“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Introduction – faith of a dog
We have a dog.
We love our dog.
We’ve never done anything that was not in the ultimate interest of our dog and for the good of our dog.
We want our dog to be taken care of. We want our dog to have a great life. We give our dog many things that are really above and beyond what’s necessary for her to survive, just because we love her.
In spite of all of the nice things we do for our dog, whom we love, there are times when she doesn’t trust us.
I took her to vet last week because she needed one of her shots. When it’s time for her to get onto the table, she goes into dead weight mode.
She weighs like 15 pounds but when she goes limp, she has the density of a concrete block.
When we need her to take medicine. It’s a battle. Even though it’s for her good.
Kari accidentally dropped a Claritin on the floor once and Beasley immediately ate that. She’ll eat the medicine we don’t want her to take. But not her own.
I even once tried dropping one of her pills on the ground and acting like I didn’t want her to take it. She didn’t fall for that.
In the evenings, she almost always seems to be on guard for if she’s getting a bath. She immediately hides under the bed as soon as she hears the shower.
The vet appointments, the pills, the baths. None of them are very pleasant to her but are all for her good.
Because everything we do is for her good. Because we love our dog.
And she loves us.
But sometimes she can struggle to see the big picture of the things that we’re doing for her and how they’re for her ultimate good.
And as people with God, sometimes we’re not all that different.
This morning’s passage is a great passage because it reminds us that we have a good God and that we have a good savior who is full of vibrance and life and who wants us to share in that with him.
Our world often has the wrong image of Jesus and God.
It is not just this strict, stern, anti-fun, anti-enjoying things killjoy. But that he is a personal savior and loving God who points to truth, true life, goodness, and the way to live.
This is a wonderful passage this morning in John 15 where Jesus makes an interesting analogy of his purpose and ministry in comparing himself to a vine, referring to grapevines which are important in the region for consumption and most especially for wine production.
We’re going to focus on three main things this morning as we look at the first 5 verses of this chapter.
Being a branch on the vine
Verse 1 into verse 2:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes,
The first thing to note are the first two words of this passage.
We’ve talked about this before, but throughout John’s Gospel, we’ve seen Jesus make these “I am” statements.
And the significance of those two words “I am” is that they’re the same words that God uses in Exodus 3:14 to refer to his own divine name when speaking to Moses.
And in John’s Gospel, we see seven “I am” statements from the Lord Jesus. These statements point to his divinity, and also make allusions to his purpose, ministry, and mission in the world.
Jesus has said:
“I am the bread of life.” Jesus provides the nourishment for the human soul.
“I am the light of the world.” Jesus shines the moral goodness and glory of God in a world which is darkened by sin.
“I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is the one who leads and protects his people.
“I am the gate.” Jesus provides protection for his people.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus provides the hope of eternal life.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus provides the way to eternal life.
And here we come to the final of the “I am” statements.
I am the true vine.
It’s fitting that this is the last of these statements. And it’s fitting that he says this on the eve of going to the cross.
In saying that he is the true vine, he’s pointing to himself as the one who sustains his people.
Jesus is the vine.
God the Father is the vinedresser or gardener.
Christians are attached to the vine and bear fruit, which refers to good works and to Spiritual growth which is the result of one’s relationship to the vine, to Christ.
A vine branch cannot blossom and produce fruit apart from the vine. A vine branch cannot survive off of the vine.
Neither can a Christian exist apart from Christ.
Jesus talks of two different types of branches in these verses.
There are the branches which do not bear fruit and the branches which do bear fruit.
This is a reference to two different types of people within the church.
People who believe in the gospel and those who do not.
The fruitless branch is someone who goes to church, they know how to speak the churchy lingo. They might say they’re a Christian. They know a little bit about the Bible. But they don’t really believe in Jesus. They don’t truly believe that he’s their Lord and savior.
And because they don’t really believe in Jesus, there’s no fruit.
They never had fruit. It’s not that their production slowed down or that they had a bad week. It’s that they never believed in the first place.
We’re in John 15.
The most obvious example of someone to whom Jesus is referring here is Judas who had been one of the 12 and who had departed from Jesus at the end of chapter 13.
It’s not that Judas was a believer in Jesus who walked away from him. Judas NEVER believed in Jesus in the first place.
Jesus says: I am the true vine.
Not only is Jesus the vine, but he’s the true vine.
But what does that mean?
Like all of the “I am” statements, the metaphor is steeped in Old Testament thought.
Validation – Vine in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, you see this vine metaphor, especially in the prophetic books.
And within that metaphor, Israel is a grapevine which has not yielded good fruit.
As a result of Israel’s failure to produce fruit, there are consequences for the nation brought forth by God, the vinedresser.
As we begin, let’s look at a couple of these passages.
Jeremiah 2:21 talks of how the vine has grown wild:
Yet I planted you a choice vine,
wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate
and become a wild vine?
Psalm 80, where it depicts God as the vinedresser and Israel as the vine who he brought out of Egypt, in obvious reference to the Exodus. As the vinedresser, God has cared for and tended to this vine, but it has not yielded the fruit that it should:
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 It sent out its branches to the sea
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
And one final example, perhaps the most prevalent in the Old Testament. Isaiah 5.
As a brief reminder. A couple of Christmases ago, we spent four weeks in Isaiah 7, 8, and 9, common Christmas passages which talk about the virgin giving birth to Immanuel and of God’s future government brought forth by a “wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace.”
But those passages also talk about divine judgment upon Jerusalem and the southern kingdom for their rebellion against God.
Isaiah 5 gives a vision of the destruction of the Lord’s vineyard.
In that passage, we again see Israel depicted as a grapevine which the vinedresser – the Lord – has planted in fertile soil and has tended to the vineyard. The point is that God has made every provision for his vine, yet the grapes its produced are sour, and the vine has become overgrown and wild.
And so the Prophet Isaiah gives a warning of judgment against Israel, this vine.
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
Protection is removed. Provision is withheld. The vine will be allowed to continue to grow out and be subject to the natural elements.
That’s the metaphor.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus uses vineyard metaphors and parables.
Because of the Old Testament background, the vine had become an important symbol in Israel. When the Israelites had a revolt against the Romans a generation after the ministry of Jesus, their coinage sported the image of a vine.
And it’s against that backdrop that on the night before he went to the cross, Jesus said to his disciples I am the true vine.
Not simply, I am the vine.
But he is the true vine that Israel was not.
That Jesus is the true vine who brings forth the true harvest which Israel did not bring.
Here’s something else to consider.
We’re at the beginning of John 15.
Let’s briefly flip the page back to where John 14 ends:
30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here (John 14:30-31).”
John 14 ends with Jesus calling upon the disciples to leave.
Jesus is arrested in John 18. Given the geographical markers between the gospels, we know that Jesus and the disciples move west to east and that he’s arrested near the temple.
So in John chapters 15-17, Jesus and the disciples are making their way from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was arrested.
Walking by the temple, the entrance of the temple had large decorative vines that had been cast. And it was in the shadow of the temple that in the hours before his death, Jesus said to his disciples I am the true vine.
and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes,
Truly believing in the gospel, truly believing in Jesus, brings life, brings transformation. A byproduct of believing in the gospel is fruit. Fruit is the good works, virtue, and love for God which exists in a believer.
Again, to believe in Jesus is to be part of the true vine. And to truly believe in him, to truly get it, to truly be living for Christ is to have a life that bears fruit.
There is only one vine, the true vine, Christ. There aren’t all sorts of vines. There is one vine, and we are growing on it or we’re not.
For the branches which bear fruit, there is life because the vinedresser prunes and cultivates the branches and that brings us to our second point.
Being pruned by the vinedresser
Let’s look again at verse 2 and finish verse 2.
every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
God is the vinedresser who prunes the grapevine.
Illustration – viticulture
Properly pruning grapevines is essential to maximizing the harvest. Without pruning vines, they can quickly become overgrown and entangled.
Pruning requires cutting off small branches and old branches so that you can make room to support the new year’s grapevines. You wanted the vine to be cut to a certain length. Too long and it’s more susceptible to breaking. Pruning was primarily done twice a year. It would be done in the spring when they planted and again in the fall at harvest to ensure healthy vines.
And that is all important to the metaphor and what the passage is teaching.
Because for the branch the bears good fruit on the vine, God as the master vinedresser, God prunes in order to maximize the harvest.
That’s what a vinedresser does.
They have to cut away at the vine for the good of the vine.
Imagine that you’re a branch on the vine. You might have all of these other branches and shoots that look good and are about to blossom.
And then the vinedresser starts cutting.
It’d seem cruel!
But a good vinedresser knows it’s necessary to get the most fruit out of the vine.
I think of where I began this morning in talking about my dog. Sometimes she doesn’t want things or understand things which are meant for her ultimate good.
We can be short-sighted too. We can miss the big picture too.
God brings about things in our lives sometimes for our growth that can seem painful, that can seem harsh, that can seem unfair.
Yet all of it is meant for ultimate good.
And God has to prune us.
Application – God prunes us
It can be different ways in different seasons of life, but God must use the knife to cut into us.
This calls to mind a passage like Hebrews 12, where God is a loving father who instills discipline in his children.
Hebrews 12:6: the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
Sometimes that’s how God prunes us.
Sometimes it’s through the challenges we face.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James says that we are to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds because God uses those trials to work greater results in us.
Sometimes it can be through illnesses or life circumstances.
Sometimes God takes things away from us, but for greater purposes.
Sometimes it can be through setbacks.
But God works through those challenges and situations.
In the process, he produces different results.
No two branches are pruned exactly the same.
But to be a Christian is to be part of the vine, and to be part of the vine is to produce fruit. And to be part of the vine is definitely to be pruned. God is a perfecting God.
God is faithful to work in us.
Few weeks ago we had Vacation Bible School.
The key verse for VBS was from Philippians 1:6:
he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
It’s not always through horrible afflictions and difficulties that God works in us.
God can prune us through relationships. People in our family, people in the church, people from work. He can use people to be transformational in our lives. Kari is getting me a pruning knife in October, Lord willing.
