In verse 1 we have Jesus declare Himself to be the Vine.
I AM, εγο ειμε.
This is the last of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings and what does He choose - a vine.
The vine really does not get a good press (pun almost unintended) in the Bible.
Try finding a positive story about one.
An olive tree on the other hand is the prince of trees and very abundant in Israel.
Yet, our Lord chose the vine.
In the Old Testament Israel was often cast as a vine on which God lavished care and attention, listen to this from God’s perspective in:
It all starts well but, as we find in all the other passages about vines, it never ends well despite all that God does for her.
Even in the book of Revelation a vine is representative of the wrath of God.
It makes it all the more strange then that Israel adopted the vine as their emblem and symbol in much the same way as it has adopted the star of David today.
There is a description by an historian of the time who said:
In the temple at Jerusalem, above and round the gate, seventy cubits high (about 100 ft), which led from the porch to the holy place, a richly carved vine was extended as a border and decoration.
The branches, tendrils and leaves were of finest gold; the stalks of the bunches were of the length of the human form, and the bunches hanging upon them were of costly jewels.
Herod first placed it there; rich and patriotic Jews from time to time added to its embellishment, one contributed a new grape, another a leaf, and a third even a bunch...
However, Jesus says that He is the true vine rather than the degenerate vine of Israel.
Jesus is the source of the life of the vine, the church and its branches.
And just as God expected decent fruit from Israel He expects it from us.
As we go through this passage we see that there is a progression from simply fruit, to more fruitful to much fruit.
What God expected from Israel was loving obedience, righteousness and justice.
And so we can conclude that is what is expected of us: loving obedience, righteousness and justice.
There is a warning here that speaks of a branch not bearing fruit - this seems to imply that there are those who claim to be followers of Christ but it is not evidenced by fruit and we’ll come back to this momentarily.
Of course, right in their midst was the traitor Judas.
And indeed Judas is cut off.
We know that this is not a true believer spoken of here for if we are in Christ we do bear fruit, it is unavoidable.
Now what is this fruit?
Well, we’re told elsewhere in
We may not yet be perfect in all these but there will be in us its presence.
Let’s be clear; none of us have got it all yet but we are on the way.
Every year in Israel they prune their vines cutting off dead wood and trimming branches in the winter so that come the spring they will yield even more grapes.
And so we see with God and us.
The branches that are doing well get the knife.
The fruit we have spoken of thus far is inward but, of course, it will not always remain so, it will come out and we will influence people and maybe bring souls into the Kingdom of God.
It may seem unfair that if we seem to be doing well in our Christian lives it is we who get the knife!
But the health of a vineyard is absolutely dependent upon its pruning.
It is about getting rid of the muck and suckers that have latched onto the branches as they do.
And without being pruned the potential is limited.
Either way it is painful when it happens.
Probably written by King David he knew about this as he tells us in
We are told to expect discipline.
Indeed, discipline is not just for us if something is not right in our lives but it purges us deeper:
We don’t want to go under the knife but it is beneficial for us and for the glory of God:
One person translated James 1:2 like this:
Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations?
Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.
So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems.
For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.
(James 1:2, The Living Bible)
You may feel that when these things happen that God departs from us for it can be a dark time but, actually, it is then that |He is closest.
A bit like the footsteps in the sand poem.
When He takes the knife to us it is not for our harm and when a gardener does his work well he will leave little behind except the vine itself.
In the same way we are pruned to the point where Christ alone is revealed.
Remember that without Him we cannot bear any fruit.
And the fruit we will bear will benefit ourselves, but more will benefit others, but more will glorify God.
Listen to the word of a hymn written by John Newton:
I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?”
I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”
To be fruitful for Him, for God, we have to be in God’s family, we have to be in Jesus.
Notice that the emphasis is not upon what you do but upon where you are, upon Who you know.
We cannot force fruit we can only take from the vine the sap that is fed to us by being part of the vine.
We are in Christ and His Words are also in us.
His Word works upon our lives so that what He wants we want, what He desires, we desire and that means that when we pray we pray in line with His will, for our will and His have aligned.
To have a spiritual life we are told to ‘remain’ eleven times in verses 4 to 10.
It is the main thing He is teaching here.
To be continually nourished we must remain in connection to the trunk of the vine to live and flourish.
This means that we must do away with those things where we try to do things in our way, in our own strength and in our own ability and instead learn to go to Him first.
When Jesus says we can do nothing without Him is not saying we cannot do anything without Him - for we prove that day to day - what Christ is saying that anything that is of true spiritual and lasting value cannot be done without Him - anything that is really real comes from being in the vine and in realising our own sense of weakness.
This is why the refrain of looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith is so necessary.
Remember when Peter was called out of the boat onto the water.
This He did successfully until he took His eyes off Jesus and then he sank.
We are doing too much swimming and not enough walking on the water.
The result of us staying in close union with Christ is that we can pray confidently for we know we will only pray according to His will.
We will also gain confidence in the love Jesus has for us, and we will also gain a lasting joy.
As we pray, we abide and as we abide we pray and in deeper and deeper ways:
This is also what it means to be fruitful; something that only believers can know, a secret prayer life that is effectual for we pray in the name of Jesus, according to His will, and in this and other ways we shall show our active, loving obedience proving we are children of God.
Jesus came not to give us a boring, fruitless, joyless existence but as Jesus says in: