John 15: The True Vine, Family Trees, and the Cost of Grapes

Of gardening and green fingers, family trees and fruit;
Pruning vines for greater growth and paying the cost for grapes.


Do you like gardens?
The Parnell Rose Gardens here in Auckland.
Fields full of tulips in Holland.
Tea plantations in China or Japan.
When I was little, my dad had a vegetable garden with tomatoes and cucumbers.
Now we just have fruit trees: feijoas, oranges, and grapefruit.

Are there any gardeners here?
Did you know the Bible is about gardening?
It’s the story of a gardener working to grow good fruit.


Sick Trees and Rotten Fruit

It all starts in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.[1]

God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made.  Genesis 2:8

God was the first gardener.
He made the first man Adam to look after his garden.
In the evening, they walked through the trees and enjoyed it together.
It was very good.

Then Adam disobeyed God.
He rebelled against the Gardener, and the garden suffered.
Instead of fruit and flowers, the ground grew thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:17-18)

As well as physical trees in a park, there are family trees.
Here’s my mum and dad and grand dad who went to the war.
If I go all the way back, I’ll come to Adam,
The root of the whole human family tree.

When Adam turned away from God, the garden was damaged.
And his family tree became diseased.
Adam had two sons.
One hated his brother and killed him.
Death entered God’s world and spread through the tree.

God still wanted a fruitful garden and a healthy family tree.
He made a new start with the people of Israel.[2]
He called them a grapevine.[3]

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.  Isaiah 5:7

God wanted Israel to produce rich grapes to bring blessing to the world.[4]
But like Adam, they turned away from God, and became a bad wild vine.[5]

God waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter…
He expected a crop of goodness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.
Isaiah 5:2-7

That’s the sad story of the Old Testament.

A sick family tree, a bad vine, no good fruit.
But God didn’t give up.
It was time to plant a new garden, a new grapevine, a new family tree.[6]


The True Vine and Living Fruit

Let’s read about it in the book of John,
Jesus is speaking to his disciples, his closest friends, the night before he died.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
John 15:1-8

Jesus is God’s new vine.
He is a new Adam, the root of a new family tree.
The first Adam disobeyed and turned away from God. [7]
Jesus said,

“I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”  (John 15:10)

Adam brought death to the tree.
Jesus brought life.
In the gospel of John we read that
Jesus is the bread of life (6:35), the light of life (8:12),
The resurrection and the life (11:25).
He gives the living water (7:38), like sap that flows through the new vine and gives it life. [8]

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 1 Corinthians 15:22

Two different family trees, two different vines, which grow two different sorts of fruit.
Let’s read on and learn more.

9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”
John 15:9-17


The Flavours of the Fruit

There’s a lot about fruit in John 15.
What sort of fruit does the new true vine produce?
Jesus said,

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love…  This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
John 15:10, 12

The first fruit is love.
God’s love for Jesus overflows to us, and then out to others.[9],[10]

And that brings a second fruit of joy,
A lasting happiness from God.  [11]

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!  John 15:11

Just before our reading, Jesus gives a third fruit,

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

The fruit of the true vine is love and joy and peace, and many more good things:

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22

All this is fruit of a changed character.
Is it growing in your life?
It comes from a close relationship with God, being in the true vine.
Jesus also promises another sort of fruit.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! …  the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.
John 15:7, 16

This doesn’t mean I can pray, “God give me a new BMW, the latest iPhone”.
It means when I ask in Jesus’ name, with his words in mind,
Ask for things that bring love and joy and peace.
Then God will listen.
He especially loves to answer prayers for a final sort of fruit.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives.  Colossians 1:6

The fruit of people hearing about Jesus and joining the new family,
Becoming new branches in the true vine.
More and more delicious fruit that grows in more and more lives.

Out of the vine grows love and joy and peace,
Answers to prayer, fruitful new lives.[12]

What is the ultimate purpose of all this fruit?
It’s the same as God planned for Adam and Israel.[13]
To give blessing to all the world, and glory to the Gardener,
To show how good and great God is.[14]

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.  John 15:8

So how can we grow all this wonderful fruit?
And what will it all really cost?


The Cost of Fruit

First of all, the fruit is free.
And growing fruit is not our job.
God is the Gardener; he gives the growth, not us.[15]
What is the most common word in this passage?  10 times.
“Remain” [16]
Remain in Jesus, remain in the vine.

The Christian life is not just believing right things or doing good things.
It’s a living union with the true vine.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

How can we bear fruit?  Just remain in the vine.

Maybe you can’t see amazing fruit in your life right now.
Trees need to grow deep roots – sometimes for years – before they bear fruit.
If you remain in Jesus,
Fertilised by scripture and watered by prayer.
If you are in the vine and the life of the vine is in you,
God will grow strong roots in you and one day fruit will come.[17]

The fruit is free, a gift from God, but there also is a cost.
A good gardener pulls up the weeds.
He prunes the vines and trees.

God prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. John 15:2 [18]

I don’t know much about pruning,
So I looked up the Yates Garden Guide (1995, page 210).[19]
It tells you when to prune and what tools to use. [20]
And it tells you why a gardener prunes:

Pruning involves the removal of part of a plant for the benefit of all the plant.
The main objectives are:
· To remove dead, dying and diseased wood and prevent infection spreading.
· To open up the tree to light and air.
· To train a tree to the shape required by the gardener.
· To produce large, well-shaped, healthy fruit or flowers.

That describes what God does in us!

Are there unhealthy branches in your life?
Maybe you are angry with someone – you won’t forgive.
Greedy for more and more things.
Hanging onto a relationship or activity that is wrong.

Or are you too busy with things that don’t really matter?
So much time on Facebook or YouTube there’s no room left for God.

Things like these are dying and diseased wood.
They block out God’s light and fresh air.
Like an infection, they make us spiritually sick.
And stop good fruit from growing.[21]

God wants to cut this dead wood out of your life.
He wants to prune us and train us and shape us,
To be strong and fruitful trees. [22]

Have you seen a rosebush or grapevine that has just been pruned?
Cut right back to the stalk.
It looks dead.
If the plant had feelings, it must hurt.

Sometimes God’s pruning hurts.
We don’t understand why the cut is so painful and deep.

When that happens, trust the Gardener.
His cutting is sharp, but it is clean, and it will heal.
Sweet smelling roses and juicy grapes will grow next season.[23]
As someone said, “prune to bloom!”

Most years, I trim our feijoa trees
so they don’t get in the way when I mow the lawn.
If I cut halfway through a branch and it breaks or tears off,
It leaves a messy scar.

That can happen if we fight against God’s pruning.
If we hold on to something that he’s trying to cut off.
There will be bigger scars that take longer to heal.

If we totally refuse God’s pruning, if we tell the Gardener to go away, it’s very dangerous.
Disease might spread right through us.
The whole branch, even the whole tree, might need to be cut down.[24]
Don’t let that happen to you.
The Yates Guide says,

“All pruning wood should be gathered and burnt to prevent the build up of disease.”

It’s just as Jesus warned,

Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. John 15:6 [25]


Dying for Grapes

The fruit is free, but has a cost.
True love is more than pretty flowers.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:13

At the first Easter, the Gardener laid down his tools.
He laid down his life, and he paid the cost of love.
The true vine was treated like a useless branch.
He was cut off and hung up to wither.
Like a rosebush that’s been pruned.
No fruit or flowers, except dry thorns on his head.
It seemed like God’s vine was finished.
The weeds had won.

But Jesus gave us another gardening truth in John.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24, NRSV

Jesus was buried in a garden tomb (John 19:41-42).
The seed died and went into the earth.
Three days later, he burst forth with God’s new life.[26]

Mary Magdalene met Jesus on Easter Sunday morning.
At first she thought he was the gardener (John 20:15).
And, in fact, she was right!

Jesus had just replanted the Garden of Eden.
The cross of death was the new tree of life.
The seed died to bring much fruit.
From that bloody crown of thorns grew the true and living vine. [27]

One day the garden, the tree, the vine will grow all the fruit
That the Gardener planned since he put Adam in Eden.
In the very last chapter of the Bible,
The water of life flows out from God like a river.

On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.  Revelation 22:2 [28]


God’s Green Fingers

From Genesis to Revelation, beginning to end, the Bible is a story about gardening.
It talks about two family trees and two different vines with two sorts of fruit.

There’s the old family tree rooted in Adam.
The sick vine full of disobedience and disease.
Its branches are cut off from the life of God, drying up and dying. [29]
There is no good fruit.

Jesus planted a new family tree.
He is the true vine who gives life.
Its branches are rooted in relationship with Jesus.
Bad wood is pruned off by God.
Roots plus pruning equals fruit.

Which family tree, which vine, are you in?

I’m no good at gardening.
Outside are lots of weeds; our pot plants often die.
But if someone can really make plants grow,
We say they have “green fingers”

Maybe nothing much is growing in the garden of your life.
No flowers or fruit.
The vine of your life is dry and withered and dead.
Or maybe there is some growth, but you want to see more.

Our God has green fingers.
He loves to make dead ground flower and dry vines grow fruit.
If you join Jesus’ family, become part of his vine,
He will start to do that for you.

If you invited the Gardener to work in your life, to plant and water and prune,
What do you think he would grow?

