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The vine...

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. … “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:1-8, NIV

This is a parable that explains man’s existence. We were created to be children of God and to have attitudes, reactions, a state of mind and hearts that were reflections of God. We’re supposed to be a part of Him, but He decided long ago to allow us to make a choice: Be a part of Him, viscerally and eternally connected to Him, or be independent of Him. It’s the choice every man, woman and child must make.

Jesus tells the disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches. He also tells them that the Father is the “vine grower, or “gardener”. You don’t have to know too much about agriculture to know that a branch cannot live apart from the vine or the trunk of the tree. Our life—spiritual life—flows out of that vine. To be in Christ is to draw one’s lifeblood, one’s identity, one’s purpose in life from that relationship. Outside that relationship, there is no life—at least if we’re speaking spiritually. Just as the sap runs from the vine to branches, so the Spirit runs from Jesus to us. That’s what Jesus is trying to explain. We’re either connected to Him—-eternally—-like He has been connected to God eternally, or your just a useless limb.

So there are two sorts of branches in this parable; the one branch represents folks that might be attracted to the Christian idea, could even attend church occasionally, and even talk the talk of a Christian, but are not a true part of Christ, and it’s evidenced by their lack of fruit —and they will one day be removed from the vine. These people might profess to believe in him and even submit to the churches ordinances and sacraments, like baptism and communion. But they are unfruitful; and what fruit they seem to have is not sweet, withers away under stress or attack and proves not to be good fruit; what fruit they bring forth is for themselves and their own attention and not to the glory of God. So what does the gardener do? He takes them away——i.e. He removes the entire vine that gives life to the branches.

And for the rest of the branches, the true branches, it appears that the Gardener exposes these sterile branches, that is the unfruitful branches, for what they are—-useless and taking up nutrients and space—-so He removes them, one day, from any association with Christ.

God reveals who are saints and who are not by His own means. The branches that do not produce fruit are exposed as being worthless to the true purpose of the vine, so when a disagreement within a church happens they use that as an excuse to give up on their faith, or when external mishaps or persecution arises, they fall away; at other times these fruitless vines depart of their own accord; they stand for those who claim to know Jesus Christ but are all the while living in sin or living a scandalous life.

So you get the idea: Some folks that might appear associated with the true vine, Jesus Christ, are grafted—it’s not real…not authentic.. and will soon enough be cut off. Christ gave another parable where He spoke about these bad branches and called them tares, or weeds, that grow together with the wheat, the real branches, till the harvest, and then the angels would be sent forth, who will gather out of the kingdom of God all that offend and do injury to the cause of Christ, and cast them into a furnace of fire, as branches withered, and fit to be burnt.

So Jesus tells us that The Father is the gardener—He is the one that will judge our actions and look at our heart to determine if what we are doing and thinking is the proof that we are are truly a part of the vine—-i.e. His Son. Evidently some branches will attempt to latch onto Jesus, the Vine, for various reasons, but God knows the difference between sheep and goats—-the elect and the un-elect, the true branches and the imposters—-and He will cut away the branches that don’t bear fruit. If some branches are cut off and thrown into a fire because they are useless and produce nothing, what do we make of this? You can read this as clearly as I can. What is clear is that God expects us to bear fruit.  

But the Father is the vine grower, the one who takes care of the vines, is also the One that carefully prunes the best branches so that they will produce even more fruit. What fruit?Peace, joy, love, patience, grace, mercy, eternal life – these are the things that human beings have been longing for since man first came to live on this earth. But there are many false paths to attaining them. But Jesus says it’s really quite easy to enjoy what we would call the “fruits” of human existence—-choose to believe in God and surrender to His forgiving and life-changing grace that allows us to become followers of Christ. Jesus says it right there: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

If we are the branches, and Jesus is the vine—should we not expect to produce fruit? When you think of vines, I think of grapes, perhaps wine grapes, which I have at the camp. The expectation of any farmer raising grapes is that the vines will produce fruit. The vines aren’t planted to look pretty. They’re planted to produce a crop. If a branch doesn’t produce then it will be cut off, to make room for new branches that will produce fruit.

But, this is what you and I need to hear: He will prune you and test you if you are a branch. We’re going to be pruned. Are you perhaps being pruned right now? Pruning hurts!

So why? Why prune us? It’s not pleasant! I just purchased 25 dwarf apple trees and one was not doing very well, so the nursery advised me to prune the little tree. It seemed counter-intuitive to cut three inches off each branch of sickly little tree, but it worked! Pruning allows trees to bear more fruit.

But I am talking to you right now, though, and I am assuming you’re a part of the vine and that you’re bearing fruit. And if you are a branch, bearing fruit, it’s because you are connected to Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the “reward”, if you will, for being a good branch is that God will send some pain, from time to time, into you life. Isn’t that just like God? He does things for those He loves that seems so contradictory to what we think a loving father should do! But here’s what Jesus said: “And every branch that beareth fruit, he prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

No matter how good you are or how effective you are as a follower, your life-long purpose is to produce fruit for the Gardener, and He will prune you, as He sees fit, to produce an abundant harvest. Your life is wasted, regardless of what the world says, if you don’t bear fruit.

Branches, i.e. you and I, are pruned, or “purged”, by God for one purpose: to stimulate us to grow more fruit. We pruned chiefly by afflictions and disappointments in life, things God sends or permits which are as needful for their growth and fruitfulness, just as the pruning and cutting of the vines is essential for a better harvest of grapes.

“Jesus emphasized the need for us to abide in Him even as He abides in us. There is in this message of abiding a strong sense of mutuality—a mutual indwelling of Jesus in our lives and our lives in his. The relationship between Jesus and those of us who follow Him goes beyond intimacy. There is a sense of complete oneness (John 17:20-21) of God’s people that is rooted in our oneness with God in Christ.We are the body of Christ, to use a Pauline phrase.” Bonhoeffer

Deitrich Bonhoeffer mused that it is possible to use the theologically charged Greek word perichoresis to describe this relationship. That word plays a central role in the church’s understanding of God and the redeemed. This is the word that is used to define the relationship that exists among the three persons of the Trinity as well as the relationship of Jesus’ humanity to his divinity.  The idea Jesus is conveying is for us to have that union, that “perichoresis” with God that He has with God! He invites us into a union with the Father that He has! What an incredible invitation, opportunity and reward for choosing God over anything else the world could ever offer.

The image of the vine invites us to consider how we experience this “one-ness” with God in Christ. This leads to the question of how we should read the phrase that begins the passage: “I am”. Jesus declared that “I am . . . “the bread of life (6:35); “light of the world” (8:12); “gate for the sheep” (10:7); “Good Shepherd” (10:11); “resurrection and the life” (11:25), “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6). Then there’s that scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus replies to the question of his identity by saying “I am He” (18:6). “I Am” was revelatory of Jesus’ divine nature. He is the vine, we are the branches. By abiding in him, and he in us, then God abides in us and we abide in God.

So the expectation of the Christian life—a life lived in Christ—is that one will bear fruit. One’s life will either reflect that mutual indwelling of Christ’s life in our life and our life in his or it won’t. God is in us, and we are in God, or we’re just masquerading. In this passage the types of fruit aren’t named, but again, it’s understood to be the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We can look elsewhere, such as Galatians 5. But the one abundant fruit that one should expect to be present is love. If we continue reading on in John 15, Jesus says that “the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (15:9). Yes, the command of Jesus is to “love one another as I have loved you” (15:12). More revealing still is the word found in 1 John 4, that God is love, and that if one does not love, one does not know God.

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