Many people walk through life seeing each of the events, moments, or activities as separable for the other. I remember growing up and my mother telling me that a family we knew was in financial trouble. My mother explained to me that the family lived under the impression that if they had checks in the checkbook, they thought that meant they had money. What my mother was words in jest spoke some truth. The family simply lived each decision in the present without regard to how each action fit the larger narrative of their life.
But we know too well that life is not just a series of unconnected events. Each event and activity impinge upon the next shaping what we do in the present and influencing our lives for whatever future we may have.
That same principle is true when we read the Bible. The Bible is not just a collection of stories unrelated to a larger narrative. The Bible is a progressive revelation of God to humanity. The Bible is a complete story in which one event impinges upon the other.
Last week, we spoke about Jesus gathering with his disciples for the Passover meal, a meal celebrating the past and looking forward to the promise of the future. That future was revealed by God as a coming covenant in which God would make provision for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus used the symbolism of the Passover meal to inaugurate the Lord’s Supper and in doing so seal the new covenant of God with his blood represented by the fruit of the vine.
Jesus’ behavior was not accidental or spontaneous. Jesus’ actions were part of God’s larger narrative that was unfolding at an ever-increasing speed in these final moments in Jerusalem. Jesus used rich words to explain what was happening when he took a cup gave it to his disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27b-28).
After celebrating this new covenant with the fruit of the vine, Judas departed to betray Jesus, and Jesus sat down with his disciples and taught them using these words, ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was viewed as the vine. In Psalm 80, we read, “8 You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land” (Psalm 80:8-9). The Psalmist gave a description of the nation of Israel that would be seen as having a relationship with God as a vine planted in the promised land by God.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” Jesus’, God’s Son, represented a fuller experience with God marked by a personal and intimate relationship. No longer was the primary relation between God and humanity to be seen through a nation. It would now be seen through a person, through Jesus. We hear those words so often; I wonder at times if they have any effect on us. Do we recognize that God who created all that there is, desires us?
Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine,” would have been shocking to the Eleven disciples sitting with them. Jesus, not Israel, was the true vine having a relationship with God, just like a gardener is to a grapevine. Jesus explained further, that “2 God 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 15:2).
The disciples must have thought, “If Jesus is the true vine and we are apostles of Jesus, then we must be branches in Jesus. But are we then branches bearing no fruit to be cut off or branches to be pruned to bear even more fruit?” This is a challenging question. Am I in the will of God or am I outside of God’s will? To be within the will of God is safety, joy, and hope. To be outside the will of God is to be in freefall, sadness, and hopelessness. There may have been a moment or two of reflection among the disciples before Jesus spoke again.
When Jesus did speak, he said, “3(But) You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Perhaps at that moment, the Eleven were beginning to understand what Jesus was doing hours earlier when Jesus washed their feet. Remember events are not unconnected.
A few hours earlier, “3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ 9 ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’ 10 Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean” (John 13:3-11).
The sense here about being made clean is that Jesus had freed the Eleven from the corrupt state of desiring sin. The basin of water and the towel were symbolic of the work already done in the disciples by them hearing and responding to the word of God. Because they had received God’s Word they were cleaned and were part of the fruitful branches of the true vine, Jesus Christ. Therefore, God’s intention for the life of the Eleven was not to cut them off, but to prune them that they might bear even more fruit.
Jesus’ words that “3(But) You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3), must have come as a relief. They were still part of God’s desire.
But to remain part of God’s plan requires that we remain connected to God. We understand this principle. I worked 30 plus years for the Federal government. I retired seven years ago and was separated from that vine. As a result, though I was once part of the life of that organization for many years, my separation means I no longer have a part in the plans of that organization. With this principle in mind, Jesus said to the Eleven, “4 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. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:4-5).
Jesus words reveal the simple truth that to be and remain vibrant in our life with God, we must remain attached to Jesus every bit as much as a branch is to a vine. We know this to true from the physical world. No branch on its own can produce fruit. A branch separated from a vine looks fine immediately after separation but then begins to wither under the elements and influences of the world. In short order, that branch is dead. This physical truth teaches us a truth about our spiritual life.
I know too many people who have separated themselves from a relationship with Jesus. Rarely did that separation begin abruptly. It is usually began with the words or sentiment that, “I need a short break from church.” Then the few weeks missed going to church becomes several weeks, then a few months, and then several months. That separation usually resulted in the end of reading the Bible, the end of listening to Christian music, and the end of prayers.
The longer that separation went on the more the world influences the thinking of that individual. Relationships with the Christian community became more distant and less intimate, often more judgmental. These steps of separation are predictable and consistent with branches separating from the vine that enter a withering process. Many of us have seen this process unfold within our families and is difficult to know just what we should do.
Fortunately, Jesus gave his disciples and us the direction to follow in our lives regardless of the circumstances that surround us. Jesus said to his disciples, “8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
There it is said again. A simple statement of life’s purpose. Bear much fruit, accomplish many lasting things, by thinking, acting, and speaking the words and mind of Jesus. Do these things and God is glorified and is fully pleased with us. Our life need not be more complex than that simple recipe. “Got fruit? Connect to Jesus.”
Even though Jesus made it simple what was expected to live a full rich life in God’s favor, he recognized that humans need more specifics. So Jesus continued to provide these instructions in his final hours and minutes with his disciples. Jesus said, “9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:10-13).
Jesus uses the word “love” eight times in these few verses. I think we can then conclude that love is central to his point. Love has been central to Jesus’ reason for coming to Jerusalem at this moment in time.
When Jesus was coming into the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey, could see the city ahead of him and he wept over it and said, “42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:42-44).
Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem but knew many would reject him and the city itself would be destroyed. Jesus cried because he loved. Love expressed deeply and passionately brings us to tears because we peace for someone more than anything else. We should ask ourselves, “Who do I cry for like Jesus? When do I cry on behalf of someone else because I want peace restored to their life?” When we cry in that manner, that is love. Got fruit? Connect to Jesus. Love so passionately that you cry for someone.
When Jesus was challenged by a lawyer in the Temple before the people as to which was the greatest commandment, Jesus said love God and love one another were the greatest commandments. Jesus was unashamed to publicly state his love for God and love for other people. He set himself up to be challenged and he welcomed it. He loved God and wanted people to know it. He loved people and wanted the world to know it. That is love. Got fruit? Connect to Jesus. Be public about your love.
Jesus said love does not get any better than to give one’s life for his friends. Jesus would soon do just that and go to the cross for his disciples. Jesus also went to the cross for you and me. To give of yourself to another, to make a personal sacrifice of time, talent, treasure, or anything else you value is love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?” Love is found in doing for others.
The disciples would come to love because they all gave to others until their lives were taken from them. You and I are here, in faith, because of the love of one of those Eleven men. Someone shared the love of the gospel message with you because in love someone shared it with them. That unbroken chain of sharing goes back to one of the Eleven who sat with Jesus and heard the words, “13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Got fruit? Connect to Jesus. Love by giving to others.
To further strengthen the disciples in fulfilling God’s desire, Jesus said, “16b 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 15:16b). There are three things that we need to say in concluding on our conversation here today.
First, Love is the first fruit. But in Jesus final thoughts on this matter, Jesus brought back the connection of fruit to the branch to the vine. We, therefore, recall Jesus said, “5 “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). We must remain connected to Jesus to bear the fruit God desires.
Second, Jesus said “Ask in my name the Father will give you” (John 15:16). Jesus was saying to his disciples, “You may ask in my name because you are a branch connected to the vine, which is cared for by the Gardener, God. You may ask because you have a relationship with God through Jesus. And because you ask, God will answer.” Believers can ask of God because they are connected to God through the Jesus. This is the branch, to the vine, to the Gardener connection we enjoy.
Third, Jesus said, “whatever you ask, God will give you.” I think many people have taken these specific words too literally making the words seem untrue. I am confident that I could pray to God and ask to win the Powerball Lottery and my chances of winning will not have improved one bit. I am confident that I can pray to God and ask we never have winter again and the chances of living warm year-round will not have changed a bit.
Now the reason God will not answer such petitions is not because he is unable to make these things happen. The reason these petitions will go unanswered is they have nothing to do with bearing fruit. The promise of answered prayer here is made to the disciples who remain united to Jesus as the fruit-bearing branch is united to the vine. Therefore, here, whatever we ask God to help us fulfill the bearing of fruit will be given to us. Our prayers and petitions made in response to these words of Jesus, should be centered on producing the first fruit of love.
Love must be at the center of the Gardener, Vine, branch, and fruit relationship. Jesus made this point again with his final words, Jesus said, “17 This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).
Got fruit? Connect to Jesus. Love. Amen and Amen.