Why is Jesus Called the True Vine?
I once saw a poem in a gardening book about growing vines. This is how the poem read, “First they sleep, then they creep, and then they leap.” The poem was teaching that in the natural world growing a lush vine will take three years. The first year the vine doesn’t appear to be doing anything, but below the surface the roots are starting to spread out. This is the sleeping phase. The second year the vine is in the ground it starts to creep just a little bit. But, what happens in the third year of cultivation? Abundant growth follows in just three years.
What does Jesus calling himself the true vine in John 15 imply? It implies there are false vines, counterfeit sources of energy and strength that we might seek to empower us to bear fruit. But, these bogus sources will ultimately prove worthless. Only Jesus offers life with God. And, only life with God produces fruit that will last.
Look at Jesus’ words from John 15:1-11.
“1) I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2) Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit. 3) Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4) 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. 5) 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. 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. 7) If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8) By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9) As the Father has loved me, so have I 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. 11) These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ESV
Fruit bearing is God’s idea. This simple concept can be easily twisted in our reasoning. It is not uncommon when we find ourselves eager to advance God’s kingdom, for us to assume we must be acting from our pride. We need to remember God desires for us to bear fruit, but the ability to produce fruit will not be found in our will power.
Jesus is the true vine, we are the branches, but who is the vine dresser? Who perfectly trims our branch? The Father, the first person of the trinity, is the Gardener who prunes our branch so we can be made even more fruitful (John 15:1). The purpose of pruning, however painful, is always to increase our fruit-bearing potential.
1)What are some growth areas or ministries where you experienced a pruning?
What instrument does the vine dresser use to trim back the branches? Look again at John 15:3.
“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” ESV
The gardening shears that the Father uses are the very words of Jesus. This is an important distinction, because we might assume a trial or suffering are God’s pruning shears, but that is not what Jesus emphasizes here. It is the time we spend receiving Jesus’ words which cleanses us and increases our fruit. Look John 15:7 again.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” ESV
The Greek word translated abide in our English translations is a metaphorical word for place. To abide is related to our English word abode. A person’s abode is their home base. It is the place they inhabit. So, to abide in Jesus’ words is to metaphorically live with his teaching, to live in his strength.
Notice that Jesus does not say, my word abides in you, but my words abide in you. The phrasing, “my word abides in you,” might imply the entire book of the Bible. But, the phasing, “my words abide in you,” is emphasizing the red letter words of Jesus from the gospels. I believe it is the very teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels that are the most critical for our fruit production. This is why I love to teach the gospels. These words of Jesus convict us of sin, expose the intentions of our hearts, and are always mixed with hope and redemption.
If we want to continue to bear spiritual fruit, we need to regularly meditate on the words of Christ. Every gardener knows sharp pruning shears work quickly and do less damage to a plant. Trimming off the small stems is also less invasive to the fruit cycle. The same is true for a spiritual pruning. Old woody growth develops when a vine’s pruning has been neglected, and it might require a saw to cut through. Pruning off old growth can easily send a plant into shock. Spending time applying the gospels will keep us from wild unpruned growth.
2) How can we practically apply Jesus’ red-letter passages of the Bible?
Why did Jesus choose the vine as a metaphor to describe our relationship with him? The vine portrait of Christ perfectly illustrates the dependance we need to place in Jesus if we want to bear fruit. Why didn’t he choose a tree? Ezekiel 15 seems to address this very question, and Ezekiel even uses some of the same words and phrasing found in John 15. Look at Ezekiel 15:1-6.
1) And the word of the Lord came to me: 2) “Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest? 3) Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people make a peg from it to hang any vessel on it? 4) Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred is it useful for anything? 5) Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred can it ever be used for anything! 6) Therefore thus says the Lord God; Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” ESV
The vine metaphor was carefully chosen because vine wood by itself is not useful. Maybe we can make a spindly basket or a decorative wreath from vine twigs, but we don’t make a table, or a bed. We certainly don’t build houses that would protect us from the elements or an encroaching enemy. Jesus is emphasizing with this vine portrait how our strength must flow from him. We can do nothing of lasting worth in our own power.
Sap flows through the vine, into the branches, so they will have the energy they need to make flowers and eventually produce fruit. In the natural world fruit, production is an exhausting experience for a plant and the conditions have to be just right. Every plant has seasons when it grows fruit and seasons when it is storing nutrients, so it can bear fruit again. Nothing blooms continually. In the same way no one is constantly bearing spiritual fruit. Most importantly from John 15, we see fruit will never grow on a severed branch, and dead branches have one purpose, to provide fuel for a fire.
Jesus as the true vine is an Old Testament picture that is first foreshadowed in Numbers 13 when the spies scout out the Promise Land that God was giving to Israel. The single cluster of grapes they brought back to Moses was so enormous that it took two men to carry it on a pole. This gigantic cluster is a prophetic picture of Jesus’ message from John 15. Abiding in Jesus yields a fruitful harvest.
Numbers 13 and 14 are the chapters where the story of the twelve spies who surveyed the Promise Land are found. Sadly, it is only the minority report given by Joshua and Caleb that encourages the people to trust God. This beautiful inheritance that God desired for Israel was a land flowing with milk and honey. He wanted to bless them with fruitfulness and would provide everything they needed so they could conquer and prosper there. But, God would not make them accept his plan. A whole generation will needlessly die in the desert because they refused God’s blessed plans.
Instead of trusting in God’s dream, Israel listened to the many voices of fear.
3) Why is it hard to trust God’s dream for us?
There are multiple passages in the Old Testament which picture Israel as a vine and also as a vineyard. Jesus also told many parables using these images. Archeologists looking at the time frame between the Old and New Testaments have even discovered a Jewish coin engraved with a vine. Jesus’ words describing the fruit bearing he designed for his disciples was taught in the middle of this context. Many Jews felt their ethnicity and religiosity would insure they could bear fruit for God. But, Jesus is making it very clear that only he has the power to bear genuine spiritual fruit and only disciples who stay connected to him will receive this power…because he is the true vine.