He can prune through his word.
2 Timothy 3:16:
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
God can use his word in mighty ways in our lives.
And let us remember that when we read our Bibles. That the Word should challenge us.
We are sinful and imperfect. God’s Word is true and points us to holiness.
It can be challenging to be confronted with the Bible.
You can have weeks or months of reading the Bible and nothing really stands out to you and then you come across a passage that feels like it was written with you in mind.
Because God uses his word to cut us. He uses it to prune us.
Hebrews 4:12 says:
the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
God prunes us with his Word.
God prunes us to produce fruit. God prunes us to teach us. God prunes us to humble us. To make us more joyful. To make us more appreciative. To make us more loving. To make us more trusting and reliant upon him. To make us more holy in living for him.
And in many other ways.
How is God pruning you?
Is there an area of your life where you’re not living up? Where you know you’re not honoring God? Is there an area of sin that you’re struggling with? Is there an idol that you’re holding onto? Is there a person you’re withholding forgiveness from?
The answer for that question will vary from person to person.
But what does not change is that God is working in his people.
You’re not a finished product.
Producing fruit through the vine
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Verse 3, the focus shifts.
Jesus says to the disciples: Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
That is meant to be an encouragement.
The Word that Jesus has spoken refers to the totality of his teaching. That they have heard the words of Christ and believed and it is because of this that they are made clean.
It is because of the word of the gospel that all of us are made clean.
The disciples heard Jesus.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).
whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
And so much more.
Life is in Christ Jesus.
If you have faith in Jesus and believe in him as Lord and savior, there are still struggles that we face, but we can also look to him with hope and expectation that there will be fruit. That he is at work. That God is pruning. That he who began a good work WILL bring it to completion.
We aren’t yet what God will have us be.
Jesus is the vine. We are the branches through which he wants to bring forth great fruit.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
There are some Bible passages where the metaphor is just so simple that on the one hand, there’s nothing else that needs to be said. It’s self-explanatory. Beautiful simplicity.
Psalm 23 is one of those passages.
Here, Jesus calls us to abide in him.
And as we abide in Jesus, he is in us. He is working in us.
There is no good fruit that we are producing apart from Christ. A branch cannot produce grapes if it’s not attached to the vine.
Jesus says neither can you, unless you abide in me.
As we’ve seen so many other times in this gospel, it’s an absolute statement.
Are there many ways to honor God? Are there many ways to produce the fruits that God desires from his people? Fruits of righteousness and holiness? The fruit of growing in sanctification and in the knowledge of God? The fruit of virtue and living for the glory of God?
Is that through the true vine?
Or is it just some Bible teaching that’s nice and quaint but not really transformational.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Again Jesus reminds us that he is the vine.
We produce fruit on the vine and only on the vine.
So far we’ve talked about Jesus being the true vine and what it means to be a branch on the vine. We’ve talked about the pruning that God does.
And this last point points us to the fruit that Jesus bears.
When we talk about pruning, that’s a painful process.
But this is a positive passage. Because the point is about the great fruit that Jesus produces. Jesus is not calling us to misery and drudgery. He wants us to live joyful lives for him and through him.
John 10:10, Jesus says:
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
He wants us to live abundantly, in him.
He wants us to experience all the fullness of life in him, on the vine.
The fruit is good.
Who doesn’t love grapes? Grapes are good. They’re delicious.
Have you guys tried those new cotton candy grapes?
Jesus isn’t the broccoli plant.
He’s not the true cabbage patch.
He’s the grapevine.
And he wants to produce goodness in you.
Conclusion – abiding in Christ
Jesus calls us to abide in him.
We are to live for him. To walk with him. To follow him. To learn from him.
Because Jesus loves us and he never does anything that is not in our ultimate interest and for our ultimate good.
He wants us to bear fruit, in him. On the vine. And that is a grace that he gives us because he loves us.
We’re going to move right into communion.
I’ve talked about the powerful symbol that the grapevine was in Ancient Israel and in the Old Testament. Obviously we can eat grapes, but the primary purpose for grapes in this time and culture was wine production. It was an important industry.
Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of winepresses from ancient Israel.
It was important culturally. It was important symbolically. It was important Biblically.
And in this passage, Jesus has said that the symbol is ultimately about him. That the vine ultimately points to him because he is the true vine.
Jesus begins his ministry by turning water into wine. He celebrates the last supper by lifting up a cup of wine and saying “this is my blood.”
And as Jesus walked with his disciples to the place of his death, in the shadow of the temple, Jesus said I am the true vine.
Jesus is the true vine and Jesus gives the true wine.
Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.
Keller, T. J. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. “The Vinedresser” 12 January 1992, New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Laney, J. C. (2016). The Vine, the Branches, and What It Means to Abide. In B. J. Beitzel & K. A. Lyle (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
McMillan, R. L. (2016). Vines and Viticulture. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Osborne, G. R. (2018). John: Verse by Verse. (J. Reimer, E. Ritzema, D. Thevenaz, & R. Brant, Eds.) Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 2). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.