Tuesday, February 21, 2017
“I Am the Vine”
February 19, 2017 Second Reformed Church
Jesus explains to the Eleven that His “farewell” to them is for their good and for the good of all those who believe in the future. And Jesus reminds them that the Holy Spirit is coming to teach them all they need to know, so we would know and believe as we are guided by the Holy Spirit as we read and hear God’s Word read and preached. Then the Eleven stand to leave as Jesus commands, and He begins to teach them again.
And Jesus tells them a parable.
A parable is a story that usually has one main point. It is a story that is given to teach something, but it is not the kind of story that you would try to interpret every single little thing to mean something. In a parable, the main idea is couched in the story, but many of the elements are there just to carry the story, and we should not try to figure out what every work and action mean – because they are not the point.
For example, in this parable, we are not going to trouble ourselves with figuring out what the roots are, or what the leaves are, or what kind of vine this is. These things don’t matter. There are things that matter in the parable, but there is just one main point.
The main point of this parable is that believers have life and bear fruit only in Jesus.
Jesus beings by explaining who He and the Father are in this parable.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
We may remember, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus says, “I am,” He is often using a phrase which identifies Him as deity – as God. Jesus refers to Himself as God, the True Vine. And we understand that there is only One God – there is only One True God, so Jesus is the True Vine.
And we remember we are not to take these illustrations literally: Jesus is not a real vine, with roots and leaves, and fruit-bearing branches. This is an image to help His hearers understand.
Notice, Jesus says that He is the true vine. He doesn’t say His commandments are the true vine, He doesn’t say how well we keep His commands are the true vine, no, Jesus Himself is the True Vine. Jesus is the One through whom we, believers, as branches (as we will see) receive life and are enabled to bear fruit. Jesus is our life and the means by which we are fruitful.
God the Father is the vinedresser – God the Father is the Gardener. God the Father is the One Who tends to the vine and its branches, pruning them as needed.
Jesus explains that the Father prunes the branches so they will bear more fruit.
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”
If you’ve gown tomatoes or trees or bushes, you may understand pruning: as the plant grows, there are branches that grow which are ineffective – the ones that grow between the stem and the main branches of the tomato plant are called “suckers,” and you want to cut them off, because they just drain energy from the plant – they won’t grow fruit. And then there are branches that get diseased or die – those you want to cut off to save the plant. And if the branches get too big on the bottom, you want to cut them off, so the plant will continue to grow taller.
God the Father prunes the branches of the Vine – we who are in Christ are pruned by God the Father – in two major ways: first, we are disciplined – God disciplines us both in the sense of training us to be stronger, and in the sense of punishing us for our sins – because sin make us sick and weak and unfruitful.
The author of Hebrews puts this in the context of fathers (and mothers) and sons:
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11, ESV).
This type of discipline, though it is painful for the moment – just as it is when we cut a branch off of a plant – is beneficial to growth and the bearing of fruit in the long run. And the author of Hebrews identifies righteousness and holiness and fruits that are born from discipline.
The other way in which the Father prunes is by cutting off branches all together that are sick or dead. These branches, He takes away from the plant altogether, because they are detrimental to the plant.
Paul explains this as He talks about how the Gospel was given to the Jews first, and then Gentile believers were grafted into the tree, and Jewish unbelievers were pruned off:
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:17-24, ESV).
But what is the fruit that Jesus is talking about? What sort of fruit ought healthy Christians be bearing?
Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).
A healthy Christian is identified as having or bearing those fruits. The Father prunes us that we would bear those fruits in Christ and to the Glory of God.
But what does Jesus mean by saying that the Eleven were clean because He spoke His Word?
Jesus is drawing a parallel between His washing of their feet earlier in the evening, which symbolized their death and cleansing and resurrection in Jesus – as we see in baptism – and the bearing of fruit after pruning those branches in the vine.
Which leads us to the main point: a believer can only have life and bear fruit in Jesus.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Jesus uses the imagery:
A branch that is separated from the vine cannot bear fruit. A believer who is separated from Christ cannot bear fruit.
A believer who abides in Christ as a branch in a vine will bear much fruit. It is guaranteed by God that God will nourish us and support us and prune us so we will bear fruit – so we will be righteous and holy and all those things God has called us to be – if we abide in Christ.
