John 15:5-9: Fed From the True Vine

The Old Testament often describes God as a gardener or vinedresser, who tends to His vineyards.  The vines He cares for, which He planted and tended with loving care, are His people, Israel.  The Psalms tell us, “[God] brought a vine out of Egypt, expelled the nations, and planted us into his land” (Psalm 80:8).

From Egypt’s dusty desert, God rescues His valued stock, cutting them free from slavery.  Through the wilderness journey, as they continue to follow and grow in their Lord, He guides and shelters them.  Into the Promised Land they enter, growing roots where God planted His precious people.

Now what?  Well, if you’re a reader of Scripture, you needn’t guess.  The people rebel against God, their Vine-Keeper.  Away from faithful worship, they turn and bow down before the false gods of the pagans around them.

In like manner, they didn’t bear the fruit of obedience to His Laws or the resultant crop of love for their neighbors.  Against others, each man seizes any advantage to exploit others, including the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned.  The idea of justice became something only for the books, not to be lived out.

With hearts turning stone-cold and cruel, they refuse to heed the messengers God sends to them.  So, remorse over sin evolves into something for others.  From realms above, you can listen to the lament, “I planted you, a precious vine from sound and reliable stock.  How did you degenerate into a wild and foreign vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).

With patience beyond a saint, God persists in sending His prophets to proclaim His Word.  For soon the time will come for God to plant a new vine, a descendant of King David and his father, Jesse.  Unlike Israel, this shoot “will be bearing fruit” (Isaiah 11:1), as God intends.  Why?  All because He will wear “righteousness like a belt and faithfulness like an undergarment” (Isaiah 11:5).

In the time of God’s choosing, this righteous Branch from David’s house is born in his hometown of Bethlehem.  Such a choice and perfect vine named Jesus, who grew and “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52).  Faithful to His heavenly Father, Jesus obeyed Him in everything and in every way.  Through His obedient death and triumphant resurrection, he will “fill the whole world with [His] harvest” (Isaiah 27:6).

Near to His impending death, Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper” (John 15:1).  A bough doesn’t grow or thrive if sliced away from its trunk.  For all their admired beauty, flowers soon wither and die in the vase, cut off from the plant, which nourished them.  Limited though our gardening experience may be, we all sigh over flowers doing this, fading before our eyes.

The Blameless Branch, Jesus, is both man and God.  So the cross on which He agonized and perished can now become the Tree of Life for all.  By being both divine and human, He can take our sins into Himself and atone for them.  So His Blood doesn’t blemish but cleanse, and His Body, executed and raised from the dead, is the Firstfruit of the new creation.

Through the water and Word in baptism, the Holy Spirit grafts you into Jesus’ body of blood and flesh, to be a branch of the blessed Vine.  For you are buried with Him through those waters into His death, planted with Him into the dust of the ground.  Rooted in this way, you live, flourish, and yield fruit.

Every farmer values a ripened crop growing in fields and gardens.  So too does God the Father, the Master Gardener, rejoice in the rich fruit produced in the lives of those engrafted to His Son.  “My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples,” Jesus taught (John 15:8).

So, live in Him as He remains in you by His life-creating Word.  Apart from Him, you are dead, unable to bear any desirable fruit to God.  Without Christ purging away the infestation woven into your every deed, sin’s infection still taints everything you do.  The acts you do, derived from faith, however, are holy, the result of the Life you drink in from Your saving Lord.

By water’s washing linked to His Word, God joins you to Jesus in Holy Baptism.  So also by His spoken Word of preaching repentance and forgiveness, by which the Spirit returns you to your Baptism.  In this way, the Life-sending Spirit “waters” you and keeps you united to your Savior in the one, true faith.

By the voiced Word and the Word in the Sacraments, you abide in Him and find life.  For by and with this Word, your Lord is with you always and abides in you.

By the Word of the Gospel, you are clean because of Christ in those words delivered to you.  With His stern and unflinching Law, He calls you to turn from your sin, which pulls you away from Him.  With His Gospel, He speaks you into eternal Life.  In this way, you can be fruitful in faith, overflowing with love, as He is.

