Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sermon - Fruit from the True Vine - John 15

Lots of people love fishing and eating fish.  But from what people have told me around here, if someone caught it around here, you’d better ask where it came from.  There’s a great debate whether fish caught out of the Pigeon River is good to eat given the history of pollution. 

When it comes to fish—you’d better ask about its source.  The same is being said about fish and seafood caught in the northern Pacific Ocean after the Fukishima Radiation leak out of Japan.  More and more of that radiation poisoning is showing up in tests. 

The same can be said for fruits and vegetables.  I prefer to buy fruits and vegetables from the USA because I know we have a few more standards for pesticides and cleaning. 

When we talk about fruit, we’ve got to talk about the source.  Because the source of our fruitfulness makes all the difference. 

To see that source, we need to look at John 15.

As we begin John 15 we need to look at the context.  The last line of ch. 14 says “Come now, let us leave.”

They are leaving the upper room where they celebrated the Passover Meal, what we know as the Last Supper.  He’s talking to a group of Jews who have grown up hearing how they are born into the Promise, born into the covenant because they are Abraham’s descendants.

Jesus is headed toward the Garden of Gethsemane where He knows that Judas is betraying Him. He knows His arrest is coming, His beating and crucifixion.  He knows that many of these men with Him will desert Him.  He knows it all. 

This begins one of the longest sequences of Jesus speaking and teaching.  And the first thing He begins to talk about is how He is the Vine and we are the branches.  How in Him we are supposed to produce fruit.  Notice how many times this comes up in just 17 verses.

John 15:1-17

“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[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“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.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”

The word “fruit” appears 9 times in these verses.  Sometimes Jesus is comparing someone who bears no fruit with someone who does.  Other times, Jesus is describing the source of our fruitfulness and the desire of God.

Look at how Jesus describes Himself.  Jesus is the True Vine—He is the source from which all fruit comes.  Every branch, Jew & Gentile, Church or individual must be connected to Jesus.  From Him we draw our support, from Him we draw our nourishment and everything we need to produce fruit.

Many other teachers, religious figures claim to be a source for truth but only Jesus is the True Vine.  Jesus says that we can bear no fruit—no fruit that has eternal value, no fruit that lasts apart from Him.  Apart from Him we can do nothing—nothing of significance, nothing of real importance.

Look at how Jesus describes God the Father.  He is the Gardener.  This is the same role the Father plays in the opening chapters of Genesis when He plants a garden as a place for Adam & Eve to live.  He cultivates it and decides what fruit is to be grown.  And the most important harvest, fruit that He wants to grow is you and me—those who are created in His image!  Above all else, God desires us to be fruitful and multiply—multiply those who love, honor, obey and worship Him.

The Gardener has a very watchful eye—He closely inspects every branch to gauge its fruitfulness.  And if a branch is not fruitful, He does something to it. 

Many of you read this passage and wonder if it is talking about someone losing their salvation.  I would say no.

Most of your translations say “takes away”, “remove” or “cuts off”.  But those imply something that doesn’t happen till later.  The literal translation of this word is a form of “to lift” – “He lifts up”.  Now it could be for removal, but any of you who have ever grown tomatoes should know that lifting of the vine, lifting of the branches is extremely important if you want to grow tomatoes.  What happens if you don’t lift up the tomato plant?  It gets buried in the dirt, the fruit rots and won’t produce.  You lift it up out of the dirt, out of the filth of the world, that way it drinks in the light, the dirt washes off, and the unfruitful plant will begin to produce fruit. 

All this time, this branch has continued to be “In Me”—like last week when the owner of the vineyard comes and inspects His tree—He gave plenty of time for fruitfulness—then additional time—another year, digging around it and giving extra fertilizer.  That’s what’s happening here.  He is lifting up the branch—giving another opportunity to bear fruit.

But this opportunity doesn’t last forever.

I believe Jesus is talking to these Jewish men and dealing with an issue that is still a very common attitude today.

