28 August 2014

John 15:1-17

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (v. 5)


The Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) are full of references to vines and vineyards, but throughout the psalms and the prophets there is a sense of great disappointment that God's vine was not all it might have been (eg Psalm 80:14-15, Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 2:21).

We don't know for sure how Jesus made his journey to the garden of Gethsemane, but in the darkening streets of Jerusalem, leading out to the Kidron Valley on the west side of the city, perhaps they came across some wild vines growing. The disciples, who would know those scriptures well, would see where God was leading as Jesus said, "I am the Vine" (v. 1). All that Israel was set apart to produce, could now be summed up in Jesus, the true Israel, God's chosen one. While the vineyard had apparently been left to overgrow, from out of it came one choice vine that would now bear God's fruit, God's life. The disciples were at that moment following that chosen one to the place where he would be apparently cut down in his prime. And yet Jesus urges them: 'Remain in me; abide in me; continue living in me.'

Jesus describes here the beautiful and fruitful relationship that people will find if they discover God's love in him. Whereas Israel of the Old Testament had lost its way seeking power and prestige, losing sight of the one true God, Jesus promises that his followers will never fail if they remain intimately united with him. This relationship may involve pruning, where God lovingly takes us in hand to bring out the very best in us; it will involve cleansing, as his words to us speak to the depths of our soul; it will mean true discipleship, as we follow his commands (and his example) to love one another; and this will lead not merely to the duty and drudgery of a servant, but to the freedom and joy of being his friends. All of this is wrapped up in the utmost love that he shows, giving his life that we might know that freedom and forgiveness of an active and life-giving relationship with God. His words in verse 13 have been used to inspire or justify war, but that was never the intention: it was to point to the greatest love - that of a God who would die for us, and a God who wants to call us friends.

We also need to heed the warnings in this passage. Jesus says, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (v. 5) and "the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine" (v. 4). Of course, we can do many things without abiding in Christ (and the Church frequently does) but we can do nothing that is of any value to God without being united and rooted in Jesus and his self-giving love. Only in this will we bear any lasting fruit for the healing and salvation of the world and its people.

To Ponder

  • 'Jesus He is the vine and we are the branches'. What does this expression mean to you?
  • How easy/difficult is it in your personal relationship with God to 'remain in Christ'? What steps can you take to make sure that you do not 'wither'?
  • In the church, how often do we see much being done but bearing little fruit? In what ways might you use this passage as a guide to being fruitful for Christ?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!