Remain in the Vine!
4th Sunday of Easter
Remain in the Vine!
Text: John 15:1-8
“I am the bread of life . . . I am the light of the world . . . I am the gate . . . I am the Good Shepherd (that’s next Sunday) . . . I am the resurrection and the life . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This week we hear the last of Jesus’ seven dearly loved “I am” statements. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”
Of the seven “I am” statements, this might be one of the most challenging for us to understand. We don’t live in an agricultural society. Most of us have no clue about growing things like grapes on a vine. We go to the store and pick out the fruit that looks juiciest and ripest and we take it right home to eat. We never even think about the hard work put in, the care and attention given to the branches, or the importance of the vine that the branches grew on. All we care about is the product, the fruit.
Yet while farming isn’t in our DNA, this is a metaphor that is simple enough for us to understand what Jesus is saying. It comes down to one key phrase that comes up over and over again—eight times in eight verses. Jesus tells us: Remain in the Vine!
One thing even the most novice gardener knows: Dead branches do not belong on a vine. If they’re dead, they’re dead. They have nothing to do with a vine that is living.
The Bible says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” It also says, “There is no one who does good, not even one.” It is abundantly clear from Scripture that no one in this world is perfect. And it only takes a few glances up from the pages of Scripture at the real world to see that God is absolutely right. There is no one who is perfectly good, not even one.
The headlines in the checkout line at Publix quickly remind us that celebrities and athletes are sinners. The car crashing through doors at Publix reminds us that senior citizens are sinners. My daughter throwing her food on the floor, being put in a timeout, and then screaming, “No fair” reminds me that even two year olds are sinners. The constant flow of students into my office to see the principal during the day reminds me that children are sinners. The continual guilt I have for embarrassingly bad choices made reminds me that I’m a sinner. And if I forget, my wife will gladly remind me that I am a sinner. Yes, “There is no one who does good, not even one.”
But it’s not like we have only made a few mistakes in our lives. It has been a constant barrage of spiritual rebellion against the Lord since we were little. When we were younger it was a little less severe. We would whine and complain and throw temper tantrums and pout. Then as we grew older the sins became a bit saucier and sassier. In elementary and middle school we began to learn and tell dirty jokes. We learned how good it feels to put down others. In high school we became proficient at giving our parents lip. We explored how good it feels to rebel and to dabble with the illegal.
Finally by the time we are adults we are masters of sinning. We can coat anything with a silver lining. We can make up excuses with the best of them. We find ways to hide our sins. We find ways to callous our consciences.
By the time we are older veterans of life, we’ve sinned so much it would be horrifying to see God’s record of our wrongs. This is why the Bible says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Every bit of our every being is only sinful from the beginning. We come into this world as shriveled up, withered, and dead branches.
But we recall the context of these words. Jesus spoke these words on a Thursday evening—Maundy Thursday evening. He was on his way with the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Shortly he would be betrayed, arrested, and tried. The next day he would be crucified for the sins of the world. He would die to pay for every sin we’ve ever committed—from our toddler tantrums, to our juvenile sass, to our shameful sins as adults. The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, would purify us from every sin. Jesus was going to blot out all record of our wrongs.
The only reason that Jesus was able to speak these words to us is because of God’s great love and mercy. We were shriveled up, withered, and dead branches, dead in our transgressions and sins. And we dead sinners would have nothing to do with Jesus, the living Vine. But God made us alive in Christ. He picked us up off the ground and grafted us into the true Vine, Jesus Christ. So Jesus says in verse 1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
In great love and mercy we have been pruned and cleaned and made to be branches that belong to the Vine. Jesus says in verse 3: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” He cleansed us and pruned us through his holy Word when he brought us to faith. That’s when we became part of the true Vine.
So Jesus now tenderly says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Billions of branches around the world are shriveled up, withered, dead, and about to be burned up for all eternity. But by God’s grace, we are branches that have been attached to the Vine, Jesus Christ. Give thanks to God!
As branches attached to the Vine, Jesus then gives us both an encouragement and a warning: “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. 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.” The message is clear and simple. Jesus says: Remain in the Vine!
About three years ago we bought a queen palm tree to plant in our front yard. It was a younger tree, the trunk being only about as tall as I am. If it had stayed balled up and was not watered, it would have with withered and died. But we bought it. We planted it. We added extra soil—good soil. We watered it regularly. And it grew fast. At least at first.
But then we were busy. Life got in the way. We watered it occasionally. Maybe once a year we took the time to prune it and cut off the bad branches. It grew. Not a lot, but it grew. It even weathered a few tropical storms.
Then we became more busy and even had a second child. The tree was watered—when it rained. The tree was fed—when the wind blue nutrients onto it. Little by little branches became more and more sickly and brown. On the outside it looked good enough, but really the tree was dying.
Finally last fall we had only a minor rainstorm with some stronger gusts of wind. It wasn’t part of hurricane season. It wasn’t as bad as other storms it previously endured. But the queen palm had grown so sick and had become so withered and dry that enough was enough. Amazingly, a tree that looked to be just fine on the outside blew right over.
We can become very comfortable with this metaphor of Jesus. He is the Vine; we are the branches. How wonderful! But after a while, the novelty (and gratitude) wear off. At one point we were watering and feeding our faith all the time. We were quickly growing branches attached to the true and living Vine, Jesus Christ.
But then we become busy. We have children. We have careers. We have hobbies. So we water and nourish ourselves a little less diligently. What’s a missed church service here and there? Well I forgot to pray today, but I can always pray tomorrow. After all, I’m still attached to the Vine!
Meanwhile, we weather a few storms. Some big ones too. Cancer. Death in the family. Money problems. We took a hit, but we’re still standing. We’re still attached to the Vine.
Then we become more busy! We have more kids. We have more meetings. We get a pet. We need more free time. Suddenly we don’t think to feed and nourish ourselves much at all. Maybe on Christmas and Easter. Maybe we worship occasionally, like once or twice a month. But we don’t have time for Bible studies. That first one with Pastor was great, but we don’t have time for that any more. I used to read my Bible a bunch, but those are minutes I need for other things.
Suddenly we find that on the outside we look like healthy branches: “Look there’s Dan and Susie, healthy Christians,” everyone thinks. But inside we are growing sick and withered and are nearly detached from the Vine. Two scenarios become very likely: 1) One more bad problem of life and we will be spiritually done in. We will give up on the Lord and finally become completely separated from the Vine. Or, 2) We wither away over time until we are just a dead branch that finally is cut off come death or Judgment Day. Jesus warns about these scenarios: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.”
So how do we prevent this from happening? How do we remain living branches? How do we continue to grow and bear fruit? How do we continue in the hope of being a branch that lives with the Vine forever? Jesus gives us the answer simply and repeatedly: Remain in Me! Remain in Me! Remain in Me! Remain in me! And in case you missed it . . . Remain in Me!
It is by God’s incredible love and mercy that he has grafted us in and made us branches as a part of his Son, the true Vine, Jesus Christ. That news fills us with such joy that there is nothing we would rather do than continue to feed and nourish our branch! So Remain in the Vine!
Water your branch with life-giving water. Nourish your branch with worship. Feed your branch with some solid food in Bible study. Bear good fruits for the Vine by serving him and serving others. Stay connected to the Vine in prayer. Listen to what he tells you in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” Jesus isn’t telling us he’ll give us a million dollars when we ask for it. But he is promising that any spiritual, branch-like thing we ask for he will certainly give!
The more you Remain in the Vine, the stronger your branch will grow, the more good fruit you will bear, and the more glory you will give to God! Verse 8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” When we branches are grafted into the vine, when we grow as faithful branches, when we bear fruit, and when we show our fruit to others in this world, it is all to the glory of God.
Sometimes it might sound like a tolling bell, just making noise again: “Oh boy, here goes Pastor again. He and Vicar keep preachin’ and teachin’ about church attendance and Bible study and prayer and serving. They must really want loyalty to this church and school. They must really want our offerings. Here we go again.”
Not so, my friends. Though Satan will tempt you to, I pray you don’t think that way. This is a life or death matter. Apart from Jesus we all are nothing. Apart from Jesus we all will wither and die, eventually for all eternity. By God’s grace our heavenly Gardener has made us branches attached to the true and living Vine, Jesus Christ. Vicar and I want to see you grow. We want to see you flourish. We want to see you be strong. We want to see you bear fruit. We want to see you attached to the Vine for all eternity. So Vicar and I will encourage you and remind you and encourage you and remind you . . . and then encourage you and remind you again: Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. Dear friends, Remain in the Vine!
Posted on April 30, 2012, in Church, Sermons and tagged Church, Farming, I AM, I AM Statements, Jesus, John, John 15, Palm Tree, Sermons, The Vine, The Vine and the Branches. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.