Providence Church (CREC)
Fourth Sunday of Resurrection
May 10th, 2009, 16th sermon
Sermon: The True Vine: Abiding in Christ
Text: John 15:1-8, SERMON AUDIO HERE
Pastor Uriesou T. Brito
Text: “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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
Prayer: Our great Deliverer, You have brought a vine out of Egypt and scattered the nations, so you could plant it and see it bear much fruit. We pray that you would do the same with your people. Plant us that we may we bear much fruit. For this is our prayer, O Lord. Amen.
Sermon: People of God, the gospel of St. John is the perpetual embodiment of signs and symbols. Everywhere we look we see pictures and imageries of our lovely Lord Jesus. In John 1, He is the Word, in John 6, He is the bread of life and now in John 15, He is the Vine. Do we not get a beautiful portrait of the worship of God’s people? The Word preached and the bread eaten! We see Word, Bread and now in chapter 15, the Wine.
The upper room discourse runs from chapters 13-17. There is a supper in this discourse. It is very appropriate then for Jesus to use this symbol for Himself. He says in verse 1 that He is the true, genuine vine. This is Jesus’ seventh and final “I am” statement. Unlike the “I am the true shepherd” statement, which addresses the under-shepherds of the church of Christ primarily, this final “I am” statement is addressed to the church. It is filled with real warnings as we will see.
This imagery of the vine is found many times in the Older Covenant. God refers to Israel as a vine. As the pages of redemptive history reveal to us, Israel was a vine that was not bearing fruit. The idea of a fruitless vine refers to Israel’s lack of fruit; Israel’s failure to produce fruit for the nations. In light of Israel’s failure, a new vine, a greater Israel arrives. The Lord Jesus Christ is the true Israel who is the true vine.
If the church of God desires to bear fruit, they must be connected to the great Vine, Jesus Christ. It is a very difficult thing to explain vineyards in our modern society. There are many in our Christian society who refuses to drink wine, because they connect it with drunkenness and abuse. Indeed the Bible condemns drunkenness. But it does not condemn drinking wine. The idea of producing fruit from the vine is a joyous one in the Scriptures. Judges 9:13 says that wine cheers man and God. Even God delights in wine. We see this fulfilled for us in John 2 when our Lord transformed water into wine. Psalm 104 says that wine makes glad the heart of man. I Kings 4 we see a picture of the glorious future when the writer tells us that Judah and Israel will dwell safely under his vine. Professor Mark Futato says that the image of prosperity in the Ancient Near East is that of rain blessing the dry land, of vines producing exceptionally large and juicy grapes, and the juice of the grapes being so abundant that the grapes of the land burst and there is a magnificent picture of wine descending the ancient mountains bringing joy to all the people. This is the picture of the vine. Its intent is to produce much fruit, so that the nations are blessed by it.
The purpose of the second person of the Trinity is to be the true vine, while the first person of the trinity is the vine-dresser. He is the One who busies himself with the vine’s branches. The Father tends the vine.
Verse 2 expands on this idea: “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.” We see that the pruning is the work of the Father. The text says that these branches are connected to Christ; they are in Christ; part of the vine. In tangible language, these branches are part of the Church of Christ. They are communing with the people of God. They taste of the benefits of Christ’s church. They are even in covenant with Messiah as a husband is in covenant with His wife. Because a man is in covenant with his wife does not mean he will always be loyal to his wife. He is called to be loyal. He is called to be faithful unto the end; ‘til death do us part. But yet, sadly we are aware that even within our Christian communities, husbands forsake this covenant and betray their wives. In the same manner, there are branches in the vine. They are called to bear fruit. Since they are in covenant with God they are called to show their loyalty and commitment to their Lord. Rather, they betray their Master and abandon their covenant with our Lord. They become like Judas.
Brothers and sisters, this is a clear teaching from Sacred Scriptures. Those who are disposed to the spiritual virtues, to word and deed, to live in harmony with God’s righteous law, to love the Lord Jesus and who continually place their faith in Him, who desire to live faithfully, who repent of their sins, who cherishes their godly responsibilities as fathers, mothers, and children, who love the faith our fathers, who love one another in the body, and who bear fruit for the sake of the gospel, these are true braches who will always remain in the vine. But on the other hand, there is a real warning in this passage against apostasy; those who are in covenant, but abandon the covenant community to pursue the gods of their imagination or any other, but the true Messiah of the world will be cut off. Let me make this clear: Those who are brought into the eternal community by God’s great election before the foundation of the world will never be cast out of the vine; will never lose the salvation that Christ accomplished, but do not be foolish to believe that you can live in the congregation of the righteous on Sunday, while living in the synagogue of Satan throughout the week. John tells us that your branch will be cut off.
Jesus then addresses the disciples and affirms that they are clean. They have heard the true word. In chapter 13 Jesus had told them that some were not clean. He spoke of Judas who would betray Him. Judas had been a clear advocate of Jesus’ ministry; He preached in Jesus’ Name and yet, he abandoned covenant with Messiah and apostatized. Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches is one that clearly has Judas in the background. In verse 3, Jesus is saying that the eleven disciples are clean. Why are they clean?