Where you sin much and deserve nothing but punishment, the living Vine, Jesus, does not cut you off.  For He doesn’t cast you away from His presence or destroy you.  No, if you find yourself disconnected from Him, this is your doing, not His, for you are already dead on the Vine.

For Jesus only comes to prune your life with His Law, not to sever you from Him, as a needed discipline of love.  For He is calling you to rely on His gifts of Life and delight in the nourishment and strength flowing from His grace.  Only His sin-absolving Word can fill you with the vitality—the life, well-being, and vigor—of His resurrection from death.

Repeat this with me, “Without Jesus, I can do nothing.”  Such is true from eternal realms.  For the lifeblood you need comes from Christ, conveyed to you where He promises to be—in His proclaimed Word and the gifts in His Sacraments.  The Vine’s flowing essence enlivens, shapes, supplies, and feeds you, providing life to you, the precious fruit and flower of His Church.

The Church is not dependent on the pastor, but the Vine, Christ Jesus.  Oh, He places pastors where and when they are to serve, and they are to do what He summons them to do.  Still, faithful preachers are also branches, delivering the life they take in from their Vine to those in their care and calling.

The Word, Jesus, flows to us in His worded ways, becoming the sustenance from which we live.  The wise Solomon understood the merit of not going through life alone.  “A cord of three strands is hard to break,” he wrote (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  More so for us, now branches connected to Christ by the three threads of His Word coming to us.

The enlivening Vine first gives the bud its life by Baptism.  Now alive, we will nevertheless wilt and perish without the necessary nourishment, food, He supplies to us in His sacred Supper.  The third strand is Him strengthening us through His preached Word.  All forms of the Word are needed, for we need the endless life Jesus supplies in and through them.

Such a branch is stronger to survive the ax blows of apostasy and the ashes of persecution.  “Remain in me, and I in you” (John 15:4).  The slain and death-defeating Christ, defines, continues, and completes His work for you and in you.  For you live as branches producing fruit only because your Vine connects Himself to you and you receive from Him.

A few verses following today’s Gospel reading Jesus reveals a bit more.  For both you and me, He appoints us “to go and produce fruit” because “your fruit will remain” (John 15:16).  The virtuous deeds, given birth by God-given faith, endure forever, lasting into eternity.  So, rest and find solace, understanding in your Vine-produced activities, the everlasting Vine will, on the Last Day, make your joy complete (John 15:11).

With the same Word of His forgiving Gospel, your Redeemer now descends to nourish you with the harvest from His Cross.  With His sacrificed Body, crucified and risen, He comes also bringing His holy and precious Blood, shed for you from the eternal Vine.  No better Vintage exists for us in this world.  Now He inhabits you, in every fiber and corpuscle, and you treasure and live in Him by faith in His Word.

This Sacrament of the Altar is the Feast of divine Love.  These gifts from the incarnate Christ, His flesh given to you and His blood poured out for you, are the productive yield of His saving work.  By these bounties, the heaven-sent Vine enlivens you in heart and mind, in your entire being.

So much repetition in our spiritual lives.  Yes, because we sin, day in and day out.  So, Jesus comes, over and again, to give You His life.  Not only in your thoughts and feelings, but by His word and action, in your ears and on your lips and tongue.  Through such, He brings forth in you the fruits of faith and love toward God, with which you worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.

Fed and nourished, attached and maturing in the life-giving Vine, we become branches bearing love-filled fruits to others.  The revitalizing Spirit is at work.  For He keeps us fastened to the Father’s Vine, drawing others to Christ through His salvation-delivering Gospel and grafting them into this Vine.  In all this, as you participate in the Life He gives, you honor your Father above, the Vinedresser.

Watered and fed, joined to Jesus your faithful Vine, you grow fruit for the glory of God.  Though you may be lacking a green thumb, your God isn’t.  This living truth and reality make all the difference for you, into all eternity.  Amen.