Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM
I AM the True Vine - Life in the Vine and the heavenly Gardeners care
by I Gordon
We are talking about one of your favourite topics this morning – fruit. But before you start licking your lips let me just say its spiritual fruit. So get those taste buds back under control till lunch time! We have come to the last of the seven great ‘I AM’ statements of Jesus and will be looking at a very common portion of scripture in John 15 where Jesus says ‘I am the true vine’. Now grapes, vines and vineyards are very common to kiwis like myself. You may not know this but I am arguably, the regions greatest grape grower. I say ‘arguably’ because there are many, many indeed, who would argue very strongly against that statement. And rightfully so. For if I’m honest, I’m a bit of a dud in the grape growing business... I got lucky one year, but not so much lately. But I keep trying!
So in this study we'll start by quickly exploring the context and look at why Jesus used this analogy of the vine. We'll also look at the main themes in the passage. To be fair there is a lot in these verses and when I first studied it I was looking at the first 11 verses of John chapter 15. But like some unkempt wild grape vine, it got away on me and my message soon went in all directions! There was a lot of information for the head but little for the heart. So I have had to do a lot of pruning on this wild and woolly study. So we'll look at the general themes of the passage and then zero in on a few verses that spoke to me personally. But let's start with the passage as a whole.
Joh 15:1-11 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (2) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (3) You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (4) Remain in me, and I will 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. (5) I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (6) If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (7) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (8) This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (9) As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (10) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. (11) I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
How about beginning with, mmm, context!
As mentioned in a previous study, John chapters 13-17 were given by Jesus on the night before the crucifixion. Theologian's call it the 'Upper Room Discourse'. So this means it was all given in the Upper Room... right? Yeah... Argh, no. Some of it was but not all even though all five chapters are called the upper room discourse. John 14:31 tells us that at that point Jesus and disciples left the room.
Joh 14:31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave.'
So they left the upper room in Jerusalem and went through the Kidron valley over to the garden of Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives. Though not stated some believe they would have passed by some vineyards. Others believe they could have passed within view of the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that over the Temple entrance had a golden vine with grapes over the top of the door. Whichever it was, it is likely that something in view brought about Jesus' statement - 'I AM the true Vine'.
But why say the true vine? Is that in comparison to something? The disciples would have been used to the metaphor of the vine. The disciples, as Jews raised with the scriptures and aware of what was on the temple entrance, would have been familiar with the imagery concerning the vineyard, the vine and its relation to the nation of Israel. Here is one example from scripture that shows the vine used as a metaphor for Israel:
Isa 5:1-7 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. (2) He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (3) Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. (4) What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? (5) Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. (6) I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it." (7) The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
We see in these verses the heart of the Lord yearning for His people and fruit that displays who He, God, is. Yet He found only bad fruit...bloodshed and distress. So He would remove its hedge of protection and allow it to be trampled and destroyed. It would become a wasteland. If you want the New Testament parallel scripture to this it is this:
Mat 23:37-39 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (38) Look, your house is left to you desolate. (39) For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
Now before we start saying 'Oh those Jews! Always rebelling and falling away from the Lord...' we need to remember what the word of God says:
Gal 3:22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Rom 3:9-10 What shall we conclude then? Are we (the Jews) any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one;'
The Jews failed. The Gentiles failed. Man's best attempt at religion failed. There was only One who wouldn't fail. That is the context and why our passage starts with Jesus saying 'I AM the TRUE Vine.' He is saying 'I AM the only One who gives life. I won't fail. I will bring forth good fruit.' And the miracle is not that He did it in His own life on Earth 2000 years ago, but that He still brings forth true good fruit in those that experience His life today.
So what is the main focus of this passage?
Now, when I first read through the passage there was a clear theme that emerged. Then I read it again and a new theme came forth. Reading it a third time gave a third focus of the passage! Here is the passage again with some little hints here and there!
