You know the line from the movies? “You had one job!” This week we are talking about the one job God expects his children to accomplish.
We’re starting a series this week through the first half of the 15th chapter of the gospel of John. As we read the passage, you’ll notice right away the frequency of the word abide. It appears 10 times in the ESV translation. The word abide means remain, continue or stay. The goal of this text is to produce the response in us of abiding. To get that response, Jesus used imagery very familiar to the agricultural world of 1st century Israel – the image of a vine.
The analogy of the Christian life to the life of a vine reveals 5 things about our Christian life. We’re going to quickly work through 4 of those qualities, step back to get some bigger context, and then zoom back in for the 5th and most important quality.
1. The Christian life is a life of stability and security.
A vineyard was a luxury of stable and permanent societies. In Christ, we find a permanent home that can never be shaken. No matter what storms of change are brewing around us, one thing will withstand the winds: Christ the true vine.
2. The Christian life is a life of growth and change.
Organic things like vines grow and change from season to season. Every year the peach trees in my back yard take on surprising new shape as the life force of the trees sends out new branches and moves in new directions. It’s like that for the Christian. To be in Christ is to have a source of life which can send surprising new growth and change flowing into our lives.
3. The Christian life is a life of satisfying productivity.
If you’ve ever seen a grape vine in season you have probably been impressed by the massive bunches of grapes hanging off of the branches. In Christ, our lives are like this – good words and good works just naturally accumulate in season as the life of Christ is manifest in us.
4. The Christian life is a life of connectivity.
The image of a vine is remarkable for the intimacy it indicates in our relationship with the divine. Christ is not a distant and separate being, too holy for us to approach. He makes himself available for an intimate oneness with each of his people. Not only does the Christian life involve oneness with Christ, it involves oneness with all those who follow Christ. It is a thoroughly connected life.
Before we look at the final quality of the Christian life, let’s step back to consider the context of Jesus’ analogy of the vine.
“I am the true vine.”
There are layers of meaning in this statement. In a general sense Jesus is revealing that every natural vine is merely an image or reflection of a greater reality. Jesus may have made a reference to the wine the group was drinking for the Passover meal. Whatever the occasion, he called to mind a picture that was very familiar and relevant to those surrounded by agriculture.
All other vines are but shadows of Christ. They represent Christ, but he is himself the substance, the essence, the one great reality. He is the truth of all things that exist: “I am the true Vine.”
All earthly things are the shadows of heavenly realities–the expression, in created, visible forms, of the invisible glory of God. The Life and the Truth are in Heaven; on earth we have figures and shadows of the heavenly truths. When Jesus says: “I am the true Vine,” He tells us that all the vines of earth are pictures and emblems of Himself. He is the divine reality, of which they are the created expression. They all point to Him, and preach Him, and reveal Him. If you would know Jesus, study the vine. How many eyes have gazed on and admired a great vine with its beautiful fruit. Come and gaze on the heavenly Vine till your eye turns from all else to admire Him. How many, in a sunny clime, sit and rest under the shadow of a vine. Come and be still under the shadow of the true Vine, and rest under it from the heat of the day. What countless numbers rejoice in the fruit of the vine! Come, and take, and eat of the heavenly fruit of the true Vine, and let your soul say: “I sat under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.”
On another, more specific level, Jesus is reaching back into the Old Testament to a prominent theme of the Scriptures – the analogy of the nation of Israel as a vine. We find this analogy in the following places:
Hosea 10:1, Ezekiel 15, Jeremiah 2:21, Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:8-19
Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah 5.
Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, an outcry!
The purpose of the analogy is to explain God’s expectation for Israel. A vineyard, a luxury of permanent and stable societies, was planted with the goal in mind of enjoying the fruit of the vine – wine to gladden the heart, sweet grapes and raisins to sustain and satisfy the body. God in this analogy plants his vineyard, sparing no expense to properly cultivate the vines. When fruiting season came the owner went out to sample his grapes, surprised to find not plump, sweet grapes but small, sour wild grapes. The cultivated grapes the vine should have produced symbolized justice and righteousness. The sour grapes the vine actually produced symbolized injustice and unrighteousness.
God gave the vine everything it needed to produce good fruit and it failed. It had one job.
Why did the nation of Israel fail?
I think we see the answer to that question in Romans chapter 9.
but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.
Israel failed to produce the fruit of righteousness, because their life was a life of works, a life dependent upon their own resources. That kind of life will always fail in the end.
So God abandoned the vineyard of Israel, the failed vineyard of works and wild fruit and planted a new one. Christ has come as the true vine, carrying in himself all of the resources of infinite righteousness and justice to produce eternal fruit.
Now the people of God have one new job. It’s not to produce fruit, it’s to abide in Jesus, the true vine, who alone produces the fruit God requires.
You have one job, Christian. Abide in Him. You don’t have to manufacture fruit of your own, you don’t have to get busy and earn God’s favor. Just abide.
That’s the final quality of the Christian life in the vine.
5. The Christian life is a life of total dependence.
We can not thrive, let alone survive, spiritually unless we are in communion with Christ. Only when we regularly, consistently spend time in prayer and in His Word do we make the connection which supplies the life we need and God requires.
The good news in verse 1 is that God provides two helps for us in this life.
- The internal flow of the indwelling life of Christ.
- The external care of the pruning hand of the Father.
Throughout this series we will continue through the chapter to unpack the implications and the realities of this life in the vine.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown