On the night that He is betrayed by Judas, Jesus is speaking His last exhortations to His disciples as they are gathered in an upper room of a house. Last words are important words. These last words are recorded in John 13-17.
In Ch. 13, in the act of foot-washing the Lord Jesus reminds them to be true servants to one another. He tells a self- confident Peter that he will not have natural strength to follow him in the hour of great trial (13:36-38). Peter will later learn that he survives his ordeal only by the grace of Jesus alone – “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” ( Lk. 22:32 ; Jn. 21:15ff)
He teaches them in 13:31-35 to live from the principle of “agape” (sacrificial , other centered love). This will be the primary exhibition of Christ’s love on earth , after He is gone. (v.35)
He tells them about His imminent departure, and what He will do in heaven in His absence. He reminds them that He will come back (14:1-4).
· He also promises them that in the days of His physical absence, He would not leave them as orphans, but that He would sent the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Spirit of Truth, the Teacher who would be with them and in them (14:17 ; Ch 16).
· Then, in John 15:1-17 He speaks to them about a vital distinction that would set His disciples apart from any other people: Christian fruitfulness!
This is what we wish to focus on as we set our eyes upon 2013, asking ourselves, “How shall we be bear the marks of fruitfulness in 2013?”
Jesus uses a picture (metaphor) to illustrate His teaching. He uses the example of a Vine dresser, a vine and its branches. He explains the metaphor. God the Father is the Vine –dresser; Jesus is the vine, and the disciples (illustrative of all Christian disciples) are the branches. Branches are the fruit-bearing part of the vine.
The great focus of the story is on how to get maximum fruitfulness out of the vine. This is a story about the Christian church – not so much about individual Christians. Grapes hang together in clusters ! This is more about what we are together, than what we are as individuals.
Now let us follow the logic of our text:
V 1a: “I am the true vine “- Christ identifies Himself as the true vine.
V1b : “and my Father is the vine-dresser “ - this refers to God the Father.
V.2: “Every branch in me …” … “you are the branches…” (v.5). All true Christians are branches united to the Christ the vine stem , and tended by God the Vine-dresser.
Vv2&3: “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. This is the work of God in the believer, and it is very distinct from what he refers to in v 6. Here He speaks about the sanctifying work of God in the life of the believer, whereby He refines, purifies and prunes every true believer. All this is for our good and for God’s glory. The Bible has much to say about this necessary work of pruning in the life of the believer. We must never reject that work. We must embrace it. We must not think that God does not love us, because we experience His pruning.
We do not become more valuable to Him because we grow in sanctification. We are already clean because of the finished work of Christ. This is not about getting more approval and love from God because we are fruitful. When we are in Christ we are loved, and God the Father will do His loving work in us. It’s called pruning! It’s called preparing us for heaven (14:1-3)
Vv 4- 5: 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. Believers (the church) are reminded that true fruitfulness can only be achieved as the church abides/remains in Christ. [Note , John’s example of the danger of not doing this is seen in the example of the church at Ephesus, who lost her first love – Revelation 2:1-7]. Without Christ at the center and relied upon, the church cannot bear much fruit. The true fruitfulness of the church is through her active union and communion with her Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is therefore the ultimate source of the church’s fruitfulness!
V.6 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.
This is the most disturbing picture in Christ’s metaphor. We note that Jesus speaks about two types of branches : those branches that bear fruit (15:2b,5,8) and those that do not bear fruit (15:2a,6). Both experience the scissors of the Vine Dresser. The fruitful branches are pruned – trimmed to make them even more fruitful; the unfruitful branches are cut off altogether and are ultimately thrown into the fire. Both branches are cut, but for different purposes. Some branches are pruned to make them more fruitful (Christians) and other branches are cut off and thrown away. Does this mean that dead, unfruitful branches are Christians that have lost their salvation and are now cast into hell? No, it doesn’t! That would bring us into conflict with the power and the nature of Christ’s salvation. So we cannot conclude that at all. But what it does imply is nevertheless a deeply disturbing thought, namely that there are at all times people (members) in the church who may be called ‘unfruitful branches’. No pruning will make them more fruitful. But they are there among the cluster of grapes. They have for some reason or another (but not through genuine regeneration) joined themselves to the church as visible members, but (here’s the point) they show ultimately no spiritual fruitfulness. God gets no glory from them. These , says Jesus are cut off and thrown into the fire and burned. Jesus uses the same metaphors elsewhere in the gospels to speak about such wicked servants (e.g. Matt. 25:30) being thrown into eternal hell.
How do we understand the position of such people in the church? These are the one’s spoken of in Hebrews 6:4, who “… have once been enlightened , who have tasted the heavenly gift , who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age …”. They exist in the midst of fruitfulness. They have seen fruitfulness. They have been enlightened concerning it; they have tasted, they have shared, but they have not been cleansed from their sins; they have not exhibited fruitfulness.
An immediate example from our context in John’s gospel would be Judas (13:21ff). He had fully participated in Christ and in the life of the disciples. Yet, finally he proves to be a dead, unfruitful branch.
V.7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. The act of abiding in Christ and His words (meaning that His words need to live in us and direct our thoughts and actions) holds out an incredible promise for the church! Our prayers (according to His will) will be answered! What incredible power that lends to the church! Whatsoever God has promised and commanded in the Scripture may be sought by us. God will answer our prayers for the salvation of lost souls ; we will see the church expand locally and globally in missions and evangelism as we pray ; we will see our every need (physical, emotional and spiritual) provided; we will receive the kind of government that we pray for etc.
This is a huge thought and a huge promise at the beginning of 2013 as we prepare for Prayer week 2013 .
So , dear brothers and sisters, begin this year by dedicating yourself afresh to Christ. Abide in Him; remain in Him. Understand that this means that your Father in Heaven will do the pruning work in you, but only to make you more fruitful. If you are a true Christian and if you are presently grieving the Holy Spirit through your secret sin, then know that God will deal with your sin, and make you more fruitful along with all of us here at Eastside. If He leaves you alone in your sin, then you have every reason to believe that you have not been cleansed by Christ from your past sin. You need to fear God’s final judgment.
If you are not sure whether you are “in Christ”, or if you beginning to wonder if you have ever been a true Christian and if you are presently convicted by your own fruitlessness , then what must you do ? How do you get into Christ ?
John’s Gospel tells us how :
(i) You need to go and see Jesus for yourself (John 1 :35-51).
(ii) You need to be born again through the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-10)
(iii) You need to hear His Word spoken to you. You need to hear about your true condition and your future without Christ and in eternal hell. You need to understand that without being in Him you will be lost and dead in your sins. (John 3:18-20 ; 15:5,7). You need to flee to Christ for refuge from the wrath of God upon you.
(iv) You need to stop sinning (John 5:14) and actively repent and believe all that is written in God’s Word (John 20:31) .
The Results of fruitfulness :
One I have already mentioned: If you are in Christ and you abide in Him by getting nourishment from Jesus and His words, then you will have liberty in prayer “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. “ We as a church shall be satisfied with an abundance of answers to our prayer in 2013 as we continue to learn to abide in Christ and live according to His Word.
Secondly, this : V.8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
When we bear much fruit, God is glorified! That is the goal and the end for which the Christian is brought into Christ and into His body, the church - that we bear much fruit. In this is God the Father glorified. There is more glory in the cluster than in a single grape. So think and pray much about your spiritual involvement at Eastside in 2013 in Worship, Prayer, Use of your Spiritual Gifts.
And if God is glorified then we shall be satisfied! There is something intensely satisfying about seeing the work of God bear fruit. When God is glorified in the progress of the church and in the conversion of souls, through growth in grace and holiness, that will also produce a deep sense of satisfaction within own souls, and within the life of Eastside Baptist Church. Do you see what is at stake in a fruitful Christian life? God gets all the glory and we get all the pleasure ! Amen !