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I am the Vine

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John 15:1-8
5th Sunday of Easter
SMAS 10.30am Morning Worship

Last Sunday we looked at two of Jesus’ famous ‘I am’ sayings. In the morning: ‘I am the good Shepherd’ and in the evening: ‘I am the bread of life’. This week it is the vine. Firstly, let me remind you that just the two words ‘I am’ are very important too. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush He gave His name as ‘I am’. Immediately we see that Jesus is describing Himself as God. This is a hugely important point – and spoken of recently.

As, with the illustration of the Shepherd, saying ‘I am the vine’ would have meant more to those living in first century Palestine than to us living in 21st Century Britain. Let’s look at why Jesus used the vine as a metaphor.

Firstly this was written somewhere between the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane. After Jesus left the supper table He had to pass the temple. A golden vine adorned the building because many times in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vineyard or vine of God. It’s roots ran all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob so Jesus was not introducing something new; it was familiar to every Jew. Unfortunately thought, the OT prophets had made it abundantly clear that this vine had so far yielded only bad fruit. Jesus is telling them now that the nation of Israel is no
longer the genuine vine, He is and their identification is now to be wholly with Him and not the Jewish nation and religion.

His disciples, us, are the branches of the new vine. We are to remain in Him and bear fruit. If Jesus has become the new Israel, then we His disciples, the church, are also the new Israel. All sheep in the one flock. This unity goes against the individualistic world in which we live; we are to be identified with Christ. We are His special chosen people. Created by Him and bought back to Himself at the cost of His son’s blood.

And the disciples were probably hearing this whilst looking at the Golden Vine carved around the Temple . Having just come from the Last Supper the words telling them that His blood would be shed for them whilst they shared wine together still ringing in their ears. “The vine lives to give its life-blood.”  (William Temple).  

As they walked towards the Garden of Gethsemane there would have been vineyards all over the valley and their cultivation was important to the life and economy of Israel. At this time those vines would have been pruned, and the dead wood being burned.

The vines were a rugged crop but with a delicate fruit that required kid glove treatment. A young vine wasn’t allowed to bear fruit for the first three years and was drastically pruned in December and January to preserve its energy. Any branches not bearing fruit were cut out to further conserve the plant’s energy. If this constant cutting back was not done, the crop could not produce its full potential. Branches attached to the vine received their life force, nutrients, water and everything they need to live and produce beautiful, healthy plump fruit. Just as the branches are given life by the vine so we must draw our life from Jesus. If we break away from him, they will be like unproductive branches and die and bear no fruit.

God, the gardener is depicted as the one who cultivates the vineyard. He waters and tends the soil, so that the vine is properly nourished.

If we are to grow as Christians we need to stay connected to the source of our life and being, Jesus. If Christ is to remain in us we must allow that and strive to keep that relationship going. It has to be His sap that’s flowing through us. Daily giving Him control of our lives and allowing His life and power to flow through our veins. If we are to remain in Christ then we must actively try to get closer to Him. We must obey His commandments, read the Bible, and most importantly, pray.

Being cut off and discarded might sound harsh. We might not want to think about it. But the early church was persecuted and couldn’t afford to have half-hearted Christians. We may not be in situation of persecution but ARE, perhaps, under a greater threat - apathy and indifference. Jesus said ‘he who is not with me is against me. We are either on His side or someone else’s.

What might be warning signs of our becoming a dead branch? Rather nice initially! Think of the trees in Autumn. The attractive colours of the leaves come from the sap not rising to them. The things that begin to cut us off from our close relationship with Christ are, initially, attractive - for example that extra lie in bed that means we don’t have time to pray or read the Bible when we do get up. This will lead us to think that we’re self-sufficient. We do things our way and stop being sustained by Christ. If we stop feeding on Him we will become the dead and dried up branches - discarded by the gardener.

But the gardener takes pride in his crop. As well as removing dead wood He also prunes the vines. Many Christians pray that God will make them more fruitful, but they don’t enjoy the pruning process that follows! However, the greatest judgment God could bring to a believer would be to let him alone, let him have his own way. He prunes us because He loves us and encourages us to bear more fruit for His glory. If the branches could speak, they would confess the pruning process hurts; but they would also rejoice at being able to produce more and better fruit and that your Heavenly Father is never nearer to you than when He is pruning you.

Sometimes He cuts away the dead wood that causes trouble; sometimes He cuts off living tissue that robs us of spiritual vigour. Pruning doesn’t simply mean spiritual surgery that removes what’s bad. It can also mean cutting away good stuff so that we might enjoy the best. Yes, pruning hurts, but it also helps. We may not enjoy it, but we need it.

How does the Father prune us? Through prayer, worship, Bible study, both individually and corporately. It also involves repentance, service and sacrifice. Pruning means that vine branches don’t go off on their own, seeking after light and putting the health of the vine and the fruit in danger. Pruning means that the branches can draw more fully from the strength of the vine which, in itself will conserve its energy and be ready to be more fruitful.

At the time, it hurts when He removes something precious from us; but as the “spiritual crop” is produced, we see that
the Father knew what He was doing. By this we become more like Jesus and our desires coincide with those of God. The more we abide in Christ, the more fruit we bear; and the more fruit we bear, the more the Father has to prune us so that the quality keeps up with the quantity. Left to itself, the branch might produce many clusters, but they will be inferior in quality. God is glorified by a bigger crop that is also a better crop. It takes time and cultivation to produce fruit; a good crop does not come overnight.

What fruit are we talking about? Well, we are not producing fruit to please ourselves but to serve others: we should feed others by our words and deeds. Paul considered Christian giving to be fruit from a dedicated life. The praise that comes from our hearts and lips is actually fruit to the glory of God (Hebrews 13:15). Mostly we think of bearing fruit when we win others to Christ.

Several different kinds of spiritual fruit are shown in the Galatians 5:22 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These show us to be God’s chosen people; that make us and our God attractive to others. Jesus says that the purpose of remaining in Him is to bear fruit, and the purpose of bearing fruit is that all may believe.

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