered. This liberty is given to those who remain in Christ and in who the word or Christ remains. This important statement reveals that the secret to answered prayers is in anchored branches. Are you anchored in the vine? Are the Words of Christ anchored in your heart? If so then everything you wish for will be what the vine wishes for ? everything you ask for will be what the vine wants to produce. A branch doesn?t ask a grapevine if it can have apples. The branch of a vine produces grapes?
Finally when we mature as believers and we bear an abundance of fruit the Father is glorified as we show ourselves to be Christ?s disciples.
Jesus, the true vine is producing fruit within His branches. Christ?s fruit is good; it alone will endure. How much fruit are you letting be produced through your life? Is there no fruit, some fruit or an abundance of fruit?