(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
March 18, 2001
Jesus and the disciples are in the Upper Room where they have just celebrated the Passover meal. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and in doing so given them a practical example of the humble service we are to give to one another. He has revealed that one of them would betray Him and has indicated to John that the betrayer would be Judas Iscariot. Judas has ignored even Jesus’ last warnings to him, and having his heart filled with Satan, he has left to do his evil deed. Jesus has also given new meaning to the elements of Passover and instituted what we commonly refer to as the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Jesus has also comforted them by revealing the hope they would have in the future even though He would be going away from them. Specifically, Jesus would be going to His Father’s house and preparing a place for them there. He would return for them and bring them to that place. In the time between those events, Jesus would work on their behalf interceding with the Father and the Holy Spirit would come to comfort them and enable them to fulfill the ministry Jesus calls them to do.
The time is now short before Jesus will be arrested, tried and crucified. They are preparing to leave the Upper Room and proceed to the Garden of Gethsemane, but before they leave, Jesus gives His disciples some final encouragement and instructions.
The Analogy (vs 1)
Jesus continues on in John 15:1 saying, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” Before we continue any further, we need to understand something of the cultural context of this statement.
The grapevine was a symbol of Jewish national life. For example, in Isaiah 5:7 states, For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah His delightful plant. It was used as an emblem minted onto the coins of the Maccabean period. A large gold grapevine was used to decorate the gates of the temple constructed by Herod. The grapes themselves were costly jewels. Jesus has also just used the fruit of the vine as a symbol for His blood which was about to be shed for them.
The disciples would have understood all this and so would have also understood that in Jesus’ declaration of being “the true vine” was a claim to be the fulfillment of all these symbols. Jesus is the source of life that would bring forth fruit unto God and God Himself was the caretaker of the vine. The purpose of the vine is to produce fruit and the purpose of the caretaker is to help the vine accomplish that purpose. Thus, the relationship of the Father and the Son is described. The Son desires to please the Father in all things and does the Father’s will. The Father enables to Son to accomplish all things. That is Jesus’ continuing claim throughout John as has been pointed out in previous sermons. It was Jesus’ desire to glorify the Father (14:13, etc.), and the Father enabled Him to preach, teach and perform so many miracles for that purpose (14:10).
The Vinedresser’s Practice (vs. 2)
Jesus continues in verse 2 explaining the role of the caretaker. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every [branch] that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.” This is a concept they would have been very familiar with since they lived in an agrarian society in which grapes were a common crop. Pruning the vines is not only common practice, but necessary practice in order to have a decent grape crop. I do the same to the grapes I have out in my garden.
I first cut out all the branches that did not bear fruit. Dead and diseased branches are obvious ones to remove in this process, but there are also branches, that for whatever reason, simply do not bear fruit. They might be sports, sprouts or suckers that might have lots of leaves and look pretty, but they do not fulfill my purpose for the plant in producing fruit. They are useless and so are cut out and discarded. What surprises most people is the necessity of also cutting back the branches that did bear fruit, yet such is necessary if I want more and better fruit. The reason for this is not all that complex, simply put, when I cut back a fruiting branch, the energy of the vine can go into producing fruit instead of more branches and leaves. An unpruned grape vine can get very large, but it actually produces less fruit than a smaller vine that is properly pruned.
God does that with us. Hebr 12:11 states, All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. God wants us to bear fruit in our lives so he prunes us that we might be more dependent on the vine and produce more fruit instead of extraneous leaves and branches. The apostle James counseled “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have [its] perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Paul said nearly the same thing in Romans 5:3-5 – And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
God’s pruning of us through trials and tribulations is not pleasant at the time, but such things force us to be more dependent upon Him. They drive us into a deeper relationship with Him and therefore into greater spiritual maturity. We often do not understand why things happen, but we can be sure that our heavenly Father loves us, for He already proved it in Jesus Christ on Calvary, and therefore He does have something He can do in us and through us even in the difficult things of life.
Some have thought that Jesus reference in verse 2 to these branches being “in Him” means that these are saved people. Such is not the case as we shall see as we go through the rest of the passage. Remember, that Judas had been a respected member of the disciples, but he has just left to do his evil deed. He was a branch that was in Christ, but who bore no fruit. Jesus makes this distinction in verse 3.
The Conditions for Abiding (vs. 3
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Recall that back in 13:10, before Judas has left, Jesus had said that “you are clean, but not all of you.” Judas was now gone and the remaining disciples were clean because they believed what Jesus had proclaimed about Himself including that He was from the Father and that those who believed in Him would not come into condemnation, but were passed from death into eternal life (John 3:16; 5:24). They had placed their faith in Jesus resulting in justification from their sins. They demonstrated the reality of this faith in Jesus and love for Him by keeping His commandments. They would eventually go to the Father through Jesus.
The qualification for being able to abide in Christ is being cleansed by Him first. There is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1) because they are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:11) by faith in Him (Rom. 3:26,28). They stand clean before the Lord because their sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9) and the Holy Spirit has washed and regenerated them into new creatures (Titus 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:18).
The Blessing of Abiding in Jesus (vs. 4,5)
Those that are clean are to abide in Christ and thus experience His blessings. John 15:4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither [can] you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.
The idea of abiding with Jesus is a wonderful concept. It means to “live,” “dwell,” “remain,” “continue.” The apostle John liked this word so much that he used the word in 23 times in just 1 John. What a wonderful thought to living with Christ and have Him living in you. That concept is illustrated with the vine analogy presented here.
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Just as a branch cannot live and bear fruit except it draws its life from the vine, so we cannot
live and bear fruit for God unless we draw our life from Jesus. Jesus emphasizes the point saying, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”
The context of the reference to doing “nothing” here is in reference to producing the fruit mentioned in verse 5. However, the statement its self is actually a truth for all things. No one can accomplish anything apart from Jesus Christ. All that you have and everything you accomplish in life is only by His goodness and mercy to you. Colossians 1:17 declares that Jesus Christ is “Before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Hebrews 1:3 adds that Jesus, “upholds all things by the word of His power.” If Christ just let go for a moment, all things would be destroyed. You exist because He created you, and you continue to live only because He graciously allows you to do so.
Those who think they can accomplish something apart from God are actually very foolish. Whatever wealth you may gather to yourself by whatever means you use, does not really belong to you. It actually belongs to God who created it all. Whatever you think you own will only be under your control for the few short years of your life after which you have no control over it. You are actually only a steward of it and will give an account of it when you stand before God in judgement.
Fame and power are also fleeting and granted to those whom God chooses. Nebuchadnezzar had both as the king of Babylon, but God struck him because of his pride and he became like an animal that lived in the fields. Nebuchadnezzar did not get his reason back until he was humbled and recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes (Daniel 4). Isaiah 40:17 declares God’s view of mankind’s power – “All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” If you have some position of power or fame, it is only because God has let you have it.
Jesus’ statement that “apart from Me you can do nothing” is a true statement in all respects, but the context here is in not being able to bear fruit apart from Christ. What is this fruit?
In Isaiah 5:7 describes the fruit God sought from Israel, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.” The fruit God was looking for was justice and righteousness. It is the spiritual fruit of character and holy living. Some try to make this passage about soul winning and having many converts to Christ, but that is not the context. This would be the fruit of the Spirit listed out in Galatians 5:22-24 which says, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. That is the fruit talked about throughout the scriptures.
John the Baptist challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance (Mt. 3:7). Jesus told us that we would be able to discern between true & false teachers by their fruit (Mt. 7:17-19). We are to be filled with the fruit of righteousness which [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:10), bearing fruit in every good work (Col. 1:10).
As we live in close relationship to Christ there is a change in our character as we are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2) and become conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) which would include our actions and attitudes. Notice that in verse 5 it is not just bearing fruit, it is bearing much fruit. Not only can all of the qualities listed in Gal. 5:22,23 be developed, but they can also be developed into greater capacity. We can become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled than we are currently. We can have fruit and then much fruit. That is the result of living in Jesus Christ.
Sadly, there are many people that claim to be Christians that try to live apart from dwelling in Christ. They are no different from those in the world who seek their purpose in life from things such as wealth, fame, power, comfort, or pleasure. The lack of spiritual fruit in their lives reveals their true relationship with Christ. It is not enough to know something about Jesus or even to view Him as a good teacher whose ethical principles you try to follow. Unless you are both clean because of being regenerated and washed by the Holy Spirit and abiding in Him, you will not experience His blessings or fruit in your lives. Jesus warns those who are not in verse 6.
The Warning to Those Who Do Not Abide (vs. 6)
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
That may seem severe, but understand that true Christianity is about a relationship with the Creator. It is not a set of religious rituals that must be performed. It is not a list of approved and disapproved behaviors. It is not a moral code. It is not even a doctrinal statement. True Christianity has all those things, but all of them are in keeping with a relationship with God. Our rituals, baptism and Communion are about our identification with Christ and proclamation of both His death on our behalf and our hope in His return. Our moral code and conduct are based in our love for God and prodded by the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Our doctrinal statement is our attestation of God’s revelation of Himself to us. Our rituals, moral code, practices and doctrine are simply a means to an end, which is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
A person that does not abide in Christ may also have religious rituals, a moral code, practices and doctrine that may even appear to be Biblical in some sense. But all of it is worthless for those who do not abide in Christ are worthless to His cause and probably a hindrance. They will therefore be treated like the cut off branches from a pruning. They are gathered up and discarded – or as stated in our text, cast into the fire. The allusion to the final judgement of sinners is obvious here.
This is not cruel, but the logical consequence. Those who do not live in a relationship with Christ here have no basis for such a relationship in eternity. Their sin condemns them and apart from being in Christ there can be no forgiveness for that sin. They stand on their own works by which they will be judged. And lest anyone think that their good will out weigh their evil, the Bible is clear that there is none that does good (Rom. 3:12) and all our righteous deeds are as a filthy garment before God (Isa. 64:6).
It should also be pointed out that the fruit of righteousness will be lacking in those that do not abide in Christ. Remember that it is the branch that does not bear fruit that is cut off and cast away which is what happens to these referred to in verse 6. You will not find the person’s life marked by godly character qualities, but rather it will be marked by ungodly fruit such as listed in Romans 1:29-31 and Galatians 5:19-21.
The fruit of unrighteousness is not always outwardly obvious. People can appear pretty good by the standards of whatever society they are in and still be very ungodly. For example, immorality can be flagrant or it can be the secret peek at pornography on the internet. Greed may exhibit itself in robbery and theft or in a hard heart without compassion to give to the real needs of others. A person could be well known as the town drunk or they may do it only in the privacy of their own home. Idolatry may exhibit itself openly in a person’s refusal to serve God in any capacity, but it also exists in the heart of a person who attends most church services but whose motive is something other than worshiping the living God.
The apostle John makes this issue of abiding in Jesus very clear in the book of 1st John. For example: 1 John 2:6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 2:24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 1 John 3:6-10 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 3:24 And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. 1 John 4:15,16 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
In summary, the one that abides in Christ is His disciple. They have a true understanding of whom Jesus is and then seek to be like Him by following His commands and eschewing (shunning) evil. This is also seen in our prayer life.
Abiding and Prayer (vs. 7,8)
Abiding in Christ also results in a confident prayer life and glorification of God. John 15:7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. 8 “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and [so] prove to be My disciples.”
Jesus had already commented on the confidence those who believe in Him can have in prayer back in 14:13,14. Here, Jesus elaborates further on this confidence. This is a conditional promise based in the relationship a person has with Jesus. Those that abide in Christ with His word abiding in them can be confident in receiving positive answers to their prayers. The reason is simply that such a person desires the His will of Christ and not their own. They are meeting the conditions of 1 John 5:14,15 – And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us [in] whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” They are avoiding the warning of James 4:2,3 – You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.
Prayer is not about us getting God to do what we want, it is about God changing us so that we desire what He wants. Prayer does change things – primarily us, and then we see the hand of God working in marvelous ways. It is this type of prayer that brings glory to God by the “much fruit” that we bear as a result of it. This fruit in turns proves that we are disciples or followers of Jesus.
Abiding in Jesus’ Love (vs. 9,10)
Jesus explains the nature of His love for them in verse 9 & 10 while calling upon them to continue in their love for Him. John 15:9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 “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.”
The nature of Jesus’ love for us is the same as the Father’s love for the Son. That is an incredible statement if you will take the time to think about it. The love that exists between the members of the Godhead is extended to us! That is the reason that Jesus was willing lay down His life as a sacrifice for our sins. It was out of His love for us. Paul states this directly in Eph. 2:4,5 – “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
Jesus once again states that our love for Him will be demonstrated by our keeping His commandments. We discussed this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at John 14:21 & 23. Those who claim to love Jesus but refuse to obey Him only prove themselves to be liars. Those that do love Jesus demonstrate that love by keeping His commandments. In this passage Jesus adds that those who keep His commandments also demonstrate that they are abiding in Him and He uses His own relationship with the Father as the example of this truth. Jesus kept His Father’s commandments and so demonstrated that He was abiding in the Father’s love. Obedience does not earn either our salvation or God’s love. It only demonstrates the reality of our salvation and love for God.
Having Full Joy (vs. 11)
In verse 11 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.”
This is reason why Jesus has said all these things to the disciples. He wants them to be comforted in the days ahead. Though He will be crucified and no longer with them, they can still trust in Him and His many promises. They can have a peace the world does not know or understand (14:27) and they can have joy in the midst of their sorrow. Why? Because as they abide in Him, He will continue to abide in them. He will not be present with them physically was He had before, but He will remain with them spiritually and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. They in turn will be able to bear much fruit in living godly lives that glorify the Father. And what greater joy can there be than to know that not only does God love you, but He is using you for the very purpose for which He created you.
I pray that your joy may be full as you abide in Christ. If you do not know that joy, then talk with myself or one of our church leaders. We would love to introduce you to Jesus Christ personally, or if you are already a believer, we count it a privilege to encourage you in your walk with Him. Jesus did not mean for you to walk with Him alone. In the context of this passage He is talking to His eleven remaining disciples. They would help one another abide in Christ, and so we too help one another in walking with Jesus. Don’t leave this morning without getting the help you need.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “abide” or “abiding” is used 2) Talk with your parents about what it means to abide in Jesus.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the context of John 15:1-11? What significance did the “vine” have to the Jews of that time? Have you had any experience in pruning a grapevine or fruit tree? Describe what you did, why and the results. How does God “prune” His children? How have you experienced that in your life? What was the result? What condition must be met first in order to abide in Jesus? What does it mean to “abide”? What can a person do apart from Jesus? What did Jesus mean at the end of vs. 5 that “apart from Me you can do nothing? Is this “fruit” converts to Christ? What is the fruit that God wants you to bear? What is necessary in order for you to bear fruit? What fruit do you see in your own life? What is Jesus’ warning in verse 6? Is this fair? Why or why not? What does God want from you? What would be ungodly fruit? Contrast ungodliness that is obvious and that which is hidden? Which do you think is more dangerous? Why? Do you struggle with hidden unrighteousness? What will you do about it? When will you do it? Why can a person who abides in Christ be confident in prayer? What is the purpose of prayer? What is the evidence that a person is abiding in Jesus’ love? How can you have Jesus’ joy? Do you have it? If not, talk with a church leader.
The grapevine was a symbol of
The Vinedresser’s Practice (vs. 2)
Pruning works because the energy of the vine can go into instead of
Troubles & Trials force us to be
The Conditions for Abiding (vs. 3)
In order to abide in Christ, you first be
The Blessing of Abiding in Jesus (vs. 4,5)
Abide means to
All that you have and everything you accomplish in life is only by God’s goodness and mercy to you
The Warning to Those Who Do Not Abide (vs. 6)
The fruit of unrighteousness is not always outwardly obvious. A person can appear to be pretty good by societies’ standards and still be very ungodly.
Abiding in Jesus: 1 John 2:6, 24; 3:6-10, 24; 4:15,16
Abiding and Prayer (vs. 7,8)
Prayer is not about us getting God to do what we want, it is about God
Abiding in Jesus’ Love (vs. 9,10)
The love that exists between the members of the Godhead is extended to us!
Obedience only demonstrates
Having Full Joy (vs. 11)
And what greater joy can there be than to know that not only does God love you, but He is using you for the very purpose for which He created you.
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