Many Jews thought they were guaranteed a safe and secure afterlife solely on the grounds that they were born Jews, born Abraham’s descendants because they had the Torah or sacrificed at the Temple. 

Many of our friends & neighbors make a similar mistake, that just because you or they were born in America, born to Christian parents or raised in church that they are set. 

Romans 9:6-8—“It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.”

In other words, who your parents are don’t guarantee your salvation, how much money you give doesn’t guarantee salvation, how many times you go to church doesn’t guarantee salvation. 

If you do have the privilege of being born to Christian parents, you have freedom to call on God, you have access to the Scriptures—essentially all the advantages to Knowing God—but you never make a decision on your own, never come to a saving faith—you are choosing not to draw any nourishment from the vine and thus not growing any fruit—you are choosing, despite all your advantages “not remain[ing] in [HIM]”—vs. 6—such a branch is thrown away—it begins to wither and dry up and is thrown into the fire to be burned.

The Gardener does everything He can to make you fruitful.

You’re like one of these branches out here on some of these trees—in the spring, you can tell which ones are dead and rotting because they don’t grow any leaves on them.  I’ve seen half the tree with leaves and flowers and the other half with nothing.

Jesus says in 15:8—that we show ourselves to be true disciples when we produce fruit.  So the opposite principle would say that if we are not producing fruit, we are not true disciples. 

Someone who has rejected Jesus cannot be producing fruit for Jesus—they are withering away and dying—life is being sucked out of them.  Fruitlessness shows that someone is cut off from the source—because if you were truly connected, you would be producing fruit.

Branches that do not remain in the True Vine—connected to the Source… those get cut off.  Without the first fruit of Salvation—all the advantages are wasted.  But there is always hope.

Even for the Jews who so long ago rejected Jesus--

Romans 11:23—“And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.”

But notice that if you are producing some fruit—that doesn’t mean God leaves you alone or ignores you.  He’s not looking for branches that produce the bare minimum—he’s not looking for grades like a D or a C.  He’s not interested in average.

God is not content to let any branch be just a little fruitful—he prunes it, He pays MORE attention to it so it will become even more fruitful. 

And so He Prunes us.  Pruning is not always a pleasant process—sometimes things need to be removed, other times they need to be shaped and moved to a new location, or so it will grow in a new direction.  The branch doesn’t ask for that treatment, probably doesn’t like that treatment, and cannot typically see or appreciate or understand the results—the goal of being more fruitful.

But the Gardener does—He knows exactly what it takes for us to be more fruitful and He will do whatever it takes in our lives to make us so.  He will nourish us from the True Vine.

God desires you and I to be fruitful, because that confirms that we are His disciples and it brings Him greater glory.  There is not supposed to be coasting, a retirement or resting on past achievements—God is always seeking for us to be producing more fruit, not less. 

That is His desire from us—and I hope it is yours.  I hope that is your desire for this church!  that is what the nourishment from the True Vine is for—so that we will produce, not just a little, not just some, but much fruit—abundant fruit—a harvest 100 times what was sown in us.

Fruit that has lasting, eternal value—fruit that has affects generations into the future.  The fruit that lasts is the fruit that likewise remains in Him.

So the question is, how is God pruning you to make you more fruitful?  What is He cutting away that is hindering your fruitfulness?  How is our Gardener shaping the way you grow, moving you into a new location?

The good news is that He wants you to be Fruitful—He wants to see you and I, and this church Produce much fruit—lasting fruit—fruit that remains in Him for generations.

And He wants you and I to abide, to remain, to stay in Him.  He wants you and I close and drawing our nourishment from the True Vine—does that describe you?

Ask for His pruning to make you more fruitful.

You may be hearing this realizing that you have not remained in Him and you feel your spirit withering away and you’re in danger of being thrown into the fire of hell.  That is not God’s heart for you.  Don’t cut yourself off from Him.  Today, right now you can be grafted into the True Vine through the fruit of repentance.

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