1). THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
"I am the real vine and my Father is the vine-dresser. He destroys every
branch in me which does not bear fruit; and he cleanses every branch which
does bear fruit, so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean through
the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me even as I abide in you. As
the branch cannot bear fruit in its own strength, unless it abides in the
vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the
branches. The man who abides in me, and in whom I abide, bears much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he will
be cast out like a withered branch. And they gather such branches and throw
them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words
abide in you, ask what you will, and it will be given to you. It is by
the fact that you bear such fruit, and that you show yourselves to be my
disciples, that my Father is glorified. As the Father has loved me, so I have
loved you. Abide in my love.
As I have kept my Father's commandments, so I abide in his love."
Jesus, as so often, is working in this passage with pictures and ideas
which were part of the religious heritage of the Jewish nation. Over and over
again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard
of God. "The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel" (Isa.5:1-7).
"Yet I planted you a choice vine" is God's message to Israel through Jeremiah
(Jer.2:21). Eze.15 likens Israel to the vine, as does Eze.19:10. "Israel is a
luxuriant vine," said Hosea (Hos.10:1). "Thou didst bring a vine out of
Egypt," sang the Psalmist, thinking of God's deliverance of his people from
bondage (Ps.80:8). The vine had actually become the symbol of the nation of
Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of
the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place.
Many a great man had counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new bunch of
grapes or even a new grape on to that vine.
The vine was part and parcel of Jewish imagery, and the very symbol of
Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word
alethinos (GSN0228), true, real, genuine, is this. It is a curious fact
that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the
idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah's picture is that the vineyard has
run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into "degenerate and
become a wild vine." It is as if Jesus said: "You think that because you
belong to the nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God. But
the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as all your prophets saw. It is I who am
the true vine. The fact that you are a Jew will not save you. The only
thing that can save you is to have an intimate living fellowship with
me, for I am the vine of God and you must be branches joined to me." Jesus was
laying it down that not Jewish blood but faith in him was the way to God's
salvation. No external qualification can set a man right with God; only the
friendship of Jesus Christ can do that.
2). THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
When Jesus drew his picture of the vine he knew what he was talking about.
The vine was grown all over Palestine as it still is. It is a plant which
needs a great deal of attention if the best fruit is to be got out of it. It
is grown commonly on terraces. The ground has to be perfectly clean. It is
sometimes trained on trellises; it is sometimes allowed to creep over the
ground upheld by low forked sticks; it sometimes even grows round the doors of
the cottages; but wherever it grows careful preparation of the soil is
essential. It grows luxuriantly and drastic pruning is necessary. So luxuriant
is it that the slips are set in the ground at least twelve feet apart, for it
will creep over the ground at speed. A young vine is not allowed to fruit
for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop
and conserve its life and energy. When mature, it is pruned in December and
It bears two kinds of branches, one that bears fruit and one that does not;
and the branches that do not bear fruit are drastically pruned back, so that
they will drain away none of the plant's strength. The vine can not produce
the crop of which it is capable without drastic pruning--and Jesus knew
Further, the wood of the vine has the curious characteristic that it is good
for nothing. It is too soft for any purpose. At certain times of the year, it
was laid down by the law, the people must bring offerings of wood to the Temple
for the altar fires. But the wood of the vine must not be brought. The only
thing that could be done with the wood pruned out of a vine was to make a
bonfire of it and destroy it. This adds to the picture Jesus draws.
He says that his followers are like that. Some of them are lovely
fruit-bearing branches of himself; others are useless because they bear no
fruit. Who was Jesus thinking of when he spoke of the fruitless
branches? There are two answers. First, he was thinking of the Jews. They were
branches of God's vine. Was not that the picture that prophet after prophet had
drawn? But they refused to listen to him; they refused to accept him; therefore
they were withered and useless branches. Second, he was thinking of something
more general. He was thinking of Christians whose Christianity consisted of
profession without practice, words without deeds; he was thinking of Christians
who were useless branches, all leaves and no fruit. And he was thinking of
Christians who became apostates, who heard the message and accepted it and then
fell away, becoming traitors to the Master they had once pledged themselves to
So then there are three ways in which we
can be useless branches. We can refuse to listen to Jesus Christ at all. We can
listen to him, and then render him a lip service unsupported by any deeds. We
can accept him as Master, and then, in face of the difficulties of the way or
the desire to do as we like, abandon him. One thing we must remember. It is a
first principle of the New Testament that uselessness invites disaster. The
fruitless branch is on the way to destruction.
3).THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
In this passage there is much about abiding in
Christ. What is meant by that? It is
true that there is a mystical sense in which the Christian is in Christ and
Christ is in the Christian. But there are many--maybe they are in the
majority--who never have this mystical experience. If we are like that, we
must not blame ourselves. There is a much simpler way of looking at this and
of experiencing it, a way open to anyone.
Let us take a human analogy. All analogies are imperfect but we must work
with the ideas which we possess. Suppose a person is weak. He has fallen to
temptation; he has made a mess of things; he is on the way down to degeneracy
of mind and heart and mental fibre. Now suppose that he has a friend of a
strong and lovely and loving nature, who rescues him from his degraded
situation. There is only one way in which he can retain his reformation and
keep himself on the right way. He must keep contact with his friend If he
loses that contact; all the chances are that his weakness will overcome him;
the old temptations will rear their heads again; and he will fall. His
salvation lies in continual contact with the strength of his friend.
Many a time a down-and-out has been taken to live with someone fine. So
long as he continued in that fine home and that fine presence he was safe. But
when he kicked over the traces and went off on his own, he fell. We must keep
contact with the fine thing in order to defeat the evil thing. Robertson of
Brighton was one of the great preachers. There was a tradesman who had a
little shop; in the back room he kept a photograph of Robertson, for he was
his hero and his inspiration. Whenever he was tempted to carry out a bit of
sharp practice, he would rush into the back room and look at the photograph
and the temptation was defeated. When Kingsley was asked the secret of his
life, referring to F. D. Maurice he said: "I had a friend." The contact with
loveliness made him lovely.
Abiding in Christ means something like that. The secret of the
life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he
withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep contact with
Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it.
To take but one example--to pray in the morning, if it
be for only a few moments, is to have an antiseptic for the whole day;
for we cannot come out of the presence of Christ to touch the evil things.
For some few of us, abiding in Christ will be a mystical
experience which is beyond words to express. For
most of us, it will mean a constant contact with him. It will mean arranging
life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a
day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.
- Finally, we must note that here there are two
things laid down about the good disciple. First, he enriches his own life;
his contact makes him a fruitful branch. Second, he brings glory to God; the sight of
his life turns men's thoughts to the God who made him like that. God is
glorified, when we bear much fruit and show ourselves to be disciples of
Jesus. The greatest glory of the Christian life is that by our life and
conduct we can bring glory to God.
Strong's Number: 228
Text: from 227; truthful: --true.