If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 15:1-17. John says:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vineyard Keeper.2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. 10 If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.
11 “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. 12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. 17 This is what I command you: Love one another.
This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.
Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.
We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.
At long last, we’re trekking through a passage that isn’t either extremely long like last week’s or extremely bizarre like the week-before-last.
This week we are trekking through that famous and beloved passage where Jesus declares that he is the vine, and we are the branches. Jesus says, in verse 1, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vineyard Keeper.” And verse 5, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”/
That’s a very colorful piece of imagery. Jesus is the vine, and his Father is the Vineyard Keeper, and as the Vineyard Keeper, the Father has grafted us into his vineyard. He has grafted us into his vine. He has grafted us onto his tree.
That’s a running theme throughout the scriptures.
You might remember in Jeremiah 11, when Jeremiah says, “The Lord has called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.” And Psalm 52:8, the Psalmist says, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” And Isaiah chapter 5, where Isaiah says, “The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines.”
Over the course of the Old Testament, a picture emerges: God’s people are like a tree, or a vine, or a vineyard.
We see that same thing carrying over into the New Testament, in Romans chapter 11. Paul says:
“You are a wild olive branch,” but “you were grafted in” and “have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree.” In other words, we are part of God’s tree because God has made us part of God’s tree.
But we weren’t always.
Paul says we were “wild olive branches.”
There was a time when we weren’t part of God’s olive tree. There was a time when we weren’t God’s friends. We weren’t God’s family. We weren’t God’s people.
Once upon a time, Ephesians 2:12 says, we “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” And because we “did not know God,” Galatians 4:8, “we were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” We were “darkened in our understanding,” Ephesians 4:18, “alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in us, due to our hardness of heart.”
But then God found us, plucked our branches off the wild olive trees, and grafted us onto his tree.
So Paul says, in Ephesians 2:13, that “now in Christ Jesus we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Christ has “now reconciled us in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” Colossians 1:22. He has, “opened our eyes,” Acts 26:18, “so that we may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that we may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in him.” We have been made “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” Ephesians 3:6. And that means that “we are no longer strangers and aliens,” Ephesians chapter 2, “but we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” being “joined together, and growing into a holy temple in the Lord.”
God has plucked us out of the darkness of the world and ushered us into his marvelous light. He plucked us off of the wild olive trees that we were born into and grafted us onto his vine.
And because you are a branch on Christ’s vine, a number of other things are true about you.
First and foremost, being a branch on Christ’s vine means that Christ has made you clean.
Looking at verse 3 from our passage this morning, Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
You might remember the promise that God makes in Isaiah 1:18. He tells his people, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
There was a time when our sins were like scarlet, they were red like crimson, and the result was that there was a wall between us and God. You were not God’s friend, because your sins were like scarlet. You were not God’s fishing buddy, because your hands were red like crimson. You were on the wrong side of the just wrath of a righteous God.
And yet, into that situation, that animosity between you and God, God did not say, “I’m gonna turn you into fireworks for the fourth of July.” Instead, he said, in Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness.”
He looked with compassion on our sin.
He looked with mercy on our uncleanness.
And he promised to make us clean.
And as we move into the New Testament, we see that God does exactly that, as 1 John 1:7 say, “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”
And Revelation 1:5, Christ “has freed us from our sins by his blood.”
And therefore, Hebrews 10:22, we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” because “our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”/
Because your heart has been sprinkled clean through the blood of Jesus, you can draw near to God. Because your body has been washed with pure water through the blood of Jesus, you can draw near with full assurance. You are gloriously welcome in God’s presence today because Christ has made you clean.
In other words, you have become God’s friend. Wee see that in verse 15 of our passage this morning. Jesus says, “I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.”
When you are washed with the blood of Jesus, you become God’s friend.
That’s why in James 2:23, James reminds us that after “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” he was “called a friend of God.” And again, Exodus 33:11, it says “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The list goes on. Not only are you not enemies anymore, you are friends.
And part of what happens when we have friendship with God is that he shares his joy with us. We see that in verse 11 of our passage this morning. Jesus says “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
This is yet another running theme throughout the scriptures. Christ invites us into his own joy. We see that in Romans 15:13, when Paul says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” God wants to fill you with all joy.
And Psalm 16:11, when David says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy.” You find joy in the presence of God.
And 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” God fills you with a joy that transcends and overcomes even your circumstances./
And none of these things should surprise us because that’s what God created us for.