Joh 15:1-10 "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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (3) "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. (4) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (5) "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (6) "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are 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) "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (9) "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. (10) "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
When I first read through this passage I saw 'bear fruit', 'bear fruit', 'bear fruit'. I thought 'ah yes... 6 mentions of bear fruit in first 7 verses. There is the theme.' It is bear fruit. That's makes sense - It is a passage about the Vine and its fruit. So come on reader... bear fruit! And some preachers might just focus on that - 'Bear fruit! You must bear fruit'. But is that the heart of the matter? Imagine if I went to my little orchard, otherwise known as the back yard, and kept yelling at my apple tree 'Come on tree! Bear fruit. Hurry up. Show me some fruit! What are you doing you miserable sorry-little-excuse for an apple tree?' The fact is that a branch will bear fruit, in season, if the conditions are right. Bearing fruit is what it is designed to do. It is actually very good at it and doesn't really need to be repeatedly yelled at! It simply asks that it is provided with some necessary conditions and a suitable environment in which it can bear fruit. So 'bearing fruit' is a very important theme of this passage. It is important and is repeated over and over... but it is doesn't start there.
So I read it again a few times and another theme came through - 'Abide' is mentioned by Jesus 10 times in 10 verses! Jesus says it over and over. Abide, abide, abide. He said that without abiding there can be no fruit. Abiding speaks of communion and fellowship with Him. It means to remain united and joined to the Lord so that the life of the Vine can come through the branches, resulting in fruit.
Rom 7:4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
Reading it again you notice the third theme - 'In Me'. This fruit bearing all happens and can only happen, 'in Christ'. Jesus said 'in Me' 8 times in 10 verses. 'In Me' speaks of the One where the life comes from. It speaks of dependence. It reminds us, as Jesus said, that apart from Him we can do nothing.
So there is no missing it - Abide in Me and you will bear fruit - fruit that will last.
Scripture gives us a few different categories of 'fruit' that results from abiding in Christ. Here are some of the verses and 'produce' to look for and expect! Check out the brief list on the right.
Pruning - Here comes the divine gardener
So let's just zero in on a few verses that spoke to me as I was studying this passage. Jesus is the true Vine. He is the One that we need to be connected to, to receive life. But note also the role of God the Father.
Joh 15:1-2 "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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
The Father is the gardener. He is the One who takes care of the branches in the Vine. Some He takes away. Some He lifts up. Where it says that He 'takes away' the branches that do not bear fruit, the Greek word for 'take away' literally means 'to lift'. So it can be translated 'takes away' or 'lifts up'1 One speaks of discipline for the fruitless branch. The other speaks of encouragement, lifting it up to help it to produce. Both fall into the hands of our divine gardener who knows what is needed. The other action mentioned is one that all true believers experience - pruning! Does you here have a grape vine? I have two down the Promised Land of my backyard. One thing you soon learn with grape vines is that over spring and summer especially they go nuts! You go have a look one day and it's all very tidy and in order. The next time you look the vine is escaping and is growing into your neighbour's yard. Left alone longer she'll be down the street and making a break for the main highway. A wee bit of exaggeration there but they just grow lots of branches, fast, and left like that there would be no fruit for the grapes require light. The branches of the vine adequately represent our fallen nature that is wild and has a habit of getting away on us! It goes off in different directions and has to be managed... and there is no One better than the divine gardener. He is the One who comes with the heavenly secateurs knowing exactly where and when to cut.
Now there is an art to pruning. If my grape vine could speak, what would he say when he sees me coming with the secateurs? He would be yelling 'Noooooo! No no no no no! I remember the butchering you gave me last year... cutting off all manner of things I need. No! Go away!' But not so with the divine gardener... He knows where and when to cut. It doesn't mean the cut feels good to the branch but He cuts for our good.2
A personal example of the divine gardener
As a personal example, I feel like I'm being pruned at the moment. Late last year I started getting pains in my heart. Now when you get pains in other less essential areas you brush it off... but pains in your heart are a little off-putting. So I went to the doctor and he listened to my heart, took my blood pressure and finally did an ECG. The results he said, we're 'not normal'. He wanted me to go on blood pressure medication as, after discussing it, he said I didn't have a lot of lifestyle changes I could make. I'm not overweight, I don't drink, smoke or take lots coffee. I'm fit and eat well... But I still wanted to try a natural approach first which he agreed to. So, as you do when under pressure, I have been trying everything I know and have read about. Garlic, hawthorn berry, celery seed, COQ10, olive leaf extract, cayenne pepper, tart cherry drinks, flaxseed and omega 3's. Tried it all and more. I'm now nearly 9 months down the track and really as confused as ever with not much change. I cried out to the Lord about a week ago saying 'I've been trying all these things for months and have got nowhere... I'm no wiser about what causes it, haven't worked anything out and I'm lost about what I should do.' Maybe you have something that relates. When I prayed that I felt to read Psalm 46:
'God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear... Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted...'
Writing this study up now, a few months since I got that verse, I can say that things have got better. Not instantaneous. But the heart has definitely been better and I haven't had to go back to my doctor or go on any medication. Yay! God wants to achieve things in my and our life in such times. He needs to cut some things away. I have been finding that despite my most valiant attempts to escape this pruning (and I have tried hard, believe me!) I am in God's orchard and care for His timing. So pruning doesn't necessarily feel nice. But He cuts, as Jesus said, to produce more fruit. With my vine down the back I cut and hope. God cuts and knows. He knows what it will produce. If you are feeling pruned remember this:
Heb 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
What is 'nothing' to Jesus?
Joh 15:4-5 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (5) "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
The second point that stood out to me is this one of dependence upon the vine. Look at what He repeats here - 'The branch cannot bear fruit of itself'... 'So neither can you unless you abide in Me'. 'Apart from Me you can do nothing'3 Jesus was emphatic that we need His life from the vine because in and of ourselves we can produce and do nothing. But what is 'nothing' from God's perspective? Because we, proud humans, can do lots of things without the Lord can we not? We can study hard and get degrees. We have successful careers and families... we've built cities and skyscrapers. We can make millions of dollars and buy lots of things. We can climb Everest. We can split the atom (argh, well, that didn't go so well!) We've even landed on the moon and we're just about to send people off on a one way mission in colonize Mars (what could possibly go wrong there?).We can even preach a sermon and look very Christian without the Lord.
So what do you mean 'apart from Me you can do nothing?' What is 'nothing' to God? 'Nothing' is the name given to that which will not last into eternity. Our entire life and work must be tested by fire at the bema seat of Christ the scripture tells us, to see if it is simply wood, hay and stubble (and hence reduced to 'nothing' by the fire) or whether it is precious stones and gems that remain because it was founded upon and produced by, the life of Christ within. The branch just simply cannot produce anything by itself. Not in the natural or the spiritual. It needs the Vine.
'Without Me you can do nothing' Jesus said. Looking at the wider 'Christian' world it is amazing what we have been able to produce without Christ. We are masters of the show and substitute many things for the real thing. It may look similar but ultimately it is a mirage. It promises much yet without His life and blessing, just delivers nothing but hot air.
An illustration of nothing
What are these pictures of below? I have spoken of my Hazel nut tree before. I should firstly add that it is now, as of a few weeks ago, the late great Hazel nut tree. And to be fair, calling it a Hazel nut tree is, I guess, being a little kind. It was actually a hazel nut shell tree. They are very rare. It produced some of the world's finest, shiniest, most perfectly formed hazel nut shell's this region, nay, this country, has ever seen. If you were after hazel nut shell's boy did I have the tree for you! The only wee small problem was that it could only produce the shells. There was nothing inside. There was no nut, no fruit... just an empty shell. For all intent and purposes it looked exactly like the real thing... and each year it tricked me. Ooooh... 'It's looking good... it's looking good... I'm going to have some hazel nuts this year' I'd say as I cracked it open and found nothing but a whole lot of air. My tree knew what he was meant to do and gave it his best shot... but alas, he was somehow separated from the life and fertilisation that produced the actual nut... it produced, literally, just a shell of what was meant to be.
This has always spoken to me for it speaks of our efforts without the Lord, the life of the vine. The Christian church has been a fine producer of hazel nut shells. 'Oh... this is it, this is it... it's going to be great... and poof... nothing but air.' Without Me you can do nothing Jesus said. How hard is it for a tree to product fruit? Do they have to try really hard? Not if it has the right connection and roots. It is the most normal natural thing given the condition of water and nutrients. It is simply doing what it was designed for. The believer is designed to produce fruit that will last. This actually brings glory to God. It too is a normal natural thing for a new creation believer. But it relies on the connection. 'Abide in Me' Jesus said and you will bear fruit.
One day, as I mentioned, our life will pass through the fire. We want to have this first pic and not the second! Yet can't produce fruit independent of the Lord anymore than a branch could produce grapes if it was separated from the Lord. But as we abide, fruit is the most natural and beautiful thing,
The three important themes that produce the first pic and not the second are these:
But always remember where the fruit starts from! It is abiding in Christ.4