Sufficient: True Vine by Dr. Abidan Shah

SUFFICIENT – TRUE VINE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Towards the coast, on the north central part of Roanoke Island is the small town of Manteo. I did a week of revival meeting there at the home church of Andy Griffith, but this town is also known for probably the oldest vine in North America. It is known as “The Mother Vine.” At one time it was as wide as two acres but now it is in the front yard of this house. It is estimated to be at least 400 years old, maybe planted by the Croatan Indians or even the lost colonists. It is fascinating to think about how many people must have enjoyed the scuppernongs or muscadine grapes from that vine! Nonetheless, that is nothing compared to the vine that we will study today. In our series called “Sufficient,” we come to the seventh and final “I Am” statement of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “I am the True Vine.” As you know, we are answering the question, “How is Jesus sufficient for us?” Main point: Jesus is the True Vine. God the Father prunes the branches in him in order that they may bear more fruit, and the “more fruit” is the tremendous harvest of souls, both Jewish and Gentile. He also removes the dead branches that appear to be connected to the vine but are not. To reject Christ is to be severed from him forever, but to abide in Christ is to be abundant.

John 15       1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Context: Typically, when people come to this passage, they look at it through the lens of viticulture or horticulture. In other words, they think that to understand this passage, we need to understand gardening, farming, or the science of producing grapes. Nothing wrong with this approach, but I don’t believe that’s what John intended. Hope you have learned through this series that context is the key to understand the true meaning of these “I Am” statements. But, before we do that, once again, don’t forget that when Jesus made the statements with the words “I am,” the Jewish people heard the name of God. Even though, many believed, many also rejected him and tried to stone him, but Jesus didn’t recant.

Application: What do you believe about Jesus? Let’s look again at C. S. Lewis’s options again (paraphrase), “Jesus is a liar, lunatic, or Lord. You must pick.”

With that said, let’s study the context in which Jesus made his “I am the True Vine” statement. If you remember, last weekend, I explained to you that this passage belongs in the “Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel of John. Unlike Matthew and Mark that simply give us the happenings of the final night of Jesus, Luke and John tell us what he said to his disciples, especially John. In fact, John 13-17 is Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It all began in the upper room, possibly on Mount Zion. After the Passover Meal, Jesus began washing the feet of his disciples. As you know, Peter protested, but then agreed to have his feet washed when Jesus told him that “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Characteristically, Peter said, “Give me a bath, Jesus!” Then, Jesus told him that they didn’t need a bath because they were clean, but then added “You are not all clean.” He was referring to Judas. Jesus even revealed that one of them would betray him, which launched them into questioning “Is it I? Is it I?” Jesus even pointed Judas out by giving him a piece of the bread after dipping it, and added “What you do, do quickly.” Still the disciples didn’t answer what was going on!

Application: Do you understand what Jesus is saying to you today? Can you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit?

Back to John 13     30 “Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night. 31 So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” Now, Jesus began to tell them about the glory that was coming in his death. In other words, the imposter had to leave before the deep things of the Farewell Discourse could be spoken. Here is where Jesus gave the 6th “I am” statement in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” At the end of John 14in verse 31, Jesus said, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” Now comes John 15. In other words, John 15 was spoken around 10-11pm as they were walking by moonlight. 3 possibilities have been suggested by commentators:

  • They still talked for a while in the Upper Room before they left because John 18:1 tells us again that they went out.
  • They walked past the Jerusalem temple and stopped there. According to the Mishnah, Middot 3:8, “A golden vine stood over the entrance to the sanctuary, trained over posts; and whosoever gave a leaf, or a berry, or a cluster as a freewill offering, he brought it and the priests hung it thereon.” Also, Josephus, Antiquities 15. 11. 3, “The temple had doors also at the entrance, and lintels over them, of the same height with the temple itself. They were adorned with embroidered veils, with their flowers of purple, and pillars interwoven. And over these, but under the crown work, was spread out a golden vine, with its branches, hanging down from a great height; the largeness and fine workmanship of which was a surprising sight to the spectators; to see what vast materials there were, and with what great skill the workmanship was done.” See also Tacitus, Histories 5.5.
  • They walked down the hillside of Jerusalem and there were probably vineyards that they had to walk past before they crossed the Kidron, and Jesus must have stopped by there and spoken the words of John 15.

We can only imagine the exact location, but it was somewhere here that he declared John 15:1 “I am the true vine…” Here, the emphasis is on “alethine” or “true.” Israel was supposed to be the vine, but she had failed.