God created us, in part, to share his joy. You exist to share in God’s joy. And as “branches on Christ’s vine,” we do exactly that. He says, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
You are a branch on God’s vine. And when you are a branch on Christ’s vine, he washes you clean. When you are a branch on God’s tree, he makes you his friend. When you are a branch in Christ’s vineyard, he shares his eternal joy with you.
That is gloriously good news.
Unless you’re not.
There is a distinct possibility that none of what I just said is true about you.
This goes without saying, but not everybody is a branch on God’s vine.
You might remember from Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but [only] the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Not everyone who appears to be a branch is actually a branch on God’s vine.
We see that in verse 2 of our passage this morning, “Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit my Father removes.”
That’s what Paul is talking about in Titus 1:16, he says “Many profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” And that’s what Jesus is talking about in Mark 3:35, he says “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Not everyone who appears to be a branch is actually a branch on God’s vine./
That’s probably very different from what we’re used to hearing.
The prevailing belief in our culture is that anybody, anywhere who professes any degree of interest in Jesus must be a Christian, because we think of faith roughly the same way we think of sports affiliation.
You like the Cowboys, or you like the Green Bay Packers, or you like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most folks think of themselves as Christians because the identify as “Team Christian.”
But the truth is that there is no “Team Christian.”
Because faith is not sports. Following Jesus is not picking a side in a culture war or a team contest. You can identify as whatever you want, but the reality is that the genuineness of your faith is determined not by what “Team” you think you’re on but by the fruit that you bear.
And so Jesus says in our passage this morning that the Lord “removes every branch that does not produce fruit.” And he goes on, in verse 6, saying “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Not everyone who appears to be a branch is actually a branch, and there’s a very clear way to tell whether that’s true about you or not. He says, in verse 14, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.”
Christ’s friends do what Christ commanded them.
Christ’s branches do what Christ commanded them.
Do you wanna know whether you are truly Christ’s friend? Ask yourself: “Do I do what Christ commanded me?”
Do you wanna know whether you are truly a branch on Christ’s vine? Ask yourself: “Am I bearing genuine fruit?” “Do I do what Christ commanded me?”/
So. That’s intense.
But it’s right here that we have to hit the brakes, because right about now, you might be on the verge of getting the wrong idea. /
So let me be as clear as I can possibly be: You do not become branches on God’s vine by doing what Christ commanded you.
I’m gonna say that again, because that’s kind of a confusing sentence.
You do not become branches on God’s vine by doing what Christ commanded you.
You do what Christ commanded you because you are branches on God’s vine.
There’s a difference, and it’s a very important difference.
In more literal terms, you do not earn your salvation because you obey Jesus. You obey Jesus because Jesus has already saved you.
In the same way, you could say that you do not become branches on God’s vine by bearing fruit. That’s not how branches work, that’s not how vines work, that’s not how fruit works. You bear fruit because you are branches on God’s vine.
You do not earn God’s mercy by obeying Jesus. You obey Jesus because of God’s mercy.
That’s the order this happens in./
Now, I know that that revolts against our inborn desire to be good enough. Right? God’s mercy is downright insulting to our inborn desire to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. To be self-reliant. To rise to the occasion. To be victorious. To be conquerors.
We don’t want God’s unmerited mercy, poured out onto us after failing time and time again to measure up. We want God’s hard-won approval. We want God to acknowledge all of our hard work. We want God to see us, and be impressed, and then invite us to join him in glory on the merit of our awesomeness. /
But you are old enough, by this point, to realize that that is never gonna happen.
Don’t get me wrong – when God created humans, when God created you, he said in Genesis chapter 1 that it was very good. To be human is very good. The fact that you are human is very good. And the things that you do as a human are very good.
It is good to work. Your work is good. You don’t have to become a pastor. It is good to be a welder. It is good to be a school teacher. It is good to be a farmer. It is good to be a nurse. The list goes on. Your humanness is very good. And that means that the normal parts of human life are good.
So it is good to work. It is good to start a family. It is good to have children. It is good to run for local office. It is good to start a business. It is good to run a charity or an outreach. All of these things are good.
And yet, there is also something deeply broken in us. There is something in us that bends our hearts away from God’s very good design and God’s very good calling on us as humans.
And we see how that brokenness plays out in our lives in Ephesians 2. Paul says that “Once we were dead in our trespasses and sins,” and therefore we “walked according to the ways of this world,” in a “spirit of disobedience,” “carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts,” so that Paul says we were “by nature children under wrath.”/
There is no amount of good work, good citizenship, good friend-ing and good family-ing that can counterbalance the depths of that brokenness.