If someone who claims to be a believer does not abide as a branch in the Vine, he is cut off and thrown aside and allowed to wither away, and then is thrown into the fire and burned – and the word “burned” is in the present continuous form – so Jesus is talking about Hell, here – everlasting torment and suffering.
And we might say, “Wait a minute. If salvation is God’s work. If God chooses us and calls us and saves us and raises us to spiritual life, how is it possible to not abide in the Vine?”
The problem is that we can’t see a person’s heart. We may look at someone and listen to them, and they say all the right things and do all the right things and profess to be a Christian, and then one day renounce it all. I have had friends like that. Perhaps you have to.
John answers how this can be: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).
There are people in the church that look like believers and act like believers and may even believe they are believers, but when they are pushed, we know they were never believers.
That’s why Peter exhorts us:
“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11, ESV).
Make sure you’re not just playing a game. Make sure you’re not just pretending to believe for one reason or another. Make sure you truly believe with everything that you are that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived, died, rose, and ascended back to His throne – the Gospel of our salvation.
Otherwise, you could be cut off – eternally.
But if you do abide in the Vine – if you do believe in Jesus savingly and understand your life and fruitfulness are only in and through Jesus – if your joy is in pleasing Him – then when you ask for all those things that are pleasing to Him, He will most assuredly do them.
Do you remember we have looked at this theme before? If you want what God wants and ask for what God wants, God will give it to you!
God wants us to be loving, joy-filled, peace-filled, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle people, and have self-control. He wants us to be righteous and holy. He wants us to be bearing this kind of fruit. And if we ask Him to cause us to bear this fruit – we will! He will work in and through us, growing us and pruning us, and making us fruitful branches of the Vine.
And if we bear that kind of fruit, if we live for obeying God and being who He has called us to be, and we are grown into that type of people whose life is God and drawing attention to God – God will be glorified in all that we are and all that we do.
Finally, Jesus commands the Eleven to abide in His love.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Jesus tells the Eleven that in the same way and to the same extent that the Father loves Jesus, so He loves all believers. How much does the Father love the Son? The Father and the Son have lived in perfect love and unity since before the beginning. There can be no greater love than that which is among the persons of the Trinity. Jesus loves us with that incredible love. Are we surprised at its immensity, since He came to earth and suffered and die for us?
Then He commands the Eleven and all believers to abide in His love. What does it mean that we are to abide in His love? It means – in the most holy and obedient way – we are to continually enjoy the love of Jesus for us. How is this manifested? By obedience – by obeying Jesus’ commands. The more we obey Jesus, the more we abide in His love. The more we do those things which please Jesus and show Him to be the God and Savior that He is, the more we enjoy His love – the more we experience His love and live in it – the more we are filled with His joy – and that joy is all we could possibly imagine or contain.
Jesus tells the Eleven that believers only have life and bear fruit in Him.
Jesus tells them that if we have truly savingly believed in Jesus, we are spiritually alive, and as God indwells us and we abide in Jesus and the Father prunes us to His Glory, we will grow in obedience – in love – in joy – we will become the people God wants us to be – the people He gave His life for.
If we do not, we will be exposed as frauds, as sick and diseased branches to be cut off and left to wither, and, eventually, to be burned on and on in the fire.
We have been given the commands of God and God disciplines us that we would know His love and joy to the fullest.
Let us then bear with the pain of being transformed in this life and look forward in faith and obedience as we strive to live in Him and bear fruit in Him and for the Glory of God.
Let us pray:
Almighty God we thank You for uniting us in Jesus that we would grow and bear fruit to You. Help us to abide. Help us to seek after righteousness and holiness and love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, that You would take pleasure in us and we would find our satisfaction and contentment in You now and always. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Bible Studies on Mark by William Boekestein is now one of my recommended Bible study resources and one I would strongly consider in leading a Bible study on Mark or a personal study on Mark.
Boekestein writes from the standpoint of one who believes the Bible is the Word of God. His study is meaty, but very readable. In each chapter, he takes a coherent section of Mark and explains the major themes in a complete and approachable manner. At the end of each chapter, he includes study questions and endnotes.
As someone who has looked over many Bible studies and found them critical or vapid, this book is a breath of fresh air, an encouragement, and one I recommend you purchase for personal or group study of the book of Mark.
[This review appears on my blog and on Amazon.com. I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.]