- Isaiah 5:1-7
- John 15:1-17
- God’s vineyard
- Remain in Christ, the true vine
- The pruning tool: God’s Word
My dear friends in the Lord,
My first car was a VW Beetle. It was not exactly my dream car, but about every other student had one in those days.
It didn’t fall into my lap. The summer holiday prior to me enrolling as student for Greek and Hebrew in preparation for studies in Theology, saw me working hard on a chicken farm, from early hours in the morning till late, and even during the dark hours when 20,000 chickens hatched from the incubators every Tuesday morning. The smell of rotten eggs became quite normal and treading in chicken droppings was all part and parcel of the job.
But after months I bought my Vee Dub. I had expectations of that little car. I washed it regularly and checked the vital parts of the engine quite often. However, two months after I became its owner, it breathed its last. What a disappointment. My dream was shattered! All the effort for nothing!
In one of the very few parables in the Old Testament Isaiah tells us about God’s vineyard. He was the Gardener who dug it up and cleared out its stones. He planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it, because He expected a harvest from it. What more could have been done to his vineyard that He have not done in it? It bore only wild grapes. The vineyard was a disappointment. All the effort came to nothing!
This vineyard represents God’s people. He called them into existence to proclaim his greatness and mercy to the peoples around them. He became their God and they were supposed to worship Him only. He poured out unto them his love, grace, and steadfast love. He carried them like a father would carry his son. He forgave them their sins, answered their prayers, and provided rain in season, freedom from invading enemies, and gave them godly leaders. Through his prophets He instructed them.
Yet, they worshipped the gods of the peoples around them.
The people missed their reason for their existence; they were a failure, a great disappointment. Their heavenly Gardener could not find fruit after He had done everything for them to bear fruit.
Let’s not be too quick to pass judgement on God’s people of old. What if the same Lord of the vineyard today came for inspection of this patch of his vineyard here in Hervey Bay, looking for fruit? In about every letter to the seven churches in Revelation this phrase is repeated, “I know your deeds.” Would He be unreasonable to expect fruit in this congregation? After all the years of ministry?
Although his people, his vineyard was an utter disappointment, God did not give up on them. What He did, was astonishing: to bring life to a useless and fruitless vineyard, He sent his Son, Jesus Christ. It is He who states in the first verse of our chapter:
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. (John 15:1, NET)
The Gardener of the vineyard is still the same: the Father. The old vine was pulled out and thrown away. In this parable God gave his Son to be the vine. He is the true vine, unlike the one we found in Isaiah 5. He is sure to bring joy to the Father. He spoke with his Father towards the end of his ministry:
I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled. (John 17:4,12, NET)
The purpose of God sending his Son into the world was to redeem a church for Him. The expectation of the church is to bear much fruit. He said to his disciples:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16, NIV)
For the church to meet this expectation, it needs to remain in the true vine. It is not surprising then to find this phrase over and over again in this chapter, “Remain in Me”.
Remain in Christ, the true vine
A church without Christ is no church anymore. A church might even excel in doing good deeds, but if they don’t remain in Christ, those deeds are not glorifying the Father, the Gardener. Such a church is nothing more than a benevolent society.
When we remain in Him, He nurtures us and shapes us for the service of bearing fruit to the glory of the Father.
A close study of John 15 helps us to understand two important modes of existence before the Father: one is “in Me”, and the other “without Me”. Let’s examine the “in Me” verses, which is verses 2-5.
The Father, the Gardener, does a few things to the branches that are “in Christ”, the vine.
He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. (John 15:2, NET)
It was not until we lived for a few years in the wine district of South Australia that I fully understood what verse two means. The Greek word translate as “take away” in verse 2 leaves the impression that the branches are cut off. But the “in Me” is opposed to the “apart from Me”. You will remember the words of our Lord:
And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:39–40, NIV)
In another place He said:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28, NIV)
The purpose of the ministry of Christ is to seek, to save and to preserve. Those “in Him” He never casts away.
Our Lord is referring to branches grafted into Him which does not (yet) bear fruit. The phrase “take away”could be translated differently. The same word used here is used in other places in the New Testament to describe the “taking up” of our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:44). Jesus “lifted up” his eyes when He gave thanks to the Father (John 11:41). Our Lord said:
No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18, NIV)
Vinedressers who know the young plants, know that they need to provide something for them to grow up against. In viticulture they literally call it “training up”. The branches might be in the vine, but they creep along the ground; they can’t bear fruit that way.
In the same way our Lord picks us up, He trains us up, the sun shines on us and the kernels develop as the sunlight stimulates the sugar content, which is crucial for the fruit to develop.
The branches “in Him” – this is the crux – get the training from the Gardener to bear fruit.
Further, He prunes them. One hardly has any expectation of what is left on the vine after the pruners got their cutters into them! Have you seen vineyards after there were pruned in the winter? It is a sorry sight. But the vine dressers know what is best.
The pruning tool: God’s Word
The constant care of the Gardener is to promote fruit. In the life of his Church God uses his Word to nurture, admonish, train up. That’s why we this verse just following:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:3, NIV)
God’s instruction in the Bible is the tool He uses to train us up and to prune us. The Bible is his tool to shape us, to cut away the dead wood. Paul writes to Timothy:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NIV)
Let’s go to Hebrews 12. First is speaks about our Lord.
For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)
Then the writer turns to the followers of Christ who perhaps at that point in time perceived their suffering as hard, pointless and unfair.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3–11, NIV)
Now, the lifting up, the training up and the pruning of John 15:2 is a cleaning process, the process of discipline in order for us to share in the holiness of God. It is aimed at having us bearing more and better fruit in the kingdom of God.
Someone who calls himself as Christian, but who hardly feeds on the Word of God, is struggling Christian. He hardly breathes, and their is no fruit. As a matter of fact, such a person needs to be honest about his relationship with the Lord. How can one know the will of the Father, without knowing his Word? Ho can one grow in his spiritual life without enjoying the bread of life?
We need to answer honestly, “Am I in the Lord?”
When our Lord was tempted in the desert his weapon of attack against Satan was the Scriptures.
It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, NIV)
My dear friend, the Bible is clear this morning: there are two positions before God – “in Christ”, or “apart from Christ”. If you are “in Christ”, submit to the authority of his Word, study it, drink it in, be moulded and disciplined by it, because God purpose for you is to bear fruit. Those branches which are “apart from Christ” are useless and resembles the vineyard of Isaiah 5; they are cut off and thrown into the fire. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 26 February 2017