Monday, 18 April 2011 12:35

I Am The True Vine

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Dear friends, hear the Word of the Lord as given in John 15:1 & 5 where Jesus declares “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman [vinedresser]…..I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” In a sense this is like a climax to His “I am” statements in the gospel of John; it is also the seventh and last of His “I am” gospel statements.

To help us see how very special this seventh and last “I am” statement of Jesus is, there are four points that, as it were, jump out at us from the text. To help you remember these points, we will use the letters of the word ‘vine’. The theme of the sermon is ‘Jesus the true Vine’, and we will look at how this is such a victorious gospel statement; such an instructive gospel statement; such a needed gospel statement; and such an encouraging gospel statement. I hope you will never forget these points because it is so precious and so important what Jesus here tells us, how He describes Himself to us.

I am the true vine.” How is this such a victorious gospel statement? Well, here we need to go back to the Old Testament picture of Israel as shown in passages like Isaiah 5 and Ezekiel 15. We learn from suchlike passages and others that Old Testament Israel, God’s covenant people before Christ, are repeatedly referred to as the vine, so much so in fact that the vine became a symbol of Israel or for Israel. However, when you go through the Old Testament references to Israel as the vine [e.g Psalm 80:8-16, Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 15, Ezekiel 19:10,Hosea 10:1] you find strikingly that all the references point out Israel’s miserable and repeated faithlessness and fruitlessness as the vine and vineyard of God. And over and over we read of God’s just punishment due unto them. Jeremiah 2:21, for instance, reads concerning Israel: “…I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” Hosea 10:1 states likewise, “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself.” Listen to God’s lament in Isaiah 5:4, again where He says, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?”

It is against this dark background of the vine picture always spoiled, sinfully unfruitful to God, and just full of rotten corrupt fruit, that Jesus here proclaims, “I am the true vine. And my Father is the husbandman [vinedresser].” Do you catch the gospel graciousness in this statement? Jesus is here saying, ‘Israel and Judah always and again proved a fruitless vine in and of themselves but now I have come to be the true vine, the real and ultimate fulfillment of what they ought to have been and just never would or could be on their own. That vine, which has even become the symbol of Israel, I have come to fulfill! Jesus has become what Israel always failed to become, namely, Israel as the vine bearing luscious fruit to God’s praise. Jesus came that as the true Vine in Israel’s place, Israel now as vine would not just be an empty symbol for God’s people, but a living reality! Especially against the dark background of Israel’s sin and fruitlessness over against God, how very gracious, indeed, is this proclamation of Jesus, the Saviour.

That Jesus said this too even as He was about to give Himself up as the ‘Just for the unjust’ to the everlasting fire of God’s righteous wrath against the sin and the fruitlessness of mankind before God, you have to say, ‘What a Saviour our text proclaims’! Think also of how Jesus declares Himself as the vine for us given by the Father, even as wicked men, leaders of Israel and of the world in that day, determined to take the Son, the heir of all things, and to kill Him, to be rid of Him. In that terrible sinful context Jesus declares this tremendous salvation message, “I am the true vine. Oh, in view of this, who of us can exalt the Saviour as He deserves to be praised and exalted? Just imagine someone failing, failing, and just always stubbornly wickedly failing…and deserving nothing but condemnation and punishment, but instead someone else takes the person’s place and perfectly succeeds at it, and says, “I have done this for you, in your stead, and I will take all the punishment you deserve on myself too.” That would be incredible! But that is what Jesus does. So He offers and declares Himself as Saviour to those who trust and follow Him. See Him then even this night before His crucifixion, having lived a life of perfect fruitfulness to God, now also about to bear the terrible judgment of God upon sin and all our wicked fruitlessness by nature. Jesus, in fact, suffered the judgment deserved for fruitless vines, meaning on the cross especially the Saviour of sinners endured in the sinner’s place the eternal punishment of God’s wrath against sin even as He laid before God, as Saviour of sinners, His most perfect, wonderful, infinitely, fruitful life of praise to Him.