  • Psalm 80      8 “You have brought a vine out of Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it…15 And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, and the branch that You made strong for Yourself. 16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down; they perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.”
  • Hosea 10      1 Israel empties his vine; He brings forth fruit for himself. According to the multitude of his fruit He has increased the altars; According to the bounty of his land They have embellished his sacred pillars. 2 Their heart is divided; Now they are held guilty. He will break down their altars; He will ruin their sacred pillars.
  • Isaiah 5       1 “…My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. 2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. 4What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?
  • Jeremiah 2:21 “Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before Me Into the degenerate plant of an alien vine?”
  • Ezekiel 15        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 I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; 7 and I will set My face against them. They will go out from one fire, but another fire shall devour them. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I set My face against them. 8 Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have persisted in unfaithfulness,’ says the Lord GOD.”

In each of these places, the vine imagery was to highlight the failure of Israel to be God’s vine. Don’t misunderstand. God still has promises towards ethnic Israel, but Jesus has become the true vine for us to bear fruits.

Application: Are you connected to him?

What are the fruits? People have typically misunderstood this passage. They immediately turn to the fruit of the Spirit passages in the New Testament: Galatians 5      22“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.” Keep in mind that these are the fruit of the Spirit that we enjoy. In John 15 we are to bear fruits that God and others enjoy! Have you ever seen a tree eating its own fruits! So, what are the fruits that Israel was supposed to bear?

  • Jeremiah 5       10 “Go up on her walls and destroy, but do not make a complete end. Take away her branches, For they are not the LORD’S. 11 For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously with Me,” says the LORD. 12 They have lied about the LORD, and said, “It is not He. Neither will evil come upon us, nor shall we see sword or famine. 13 And the prophets become wind, for the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them.”
  • Ezekiel 17      6 And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature; its branches turned toward him, but its roots were under it. So it became a vine, brought forth branches, and put forth shoots. 7 “But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers; and behold, this vine bent its roots toward him, and stretched its branches toward him…9 “…Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots, cut off its fruit, And leave it to wither? All of its spring leaves will wither, and no great power or many people will be needed to pluck it up by its roots” (Also Ezekiel 15and 19).
  • Ezekiel 19      10 “Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, planted by the waters, fruitful and full of branches because of many waters. 11 She had strong branches for scepters of rulers. She towered in stature above the thick branches, and was seen in her height amid the dense foliage. 12 But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried her fruit. Her strong branches were broken and withered; the fire consumed them. 13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. 14 Fire has come out from a rod of her branches and devoured her fruit, so that she has no strong branch— a scepter for ruling.’ ”

The point is this – The fruitfulness was not only to produce branches that would bear good fruit before God, but also to graft other branches of other peoples who would also become righteous and fruitful before God. Unfortunately, Israel failed to reach souls, and, so now, Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches who are to bear fruit, i.e., souls. The more fruit is the tremendous harvest of souls that will come from all over, Jews and Gentiles, through the true vine.

Now, let’s return to John 15:2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” God the Father oversees this task. The English doesn’t tell us, but there is a play on words in Greek here. The word for take away is “airei” and the word for prunes is “kathairei.” The words can be used in agriculture world, but not necessarily, especially the first one. The point is this: the words are connected. The passage is not about eternal security. It is about true connection to Jesus. Judas was never truly connected to Jesus, unlike the other disciples. His fate is found in 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” Judas went out and hung himself. How about the other disciples? John 15:3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Guess what the Greek word is for “clean”? “katharoi.” Peter also stumbled that night, followed when he was not supposed to and denied Christ three times. But he was close enough to catch Jesus’ eye, and he went out and wept bitterly. About 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost, he won 3000 souls on his first message! God the Father had pruned him for the task. It happens through trials and failures.

Application: Is God the Father pruning you or are you not connected to Jesus? Are you a Peter or a Judas?

A question remains: How do we abide? What does it take to abide? To start with, the Greek word is “meno.” It is found about 118 times in the Greek NT. More than half of them are found in John’s writings. It is found about 40 times in the Gospel, and most of the key ones are in John 14-15. In fact, about 10 are right here in John 15. Listen again to John 15       4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. 9 As the Father loved Me, I also have 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.

Abiding has the idea of being in an intimate, personal, committed, enduring, continuous, and reciprocal relationship.

Application: Are you abiding with Jesus?

Abiding is critical to discipleship. “Abiding is the key to Abundance.” It is only when we remain in Christ by loving and obeying him that we bear much fruit. God wants the life of Jesus the vine to flow through us the branches and bear fruits that will be a blessing to others. The branch doesn’t consume its own fruits. They are souls!

One more thing: All we must do is abide in Jesus, and he promises to bring forth the fruits. The branch doesn’t stress about bearing fruits either. 

This is why our mission at Clearview is “to lead all peoples into a life-changing ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” The command is not to win souls. The command is to abide, and he will do the rest. Love and Obey. Trust and Follow. Do what the branch does with the Vine.

Invitation: Are you abiding in Jesus? Are you saved? Are you bearing fruits? Are you bearing much fruit? Are you being cultivated by the Father?

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