Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE CHRISTIAN’S LIFE ILLUSTRATED IN THE VINEYARD”

John 15.1-8

 

I trust you will not mind terribly if my preaching and teaching for the next year or so is greatly impacted by my recent trip to Israel. I am especially impressed this evening by the images in my mind of driving through Cana of Galilee and of standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. You will remember that our Lord’s very first miracle, worked after He was baptized by His cousin John the Baptist and following His temptation in the wilderness by the Devil (who He combated by citing scripture, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God), was turning water into wine at a marriage feast He attended in Cana, this was only four days after Peter and Andrew became His disciples,[1] and three days after His encounter with Philip and Nathaniel.[2] On this trip too, perhaps more than any previous visit I have made, I was aware of the vineyards. Israel, and other rugged regions (such as Greece, Italy, and France) have historically been wine growing regions. For one thing, those plants thrive in rocky soil, and for another thing rocky soil isn’t much suited to grow anything else, except perhaps for olive trees. Therefore, it is not a coincidence, I think, for our Lord’s first miracle to be associated with vineyards, grapes, and turning water into wine.

Turning water into wine can take place in one of two ways: If the natural approach is employed the process takes several years. One must plant the grape vine, carefully tend to the grapevine, and then after several years the rainwater that falls is transformed by the process of photosynthesis taking place in the leaves of the grapevine into grapes that are full of tasty grape juice. The alternative is a visit from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who accomplishes the entire feat instantly by performing a miracle. The first four disciples were witness to such a miracle only three and four days after they began following the Lord, respectively. Jump forward three and one-half years to the night before His crucifixion, which would signal the end of His earthly ministry, and translate into His absence by means of death and burial, His resurrection and occasional appearances to His disciples, culminating in His final ascension to the Father’s right hand, where He has been for the last two thousand years. He turned water into wine at the beginning of His ministry, which I believe to have been a miraculous picture of His saving work in people’s lives, so what happens once He is gone?

That is the subject of His comments in John 15.1-8. Please turn to that passage and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 

1      I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2      Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3      Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4      Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5      I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6      If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7      If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8      Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

 

Notice, from my reading of this passage as well as your own reading, that the Lord Jesus Christ’s approach with His disciples is at this point to state facts, to reiterate what He has no doubt taught them again and again on previous occasions. He is not here exhorting them. He is not much challenging them. What He is doing here just a few hours before He is taken into custody as a prelude to His unjust trials and illegal conviction leading to His crucifixion is reminding them with words of truth that will ring in their ears and resonate in their hearts as the Holy Spirit works throughout the rest of their lives to remind them of His words. Final words from a thoughtful person are usually among the most important words he has ever said. Why? Because they are considered, they are among the most easily remembered, and because they are uttered to serve as a capstone for all that has previously been said. Such are these words to His disciples, words that we would do well to consider and apply to our lives.

Four headings in this illustration for us to consider, if you will:

 

First In The Illustration From Nature, Of Course, THERE IS THE HUSBANDMAN

 

Four comments about God the Father from this passage:

First, God the Father is in this passage likened to the husbandman, which is to say that He is responsible for tending to all aspects of the vine’s productivity.

As the husbandman, in verse 2 we are informed that it is the Father’s responsibility to take away branches attached to the vine that do not produce fruit. I should ask, is there any question in anyone’s mind that by fruit the Lord Jesus Christ refers here to disciples, actual converts?

As the husbandman, also in verse 2, we are informed that it is the Father’s responsibility to prune branches that do bear fruit, so that fruit-bearing branches will bear more fruit. Thus, the husbandman’s primary function in this illustration is to cut. Those branches that bear no fruit are cut off entirely, which those branches that do bear fruit are trimmed so they will bear even more fruit.

The goal, of course, is fruit (verse 2), more fruit (verse 2), and much fruit (verse 5), with the end seen to be outside the illustration, the Father being glorified by you bearing much fruit. However, notice verse 8 in its entirety: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

 

Next In Our Lord’s Illustration From Nature, WE HAVE THE TRUE VINE, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF

 

Notice that in verse 1, He very specifically identifies Himself as “the true vine.” Why do you think He did that? Before I answer that question, some background: First, notice that this is one of numerous “I am” statements found in John’s gospel in which the Lord Jesus Christ asserts His deity. This, however, is the final “I am” statement recorded in John’s gospel and the only one that runs on into an additional assertion, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.”[3] Thus, at the outset of this extended metaphor the Lord Jesus Christ once again asserts His deity. He is God! Second, “In the Old Testament the vine is a common symbol for Israel, the covenant people of God (Ps. 80:9-16; Is. 5:1-7; 27:2ff.; Je. 2:21; 12:10ff.; Ezk. 15:1-8; 17.1-21; 19:10-14; Ho. 10.1-2). Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation.”[4] To answer the question of why the Lord Jesus Christ emphasized that He is the true vine, I am convinced He did so to contrast Himself with the nation of Israel, so as to show His disciples that He supersedes the Temple, that He transcends the Jewish feasts, that He is superior to Moses, that He is the real connection of God’s covenant people to the God of Israel.

That reality established, He goes on to point out that any branch that does not bear fruit is good for nothing and the husbandman removes it, any branch that does bear fruit is vitally in Him and will by that same husbandman be pruned, that it may bring forth more fruit, verse 2.

What is the central truth for His disciples? They are clean through the Word that He spoke to them, verse 3, and it is absolutely crucial that they abide in Him.

 

·               Abide in Him, since no branch can produce fruit of itself, verse 4.

·               Abide in Him, and it is a mutual abiding, because without such abiding no fruit is produced, verse 5.

·               Abide in Him, because if you do not abide in Him, as is evidenced by bearing fruit as evidence of real life, you will be cast forth as a branch, you will wither, you will eventually be gathered into the fire, and you will be burned, verse 6.

 

Thus, we see that the Christian life is entirely about abiding in Christ and bearing fruit as a consequence of that relationship with Christ. No fruit, no abiding, no life.

 

Third In Our Lord’s Illustration From Nature, WE HAVE THE FALSE HOPE

 

This, of course, is the branch that is attached to the vine, yet it bears no fruit and is therefore eventually taken away by the husbandman, verse 2.

This is the individual, the branch if you will, that does not abide in Christ, and “is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,” verse 6.

There is no attempt in this brief illustration to explain how and when the removal of the unfruitful branch takes place, just that the removal of the unfruitful branch does take place. Some unfruitful branches are doubtless lifelong church members who cause no trouble, who live out their lives and die, and then go to Hell having never born fruit. Some unfruitful branches may be church members for a while, but develop some type of irritation or excuse for dropping out of church. Their withering takes place more openly, despite the fact that they may insist all the livelong day that they are Christians, yet they have born no fruit. Whatever the specifics of their case the one thing that stands out for all to see is the utter and complete absence of fruit. Having no spiritual life in them because they have no connection to the true vine, the Lord Jesus Christ, they are like a grape vine branch that seems never to be weighed down by grapes. No fruit.

 

Finally In Our Lord’s Illustration From Nature, WE HAVE THE GENUINE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST

 

Notice just a couple of things about the branch that is vitally connected to the vine, the believer who actually abides in Christ:

First, and most obviously, the real Christian bears fruit, verse 2. We see from other passages and parables in the gospels that different people bear different amounts of fruit, but the important thing to note is that Christians beget Christians.

Next, also observable is that the Christian is clean through the Word, verse 3. What the Savior said to His disciples before His crucifixion is applicable to His followers of all ages. Does this speak of sinlessness? Not at all, but to the cleansing effect, the sanctifying effect on believers, of the Word.

Third, reflect on this matter of abiding in Christ, verses 4-6:

 

4      Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5      I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6      If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

 

Let me read from Arthur W. Pink’s fine commentary Exposition Of The Gospel Of John on this matter of abiding in Christ:

 

“‘Abide in me’ (15:4). The force of this cannot be appreciated till faith has laid firm hold of the previous verse: ‘Already ye are clean.’ ‘Brethren in Christ, what a testimony is this: He who speaks what he knows and testifies what He has seen, declares us ‘clean every whit.’ Yea, and He thus testifies in the very same moment as when He asserts that we had need to have our feet washed; in the very same breath in which He reveals our need of cleansing in order to further fruit-bearing. He would thus assure us that the defilement which we contract in our walk as pilgrims, and the impurity which we contract as branches do in nowise, nor in the least degree, affect the absolute spotless purity which is ours in Him.

‘Now in all study of the Word this should be a startingpoint, the acknowledgement of our real oneness with Christ, and our cleanness in Him by His Word. It may be observed that He cannot ‘wash our feet’ till we know that we are cleansed ‘every whit’; and we cannot go on to learn of Him what is needful fruit-bearing unless we first drink in the Word, ‘Ye are already clean.’ We can only receive His further instruction when we have well learned and are holding fast the first lesson of His love — our completeness in Him’ (Mr. C. Campbell).