In light of that deep brokenness in us, what we need is grace.
What we need is mercy.
What we need is forgiveness.
If you are “dead in your trespasses and sins,” then what you need is to be brought back to life.
That’s why Paul says, in that same passage, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Jesus even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!”
And because we are “saved by grace,” Paul says that, today, instead of pouring out his wrath, he has “raised us up and seated us in the heavens.” Instead of pouring out his wrath one us, he has “displayed the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” He has newly created us “in Christ Jesus for good works, which he has prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” /
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then that is the story of your life.
And it’s kind of insulting. It’s insulting to our delusions of self-sufficiency, but that’s exactly what it means to be branches on God’s vine. To be grafted in to God’s vineyard. We do not earn God’s mercy because of our good works. Our good works are the result of God’s mercy. Our obedience is the result of God’s mercy. Our fruit are the result of God’s mercy.
Not the other way around.
And that’s why Paul says in Romans chapter 11, again, that as branches on God’s tree, “you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you.”
I’m gonna say that again: As a branch on God’s tree, “you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you.”
As a branch on God’s vine, you are rooted in Jesus Christ.
You are rooted in the vine.
Jesus is your root. And your root sustains you.
Christ is what sustains you.
We see that in verse 16. Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” And “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”
The emphasis, here, is not that Jesus rewards us for producing fruit, it’s that he appoints us to produce fruit, because Christ is what sustains us.
And again, in verse 5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”
Once again. The point is not that Jesus rewards you for being fruitful, it’s that Jesus makes you fruitful, because Christ is what sustains you. You are a branch, and he is the vine, and as a branch, you will grow the fruit that the vine supplies you. You will produce the fruit that Christ supplies you.
And again, in verse 4, he says, “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.”
The emphasis is clear: “You do not sustain the root, the root sustains you,” Romans 11:18.
(slowly) Christ sustains you./
Think about that.
Think about the fact that you are “sustained by Jesus.”
Every single moment of your life, you are being personally sustained by Jesus. You are being held together by Jesus.
Colossians 1:17, “In Christ, all things hold together,” and that includes you. Hebrews 1:3, Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power,” and that includes you. 1 Corinthians 8:6, we “exist through Jesus Christ.” And Acts 17:28, through Christ we “live and move and have our being.”
The list goes on, and a picture starts to emerge:
Christ is the vine that feeds you.
Christ is the food that nourishes you.
Christ is the blood in your veins that keeps you going.
Jesus doesn’t just walk beside you, he carries you.
He holds you together.
He makes you live and move and have your being.
Christ is what sustains you.
Christ is your nourishment. /
And what that means for you is that you can rest.
I’m gonna say that again: Because Jesus is your vine, you can rest.
You do not have to be enough.
You do not have to “measure up.”
You do not have to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
God does not “help those who help themselves,” God sustains the absolutely helpless, and that means you.
Christ is not the taskmaster who beats every time you stumble and fall. Christ is the man who picks you up, throw your arm over his shoulder, and keeps you stable as you walk. Christ is your sustenance.
That’s what your relationship with Jesus is like.
That’s why Paul says, in Philippians 1:6, that “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:8 that Christ “will strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” because “God is faithful.” That’s why the author of Hebrews closes the book of Hebrews by saying, “Now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”
In other words, Christ is your vine.
Christ is your wellspring.
Christ is your root.
Christ is your sustenance.
And therefore, Christ is where your fruit comes from. You do not earn God’s faithfulness by bearing fruit. God pours his faithfulness out on you by causing you to bear fruit./
You should hear that as very good news.
Because what that means is that you don’t need to slink back in shame if you’ve been a believer in Jesus Christ for years but you’ve got no discernible fruit to point to in your own life. Instead, John says in 1 John 2:28, “now, little children, abide in Christ, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
Because you “abide in Christ,” rather than turning your face away in shame and fear, you can pray like Paul prays in Colossians 1:10, you can pray, “Lord, make me walk in a manner worthy of you, fully pleasing to you, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of you.”
You can pray like Paul prays in Galatians 5:22, “Lord, grow the fruit of the Spirit in me. Make me loving, and joyful, and peaceable, and patient, and kind, and good, and faithful, and gentle, and self-controlled.”
You can pray like Paul prays in Philippians 1:11, “Lord, fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to your glory and your praise.”
Because you have been grafted onto the vine, Christ has invited you to bear his good fruit. Reach out, and take hold of that. Submit yourself to the good work of the Vineyard Keeper.
This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.