Sermon on John 15:1-11, preached on Sunday, 30 December 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 80:1-19 / (NT) John 15:1-11
I. The true Vine and the branches
II. Abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit
III. Abiding in Jesus’ words and keeping His commandments
This section we’ve just read from John’s Gospel is one of the sweetest sections in the Bible. I say this because it is Jesus’ sweet invitation for us believers to His joy of bearing fruit of the Spirit and much more. He talks about ‘glorifying the Father’ in v. 8, and, in v. 11, about joy that belongs to us in Him, the Christ. Through all the words of this passage, I taste sweetness. The more you understand Jesus’ words, the sweeter it will be to your soul. When you hear Jesus, saying in our text passage, “Abide in Me,” He sounds like saying, ‘Taste the sweetness of being with Me and you’ll be satisfied now and forever.’ So, I want you to come along with me into this sweet call of Jesus and taste this heavenly pleasure that is found in Jesus. I want you to be comforted and strengthened with this call of Jesus at this special moment of closing a year and facing another fresh one in Him.
I. THE TRUE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The first part of this sweet message is a metaphor of vineyard. Jesus introduces Himself as the true Vine and His Father, our God, as the Vinedresser. And, we believers are branches of that true Vine. The Vinedresser is the best of the best; He is the perfect One with perfect knowledge of how to care for the vine and its branches and everything in His vineyard. Nothing is unknown to His mind; all things are under His control; He supplies life to all things in His vineyard.
The true Vine is strong, lively and beautiful with healthy trunk and root, as well as its branches that bear good fruit. This Vine has not only endured but also defeated severe storms and tempests and now stands victorious. Nothing can hinder what this true Vine does, namely, pumping up water from its root and supplies nutritious sap to every branch so that they may bear much fruit, beautiful in shape and scent, good and delicious in flavour. So, the picture Jesus draws here in our text passage is painted with bright and happy colours. It’s a jubilant and delightful image. The exciting fact is that you and I belong to this vineyard; you and I and all who believe in Jesus Christ and worship God, calling Him Father, are the healthy and productive branches of the true Vine in this beautiful picture! If you’ve repented of your sins and put your trust in Jesus, you are a branch of this true Vine and your vinedresser is God the Almighty. What a beautiful and joyful picture this is!
We often forget this beautiful picture of God’s vineyard and lose sight of who we are in Jesus – we belong to God’s beautiful garden, we are grafted by faith into the true Vine, Jesus our Lord. Being busy with our daily living in this world, we tend to forget who we are and what we are. But at a time like today, I mean, facing the end of a year, we’re reminded of our blessed belongingness to our true Vine under the care of our perfect Vinedresser. You and I are to keep in mind this beautiful picture of God’s vineyard now and every moment of our life.
So, Jesus’ call to ‘abide in Him’ is His sweet call for all believers to remember, first of all, who we are – we’re the branches in God’s vineyard, grafted into the true Vine, our Lord Jesus Christ! ‘Abide in Jesus’ means, therefore, to remember our belongingness to Him through faith and by His grace.
II. ABIDING IN JESUS AND BEARING FRUIT
Talking about sweetness of this call, you need to picture in your mind a vineyard, a perfect one. Although many of you, if not all of us, have no experience of caring a vineyard, it doesn’t matter, try to picture yourself as a vinedresser. You’ve been taking good care of a beautiful vineyard which shows a good outcome of your hard and timely work. Because you know everything of this vineyard, you know how a vine grows and gets strength and bears good fruit. By looking at a vine, you can easily see what’s happening in it and with it. Although you don’t see how nutritious its sap is, by looking at it, you can know exactly how it is carried from its root and delivered to each branch, and how each branch receives that sweet sap and builds itself up and brings forth good fruit. Being a good vinedresser, you hear the sweet communication between the vine and its branches; by hearing that soundless talk, seeing that seamless union, you’re happy and greatly delightful.
I’d like to come back to this soundless talk and seamless union in a minute, but now, I’d like to focus on how Christian’s abiding in Jesus – in other words, how our remembering of our blessed status in Jesus – is related to our bearing fruit in life. In this eleven-verse-long section, the Lord Jesus calls us to abide in Him ten times and each of these calls are inseparably connected to the notion of ‘bearing fruit.’ So, the logic here is simple – if you abide in Him, you bear fruit, but if anyone doesn’t, he/she never bears any fruit. That’s the Lord’s intended message for us and it is emphasised in His mention of fruitless branches for taking away and burning. Some people falsely interpret this and say that our salvation could be lost unless we bear fruit, but that’s not a sound biblical understanding – in fact, a false and heretical interpretation of Jesus’ message – because our Lord clearly teaches us not once but many times in His words that He loses none from the people the Father has given to Him. The whole chapter of Jn. 17 is a good example of this teaching. So, the branches for taking away and burning in this picture is to give us a clear understanding, through a vivid contrast, of how fruit bearing and abiding in Jesus are inseparable in the life of believers.
The picture is this; that Jesus Christ, the true Vine supplies nutrition to its branches, that’s, us. Receiving it from the Lord, each branch gets strength and brings forth fruit, that is, the fruit of the Spirit in believer’s life. The Vinedresser sees it and is delightful together with the Vine and all its branches. This process is never stagnant, nor regressive, but always progressive. Some branches might produce fruit slower than others, but altogether their fruit are getting bigger, richer, better and sweeter. The Vine and its branches are happy alongside the Vinedresser. This is the picture our Lord Jesus presents here.
This is what He means that our abiding in Him is glorifying the Father. Making the Vinedresser happy is to glorify Him. That’s what both the first answer in the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms mean when they connect believer’s ‘glorifying’ God to ‘enjoying’ Him forever. John Piper, renowned American pastor/theologian, calls it as ‘Christian hedonism’ and explains it in this brief definition: ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.’ Our Lord’s call for us to abide in Him – remain in Him, stay in Him – is sweet to our ears and heart and soul because of this picture of our bearing fruit in Him, by Him and through Him, and the Vinedresser’s joy, seeing us abiding in His Son Jesus and bearing much fruit of the Spirit. Knowing that we bear fruit of the Spirit as we abide in Jesus is sweet to our soul.
By the way, what sorts of fruit are we talking about here? Those listed in Phil. 5:22-23, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are you seeing these fruits growing in your life? Of course, you do. Simply take a quick look at yourself and see how you’ve grown in love now, compared to the beginning of this year or two or ten years ago. See how much deeper your joy in Jesus has been in your soul and how much greater the Lord’s peace has grown in your heart and soul. What about patience and kindness and so on in your life as you continue worshipping God in Jesus. I believe you have grown in all these aspects because that’s the Lord’s message for us here. If we abide in Him – that is, we trust Him more and more everyday – then, Jesus Christ will, as has always been, lead us and make us bear fruit, strengthen us to do more of this fruit bearing. What a sweet truth this is!
In fact, glorifying God is the first of three outcomes of Christian’s bearing fruit. When a Christian abides in Jesus, he/she bears the fruit of the Spirit and God is glorified. As we glorify God in this way, we grow also in loving one another – this is the second outcome. When God is glorified and we love each other, all who abide in Jesus have the joy which is mentioned in v. 11. Listen to the Lord as He says in v. 11: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
You and I abide in Jesus, and we bear much fruit of the Spirit as that is the natural thing to take place.
III. ABIDING IN JESUS’ WORDS AND KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS
Having said, we go back to what we left earlier for later consideration, I mean, that ‘soundless communication’ and ‘seamless union’ between the Vine and its branches. A Bible commentator puts it as ‘union and communion’ between Jesus and the believer, and I think he is exactly right. The branches are grafted into the Vine, and this is ‘union.’ And the Vine provides nutritious sap to its branches and the branches receive it and bear fruit, and this is ‘communion.’ This is a seamless union and a ceaseless and harmonious communion.
Jesus tells us that this sap He provides and supplies to us ceaselessly is His word. In v. 7, He says this: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you.” Our Lord means that our abiding in Him is His words abiding in us. Understanding this is not to take in a rocket science. If you remember how John’s Gospel begins, you’d easily see what this is all about. As Jn. 1 teaches, Jesus is ‘God’s Word incarnate’; so, the believer’s abiding in Jesus is to abide in the Word, thus, the Word abides in the believers. So, our being in Jesus is not anything mysterious or secretive or supernatural, nor is it special experience, ‘members only’ type of thing. No, not at all. Instead, Jesus’ word is the sap the true Vine supplies to us, the branches, and His word is openly given to the believers. Every ear can hear, every eye can read this provision of our true Vine. His word is the life, the nutrition to our soul. This is what v. 7 points out, saying, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you.” Abiding in us, the words will fill us, feed us and we’ll bear fruit! The Lord Jesus talked about this earlier in Jn. 4:14 and listen to Him, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Receiving and drinking this water is in another word, as in v. 10 of our text passage, ‘keeping Jesus’ commandments.’ Jesus’ word is given to us, and we read it and hear it and our faith is deepened – in other words, the fruit of the Spirit grows in us. No wonder why Rom. 10:17 points out that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Jesus explains this elsewhere as in Mt. 13:23 in these words, “the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
So, opening up the Bible and reading and studying it in private and in public – I mean, in Bible study meetings – is how you and I, the branches, receive the sustaining and strengthening sap from Jesus, our true Vine. Listening to the sermons preached in every Lord’s Day worship service is how the Lord Jesus communes with us. Through the working of the word, we’re assured more and more of our union with Jesus and enjoy our communion with Him, our true Vine. After all, the Lord’s Supper we participate is a visualised symbol of this communion between us and our Lord. So, examining oneself before coming to the Lord’s table as announced earlier this morning is to reflect ourselves onto the very word of God and see whether you and I receive the words from the Lord Jesus and grow through His words.
And let me point out to you how beautiful and sweet this is! The sap the true Vine provides us is not anything secretive or mystical, but so vivid and tangible to us, not so difficult or otherworldly, but easy to read and understand. Receiving this from our Lord, we need no magical spells, no secret formulae, no sacred practices, but we simply read and hear His plain and comprehensible words given to us. What a blessing this is! After all, Jesus who is God came to us in flesh, born as a baby, just like us, to be with us, to be our Immanuel! This is truly sweet to our heart and soul!
There’s the true Vine in the Vinedresser’s vineyard; this Vine pumps up living water and sends it to every branch. This sap is so nutritious that the branches bear much fruit in due course of time according to the plan of the Vinedresser. Jesus is the true Vine, God the Father is the Vinedresser and you and I are the branches in this vineyard. What a beautiful and sweet picture this is! You need to remember this, especially at this moment of closing one year and facing a new and fresh one.
The purpose of Jesus in this teaching is for us to have His joy now and all the days coming, thus, to abide even more in Him. So, my dear fellow branches of the true and blessed Vine, let us receive our Lord’s word, His living water. Let us read it, take it to our hearts, meditate on it with deep fervour and appreciation, and live it out which is our bearing fruit. By this, we abide in Jesus and glorify our Father in heaven. “Abide in Me” is the Lord’s sweet invitation to us who love Him, and abiding in Him ever more in this coming year is our sweet prayer. ***