 

‘Clean every whit,’ Thou saidst it, Lord!

Shall one suspicion lurk?

Thine surely is a faithful Word,

And Thine a finished Work.

 

‘Abide in me,’ ‘To be’ in Christ and ‘to abide in Him are two different things which must not be confounded. One must first be ‘in him’ before he can ‘abide in him.’ The former respects a union effected by the creating-power of God, and which can neither be dissolved nor suspended. Believers are never exhorted to be ‘in Christ’— they are in Him by new creation (II Cor. 5:7; Eph. 2:10). But Christians are frequently exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and experience may be interrupted. ‘To ‘abide,’ ‘continue,’ dwell, ‘remain’ in Christ — all these terms is this one word translated — has always reference to the maintenance of fellowship with God in Christ. The word ‘abide’ calls us to vigilance, lest at any time the experimental realization of our union with Christ should be interrupted. To abide in Him, then, is to have sustained conscious communion with Him’ (Mr. Campbell). To abide in Christ signifies the constant occupation of the heart with Him — a daily active faith in Him ‘which, so to speak, maintains the dependency of the branch upon the vine, and the circulation of life and fatness’ of the vine in the branch. What we have here is parallel with that other figurative expression used by our Lord in John 6:56: ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth (abideth) in me, and I in him.’ This is but another way of insisting upon the continuous exercise of faith in a crucified and living Saviour, deriving life and the sustenance of life from Him. As the initial act of believing in Him is described as ‘coming’ to Him, (‘He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst’: 6:35), so the continued activity of faith is described as ‘abiding in him.’

‘Abide in me, and I in you’ (15:4). The two things are quite distinct, though - closely connected. Just as it is one thing to be ‘in Christ,’ and another to ‘abide in him,’ so there is a real difference between His being in us, and His abiding in us. The one is a matter of His grace; the other of our responsibility. The one is perpetual, the other may be interrupted. By our abiding in Him is meant the happy conscious fellowship of our union with Him, in the discernment of what He is for us; so by His abiding in us is meant the happy conscious recognition of His presence, the assurance of His goodness, grace and power — the recourse of our soul in everything.

‘As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me’ (15:4). ‘Thus our Lord enforces the necessity of maintaining fellowship. He is not only the source of all fruit, but He also puts forth His power while there is personal appropriation of what He is for us, and in us. And this, if we receive it, will lead us to a right judgment of ourselves and our service. In the eyes of our own brethren, and in our own esteem, we may maintain a goodly appearance as fruitbearing branches. But whatever our own judgment or that of others, unless the apparent springs from ‘innermost fellowship and communion’ the true Vine will never own it as His fruit.”[5]

 

May I conclude by pointing out some obvious but oftentimes overlooked differences between the branch that bears no fruit and will eventually be cut off and burned versus the branch that abides in the vine, receiving life-giving vitality that produces fruit?

Which of the two types of branches experiences the pain of pruning, the truly living and productive branch or the essentially dead and nonproductive branch? The former, obviously. Which of the two types of branches experiences the burden of fruit-bearing, which is to be weighed down, to be burdened, to be forced to carry the heavy load associated with heavy clusters of grapes, and which type of branch is free and unburdened of any responsibility other than carrying its own weight?

The answers are obvious, are they not? To bear fruit requires extra effort, bearing additional burdens, suffering pruning unknown to those who bear no fruit, and with fruit-bearing is associated discomfort and assorted difficulties not specifically pointed out in this illustration. If your commitment is to convenience it is unlikely you will bear fruit. You will go through life in comfort, unhurried and unharried, without the pain of betrayal by those you seek to minister to or the frustration that arises from the unresponsiveness of those you work so hard to bless. However, if you are a Christian, if you are a Christian of the Word, if you are a Christian of the Word who consciously abides in Christ, then you will bear fruit because you will inconvenience yourself for Christ’s sake, burden yourself for Christ’s sake, disrupt your schedule for Christ’s sake, forgo certain options and opportunities for Christ’s sake. In short and in the Apostle Paul’s words, you will do the “work of faith” and the “labor of love” that shows you are the elect of God.

Consider this portion of scripture, this challenging reminder from the Savior, as you decide what your activities will be next Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night when you are needed here to be present, to be energetic and friendly, and to be loud in your singing and clapping, for our annual Vacation Bible School.



[1] John 1.37-42

[2] John 1.43-51

[3] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According To John (PNTC), (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), page 513.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), Vol 2, pages 403-404.


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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org