Today, we close our look at the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus in John’s gospel. Over the course of this seven-week journey, we have seen Jesus as the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate to the sheepfold, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and finally, today, he is the true vine.
I Am the True Vine
Jesus is in the middle of what is commonly called The Farewell Discourse, an extended passage that runs from John 13:31 to 16:33, following which Jesus launches into the beautiful John 17 prayer. Jesus is going to suffer horribly and ultimately die, and he knows it. In these closing hours, he has much to say to his disciples, now called “friends” (John 15:15). For those of you with red-letter Bibles, these pages are almost solid red.
Having described his role and relationship with humanity in such soaring terminology as “truth” and “life” itself, or even “the resurrection,” it is striking to see Jesus choose the simplicity of the vine to speak of himself. In doing so, Jesus has chosen a lifeblood industry, familiar to everyone in Israel.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. – John 15:1, ESV
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. – John 15:5, ESV
The vineyard played a key role in the life and the economy of Israel, so much so that there was a golden vine adorning the temple Herod built. In selecting this metaphor, Jesus has introduced nothing new to the audience, but rather has chosen something with which they were intimately familiar, something on which their economy depended. Think Napa Valley.
As disciples, Christ-followers, Jesus is that from which we draw our lifeblood. He is the “author of life” (Acts 3:15), the source of our spiritual nutrition. Just as a body cannot survive without the head (Colossians 1:18), the branch cannot survive if removed from the vine.
Alean and I planted a beautiful, flowering Akebia Quinata in such a way that it could climb the corner-post of the back deck and spread as a canopy over the pergola, providing shade in the summers. To my horror, I sliced through one of the main trunks with the grass trimmer, severing it about an inch from the ground. I tried desperately to replant/re-root it to no avail. It has been “severed from the vine” and there was no substitute sufficient to keep it alive.
Similarly, there is no substitute for Jesus. He is not merely a vine. He is the vine, the true vine, the life-giving vine. Do not lose sight of the fact that the existence of a true vine necessitates that there are false vines, deceptive vines to which we can connect. Though they make grandiose promises, only the true vine gives life.
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. – John 15:4, ESV
Note that Jesus is telling us to abide in the vine. This is a command, indicating that our connection to the vine is a choice we make. Generally, branches do not opt to leave the vine, but in our case it is a choice to stay or to leave. Stay connected to the vine!
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. – John 15:8, ESV
We are to bear fruit as those abiding in the vine. And not just any fruit, but good fruit, cultivated fruit rather than wild grapes. What this fruit is has long been debated by those smarter than I am, but the call to bear good fruit is unmistakable.
Note, that a disciple does bear fruit. Bearing fruit is not a command. It is a natural outgrowth of being a disciple. If you are a disciple, you will bear fruit. If you are not, you won’t, or you’ll bear bad fruit. Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “You will know them by their fruit,” and further tells us that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree good fruit.
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. – John 15:8, ESV
Alean and I spend a great deal of time “dead-heading” our flowers. If we do not do so, the dead or dying blooms and stems suck the life out of the rest of the plant leaving it pitiful looking. If we dead-head, the plant can send its nutrients to the healthy blooms and stems resulting in an even greater yield.
So it is with us. As we bear the fruit of discipleship, we can expect the Father to prune us, both corporately and individually. This pruning, though painful, is necessary to the vibrant growth of the body and the individual. If it is your desire to be a fruitful disciple or fruitful body, you must be prepared to endure the pruning. Remember what Warren Wiersbe said, “Your Heavenly Father is never nearer to you than when He is pruning you.”