Jesus Redefined: I Am The True Vine

Categories: Jesus Redefined

We have reached the fifth, and the final week of our series called Jesus Redefined. And it’s been awesome. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have said that they are loving this series. And the whole premise for the series is so simple.

Like we’ve been saying for the last five weeks, there are a whole lot of ideas about Jesus in our culture, and even in the church, that are wrong. So here’s what we did. We said, “What if we stopped asking, ‘Who do we think that Jesus is?’ and started asking, ‘Who did Jesus say that He is?’” What if, instead of us trying to define Him, we let Jesus define Himself? And that question is what launched this series.

And in the last week of this series, here’s what Jesus is telling us about Himself. “I am the true vine…” (John 15:1a, NIV)

The vine that Jesus is referring to is a vine that you would fine in a vineyard. We’re going to be talking a little bit about winemaking today. Some of you are already excited, so I’d better pray for us and then we’ll jump into this last message in this series.

Starting in verse 1 of John 15. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Remain in me, as I also 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.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:1-6, NIV)

Jesus makes this claim, saying, “I am the true vine.” And after that claim, He goes on to explain it using an illustration of a vineyard. But to really understand what Jesus is teaching us, we’ve got to understand some basics about working in a vineyard. I’m going to be borrowing a lot from Beauford Bryant and Mark Krause’s commentary on the gospel of John, because they do a masterful job of laying this out.

It’s hard for us in 21st century America to really appreciate how important vineyards were in the ancient world. Winemaking nearly dates back to the very beginning of recorded history. In fact, the book of Genesis records Noah as the first vineyard cultivator and winemaker.

In Jesus’ day, the production of wine was an economic mainstay for farmers. But even though some of us enjoy wine today, most of us really don’t understand much of anything about a working vineyard.

Wine obviously comes from the juice of grapes produced by a grapevine. But if the grapevine is not trimmed, it will use its available energy to grow long, woody branches and extend its territory. But the tradeoff is that the vine will only produce a small handful of grapes.

But winemakers learned early on that if they pruned the branches, the vine would be forced to direct its energy to growing more grapes instead of growing longer branches. That results in heavy grape clusters, which means lots of juice to use for making wine.

Most of this pruning was done in the winter, because that’s when the vine would lose less of its sap. This pruning process would leave the field completely bare, with only small stumps left behind. The farmer would then take those old branches that he cut off and haul them away to be burned. That meant that his vines could grow unhindered from the mature stump every year. By doing this pruning, the farmer would have a large harvest of grapes year in and year out.

Now that we have a little bit more of the background, we can better understand the allegory that Jesus is using here. So let’s read it again.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Remain in me, as I also 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.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:1-6, NIV)

Doesn’t this make more sense now that you know the culture that Jesus lived in? His followers would have instantly made all these connections because they knew the workings of a vineyard, inside and out. We’ve got to dig a little deeper, but it’s worth the dig.

In this illustration that Jesus used, He said that we are the branches. And He described two different types of branches: one that bore fruit because it was connected to the true vine, and one that did not. It really comes down to the connected and the unconnected. So today, we’re going to explore the truth that Jesus gives to both groups.

First of all, let’s talk to the connected. In other words, Jesus gave this truth to people who believed in Him. People who had surrendered to Him. People who loved Him.

To those people, Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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.” (John 15:1-2, NIV)

Look at what He said about the branches that are connected to the true vine. The branches that are producing lots and lots of good grapes. He said that the gardener, who is God the Father, prunes them so they “will be even more fruitful.”

Now, when we think about pruning, we think of tools like this. These shears are obviously sharp because to do their job correctly, they have to inflict pain on the plant. But the plant will never be healthy if they don’t endure the pain of pruning.

And right here is where a lot of us get tripped up with God. Because a lot of times we want God to come at us with something soft, like a pillow. We want following Jesus to just be a life filled with big fluffy marshmallows. But sometimes, instead of coming at us with a pillow, God comes at us with this.

But here’s the difference. We want God to make us happy. God wants to make us holy. And holiness comes through pruning. Through cutting away what is dying or dead so that what’s alive can thrive.

And maybe that’s where you are right now. Maybe you’re in the middle of the pruning process. God is cutting away what is dying or dead in you, but it hurts.

Maybe He’s cutting away a relationship. It’s a relationship that you value. It’s a relationship that you think you need. Maybe even a relationship that you feel like you can’t live without. But the relationship is pulling you away from the Lord. The relationship is pushing you to places where you know you shouldn’t go. And God is pruning that relationship from your life.

If that’s happening, I know it hurts. Pruning always does. But understand that the pruning is being done by a loving gardener. And I know that you can’t see it right now, but if you trust God enough to surrender to the pruning, you’re going to be so much healthier and more fulfilled down the road.

Maybe the pruning in your life is happening through some other loss. Maybe the loss of a job. Or the loss of your health. Or maybe even the loss of someone that you loved.

I’m not going to try to explain why it’s happening. I’m not going to pretend to understand it, because so often our pain is beyond understanding.

But I also believe what Rick Warren said when he wrote, “God never wastes a hurt.”

Sometimes our pain is actually pruning. We can begin to trust and to rely on so many things other than God. But when those things are pruned away, we can begin to see that God alone is the anchor in our lives. He alone is steadfast and sure.

It’s tough, because this (hedge trimmers) doesn’t look like love to us. This looks like pain. But from God’s perspective, sometimes this is the most loving thing He can do for us. Sometimes the least loving thing that God could possibly do for us is to give us what we want. Are you tracking with me? Let me say that again. Sometimes the least loving thing that God could possibly do for us is to give us what we want.

Sometimes the most loving thing He can do is to pull out the shears and start cutting. And it’s because He wants us to draw closer to Him. That’s what we see when we keep reading.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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.

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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.” (John 15:1-4, NIV)

After the branches are pruned, they have to remain on the vine for the grapes to grow. That’s why Jesus invites us to remain in him. That goes for good times and bad times. In times of gain, we remain. And in times of pain, we remain.

But think about what that means, to remain. Jesus wasn’t demanding that we do more and more and more to earn His love. His invitation is to stop. To rest. To simply remain in His love.

And He also wasn’t saying that we always have to understand, or even approve, of what He’s doing. We don’t have to have all the answers when life doesn’t make sense. We don’t have to have an explanation when life hurts. We just have to remain.

If you’re going through a season of pruning, if you’re hurting, if life just isn’t quite making sense right now, remain. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be angry. Those are normal, natural human emotions. To deny them is to deny what you’re really going through. But through it all, remain.

And if you do, look at this promise that Jesus made. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

“If you remain in me and I in you, you will be bear much fruit.” In other words, you will be healthier. You will be more fulfilled. You will produce more fruit for the Kingdom of God. God hasn’t given up on you. In fact, if you remain in Him through the pruning process, He will use you in greater ways than you ever imagined. That’s not hype. That’s hope. That’s not pie-in-the-sky. That’s a promise on the pages of Scripture.

If you are connected to the true vine, remain. Trust the hands of the gardener when He is pruning you. And believe that something much, much better is on the way.

But what if you are unconnected? What if you don’t believe in Jesus? What if you have never surrendered to Jesus? Jesus speaks directly to that, as well.

Go back to what He said right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” The obvious implication is that there are a lot of false vines. There are a lot of things that promise to give us life.

And we don’t have to look very far to see that. Think of all the false vines that we are confronted with that promise to give us life.

For example, we are taught that sex is our key to happiness. Dr. Tim Keller wrote, “Until now there has never been a culture in the history of world that put so much emphasis and so much hope in sex for happiness.”

How many people hook up, only to feel let down? How many marriages have been wrecked because of pornography? Or infidelity?

Now, before you get the idea that I’m down on sex, I’m not. And by the way, if you think that, you haven’t been here very long. Within the confines of a marriage relationship, sex is a good, God-given gift. But outside of that relationship, it is sin that destroys lives.

And by the way, in case you were wondering, this kind of sexual sin includes flings, adultery, being sexually active with someone who is not your spouse in heterosexual marriage, being sexually active with multiple partners, and being sexually active with someone of the same sex.

I know that’s not the way our cultural wind is blowing at all. But following Jesus has always been countercultural.

And by the way, if you disagree with what I just said, you need to know this. We love you. And you are welcome here. We don’t hate you. We love you. But we love you enough to tell you the truth, the whole truth. And the reason is because we don’t want to see your life go up in flames. We want to see God bless your life. And God’s blessings come when we submit to Him and when we live in obedience to Him. Not perfect obedience, because we’ll never get there. But when we genuinely surrender to Jesus and let Him change our hearts, our minds, and our desires. That’s what it means to be connected to the true vine.