Do you grasp then what a victorious gospel statement this is when Jesus says here, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman….I am the vine, [and] ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, ye can do nothing”? This is spoken, do you hear, in great compassion for guilty, fallen, depraved sinners as we all are in ourselves. Do you know yourself to be a hopeless case as a fruit-bearing vine before God? Who of us doesn’t miserably and in numberless ways fail to bring forth fruit to God’s praise as He may rightly expect from us? Maybe you are presently feeling so much your sins and shortcomings in life. You see the vineyard of your life and all you see are the weeds of sin always choking out any growth and killing off any fruit even before it buds.

Listen to me, now. Listen carefully. Your case is not hopeless, for Jesus came to be the true vine for us. Bring your charred, unfruitful, sinful self to the Saviour and ask Him to be the true vine also for you; so, and so alone, it shall be well with you and can be well with you. Isn’t that what Jesus is teaching here in our text so clearly and triumphantly, and graciously and gloriously? Look to Jesus Christ and call upon Him as only Saviour and Lord of sinners, and you find salvation, complete deliverance from all your sin and misery, and not only that but entrusting yourself to Him, the Lord Jesus will make you a fruit-bearing branch of the vine. That is His gospel promise. Therefore the gospel invitation and call today is also to be sure to be found in Christ Jesus Who is, among other things, this too for all His people, the true vine. He is the vine of God’s own gracious provision for us who are so sinful and fruitless in ourselves. What a victorious gospel word this is. “I am the true vine.” It is astoundingly gracious glorious gospel tidings! Do you understand it so too, dear friends?

Let us move to our next point and consider how Jesus saying, “I am the true vine” is such an instructive gospel statement too, instructive, that is, also as to your and my calling in view of Jesus Christ as the vine. What is the calling Jesus repeatedly stresses in the text passage in view of Christ as the true vine? It is very simply that we abide in Him. Yes, at least nine times the same word for abide is used in verses 4-11. To abide in Christ, do you know what that means? It means to continue ever with Him, to stay with Him, to remain with Him, to hold steadfastly to Him, and to be always dependent upon Him and drawing from Him. John, the apostle, often uses this word “abiding” and you can read in his inspired writings the repeated exhortation to abide in God’s Word, to abide in God’s love, to abide in God’s truth, to abide in Christ’s anointing, to abide in God’s house, to abide in the light, and to abide in the doctrine of Christ [I John 3:15; 3:17; 2 John vs. 2; I; John.2:27; John 8:35; I John 2:10; 2 John vs. 9]. Just listen to what John writes for instance in I John 2:28 as something like his parting words to the Christians in his day. And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”

Are you right now a branch of the vine, expressing faith in Christ and abiding in Him as your only all-sufficient Saviour and blessed Lord God? Jesus is giving us here such an instructive gospel statement when He says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Practically speaking, let us look more at what abiding in Christ actually means, and what drawing from Christ the vine to God’s praise is all about. Let me mention here four aspects of abiding in Christ drawing from our text passage itself.

For one, abiding in Christ means realizing genuinely, and growing in realizing with each passing day, that without Christ you can do nothing. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me”, says Jesus in vs. 4, and vs. 5 ends with the words, “without Me ye can do nothing.” Here we have a declaration of human helplessness apart from Christ meaning in isolation from Him no spiritual achievement is possible, none whatsoever. How important that this fact be realized and confessed by all. Abiding in Christ goes together with this Spirit-worked conviction that we can’t live as Christians and can’t thrive as Christians except we look to Christ and depend on Him as Saviour and Lord every minute of the day, every step of the way. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus teaches us here?

And surely a second aspect of abiding in Christ as the true vine is that in union and communion with Him, in faith and reliance only always on Him, we can and will bear fruit. While we can do nothing of ourselves as sinful people by nature, yet as Paul also learned and testified in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me”. The gospel truth is, in and through Christ, by faith in Him, we find every resource unto salvation and in the way of salvation that more and more we may put off sin and be holy as He is holy. In and through Christ Jesus, by grace through faith in Him, we have the perfect Saviour of sinners, with every remedy for every malady, with total help in all our helplessness, and all freely given for His Name’s sake alone. Abiding in Christ, practically speaking, only takes place and increasingly takes place as we realize and confess, time and again, that without Christ we can do nothing. But in fellowship with Him, ever drawing from Him, we can indeed live faithfully and fruitfully to His praise. Dear friends, I ask you in Jesus’ Name, “Is this something you know and experience too”?

