John 15:1-8: I Am the Vine

Apart from me, you can do nothing, Jesus decrees, scorching every elegance of language away (John 15:5).  Attend to His words, for He doesn’t say someone is disabled but bereft of all ability.  What might glint and glimmer from us, is only “wood, grass, or stubble,” nothing eternal (1 Corinthians 3:12).  “All things are from [Christ], by him, and for him” (Romans 11:36).  So, if our efforts don’t begin with Him, are sustained by Him, or end with Him, whatever we do, will never endure.

A tree limb relies on the vitality and nutrition the trunk provides.  A branch is the same, which requires the vine like the gardener is essential to the plant.  Without nourishment flowing into its tissues, a branch dies, becoming of little value, except as firewood—and scrawny for this, at best. 

In Ezekiel 15, the branches of a vine are fitting for two things: fruit or fuel, bearing or burning.  For you can’t fabricate fruit, because fruit comes from life.  Grafted on the incarnate Vine, the Provider of our lifeblood, we yield fruit as we live in Him.

Now, because of our sin, the only fate we warrant is to be thrown aside and flung into the fire.  So far the bad; the better news is Jesus, the “I Am,” who is God, who declares Himself to be “the vine.”

The cure for withering branches diseased by sin is for God to join us to Jesus.  In Him, with what only He can give, His life animates into our deadness.  From this, by God’s grace, we can now be fruitful to our eternal joy and the glory of God the Father.

Schooled in the Old Testament, the disciples well understood the wine-growing imagery in Scripture’s pages.  In these representations, Scripture described God as a farmer and vinedresser, who cares for His vineyard, His people.

The people of Israel are the vines God chose to tend and nurture, for He “brought a vine out of Egypt, driving out the nations and transplanting” them (Psalm 80:8).  From servitude and slavery, He reclaimed His treasured vine, delivering His chosen from foreign bondage.  Across the Red Sea, in their wilderness journey, He escorted and sheltered them.  Once in the Promised Land, God replanted His people again.

A vineyard serves as signs of both blessing and punishment.  The Scriptures use the image of overflowing wine vats, streaming down mountains, as a picture of His kindness and caring (Joel 3:18, Amos 9:13, Ecclesiastes 9:7).  A parched land, famished of wine, portrays a different one—God’s scowling discipline (Deuteronomy 28:39, 51; Joel 1:10).  Like the winepress, God also seizes the juice squashed from trampled grapes as an image of His displeasure (Lamentations 1:15, Joel 3:11-13). 

A winery planted by the Lord, are His people (Isaiah 5:1-7).  Formed by Him, He expects them to reflect Himself and His faithfulness—but they decide otherwise.  Stubborn and obstinate, they produce little fruit.  The Prophet Jeremiah calls them a degenerate vine.  So, God will rebuke Israel, sending them into exile (Jeremiah 2:21).

Though this should be the story’s end, God chooses mercy.  In a beautiful surprise, He doesn’t resign His hope for this defiant people.  No, the devoted Father cultivates His prophecy of old.  In love, He sends a robust shoot to spring forth (Isaiah 11:1, 53:2). 

The fulfilled Foretelling turns out to be His only Son, Jesus Christ, who grows into manhood and walks the dusty roads of Judea.  “The time is now,” this Son sounds forth.  “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15). 

In this life-bestowing Vine, all people, including you and me, find perpetual life.  So, our Savior taught, “I am the true vine, I came so they may receive life, and live life to the full.”  The one who possesses the Son is alive in Him; the one who does not is devoid of this life.  How does this come your way?  The Holy Spirit joins you to Christ.

So, God grafts you into His Son by Holy Baptism, which faith trusts in and believes.  Why does God do this?  In your deadness, you can’t make yourself alive.  Through the Word in the baptismal waters, He reaches down, pulling you from death’s dusty grave.

Like a vinedresser cleans the sprout he implants, God cleanses you of sin, purifying and making you righteous.  How?  By forgiving you because of Jesus, His saving Son.  The faith-creating Spirit unites you to your Redeemer, who grieved and died on the cross for you, to earn for you this blessed privilege of life everlasting (Titus 3:3-7).