We see the reason they are clean and why we are clean in verses 4 & 5: because we are abiding in Christ.
If you abide in Christ, in the vine, He will abide in you. This is not to say that our abiding is of our own strength, will, or power, rather it is also a gift from God. The end of verse 5 tells us that apart from Christ, our great Vine, we can do nothing. ‘All the other religions and philosophies of the world reduce to single principles of self-effort. It may be “know yourself” as the ancient Greeks might have said; or “control yourself” as the Stoics of the Roman imperial world would have said; or extinguish yourself as the Buddhist might say; or subordinate yourself as the Muslim might say; or improve yourself as a modern positive thinker might say. But here is a completely different principle. Here, the Christian Faith tells us: “without Christ we can do nothing.” It is absolutely a religion of personal responsibility – we must do something, we must remain in Christ, we must obey, we must pray – but it is first a religion of grace – we can only do these things if God first acts for us and works in us. We can only abide in the vine, if the grace of Christ is working in us. But we are to remember that the Biblical picture does not deny our responsibility to bear fruit. It urges us to continually abide in the Vine, so that we may be fruit-bearers. If we are connected to our great Messiah, the Vine, producing works of righteousness and living the life of faithfulness, Christ has promised to never cut us off.
However, according to verse 6 “if anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” This verse makes even more explicit what has already been stated earlier. Note the seriousness of this powerful imagery. Earlier in John, Jesus says that those who come to Him and abide in Him He will not cast out, but here in John 15, He is giving another picture. There are five elements in the punishment of the apostate, the one who does not abide in Christ:
a) Those who do not abide in Him will be cast out. They will be thrown away from the vine.
b) Secondly, this branch will wither; that is, it will dry up. He may linger in this life, but he will have no peace, no joy as Joel 1 tells us: “joy is withered away.”
c) Thirdly, it is gathered or picked up. Jesus says in Matthew that in the time of the harvest he will bind them together for the purpose of burning them.
d) Fourthly, they are thrown into the fire. Revelation 20 says that they will be thrown into the furnace of fire.
e) Finally, the text says that they are burned. This does not mean they will be annihilated, but rather they will suffer the torments of this unquenchable fire where the worm does not die and they will be tormented day and night.
Brothers and sisters, this is not a pleasant picture for those who abandon the true faith. For those who are baptized into the body, but betray the God of their baptism. This is why Jesus says that it would have been better for the man never to have been born. It is a dangerous and deadly approach to enter the body of Christ and to betray it.
But the promise to those who abide in Him is very different. For those who abide in the words of Christ, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. This passage and others similar to it have been highly abused. The meaning of this text is not to be separated from the context of John 15. Verse 7 is not to be isolated and made into a bumper sticker. John 15 is about joyfulness in abiding in Christ and His words, it is not about what material benefits I can gain. The idea is that “as the Word of Jesus abides in us, and as we keep His word, we become more and more attuned to His desires, purposes, and passion for the world and for us. As we abide in Jesus, our prayers are more a more specifically conformed to God’s will for us.” Our asking will be within the purposes of the Vine. This is the process of Christian maturity. As we grow older in the faith we realize that it is better to be conformed to the will of the Father, than to our own wills.
How Shall We Then Live?
Abiding in Christ is the all in all of the Christian life. When we abide in Him we are clinging to the One who has promised that we will bear much fruit. But what fruit does the vinedresser expect from you? We see that in verse 1 the Father is the vinedresser. He is the one that is pruning us of everything that is superfluous and unnecessary. For us to bear fruit, the Father needs to clean us from our pride, from our selfish ambition, from our gossip, from our sinful tendencies in every respect. This is a necessary part of the Christian faith. We bear fruit when we are humbled by the work of God in our lives. Woe to those who think they have reached a phase of their lives where they no longer need the pruning of the Father!
Let us not forget also that the Father may use the weak to prune us. God may use the most unlikely of people to teach us and to show us our sin. To abide in Christ is first to be humbled in Christ.
In verse 7 we see that fundamentally this abiding in Christ is abiding in His word. After all, how can we abide in Christ if we do not know His revealed Word? How can we desire to bear fruit for the sake of the world, if we are not clinging to this Word or meditating on this Word day and night? There simply cannot be an abiding in Christ apart from the Word of Christ.
Finally, in verse 8, we see the sole purpose of this narrative: to glorify God; as our catechism reminds us: “Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” When the people of God are showing the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; when the world is aware that you are a true disciple, then the Father is glorified and the true Vine, the true Israel, Jesus Christ abides in you and You in Him. In The Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 These sorts of questions have all sorts of implications to our understanding of the covenant. The text truly tells us that these branches are “IN” Christ, not in the sphere of Christ, but truly in Christ. We cannot here attempt to fit this passage neatly into our system of theology; rather, we are to accept it as a true breaking away from the covenant in Messiah.
 A great quote from Rev. Robert Rayburn. http://www.faithtacoma.org/sermons/John/John_15.1-17.Mar18.2001.htm
 William Hendriksen. New Testament commentary on John, pg. 301.
 Matthew 13:30.
 See Revelation 20.
 Matthew 26:24.
 Peter Leithart, leithart.com.