Maybe roses of love and tulips of joy to brighten up the world.
Herbal tea leaves that bring healing.
Healthy vegetables that help people grow.
Or rich sweet grapes from the vine.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. John 15:5

Rich fruit, lasting fruit, more and more fruit.
That brings blessing to all nations.
And glory to our Gardener God.


Questions

Where is your favourite garden?
Have you done any gardening?

What is growing in the garden of your life?
What would you like to grow?

What bad branches need to be cut out of your life?
Have you experienced God’s pruning?

What is the fruit of Jesus the true vine?
How can we “remain in Jesus” and grow this ourselves?


What sort of plant are you?

An insightful four-minute sketching of John 15’s theology:


[1] God’s first command to living things was “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22, 28)
[2] Abraham, the father of Israel was the root of the new family tree (Genesis 12).
[3] Also Psalm 80:8, Hosea 10:1.  In the Old Testament, the vine of Israel is mostly wild and barren.  The vine was also a symbol of Israel on coins, and there was a large vine made of gold on the Temple in Jesus’ day.  (Josephus, Antiquities 13.395).  In Matthew 20-21, Jesus gives parables of labourers in the vineyard and of Israel as a vineyard with bad tenants.
[4] The spies came back from the Promised Land with a single cluster of ripe grapes so big it took two men to carry it on a pole!  (Numbers 13:20)
[5] You were like a good vine when I planted you.
You were a healthy plant.
Then how did you turn against me?
How did you become a bad, wild vine?
Jeremiah 2:2
[6] From the root of David, a new branch would bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1).
[7] “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”  Romans 5:12
[8] Christians are like wild olive branches grafted into the root of the olive tree to share its richness (Romans 11:17-24).
[9] Jesus said our love for one another should show everyone that we are his followers (John 13:34-35).  The church father Tertullian said that pagans noticed this about early Christians and said, “See how they love each other.”
[10] Mutual abiding in Christ (here, John 14:20, Paul) includes both intimate relationship with Christ and membership in the body of God’s people.  The love of believers for each other is a visible sign of the Trinity’s invisible love: “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”  (1 John 4:12)
[11] Wine is the fruit of the vine that gladdens the heart of man (Psalm 104:15).
[12] John 15 moves from bearing fruit to “more fruit” (2) to “much fruit” (5) to “lasting fruit” (16).
[13] God promised to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3).
[14] “Having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11).  “Bear fruit for God, not for death” (Romans 7:4)
[15] Just as he chooses us, not we him (verse 16).  Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth.”  (1 Corinthians 3:6)
[16] “Remain” or “abide” comes from the same Greek word as John 14:23ff, where God and Jesus make their home in us.  Those who eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood abide in Christ and he in them (John 6:56).
[17] William Barclay says that for the first three years a new vine in Israel wasn’t allowed to bear fruit, so it would conserve its energy for growth.
[18] The Greek word for prune also means purify or clean, reminding us of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in John 13.
[19] For information about pruning vines in early Israel, see http://liturgy.co.nz/pruning-a-grapevine-john-15.
[20] The Yates Garden Guide says, “When to prune is probably the most bewildering question for the beginner”.
[21] I’m challenged by the verse, “a soldier keen to please his commanding officer does not get involved in civilian affairs.” (2 Timothy 2:4)
[22] So there’ll be many different sorts of fruit and flowers, as we are one body with many members. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)
[23] I’ve heard that the best wine sometimes come from stressed vines in poor, rocky soil.
[24] One rabbi calls the Western world a “cut flower culture”.  As a branch or flower cut off from the plant lives for a while from the sap that’s still inside, the West still lives by inherited Judaeo-Christian values, but without living connection to the root, it will wither as they are used up.
[25] Ezekiel 15 says that the wood of the vine is useless for making anything (it’s too soft), so if it doesn’t produce fruit it can only be burnt.  John the Baptist warned that the axe is at the root of every tree not bearing good fruit, which will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).  Every plant that God hasn’t planted will be uprooted (Matthew 15:13).  The unfruitful fig tree is to be cut down (Luke 13:7).
“When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.”  (Hebrews 6:7-8)  On its own, all flesh withers like grass (1 Peter 1:24).
[26] “The tree that was planted on Calvary has shoots going out into all the world.” (William Temple).
[27] “The vine lives to give its lifeblood.  Its flower is small, its fruit abundant, and when that fruit is mature and the vine has for a moment become glorious, the treasure of the grapes is torn down and the vine is cut back to the stem.” (William Temple)  In the other Gospels, Jesus’ blood is the wine of the new covenant.
[28] “In that day, sing about the fruitful vineyard….  Israel will bud and blossom and fill the whole earth with fruit!”  (Isaiah 27:2-6).  “My people will again live under my shade.  They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.  They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.”  (Hosea 14:7).  “The grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested” (Amos 9:13).
[29] “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).

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