1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.
7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
As some of you may or may not know, before I began my journey into fulltime ministry, I used to work in the chainsaw industry. Without doubt the best part of my job was doing training courses and using a chainsaw, rather than simply talking about them. I’d visit our dealers and customers with my order book under my arm because that was my job, but changing into safety clothing and actually using a chainsaw gave me a real buzz (pardon the pun).
I spent many years in the Western Cape, and on one occasion we were asked by the municipality of Stellenbosch to help with felling a couple of huge oak trees which needed to be taken down to make way for a new shopping centre. Felling a 40cm pine tree is easy, but this was totally different. One tree in particular had a trunk diameter of more than 2 metres, and it took nearly an hour just to get it down.
The secret to felling trees safely is to get them to fall as slowly as possible, as this gives you a chance to move away if it doesn’t fall exactly where you want it to, so as soon as it begins to fall, you stop cutting and back away as you watch it fall. Two golden rules of tree felling is never turn your back on a falling tree, and never walk backwards holding a chainsaw with the motor running, so I immediately switched the saw off, only to hear this incredibly loan groaning and creaking as the tree began to fall. You never cut all the way through – you always leave a section of uncut ‘holding wood’ to guide it down, and as these wood fibres began to tear on this huge tree it was almost as if it were crying. Then came this massive crash as it hit the ground, but after the dust began to settle I heard and saw something I’d never experienced before.
It started out as a kind of gurgling sound, and then a mixture of sap and water began pouring out of the tree, about as fast as a tap opened halfway, and this must have carried on for at least a full minute. It was a huge tree and it must have held tons of moisture, but now that it had been separated from its roots, the sap poured down the trunk.
I’d felled many trees before, but this was the first time I’d actually seen one ‘dying.’
In any plant, what sustains its life comes from its roots. The stem or trunk needs a connection to the roots for life. Then if you move further along, the leaves and branches are just as reliant on the trunk as well.
In John 15 Jesus teaches us a valuable lesson when He speaks of a vine and its branches.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”
What is a Christian? A Christian is someone who hears the gospel, believes it, then turns to Jesus and experiences His forgiving grace. Those of you who are doing the Life Worth Living course will remember from Thursday that we were reminded that this is not the end, but merely the beginning of a life of discipleship as we walk with Jesus.
A disciple of Jesus is a person who makes the conscious decision to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, and very often there is a price to pay for that obedience. Many of Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen, and in order to follow Him effectively they were challenged to hear the call, respond to it, put down their nets, get out of their boats, and follow Him.
The call that Jesus made to His earliest disciples is exactly the same call He makes to us today. We need to decide whether we’re happy to just go through the motions on Sundays, or are we really going to take the call to Christian discipleship seriously.
If you want to be the disciple that Jesus wants you to be, you need to hear what He is saying in John 15.
It starts with the relationship between the vine and the branches. When Jesus described Himself as the vine, He spoke of Himself as the core of the vine, the main stem, or the root. As the true vine, He is central to all that happens in the vineyard.
And we, as His people are the branches - the extensions of the vine. Because we are Christians, Jesus is now our life source and life force. We are now the extensions that grow from the root of the true vine - Jesus.
It’s all about relationships, and in particular our relationship with God through Christ.
The branches have a relationship with the vine, and this is what gives the vine wholeness and completeness. When we look at a tree, we see it as a whole. We don’t say, “Look at that leaf on the 14th branch from the top – the 472nd leaf to the right.” All of the parts of the tree have such an intimate relationship with each other that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the parts. Of course, the roots and main trunk are easy to define, but branches and leaves just seem to mingle all together.
As the Church, no one will ever mistake us for the vine. We are not Jesus in human form, but we’re meant to be pretty close. One of the distinctives of the Christian should be Christlikeness. We are to be as accurate a representation of Christ as we could possibly be.
When you trusted Jesus by faith, something happened to you. In Romans 11 we’re told that we are now grafted into Christ. That means you were made a part of Jesus Christ. You began a relationship with Him that will never end. Eternal life with Jesus does not begin when we die and go to Heaven. If you are a Christian, it began for you the moment you turned to Him in faith.
Our disciple relationship with Jesus is a very real presence here and now. We don’t have to wait until we get to Heaven to have that relationship with Him.
Jesus doesn’t say we will be branches at some point in the future when we finally manage to pull ourselves together and sort out this or that issue in our lives. He says we are the branches – present tense.
We are branches, intimately attached and fully related to Jesus right now. We are disciples.
We all have close, intimate relationships in life with our parents, children, spouses and friends. There is a sense of connection that goes deep into our core. One of our greatest and deepest needs is to love and be loved, and this is what defines our human relationships – our hearts are linked. These relationships are not casual, take it or leave it, relationships. They are the kind of relationships that help to define who we are and usually determine what we live for.
Unfortunately there are times when our relationships lead us into trouble simply because of the people we’re connected to, but that just proves how true that principle is. For good or for bad, our relationships with each other play a huge role in shaping the people we are, and at the same time we play a role in shaping others.
These types of relationships are what our lives revolve around.
What we need to understand is that we should seek that same character-shaping relationship with Jesus. A casual, non-committed, take it or leave it relationship with Jesus Christ is simply a contradiction in terms. You will either love Him or hate Him. You will either obey Him or rebel against Him.
In Matthew 12 and Luke 11 Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” There is no room in that statement for a take it or leave it attitude to Jesus.
For the Christian disciple, Jesus is not some far away, mythical figure in our lives. He is not just one of our acquaintances.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
I have a commentary that says of these verses:
“In the original Hebrew, ‘in all your ways acknowledge Him’ is more literally ‘in all your ways know Him.’ This fundamental statement of how to relate to God implies more than mere reverence. Nodding in God’s direction is not enough: you must know Him by living closely with Him, relating to Him personally in every aspect of your life.”
Jesus wants a close, intimate relationship with you. He wants His connection with you be the very core of your life. He wants your heart and His to be linked in a way that determines everything you are.
There are 168 hours in a week. Committing one hour a week to Jesus on a Sunday morning represents less than 0.6% of our lives.
He wants more than that. He deserves more than that.
The good news is that for the Christian, a totally committed relationship with Jesus is possible right now.
But how do we do it? If it’s possible and we believe it to be possible, why then do so many Christians just seem to go through the motions, just doing the Church thing on a weekly basis, but there doesn’t seem to be any long-lasting influence on their lives?
How do we, as disciples cultivate that type of relationship with Jesus Christ? How do we actually abide in Him?
The way to answer that question is with another question: How did you get to that type of relationship with the people you love and know best?
You only get out of a relationship what you put into it. If we are serious about building meaningful relationships with the people in our lives, we make it a priority to know them and to spend time with them. Whether they are our children, parents, marriage partners or close friends, the same principle applies.
And you build that same type of relationship with Jesus in the same way. Make it a priority to know Him and to spend time with Him.
Remember, you’re starting from a position of strength. You are already grafted into Him as the vine. He did that for you when you first turned to Him in faith. Now you must stay connected to Him, and abide in Him.
He does warn us of the consequences if we don’t. A close, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is possible. Branches removed from the vine though, cannot survive alone. Remove them from the root and the vine, and not only do they not produce fruit, but soon they will shrivel up and die.
I didn’t get the chance to count the year rings on that oak tree I felled in Stellenbosch as we didn’t have the time, but I was told that it although it wasn’t one of the original trees planted by Simon van der Stel in the early 1700’s, it was still one of the oldest trees in the city. That would have made it nearly 300 years old, but within seconds of being separated from its roots, its life was over.
When branches on the vine are cut and severed from the root, death comes to the branches and leaves. Their life source is removed without that vital connection to the root, as they lose their only source of life.
The root supplies the water they need to survive, and without that connection there is no more life.
If we remove ourselves from our relationship with Jesus we shrivel and dry up. There may still be physical life without Christ, but that’s only temporary.
All over the world there are people who flock to worship services week after week. They sing the songs, they say the right things, but in reality they have disconnected themselves from the true vine, so while on the outside things all seem to be fine, spiritually they are shrivelled and dried up.
They still know who Jesus is, but they now have a distant relationship with Him. The complete trust and reliance is no longer there, and that’s a dangerous place to be. Somehow, somewhere they made the decision to lean on their own understanding, rather than God’s.
That decision has separated them from their only source of true life. They go through the motions of life – physically they may be fit and well. They live, but their hearts are dry and barren. They live, but their lives are drudgery. There’s no more true direction, and they now find themselves sapped of the spiritual energy they once had. That absolute assurance of their infinite worth in Christ has now become a distant and fuzzy memory.
Is that where you are today? You haven’t completely forgotten about Jesus – after all, you’re here today. But that thrill of being with Jesus and walking closely with Him is now a fast-fading memory. You know that you can be so much more than you are right now. The potential is there, but you no longer have the spiritual drive to awaken that potential.
If this is where you are right now, I have good news for you this morning.
Nothing is impossible for God.
He can help you to refill that void of emptiness by re-connecting you to the true vine.
Re-establish the Word of God as the compass for your life. Get into the Bible.
Re-establish that communication line with God by asking Him to help you to cultivate a real prayer life.
Re-connect with the people of God as your family. Don’t just come to Church every Sunday – get involved in the fellowship, witness and life of the Church.
These are the kind of things that mark a true disciple of Jesus.
A surrendered life, a life fully reliant on Him is possible. It is possible for the branch to be fully reliant on the vine. In fact, there is no real alternative if you think about it.
We have to get connected to, and stay connected to the vine. Once we do that with God’s help, it is then that we’ll begin to understand the purpose of our existence as Christian disciples. What does an effective grapevine do? It produces fruit.
In John 15:5 Jesus says, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” That’s the key to a truly fulfilling Christian life: The branches have a responsibility to the vine. The branches have a job to do.
We are here to bear fruit.
A well-cultivated and well-pruned vine naturally produces fruit, and in much the same way when we learn to submit to God and allow Him to do the cultivating and pruning (often a painful but necessary thing), we will naturally produce fruit for the Kingdom of God.
We won’t find ourselves having to think about producing fruit – it will just happen. Fruit for the Kingdom comes naturally from a close, intimate relationship with Jesus.
The next question is, what does this fruit look like?
Quite simply, disciples of Jesus begin to reflect the true character of Jesus.
We should love for one another and everybody else. That’s what Jesus does, and so should we.
Service to God and one another. Jesus came to serve, and so should we.
Sacrifice for God and for others. Jesus sacrificed Himself, so should we.
We should forgive as we have been forgiven, we should show the same compassion and grace for others that God has shown to us.
The mission statement of our congregation is to “communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in service of God, each other and the world.”
The word ‘communicate’ suggests that we should be doing, going and telling. Our mission statement can be effectively summarised in just two words: “Bear fruit.”
And we can only do that by being connected to the vine.
If we don’t see this kind of fruit in our own lives and in the life of the Church, it means there is a barrenness brought about by a deficiency in our relationship and our reliance on the true vine.
A long distant relationship with Jesus will never produce fruit.
A reliance on anything other than Jesus will never produce fruit.
If your life is barren, the first thing to examine is the intimacy of your relationship with Jesus. You may be surprised at how easy it will be to find the reason for your spiritual thirst.
One of Max Lucado’s books has a simple, but brilliant title: “Come Thirsty.” What this means is that God doesn’t tell you to sort your life out and pull yourself together before He will start working in your life.
It means that He accepts you with your thirst, grafts you into the true vine, and then begins to satisfy your thirst – not only for your benefit, but also for the benefit of others as you bear fruit for the Kingdom.
Spiritual fruit is a natural product of your relationship and reliance on Jesus. If you’re not producing fruit, He will show you the reasons why not if you humble yourself and ask Him, and the best news of all is that by His grace He can and will re-graft you into Himself as the true vine.
Abide in Him, and you will bear much fruit for His glory.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read John 15:1-11
Why do you think it is so important for Christians to be ‘grafted into’ Jesus as the true vine?
How would you describe the differences between a regular Church-goer and a completely surrendered disciple of Jesus?
Is complete surrender to Jesus possible in the modern world?
Why, or why not?
Read Matthew 7:16-20
Which kinds of good fruit do you think God expects of us as individual believers, and collectively as a Church?
Spiritual dryness can be a real struggle in the life of a Christian, and it is something we all experience from time to time.
If you feel able, share with your group some of the joys or struggles you may be going through in your life right now. In other words, how attached or unattached do you feel to the vine today?
How have you felt God’s grace drawing you back and re-grafting you into the true vine in the past?
Close by praying for each other. Pray particularly for those in your group who are feeling disconnected from Jesus.
Make a commitment to pray each day during the coming week for those who need to experience a renewing of God’s grace and comfort.