This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 15:1-17
Sermon prepared by Rev. Ken Benjamins, Brantford, Ontario
Dear congregation in Jesus Christ,
Jesus talks about a lot of things in our passage. He talks about a vine. He talks about fruit. He talks about branches. He talks about our need to walk in obedience. He talks about our need to walk in love. With so much stuff in our passage it is not hard to lose sight of what our Saviour is really trying to get across in our passage.
It might be helpful then if we keep in mind the analogy or the overall picture that Jesus continuously makes use of in our passage. Jesus compares our Father in heaven, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a gardener. Our Father is a gardener. And what has the gardener done? Why, he has planted a beautiful vine in his garden. Now, this vine represents somebody. You know who the vine represents: The vine represents God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that this vine has a lot of branches coming out of it. Those branches represent Christ's followers, those who believe in Him and walk in his footsteps. The branches are connected to the vine. And then what do we see hanging from the branches? What we see is fruit! The fruit is the kind of stuff Christians produce because they are connected to the vine of Christ planted in the Father's garden. So we have the vine (that is Christ), we have the branches (that is who we are), and we have the fruit (the stuff that comes out from us).
Congregation, you understand why the Gardener has planted the vine. You appreciate why any gardener is interested in planting any vine; it is always because what he wants is the fruit! Right? Of course! The Father has planted the vine of His Son Jesus because what He wants from us his branches is the produce, lots of harvest, lots of fruit. No doubt, lots of produce glorifies the Gardener. It makes Him happy. Says Jesus in verse 8 of our passage, "This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." Bearing much fruit-- that is really the theme and the point of our passage.
It is the theme and point of our passage, but you know, it is also really the theme and point of the whole Bible. For sure it is! God sent his Son so that we might bear fruit! How unfortunate it is that so many people in our world, in our culture, in our churches, misunderstand this. They think God sent His Son, first of all, so that all kinds of people get to go to heaven some day. People of God, that is not, first of all, why God sent His Son. He sent His Son so that you and I, right now, might bear much fruit! Actually, if you think about it, bearing much fruit is exactly what salvation is, first of all, really all about! And going to heaven—what that really is—is an extension, it is an added blessing of bearing much fruit in the here and now of God's kingdom. That is why God sent His Son; so that you and I might bear His fruit.
And so, if bearing much fruit is the point and theme of our passage—and of the Bible as a whole—then the question I need to ask today is this: "Congregation, do we bear much fruit?" Understand that this question is not just for a certain age group or a certain type of people; no, it is meant for all of us. Moms and dads, grandparents, young people, boys and girls, do you bear fruit? Do you have something hanging from your branches? How much? Do you have any at all? Do you have just a little? Or do you have a lot?
Now maybe you are not actually sure what this fruit really is that Jesus is talking about in our passage. What is this fruit anyway? Fruit is basically the good deeds of righteousness, the good deeds of obedience and love. Here, allow the Bible to describe what fruit really is. Says the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5 verses 8 and 9, "…for you were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth." There, that is what fruit is: goodness, righteousness and truth. Consider Galatians 5:22, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." That is what the fruit is. Fruit in John 15 is talked about in terms of obedience to God's commands. Look at John 15:10, "If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love." Verses 16 and 17 sum it all very nicely. Jesus says, "…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other." That is the fruit!
And so the question each one of us has to ask ourselves today is: Do I bear that kind of fruit? Do I show love, is there obedience, is there righteousness being displayed right now?
But now congregation, I want to point out that Jesus' concern in our passage is not only that we bear fruit. It is important that we bear fruit but he is also concerned with how we bear fruit. Yes, we must understand that fruit bearing doesn't happen in just any old way. No sir! It only happens if our branches are firmly connected to the vine. And if we are not connected to the vine, then we cannot bear any fruit at all.