A third aspect of really abiding in Christ is a heart understanding that not being a fruit-bearing branch at all means actually not being truly saved and on the road to suffering the righteous judgment of God for our sins and sinfulness. If attachment to Christ doesn’t result in Christ-likeness in our lives and the increasing desire and resolve for that, then there is no true conversion to Christ and we are yet in our sins. This was the case with Judas Iscariot. He had an outward identification with Christ, but there was no heart communion with Christ. Those who truly abide in Christ don’t just want an outward connection with Christ but they desire to be joined to Him from the heart and all the time in and with everything. Do you know and reflect this mark too of truly abiding in Christ?

Still one other mark Jesus brings out clearly of truly abiding in Him as the vine is that then you will also live showing genuine appreciation and adherence to God’s Word, living in prayerful humble submission to all of Scripture. In vs. 10 Jesus says If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” In other words, you and I can’t be abiding in Christ if we are despising God’s Word and will in our lives. So the Lord Jesus instructs also in vs. 7, “If ye abide in me and my words abide in you”, teaching us thereby that is what marks also true union and communion with Him. And which Christian won’t acknowledge this, that the power and joy of godliness is always linked with our being in the Word, and drawing from it, and outside of that, coldness and just going through the motions of religion without joy and zeal so quickly takes over in our lives.

So then, putting it altogether, wherever there is a genuine abiding in Christ and a sincere desire so to live, you will realize and confess without Christ you can do nothing, but with Him there is hope of bearing fruit to God’s praise, and God-honoring fruit is what God may rightly expect. And living by God’s Word and in obedience to the commandments is all related to abiding in Christ in spirit and truth. These things mark living in hearty daily relationship with Christ, and these things being absent show a life of not knowing Christ as Saviour and Lord or abiding in Him. Are you abiding in Christ? Again the question is so important because without abiding in Him we prove not to be saved at all.

Saying that, still following the letters of the word vine, we come now to our third main point. Jesus saying “I am the true vine” gives us such a victorious gospel statement, such an instructive gospel statement, and thirdly now, such a needed or necessary gospel statement. What do I mean with that? Well, human nature blinded in sin always thinks that we have to make ourselves worthy of Christ and somehow to earn salvation or to make ourselves worthy of God’s grace, if not initially, at least for the long term. We have to prove somehow there is merit in us for God to reach out to us and again and again to be gracious and good to us. Even as long-time Christians we can so easily fall into the Martha syndrome of Luke 10, thinking we always have to perform for God, but the Lord wants us to learn more that one thing needful which Mary, Martha’s sister, showed when sitting at Jesus’ feet, drinking in His wonderful gospel words of life.

It is necessary for us once, and again and again, to hear salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to end. So many people falsely think and blindly believe if they just try hard enough themselves and if they follow this religious ritual and rule, then it should be okay. But the Lord says, “No. Give me your heart… I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without me ye can do nothing.” Without union and communion with Christ we function as an electric power tool not plugged in to the source of power, and we remain dead and non-functioning for God, and fruitless. How crucial to understand this gospel truth.

What is necessary for us to understand and keep being reminded of is not only are we saved by grace initially, but God will lead us onward too in the way of grace. This seventh “I am” statement of Christ stresses so much that a life of true thanksgiving to God and fruitfulness in His service ALSO flows out of and is wholly dependent on the grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God doesn’t lead His people unto salvation in the way of grace and then say, ‘Okay now, having received forgiveness of all your sins by grace alone through faith alone, now you are on your own, and you prove to me that you really love me and so bear fruit to my praise.’ No, we come to God for salvation by grace alone, and this is the Christian gospel so complete and so wonderful - we are called to live the Christian life not dependent upon ourselves but, again, wholly dependent on God’s grace. When you become a Christian you live in the field of grace from beginning to end which means you live constantly dependent upon and drawing from God’s riches at Christ’s expense. The true believer may just immerse himself or herself in the inexhaustible glorious field of God’s grace and that without price and without money. This is the splendid gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as taught also in Ephesians 2:8-10. How liberating to discover this Christian gospel reality. Do you know it? How that Christian life is not at all or ever about us performing before God on our own for His favor, but always and again depending on Him for the whole of our salvation from beginning to end.

