2016-9-25 Jesus: The True Vine

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          September 25, 2016

“Jesus: The True Vine”
Text: John 15:1-8

Today we complete our sermon series on the I AM sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel—and we have profited greatly from the series, in God’s good providence.  Let’s recall the ground covered so far: Jesus is the Bread of Life (6:35), the Light of the World (8:12), the Door of the Sheep (10:7), the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the Resurrection and the Life (11:25), and the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6).  Today we complete the series: Jesus is the True Vine.  Let us inspect this further as we this portion of John’s Gospel—John 15:1-8—read and expounded in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The Apostle John, as led by the Holy Spirit, relays Jesus’ similitude to us.[1]  In it Jesus calls Himself the true vine.  Once again, Jesus use of the I AM saying is both implied metaphor (that is, He is like or similar unto something) and explicit declaration (He declares Himself to be God incarnate).  If Jesus be the true vine, then we are the branches.  We draw life from the vine, and we have no life apart from Him.  We also bear fruit due to the vine, and we cannot bear fruit apart from Him.

The Father, in Jesus’ similitude, is the vinedresser (Greek georgos [gewrgoV]: farmer).  He does two important tasks in Jesus’ similitude.  First, He takes away unfruitful branches.  Unfruitful branches are people who participate in the visible Church, but who are not in Christ.  They have not been regenerated, they possess not saving faith, and they possess not power from on high to produce fruit identifying them as Christ’s own.  Our Puritan forefathers had a term for such; they called them professors.  Such people profess a faith in Christ, but are not born again.  Such are cut off, gathered, and burned—the thought is sobering indeed.

Second, the vinedresser also prunes fruitful branches—that is, those who are in Christ and are somewhat conformed to His image.  Even these need pruning; they yet need some things removed from themselves and from their lives in order to be more conformed to Christ.  This pruning is not capricious, willy-nilly, or mean; it occurs to a purpose, namely, in order that the blood-bought Christian disciple may bear even more fruit.  With the similitude now somewhat explained, let us now note how God brings the text to bear upon our lives.

Our duty, as we note in today’s text, is to bear fruit.  We may describe this fruit in many ways.  Matthew Henry, in his commentary on the text, describes such fruit with terms like Christian temper, Christian disposition, Christian life, and Christian conduct.[2]  He further distills this summary to honoring God and doing good.  Another image of fruit-bearing is the display of the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul writes to the Galatian Christian households, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).  Another image of fruit-bearing involves the Christian being used of God to move those outside Christ toward faith in Him and to move those inside Christ toward deeper Christian discipleship.  These images help me to know what fruit-bearing looks like, and I hope they help you too.

Yet if I (or you, for that matter) am left to my own devices to produce this fruit, I simply cannot do it.  The case is just as Jesus said; apart from Him we can do nothing.  The means to our duty, then, is abiding in Christ.  To abide (Greek meno [menw]) is to remain in Him—in particular, to abide in Christ is to remain in vital connection with Him.  The means to maintaining this living connection to Jesus is what some theologians call the means of grace.  Examples of God’s means of grace to our souls include Scripture intake—reading God’s Word, hearing others read it, and sitting under sound preaching and teaching.  Prayer is another means of grace to us.  Jesus speaks to it even in this text.  He tells us we may ask what we will, and that in His Name, and He will do it.  This does not mean that we may ask God for anything that flits through our brains, stick the epigram in Jesus’ Name on the end, and expect it to come to pass.  When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we seek to have our wills aligned with His.  In a real sense, we ask as if Jesus were petitioning His own Father through us.  If all is well with our souls, then, what we will becomes increasingly what He wills.  Public worship, especially preaching and sacraments, is another aid to our abiding in Christ.  We gain intimacy with the triune God at worship, and He deigns to fill our souls there in ways inexpressible and exquisite.  This, in good measure, is how we abide in Christ.

It is to the Father’s glory that we bear much fruit, and it is to our felicity that we abide in Christ.  Now we come to an important question, yet a vexing one for us at times, “What if my fruit-bearing is lean, and my abiding in Christ is inconstant?”  First, cry out to God to keep you both from distraction from devotion to Jesus and from straying from His ideal path for you.  Second, cry out to God for increased fruit-bearing—even in the face of the necessary good pruning that will come.  The temptation will be not to go forward with Jesus because of the pains involved.  Receive the pains of pruning and bear even more fruit.  This is to the Father’s glory and to your good—not to mention the good of others blessed by your ministry.  Third, take not a short view of your own fruit-bearing, but a long view.  Anyone, if the view be short enough and severe enough, may look ill insofar as fruit-bearing is concerning.  Take the long view.  Are you more fruitful in Christ than you were one, or five, or ten, or twenty-five years ago?  If things be as they ought, your answer, happily, will be, “Yes.”

This, then, is Jesus, the true vine—among so much else.  Let us by His grace abide in Him and bear much fruit—and may He bless you both in the abiding and in the bearing.

AMEN.

[1] For much of the form and data of this exposition I am indebted to Matthew Henry, Commentary.

[2] In accord with English usage at the time of Henry’s Commentary (i.e., 1706-12), for conduct Henry substitutes the word conversation.

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