And there a whole lot of other false vines, too. There are a whole lot of other things that promise to give us hope and life, but wind up just leading us to death and destruction.

We are promised that if we just acquire more stuff, we’ll be happy. Your happiness and fulfillment is just one more purchase away. Does it ever happen? Nope. It’s just like a drug. You get a temporary high, but then it’s gone.

We’re told that if we can just gain acceptance with certain people, we’ll be happy and fulfilled. So we try to change things about ourselves to fit in. To be accepted. Some of us started doing that in elementary school and it’s never stopped. We’ve never realized that if you can’t be accepted by some people by being authentic, then those people aren’t worth your time. Instead, we give our lives away to be accepted.

And the list could go on and on and on. But the point is that these are all false vines. And a whole lot of people wither and die because they are connected to these false vines.

Some of you are connected to these false vines. You need to know that Jesus is the true vine. The only One who can give you life. Nothing and no one else can give you life. Not now. And certainly not in eternity.

And Jesus talked about that very specifically. He said that the gardener, God the Father, cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit.

And then He said, “…apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5b-6, NIV)

This is the part of the message that I wish I could just skip over, but I can’t. Jesus makes it all too clear. When He talks about branches that “are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned,” that is an obvious reference to hell.

Now, just like we’ve got a lot of cultural pictures of Jesus that are wrong, we’ve got a lot of cultural pictures and ideas about hell that are wrong.

A lot of people believe that hell is really just a big party. That’s where all the fun people are going to be. Just crank up a little Highway to Hell and party like you’re at the Playboy mansion.

But that’s a cultural picture of hell. It’s certainly not a Biblical picture of hell. Hell is described as a place of total darkness. A place of fire. A place of complete separation from God.

And again, just like people kick against Jesus’ exclusive claims, they also kick against the idea of hell. Hell can’t exist. A loving God would never send people to hell.

But what they fail to realize is that, along with being a loving God, God is also a God of justice. God is equally loving and just. And God’s justice requires that sin must be punished. He can’t dismiss our sin with a wink and a nod. Sin must be punished.

In His love, He allowed Jesus to take that punishment for us. When Jesus died on the cross, He was punished for our sin. The price was paid. God’s justice was satisfied. And we are forgiven and free. The cross is the perfect union of God’s justice and love.

But if we choose to reject that gift, that leaves our sin unaccounted for. And that sin still must be punished. God’s justice demands it. So if we don’t allow Jesus to take our punishment for us, then we will have to take it ourselves. And that punishment happens in a place called hell.

Now, maybe you don’t believe in hell. But here’s what you need to know: Jesus did. Jesus believed in a literal place called hell. Jesus taught about hell. Jesus warned us about hell. He did so vividly. And He did so often.

In fact, Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. And He never, ever minced words. He never pulled a punch. He never held back. He gave us the hard, unvarnished, terrible truth. Hell is real, and it is filled with unspeakable horrors.

And in case you’re wondering if I enjoy preaching this, then you don’t know me very well. But I’ve been charged to preach the Word of God in its fullness. And this is one of those times when Jesus gives us the truth, straight up, no chaser. He said when a branch isn’t connected to the true vine, it is hauled away and burned.

If we are not connected to Jesus, then this is our fate. I know that’s tense. I know that’s very politically incorrect. And I also know that there might be someone here today who will never come back to Connect because of this “intolerant message.” That breaks my heart, but at least you heard the truth before you leave. And my prayer is that someday, it will take root in your life. We love you enough to tell you the truth. All of it.

And this is why we’re so serious about our mission here at Connect. This is why we’re so intense and focused. Because the stakes are just too high to do anything else.

And it’s also why, here at Connect, it’s all about Jesus. That’s our very first core value. It’s all about Jesus. Because Jesus is the true vine. And if we are connected to Him, if we remain in Him, we have nothing to fear in eternity. The price of our sin has been paid in full. And when we stand before God, He will declare us fully and forever “not guilty.”

And that’s why we want you to know Him. So right after this service, we’ll have people waiting out by the fountain in the lobby. You can go to them. You can come to me. Whatever. Just don’t leave without letting someone talk and pray with you. You can be connected to the true vine today. You can be declared “not guilty” today. Everything about your life and your eternity can change today. And I’ll say it again. That’s not hype. That’s hope!

Author: Mike Edmisten

Senior Pastor