This is gospel teaching so needed because we forget it so often and we repeatedly fall back to the idea of acceptance and favor of God by our own works. Jesus is the true vine and we only bear fruit in union and communion with Him. Therefore this needs to be the focus over and over, that we bear fruit only in union and communion with Christ Jesus as the Vine. In other words, sitting at Jesus’ feet and feeding on His gospel of grace, ever drawing from out of His fullness grace for grace in the way of repentance and faith, and ever calling upon Him in the light of His promises and His Word, that is the way to become fruit-bearing branches of the Vine.

John 15 itself tells how slow we can be in learning this secret of being fruit-bearing branches. Often the Lord will use chastisements to bring His people more to look to Him and more to live wholly out of Him and in dependence on Him. God’s people learn to say too that those trials in life which bring us closer to Him are ultimately of so much blessing. Thank God that as a Father who loves His children He will use all means to draw us with cords of everlasting love to Himself and to have us become more and more attached to the Saviour of sinners, Jesus Christ the Lord. Do your trials in life make you look more and more only to Jesus Christ for refuge and strength, for direction and help, for His Spirit and light in life’s brief earthly journey here and now? Shouldn’t we be so very thankful for every teaching and life reminder, “Salvation is not in you, but all in me – “I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, ye can do nothing.”

Are you thankful for this gospel teaching from Jesus in his final “I am” saying given even the night before His crucifixion? Jesus saying “I am the true vine” is such a victorious gospel statement, and such an instructive gospel statement, and such a necessary gospel statement. And isn’t it true we should also see it as such an encouraging gospel statement. Why? Well, consider Jesus’ promise that abiding in Him we will bear much fruit. He has the power and desire to make us truly fruit-bearing branches to His praise in our homes, at school, at work, in the church, and in our society. Jesus teaches here in John 15 what the Triune God is after for His people.

The Lord’s aim and delight is not just that you and I be outwardly attached to the Vine but that the life of the Vine flow through us and the fruit of the Spirit be much in evidence in your and my life. This text passage certainly brings out God is really out for the best for His people, that they might live fruit-bearing fulfilling lives to His glory and for their neighbor’s good. Verse 8 reads: Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. God the Father will have His people be fruit-bearing branches to His praise! Dear friends, thinking of that, shouldn’t we gladly and wholeheartedly serve such a Saviour God Who so much looks out for and is out for the very best for your life and mine? And Who also with this “I am” statement declares all that is needed for us to be truly saved and really fruitful in loving God and our neighbor, with all that we need for that being found in the true Vine, Jesus Christ Himself? It is all just so great and so gracious, this gospel teaching.

You don’t have to fret and stress about being a fruit-bearing branch, but look to Christ and remain with Him and He will make you a fruitful branch of the vine. And Jesus says we may ask to be ever more fruitful to God’s praise. If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” The Lord can work in us by His Spirit and Word in union with Christ in a way that we, in spite of ourselves, do still by His grace become more and more Christ-like in this life here and now already. The picture of a vine also suggests the spreading of God’s fame and glory throughout the ends of the earth, also through His people being fruit-bearing branches abiding in Christ and His Word. Isn’t it true, the Lord God of heaven and earth will have the message of Jesus’ gospel spread over the ends of the earth so that more and more may become attached to Christ, the true vine, and through Him bear much fruit of faith, repentance and good works to the praise of God triune and the coming of His eternal kingdom of glory?

I am the true vine.” In a real way this seventh “I am” statement seems like a grand finale. Will you glory in it too as such a great description of Christ giving us such a victorious gospel message, and such an instructive gospel message, and such a necessary gospel message, and such an encouraging gospel message? Dear friends, thus saith the Lord, ‘Jesus Christ is the true Vine’. You won’t forget it, will you, and take care ever to abide in Him, and so also and only to bear fruit to His praise and for the wellbeing of others? Amen.

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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