A sermon on John 15:1-17 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 12 May 2019.
Walk down any street in your town and you will see lots of gardens. And every garden is as different as the gardener who cares for it. Some gardens are full of flowers of different colours. Other gardens have different kinds of flowers but all the same colour. There are native gardens. Gardens that are full not of colour, but of different scents and perfumes. There are gardens that have been designed to create outside entertainment areas like extra rooms outside the house, and there are gardens that have been designed for privacy. Each garden is different because the gardeners are different. They have different plans, different interests, and different abilities.
We learn in John chapter 15 verse 1 that God is a gardener. Jesus said,
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.
And many gardeners grow vines in their gardens. Some vines are grown for privacy to screen the view of passers-by along the street. Some vines are grown to cover ugly fences or run down sheds. Some vines are grown for the colour or pattern of their leaves. And some vines are grown for shade. God is a gardener and he has a vine. His vine is his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And God grows this vine for a specific purpose. You can’t fail to notice what it is as you read through John chapter 15. God has a vine and he grows it for its fruit. Not for its leaves. Not for its flowers. But for its fruit. God is a special kind of gardener. The kind of gardener we call a farmer.
God has a vine. As Jesus said,
I am the true vine.
As we saw in our reading from Isaiah chapter 5, the Bible described the nation of Israel as a vineyard. Isaiah used that image to describe how God had blessed the Jews. He’d given them their own land. He’d prepared the way for them. He’d protected them and sent his prophets to watch over them. God gave them his very own laws to live by in anticipation of a good crop. He’d looked to them for justice and righteousness. For love in action. If any movement or human institution in the world had ever been blessed by God it was his own people Israel. But they only produced a meagre crop of sour grapes, of bloodshed and corruption. In his judgment God allowed them to wither on the vine and to be trampled by foreign powers.
So God sent his own Son Jesus Christ, the true vine. The genuine article. The real deal. What Israel was meant to be, what Israel never really tried to be, Jesus was. And God calls us to trust in his Son, to graft the branch of our life onto his vine. For there are many other vines in the world. Promising life and fulfilment, offering support, hollering for your loyalty and allegiance, calling for you to graft your branch in them, to put your faith in them. Political parties. Charities. Social clubs. Sporting groups. Even religious organisations. Many good and useful things. But there is only one true vine. There is only one who gives life. There is only one who gives lasting joy. Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the true vine and we are the branches. And his Father is looking for fruit. For love in action. Not leaves. Not pretty flowers. Fruit.
Jesus said in verse 2
The Father 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.
That’s what a farmer does, the kind of gardener that’s looking for fruit. And it is that search for fruit that motivates everything the Father does. The unproductive branches are removed. They are a drain on the resources of the vine. They are a poor investment. And the productive branches are pruned. Anything that leads them away from optimising the fruit the Father is looking for is cut off so that they will produce more.
Jesus is the true vine. The Father is the gardener who wields the pruning shears and tends the vine. And we are the branches. And if there is one thing we can say about a branch, it is that it is not self-sufficient. The branch that is cut off from the vine will die. No matter how fiercely it clings to the other branches, once it was cut off it was going to die. Plant it in the ground and it will die. Shower it with water and fertilizer, put it in the sun or keep it in the shade, it will make no difference. It will wither and die. It’s only hope was to remain part of the vine.
We are the branches. Without the true vine, without being grafted to Christ by faith, without remaining part of the vine, we will die. No human institution, neither ourselves, nor our families, nor even our church is self-sufficient. Only the true vine, only the Lord Jesus Christ, supplies his branches with true, everlasting, fulfilling life. We need Jesus, we need the life he brings, more than we need food to eat and air to breathe.
Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. And to his branches Jesus says,
Remain in me.
So what is it that binds us to the vine? What is the graft that locks us into Jesus? Firstly, it is faith. By faith we are grafted into the love of Jesus. By faith we are grafted into his love for us. Jesus said,
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
This is his love for us, his love that he has proven to us by giving his own life on the cross. His body broken in our place. His blood shed to pay the debt of our sin. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. By faith in him. By faith in his love he is bound to us for all eternity.
But not only by his love for us, but secondly, by our love for him. The faith that binds itself to Jesus, that is grafted onto his life and love and joy is not just some mental exercise, by which we tick the boxes of the points of doctrine that we agree with. That is a kind of faith. But the faith that binds itself to Jesus leads to an obedience that expresses itself in love. Love in action.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 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. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. This is my command: Love each other.
The love of Jesus for us, proven to us on the cross finds an echo in our hearts. By keeping his commandment of love, we reaffirm our faith, our loyalty, our love for him. This is what binds us. Not just a faith that believes. But a faith that obeys. A faith that loves. A faith that loves the Lord Jesus. A faith which in his name results in the fruit that the Father seeks, a love for others. This is the fruit that God looked for in Israel. He looked for justice. He looked for righteousness. He looked for love in action. He looked for a love for the poor and for the oppressed. This is the fruit that the Lord looks for in us. Because God is a special kind of gardener, a farmer. A gardener who looks for a return. A gardener who looks for fruit.
And if I know anything about farmers it is that on the outside they seem pretty easy going. But when it comes to farming they can get very single minded. And so if God, our Farmer in heaven truly came among us in his heavenly boots and his heavenly faded jeans, and his heavenly Akubra hat, I don’t think he’d be impressed with the fancy architecture or the harmony of our singing, the leaves and pretty flowers of our religion. Because he would be looking for fruit.
Love is the fruit that the true vine, Jesus Christ, produces. Love is the fruit that the farmer wants from the branches. For the lack of love, he will cut us off. For the sake of more love, he will prune us back. Every prejudice that holds back our love. Every resentment that withers our love at its source. Every case of wounded pride that means that we demand more love than we give will be cut from us until we produce the fruit the farmer wants.
Love, love, love. More, more, more. Gimme, gimme, gimme. So much is demanded from the branches in these chapters of John’s Gospel. It’s about time the branches found out what is in it for them. Two simple answers. Life and joy. The branch that remains in the vine, the branch that produces fruit, lives. It lives by love and lives for love. By love it grows and flourishes. And the sap that courses through the branch is joy. Jesus said,
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Our farmer in heaven isn’t interested in sour grapes. But in a love that is sincere and an obedience that comes freely from the heart. A love and obedience that flow from the fountain of joy that we have in knowing Jesus and having his life in ours. The Lord Jesus did not come to make demands that we cannot keep. He did not come to lay on us a burden that makes our lives miserable. He came to give us joy, a joy that is made complete in love.
Jesus is the true vine. God is our heavenly Farmer. And we are the branches. Remain in him. Stay connected to him because you are dead without him. Graft yourself by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let his life flow in you and through you. Produce the fruit of faith, love for God and for each other. Expect to be pruned by tests and trials as the Lord’s Spirit exposes your inadequacies, so that you may produce more. And experience the joy.