Please note that we cannot be connected to just any old vine either. We must be connected to the vine that is Jesus Christ. I direct your attention to John 15: 1. Notice what Jesus says there. He says, "I am the true vine." He doesn't just say, "I am a vine," or something. No, he says "I am the true vine"—implying that there are also other vines out there but they are counterfeit and unproductive. Jesus is saying that He is the only vine that will suffice.
In that regard it is necessary that we consider the background to this whole analogy of the vine, the branches and the fruit. I want to point out that this whole thing did not originate with Jesus. Jesus is not the one who made it up. You know where Jesus got it from? He got it from the Old Testament. That's right. The Old Testament often speak of vineyards, vines, branches and fruit. But do you know who the vine is in the Old Testament? The vine in the Old Testament is the nation of Israel. Israel is the vine, and the only way one can produce fruit is if one is connected to the covenant, the law and promises of Israel. Actually, this analogy is referred to quite often in the Old Testament. It is referred to in Hosea 10, Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 2, Ezekiel 15, 17 and 19, and Psalm 80. In all these passages Israel is referred to as a vine or a vineyard. It was such a powerful symbol in the Old Testament that during the time of the Maccabees, it was a vine that was often stamped on Israel's coins. Yes, it was commonly understood that Israel was a vine.
Now, I want to point out though—and this is equally important—every time Israel is spoken of as a vine in Scriptures (or as a vineyard), it is always in the context of judgment upon her. Every time Israel is referred to as a vine it is always in a situation where Israel is a weak vine, or a wild vine, or a fruitless vine. Take Jeremiah 2:21 for example. The Lord says there, "I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt wild vine?" In the Old Testament the vine of Israel is always spoken of for its failure to produce good fruit.
So, do you see what Jesus is basically doing in our passage in John 15? He is saying to his fellow Israelites, "It is not good enough to be connected to the nation of Israel. Israel, after all, is still unable to produce good fruit!" And Jesus, in His representative role as the new Israel, as the fulfillment of the Israel, comes forth now and says in verse one, "I am the true vine!" And Jesus continues in verse 4, "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." You see the overall point? We are called to bear fruit, but the only way we can do that is if we are connected to Jesus Christ.
That brings me back to the question I raised earlier. Earlier I asked, do you bear fruit? which is a good question, but you know, in retrospect I am wondering now if that really was the appropriate question. The more appropriate one is this: Are you connected to the true vine? Are you truly united to the Lord Jesus Christ? For if we are not connected to Christ, there is no way we can ever produce any fruit at all!
Congregation, let us be clear how we are connected to the vine Jesus Christ. We are not united to him just by the simple fact that long ago we were baptized into the church. We are not connected to him just by the simple fact that we have our membership papers in the local church. As a matter of fact, neither are we necessarily united to him just by the simple fact that we go to church or that we are actively involved in Cadets, Gems, Coffee Break, Young Peoples or even Church Council! Yes, even being actively involved does not necessarily insure that we are truly connected to Jesus Christ!
How are we connected to Jesus Christ? Let's be clear about this. It is only by faith. It is only if we trust him, put our lives consciously, actively in his hands. It is only when we confess to him personally our unworthiness and our need for his mercy and grace in our lives. It is only when we talk to him, pray to him, live with Him by faith, and love him! Congregation, do you know the Lord Jesus Christ in that way? Are you connected to the vine in that living, vibrant, personal way? And is there fruit in your life, is there produce in your life to prove it?
Now, I want to point out that when it comes right down to it, it is not all that difficult to make it look like we are connected to him. It doesn't take all that much to make it look like we bear fruit in our lives. We can talk the right language. We can do a lot of the right things: go to church, have our kids baptized, or whatever. It's not really all that hard to mislead people. But then again, not everyone can be misled. I guess when it comes down to it, there will always be at least two who know if we truly are connected to the vine Jesus Christ and if we produce fruit that is for him. They are ourselves (in our hearts) and God. Only God and you know if the stuff, the apparent obedience and the church attendance—whatever—comes from you knowing Jesus by personal faith or from something totally different. May we heed Jesus' words from John 15:5, "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 nothing."
Congregation, we need to appreciate all that Jesus says about the Gardener (our heavenly Father) in his picture, his analogy of the vine, the branches and the fruit. What does the Gardener do? Why, he cleans the vine and he prunes the fruitful branches. I want to point out that this is always an active job for him. He continuously lifts up each branch to see which ones are bearing fruit and which ones are not. Yes, what the Gardener wants is the fruit and he will do anything to insure that his branches produce much of it.
But sometimes it happens that the Gardener see a certain branch, he looks at it closely, he notices that it has lots of leaves but it has no fruit at all. Do you know what the Gardener does with such fruitless branches? According to John 15, the gardener takes out his knife and he cuts such branches off and throws them on the ground. There they will wither and they will die. Later He picks them up and He burns them.
You know what is scary about what I just said? It is that the gardener plucks out branches that are among fruitful branches. The gardener does not pluck out branches that are on a different vine, or a different tree or a different forest or vineyard. No, dear friends, he plucks out branches that are right among the fruitful ones and who are in one way or another connected to the true vine. You hear what Jesus is saying here. He plucks out people who are closely affiliated with Christians. I guess you can say they are part of the church, they are that close to Jesus Christ. They are part of the church but—then again—not really. They don't have any fruit—at least not fruit that comes from repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, the Father knows that what is really in their hearts is not Jesus, but it is themselves or their riches or their partying. They can produce lots of leaves, but they have no fruit.
Dear brothers and sisters, if you are a fruitless branch, I plead with you to think about what Jesus is saying in our text.
Congregation, appreciate what else the Gardener does. Yes, he clears the vine, he plucks out the fruitless branches, but what he also does is he prunes the fruitful ones. What does that mean? For those who do know Christ by faith, who are convicted of their own sins, and who love Christ and live with him, who are forever thankful for the Saviour's nearness in their lives—such vines the Father in heaven prunes so that they walk in greater love, in greater obedience, in greater joy!
Oh, sometimes the pruning process is not easy. Sometimes it comes across as discipline. I think of Hebrews 12:11, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Yes, sometimes the pruning process is not easy, but such pruning is always done in love. As the Gardener in Jesus' story carefully and lovingly provides the water, insures the proper light conditions, provides the fertilizer—supplies all its needs!—so the Father in heaven provide for us. He supplies his Holy Spirit, he supplies his promises, his sacraments. He supplies his church, he supplies Christian fellowship, he supplies different church program for us to use our talents, to display our fruit. He supplies his whole vast creation, a place to yield our fruit. He supplies us the vine, the Lord Jesus Christ!
Yes, the Gardener prunes even today. He prunes as we hear his gospel promises and as we hear his gospel demands. May we hear His voice and may we produce much, much fruit! Listen to our Saviour: "I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." And then the Saviour says to those who live by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, "You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you. 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!"
Order of Worship
WE GATHER IN HIS PRESENCE
Call to Worship: Psalm 95: 6-7
Silent Prayer Concluded with "Worthy is Christ" PsH#629
Confession of Trust: "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the Earth."
God's Greeting: "May grace, mercy and peace be ours from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen"
Hymn: "Now With Joyful Exaltation" PsH#95
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: John 3: 16
God's Law: Exodus 20:1-17
Hymn: "Trust and Obey" PsH#548
Hymn: "Break Now the Bread of Life" PsH#282
WE HEAR THE WORD
Scripture Reading: John 15: 1-17
Sermon: "Fruitful Branches"
Prayer: "Father in heaven, we thank you for the vine of Jesus Christ. We pray that we might bear much fruit. May we walk in love. May we walk in obedience. Help us to see where we need to grow by your Spirit. We thank you for your Word. We pray that you encourage us, challenge us, prune us, so that we truly live for you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen"
Hymn: "It is Good To Sing Your Praises" PsH#171
WE DEPART TO SERVE
Benediction from Numbers 6: 24-26
Doxology: "Praise God, You Angel Hosts Above" PsH#628