Now, your communion with Christ begins.  In Him, you find nourishment; without Him, you die.  Attached to Him, He nourishes your new life, day by day.  Your lifeline is God’s Word and Sacraments, where Jesus pledges to pour down His grace, the power to save you, once more.

How strange, for some to think worship is optional, including dining at our Lord’s Table for spiritual sustenance.  Now, if you quit eating food, will your body not die?  Everyday life teaches this.  The same will happen if you stop eating what God supplies to sustain your spiritual life, and your trust in Jesus will shrivel away into nothingness.

Not so when you are where Christ promises to be, in those places He chooses to unite you again to Himself.  To feed and nourish you, He descends to give you Himself, which is how you remain and endure in Him.  Not only is this in the preached Word, for the most intimate connection with Jesus is in His holy Supper.  In such sacred Food, He is present in physical matter, providing forgiveness for your physical body.

The thunders of temptation rumble all around while the stormy winds of tribulation lurk at every bend.  Now, if you are unprepared, you might allow these to snap you off the Vine.  To prevent this, God provides you His solution—cling to Christ, where He vows to rescue you, where the Spirit keeps you connected to Him.

To abstain from attending services is to divorce yourself from the Lord.  For Christ created His Church to strengthen and bond you to Him.  Whenever you opt out to stay away from His means of grace, which Jesus taught is how He comes to you, you are ignoring and disrespecting Him. 

Listen again to our Savior’s own words.  “The branch cannot produce fruit by itself but must remain in the vine.  Neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).  Where does this take place?  Only in your Lord Jesus and His love.

A Christian’s union with Christ depends on Him.  Your fellowship with Him, however, is more interactive, requiring fidelity on your part.  What does this mean?  “Don’t break yourself off from Jesus, the life-giving Vine!”  Continue in Christ, the Source of your life! 

“Abide with me,” we pray in a hymn.  Why?  For “fast falls the eventide” and in every nook of life “the darkness deepens” (LSB 878).  The issue is not if Jesus will reside in you, for He is faithful.  The real question is, “Will you continue living in Him?” 

Nothing can tear you away from God’s love, shown to you in Jesus, except yourself.  The only one who can separate you from Christ is you.  Oh, the heartbreak of so many who choose to disconnect themselves from the Vine or let themselves wither away.

Remain in your saving Lord, though the purpose of your life in Him is more than your eternal rescue.  For your heavenly Father also desires you to produce fruit.  The life-bestowing Spirit grafted you into Jesus for this, who prunes and disciplines to rid you of your sin.  Tended by God and fertilized by the Word, you can produce much fruit!

The Spirit’s working in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Over and again, Scripture urges us to be filled with the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11), to bring forth fruit for God (2 Corinthians 9:10), productive in useful works (Colossians 1:10).

Virtuous deeds are never the cause of salvation.  The life of faith we do live, our righteous actions, are the result of our redemption.  The Bible reveals we are the Almighty’s masterpiece, created in Christ.  For what purpose?  “For beneficial works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

The vine bears fruit through its branches.  In like manner, Christ accomplishes His will for the world through you and me.  Now, our feet become fleet for service, our hands ready for His tasking, and our mouths primed for speaking His truth.

Fed and nourished, when joined to this authentic Vine, we as branches produce a harvest of love and service toward others.  In all this, our Father, the Vinedresser, is glorified.  Listen to what He swore to His people through Isaiah, “Sing of this, a desirable vineyard, for I, the Lord, am its keeper.  Every moment, I water it, guarding day and night to keep harm away” (Isaiah 27:2-3).

Neither health nor age can keep us from bearing fruit to His glory.  “So do not lose heart,” 2 Corinthians relays to us.  “Though our outer man is decaying, inside we are renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).  The Psalms declare, we “will still yield fruit in old age, and [we] will stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:14).

A menacing side, however, can exist concerning our moral conduct.  For if we focus on the results of our actions, measuring our spiritual progress by them, they can begin to rule over us.  Soon, we think our productivity is up to us.  Not so, says Jesus.  No, you are but a branch with God’s power flowing through you.  Your real identity is not from what you do but from the One who works through you!

Live a life of God-pleasing deeds, but only as someone coupled to Christ, from whom you obtain your being and purpose.  Draw your life and vigor from Him.  Grow into maturity through Him.  Dwell in Him, the true Vine, as He does so in you.  Amen.

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