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The Vine and the Branches
John 15:1–3

Good Morning, from the Voices of Hope Evangelistic Team, to all who are reading this message, I welcome each of you gathering today by way of the internet. Once again, it’s a blessing to be able to share from God’s Word as we can proclaim it all over the world. 

The title of my message is “The Vine and the Branches” and the scripture this week is found in John 15:1-3, if you wish to turn there you can follow along.

Today we come to the fifteenth chapter of John we’re going to look at the first three verses; it’s one of those great “I am” passages of John. We’ve talked about many of those, “I am the light of the world, and I am the bread of life, and I am the way, and I am the door.  “I am,” having reference to the name of God and again referring to the deity of Jesus Christ.

I believe in these verses, going all the way through verse 17, we find the basis of Christian living. The concept of abiding in Christ is here. The concept of what it means to bear fruit as a believer is here. And these are the basics of the Christian life, to abide in Christ and to bear fruit. The epistles then become definitive about what’s involved in both of those concepts. 

Jesus talks about a vine and involved in it are the branches and the one who cares for them; the vine dresser or the husbandman. The key is the discussion of the branches themselves and we want to see who the branches really are. 

There are two groups of branches in the passage, there are branches that bear fruit and there are branches that do not bear fruit.   

Again, this is the night before the death of Jesus and He is continuing speaking to His disciples, same dialogue. I wonder why He seemingly jumps into this comparison? What’s in His mind as He gives it? What was going on surrounding that little group of people that He was with? He had eleven men sitting there with Him. He spent the whole fourteenth chapter comforting them. He was aware of the Father because He knew that He was going to be isolated, separated from God the Father when He died on the next day. There was one other man that He was aware of and that was Judas because He had dismissed Judas from the fellowship of that group and told him to go and do what he was going to do and He knew in His mind that Judas was out planning and plotting His betrayal. 

I believe in the mind of Jesus He was bringing into focus all the characters in the final night’s drama. I believe He saw in His mind’s eye the eleven whom He deeply and passionately loved and who loved Him in return. And I believe He saw the Father whom He also loved with an infinite love and He loved Him in return. And then He saw Judas whom He also loved with that same infinite love, but who did not love Him. These are the characters that are in the scene. 

The question that comes to mind as we approach this passage is the question that has perhaps plagued more Christians than any other question: what is really involved in a living vital relationship with Jesus Christ? But it is also a very common question on the lips of the unbeliever, what is all this about a relationship to Jesus Christ? How can we describe the union that a believer experiences between himself and Christ? 

What Jesus is referring to here likely has reference to these same characters in this drama. Therefore I submit that the vine is Christ, the husbandman is the Father, the branches that bear fruit would be those eleven disciples who are legitimate and any like them who shall live throughout all the church age and that the branches that do not bear fruit are Judas branches that were never real to begin with and any like him who shall live throughout all the church age. 

In the thirteenth chapter verse 10, “Jesus said, ‘He that is washed needeth not except to wash his feet.” In other words, once you’ve been saved, once you’ve been cleaned, you just need a little foot washing periodically. Once you’ve received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you don’t have to get saved all over, you don’t need another bath, you just need a little dusting off every day.

That’s the continuing forgiveness of God. 

But then He says in verse 10, “And ye are clean.” He says “ye” and He’s referring to His disciples. Then He qualifies it by saying, “But not all of you,” verse 11, “for He knew who should betray Him, therefore said ye are not all clean.” 

Jesus is well aware of this distinction among His own disciples, that they are clean but not all of them for there is one who is unclean. Jesus then has in His mind the obvious contrast between Judas and the eleven. I believe that is the contrast that is carried into the fifteenth chapter; that Judas is out betraying Him is obviously upon His mind. I believe the branches fall into those two categories. 

Both groups had contact with Jesus. The eleven were with Him. Judas was with Him. They were with Him for the same amount of time. Apparently everything looked all right. Judas was highly honored by being given the responsibility of maintaining the purse. But Judas, although apparently in the vine, was a branch that never bore fruit and God finally removed that branch and that branch is burning in hell. 

Some people come along and say, “Well, that means that Judas lost his salvation and that if you don’t bear fruit, you lose your salvation.” John 10:28 says, “And I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” In John 6:6 Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me shall come to Me.” He said, “I have lost none of them.” So we realize that He cannot be talking about a true believer who stops bearing fruit and loses his salvation and is condemned to hell, but rather He is talking about a Judas branch who apparently is in the vine, who from the standpoint of superficial connection belongs, but it was never real, there never was any vine blood being pumped into that branch and never any fruit bearing. 

Judas had a relationship with Jesus superficial, but he left it. He willingly walked away from that relationship. And what was willing on his part became judicial on the part of God. So it seems natural that this is in the mind of Christ, that in the end of the talk with His beloved eleven, He would draw together all the relationships within that little band. He’s talking with them and speaking of branches that do not bear fruit, which are taken away and burned; He is referring to men like Judas. Men who live even today who stand in close connection with Jesus Christ but are apostates and are doomed to an eternal hell. Men, women who attend the church, who maybe go through some religious motions, who maybe have in their own minds some sort of connection with Jesus Christ, but to be sure are not legitimate. And again it seems natural to me that the branches that do bear fruit are those eleven disciples and all like them who truly abide in Christ and show it in the fruit they bear. 

Let’s look at the text with that as kind of an introduction. Notice, first of all, the vine in verse 1, Jesus says to the eleven, “I am the true vine.” Psalms portrayed Israel as God’s vine. In the Old Testament Israel was God’s vine. The plea of Israel that they be restored for they were a … as Ezekiel calls them … an empty vine. They were a degenerate vine. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel all talk about Israel as a degenerate vine. Psalm said there would be a new vine, the Son of Man. And indeed Jesus comes along and says, “I am the true vine.” Formerly God’s life was poured out through Israel. Formerly connection with Israel brought the blessing of God, but that’s all done with. Israel has forfeited its right to be the vine, I am the true vine. 

He desires to show many things by calling Himself a vine … a vine planted in the ground, and certainly Christ came in the form of a man planted in the earth. The figure of a vine shows union, the vine and the branches, there’s no more intimate union than that, totally dependent are the branches upon the vine. It shows dependence. The illustration is a classic illustration for showing fruit bearing, how that the branch bears fruit but not of itself, it’s totally dependent. You don’t see branches running around bearing fruit. They’ve got to be connected to a vine. 

Israel had become an empty vine and now there was a new vine. It wasn’t through the covenant relation to Israel anymore that a man receive blessing, it wasn’t through being connected with God’s promises to Israel anymore, but the new vine was Jesus Christ. Now for a man to know life, for a man to know fruit in his life, he would have to be connected to Jesus Christ. He was the true vine. 

Christ is the reality of a vine. He is the true vine. He is the perfect one as distinct from the imperfect. He is the real as distinct from the type. Israel was a type of God’s working and blessing. Christ was the reality. 

So, Christ is the true vine. He is the true vine in the sense, that He was the true light. Also He is the true bread. There have been vines before, but Christ is all that that concept could imagine rolled into one perfect vine. So all that the metaphor of a vine could possibly claim of spiritual value is true of Jesus Christ and fulfilled in Him. 

Just to lay the emphasis a little bit on the fact that Christ is the true vine; it’s amazing how many Christians and so-called Christians have other vines in their life from which they seek their resources. How many things do we really attempt to attach ourselves to for our life? Some people think their vine is their bank account. Other people think their vine is their education. Other people think their vine is popularity, fame, personal skill, connections, possessions, persons, relationships. Some people think the church is their vine. They think they’re attached to a system of religion. Other people have thrown the church over and their vine is me, self. Jesus Christ is all your sustenance for living, He’s everything. 

Let’s look at the vine dresser. “I am the true vine and My Father is the husbandman, or the vine dresser.” Christ pictures Himself as a plant, but He pictures the Father as a person. Now some theologians just go really off the deep end, they say, that proves that Christ is not deity because if Christ were deity the Father would be the roots of the vine. The point here is not to teach the union of the Father and the Son, it is to teach the care of the Father for the Son and the branches. In a parable, you want to know what He is trying to teach. He is emphasizing the care of the Father toward the Son and toward those who are of the Son, the branches. And so He sees the Son as a vine and the Father as the one who cares for the vine and the branches. It’s a beautiful relationship. It’s the Father’s care for His own Son and those who are His Son’s by faith. 

We have the word “husbandman,” or “vine dresser.” This is the one who cared for the vine, a farmer, who maintained the vine. In direct reference to the vine, he had two things that he was responsible to do. He was responsible to cut off the branches that bore no fruit because they tended to sap the energy from the fruit bearing branches; they needed to be removed so more fruit would grow on the other branches. 

The second thing the vine dresser did was constantly prune the branches that did bear fruit, cutting off little shoots and things, verse 2, that it might bear more fruit. And further on down you’ll find out in verse 8 that he wants it not only to bear more fruit but much fruit. 

So the idea was that the one who cared for the vine chopped off and threw away the branches that bore no fruit, and to prune the branches that they might bear more fruit, those that had already bore fruit. 

The Father is the vine dresser. “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit,” here’s the first thing the Father does, “He taketh away.” The first ministry of the Father to the branches is a ministry of punishment. The Father removes the branch that bears no fruit. In verse 6 it says, “And after that, is thrown into a pile, men gather them and burn them.” These are dealt with finality. This is a verb that is final, they are cut off and that’s it. 

Now if this refers to a Christian, we’ve got real problems. I believe what happens here is every person who professes a relationship to Jesus Christ who apparently is in the vine, who apparently is a follower, a Judas type, but who has never been saved, and it’s obvious he’s never been saved because he never bears fruit. That’s a dead giveaway. He is cut off at a certain point in the Father’s timing for the life and health of the vine and the other branches and he is cast aside. That is the first duty of the Father. So-called Christians who aren’t really saved and it’s obvious they aren’t because they never bear fruit. 

The second work of the Father “And every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it.” The Father has two ministries to the branches, take the ones away that don’t bear fruit, purge the ones that do. The true Christian is in view here, every branch that bears fruit. That has to be the true believer.

Notice that the Father has some work to do on Christians, it’s a continuing work. It’s a continuing purging. The word purge means to cleanse, or it means to prune. The idea is that when the Father purges or prunes a branch that bears fruit, He does it so that the branch might bear more fruit and eventually much fruit. So then we have the two duties of the Father … take away the branches that bear no fruit and purge the others. 

When a vine was planted for three years it was never allowed to bear fruit. It was always pruned back each year drastically cut back so that it might develop strength and energy then by the fourth year it was ready to bear fruit. It was full and rich and just loaded with fruit bearing capacity. It had been cut back, pruned, shaved off so that when it was time to bear fruit, its energies were concentrated. A mature vine was normally pruned in December or January. The fruitful branches were trimmed back ready to bear fruit. 

Jesus said His followers are like that. They’re like branches that bear fruit which need to be pruned. Let’s look at these two branches. 

First of all, the professing branch. “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taken away.” This could not be a Christian for several reasons. Number one, I believe that fruit is in every Christian’s life. You say, “You mean that every Christian bears fruit?” Absolutely every Christian bears fruit. Some Christians you’ve got to look a long time to find a couple of lingering grapes somewhere, but you’ll find them somewhere. The very essence of new life in Christ is that it is productive. Fruit means many things, that’s yet future in our concern, but every believer bears fruit. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

In other words, the fruit of salvation is good works. You have it also in James 2:17, “Even so faith if it hath not works is dead.” Every legitimate saving faith is productive. Verse 22, “Seeth thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works saw faith made perfect.” And that doesn’t mean you’re saved by works that means the evidence of your salvation is works. So we see that every believer, every truly saved individual does bear fruit. 

Matthew 7:16, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” That becomes then a definitive way in which an individual can know that somebody is a believer. There can’t be a believer with no fruit because that’s how you tell a Christian. You shall know they by their fruits. “Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.” How many good trees bring forth good fruit? How many? Every. 

Matthew 12:33, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good or else make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt for the tree is known by its fruit.” In other words, fruits are connected with salvation. Romans 6:20, “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness, what fruit had you then in those things which you are now ashamed?” You weren’t saved, what fruit did you have? The implied answer is none. And if you did have any, it was the fruit of sin. But verse 22, “Now being made free from sin and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end is everlasting life.” Every believer has everlasting life and every believer bears fruit. That’s what He says, no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t bear fruit. 

Back to John 15:2, “Every branch in Me,” the reference is to an apparent connection with Christ, just as in Romans 11 the branches in the olive tree that really didn’t abide in the tree and really didn’t get their life from the tree were thrown away, and that’s no problem, it’s obvious there, it tells us what happened, it tells us who it was, unbelievers. By unbelief they were broken off and thrown away. And so in the branches in the vine you have the same analogy; you might read 1 John 2:19 where it so clearly says they went out from us because they were not of us that it might be made known that they weren’t of us. 

An individual can live apparently connected to Jesus Christ but in fact really not connected at all. Paul warns about that, if you are religious or if you come to church or you have a superficial allegiance to Jesus Christ, listen to what Paul said, 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith, prove yourselves. Know ye not yourselves how Jesus Christ is in you unless you are discredited.” In other words, you better check your life to be sure your salvation is real. It’s a stern warning because the branches that don’t bear fruit He takes away and casts them into fire and that’s a picture of hell. 

Jesus is talking about two kinds of branches, the branches that are true disciples and He’s talking about Judas branches, the ones that hang around Him, the ones that make a kind of a facade of faith, the ones that look like they believe, the ones that superficially are attached but they’re Judas branches and when it comes down to the acid test, they’re gone. When they willfully show that kind of character, the Father removes them and they never are able to come back. So we meet the first branches, the professing branches. 

Look at the possessing branches, “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth that it may bring forth more fruit.” That’s not some of the branches, everyone. “Every branch gets purged in order that it might bring forth more fruit.” If we could just look at our problems like that, Lord, this is a great problem; just think when it’s over, more fruit.” The idea is that the Father purges the branch so that it will bring forth more fruit. 

In the case of our spiritual pruning which the Father does to all of us, it’s the process of removing all the things that would hinder our fruit bearing. The Father wants us to operate on a maximum fruit-bearing capacity. And in order for us to operate on a maximum fruit-bearing capacity, He’s got to whack off things periodically, sins and hindrances and little things that attach themselves to us, sucker growths and all the other diseases and pests that might get on to us as branches the Father needs to remove. 

Sometimes the knife is painful. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we wonder whether God really knows what He’s doing because it hurts so much. We wonder sometimes whether we’re in such bad shape that we need so much pruning and the branch on the next spot on the vine never gets pruned. But the Father knows what He’s doing. Isn’t it wonderful to know that the Father cares that we bear a lot of fruit? 

Hebrews 12:7, “If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons for what son is he whom the father chaseneth not?” Then look at verse 10, “For they verily for a few days, that is human fathers, chasten us after their own pleasure, but He for our profit that we might be partakers of His holiness.” We are purged in order that we might partake of His holiness and fruit bearing. 

So what is the Father pruning with? Verse 3, “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you,” purged is the same idea, clean, cleansed, purged, pruned. You are purged through the Word which I’ve spoken unto you. The Word of God is the knife. The Spirit of God applies it to our heart. In those adversities the Word of God comes alive, it does the surgery but the trouble makes it obvious to us.  It helps us to develop spiritual muscles. The Word is the knife, it’s the two-edged sword that does the cutting. 

Spurgeon said, “It is the Word that prunes the Christian. It is the truth that purges him. The Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit cleanses the Christian. Affliction is the handle of the knife. Affliction is the grindstone that sharpens the Word. Affliction is the dresser that removes our soft garments and lays bear the diseased flesh so the surgeon’s knife may get at it. Affliction merely makes us ready for the surgery of the Word of God. But the true pruner is the Word in the hands of the great vine dresser.” 

So we’re clean through the Word. Notice He says to those disciples who are the true branches, “You have been cleaned through the Word.” Their initial salvation came through the Word and their continual purging and pruning is done by the Word of God. When you’re in affliction you think more on the Word, you see it applied to you, you feel its force in your life and He uses the Word to cut away the problem. 

We meet the vine, the vine dresser and the vine branches. “What lessons are here for me?” Are we aware of the Father’s purpose in  our pruning? Do we know what’s going on in our life when we have trouble? Do we know what its purpose is? To bear more fruit. Are you a fruit-bearing branch? Are you a real believer? Or are you just hanging on and in great danger of hell because some day the Father will remove you, you’re not real? Do you know your only source of life is the true vine, Jesus Christ? May God bless these truths to us, this morning. 

Father, we just thank You because You’ve taught us from Your Word. Now may we apply these truths in Jesus’ name. Amen.