Jesus Is The Vine
ILike Marigolds. I like marigolds because they are hearty and dependable. You plant them. You water them. They grow. And they stink so much they drive away bugs. What could be better than that? But there are people out there who, for some strange reason, don’t like easy plants. They like the ones that ones that require labor. I think of my Father in law. At one time, he planted leeks. And he told me how he had to keep building up the dirt around the leeks as they would grow. But if you were to make a list of some of the most labor-intensive plants to grow, grapes would be somewhere at the top of the list. All the preparing, planting and pruning that is involved with grapes is amazing. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus compares himself to in these words this morning. We read: ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1 CSB17) Jesus compares himself to a grape vine. And then he uses this to teach his disciples what that means for us in our everyday life. First, he says: “Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes,” (John 15:2 CSB17)
Jesus is the vine. And what does he do first? First, he cuts. Specifically, he cuts every branch that does not bear fruit. There’s a picture in these words. A farmer would come along, and if he saw that there was this branch that was dead, and there was no hope of it coming back to life, what did he do? He cut it off. He cut it off so that it wouldn’t draw nutrients away from the vine. Here in these words we find a warning. He cuts off every person from him that does not bear fruit. Now here is where we have to look at these words carefully. First, What is “fruit?” Here Jesus is not speaking about grapes or olives. He is speaking about that which is morally good. Good thoughts and intentions leading to good actions. That’s what fruit is in this context here. And second, Why does Jesus point to the fruit? Jesus points to fruit as proof of faith. This is an extremely important point to understand. Jesus looks for that which is morally good in us not because good works are what get us into heaven. No, faith is what connects us to Jesus. Instead, he looks to fruit inside of us as proof of faith. If you go down the bad road, not understanding these words, you’re going to get to the Athanasian creed in a couple of weeks and read this part of the creed and come to the wrong conclusion: At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.1 All those who do good will go into heaven. That is a true statement. But what those words do not address is the question, why? Why is it that those who do good will go into heaven—not because good works are how we get to heaven. No, instead, as Jesus points out here, good fruit is proof of real faith.
Jesus is the vine. He cuts. And these words carry with them the warning for us to look closely at our lives and compare them to God’s word. For if there is no fruit and desire to have good fruit in our lives, that can choke off our faith. So Jesus cuts. But what also does Jesus do? We read: “and he prunes every branch that produces fruit” (John 15:2 CSB17)
As I mentioned before, grape vines take a tremendous amount of care. And one of the ways they need to be cared for is that they need to be cleaned up and pruned. They can grow in the wrong direction. They can have too many shoots when you want just a few and you want the trunk to grow. So the good gardener cleans and prunes them. And that’s why what Jesus says here is a little shocking. The good gardener cuts off the dead branch. But he cuts down the branch growing in the wrong way—even if it is producing fruit! For us as Christians who are wrestling and struggling to do what is good and right, Jesus comes along and causes us pain. Here I’m not talking about the pain that comes as a consequence of sin—if, for example, I lie, and then I get caught. No, here, Jesus is speaking about the fact that he brings toil and trouble into our lives simply because he wants to. Your classmate makes fun of you at school—for no reason. You get sick—for no reason. You get stuck in a traffic jam—for no reason. All of these troubles great and small Jesus allows to come into our lives. And in these words we have the answer to the question, why: “and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” (John 15:2 CSB17)
He brings these into our lives so that we will produce even more fruit. Think of whatever good desire there is there in your heart. Those good desires for what is good and right don’t do a whole lot until they are tested. The farmer doesn’t learn to trust if every year he has more than enough rain for his crops. But when there’s a drought, then he is forced to trust that God will provide rain. The office worker doesn’t worry too much about trusting when everyone has their job. But when he sees the guy next to him get ‘let go’, then he is forced to trust in and remember who it is that provides food, shelter and clothing.
And here, my dear friends, is where we see our sin, don’t we? So often in our lives we desire rotten fruit instead of good fruit. We desire our lies, our laziness, our self-focused worship like a person biting into a worm-filled apple and then gladly, willingly eating the rest of it. And not only do we desire bad fruit, we also despise the cleaning that Jesus does in our lives. When there are troubles, be they great or small, we despise them and despise our Savior who sent them for our good.
We see these sins and repent of them. And Jesus, in his undeserved love toward us forgives our sins. Or, to use Jesus’ words here: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3 CSB17) The very same word that created faith in our hearts to know and trust in Jesus so long ago he uses to convey forgiveness to us. Through God’s word we see the Savior who was made fun of—for no reason. And people tried to put him to death—for no reason. And he was abandoned by his Father for a short while on Good Friday—for no reason. He did not deserve any of this hardship. But what happened to him for no reason he made his own reason, so that he could save us. And through God’s word he conveys this forgiveness to us. For all the times we desired rotten fruit—they are forgiven. For all the times we despised the cleaning and pruning that Jesus brings in our lives—they are forgiven too.
Jesus is the one who cuts and cleans. But there is one last detail to take care of this morning. Jesus tells us: “4 Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:4–8 CSB17)
Jesus not only cuts and cleans; he also creates. He creates good fruit inside of us. Alongside the old person inside of us, he gives us a new person. And this new person sees what is good, wants it, then asks for it. And out of his undeserved love toward us, Jesus gives it to us. And so, there is this amazing invitation in these words. Pray for fruit. Pray that inside of you the Holy Spirit would give you every good yearning and desire—not to earn heaven. No Jesus won that for you on the cross and conveys it to you in his word. Instead, ask for it because Jesus, the vine creates good fruit inside of you. This is what he promises. For Jesus is the Vine. He cuts, he cleanses, and he creates good fruit inside of us. Amen.
1 CW, p. 133