Have you ever been travelling when you have gotten to a junction, and the turn you normally make is shut. Thus, you are diverted along another road; you know what direction you are going, but you are not quite sure of the way. Those journeys often act as a metaphor for life; we all have had significant points in life that we can recognise as Junction moments when we look back at them. They have taken us down roads never travelled, when the journey has become difficult, or we have found ourselves travelling through the dark valley wondering will the light ever break through again. Often, we have no choice when those junctions come – we must walk the road set before us.
If you live long enough, you will experience an unexpected junction in life; turns we may take Alone or with friends and family. Yet, never before have we embraced such a collective turn. In March 2020, I had the privilege of heading to Nigeria with a small team to spend some time serving with and learning from the Anglican churches in Jos and Kaduna; it was not until our last night there as we watched the news flicker with stories of chaos and lockdown did I start to wrestles with how much my life might change. The world together had reached the covid junction: Now the road has looked difficult to each of us, yet, never before have we collectively experienced such a moment. We are travelling a road unknown, wondering what God is doing and what we are meant to be doing as we walk it.
John 15:1-18; it is one known passage that speaks comfort and truth to many situations. It is familiar for those who have grown up in church, yet, it was unfamiliar that I found challenge and comfort: the context in which Jesus spoke to the disciples. Specifically, it was the road they were travelling, as they left the upper room – Jesus knew there was a junction ahead, a junction not just for him but one that would shake the foundation’s of the world and their lives as they knew it as he was taken to be crucified. Jesus called the disciples to abide/remain in him – to trust him – in the shadow of the cross. The comfort? Whatever is ahead, we can lean on Christ; he is the one who goes before us and walks with us.
At the end of Chapter 14, Jesus has told the disciples of the coming Helper of God, the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit (14:26): He who will be the presence and peace of God among them. Yet, even as he spoke about what was ahead, this group of men would have little idea just how abruptly things would change. He has warned them that he will not be able to speak to them for much more because “The Prince of this World is coming” (14:28), a warning that things were about to drastically change for them.
The Shadow of the Cross
Jesus knew that his time was coming; little did they know just what was ahead as they got up with him and followed out the road one last time. So much hidden in such a simple imperative: “Come Now; Let us Leave.” Little did the disciples know it would be the last time they would walk with Jesus as they knew him. Thus, it was approaching such a junction on their journey that Jesus spoke the words we consider today.
Yet, the command to abide was far more than just assurance; it was a commission. Jesus’ words remind us today that regardless of what road we walk, we are to do two things: trust/abide in him; and produce fruit in keeping with that abiding. The Disciples had left the upper room, and soon they would leave behind all they knew as their world would change quicker than they could imagine. Yet, even as they would enter a preputial state of flux, as they moved forward in the power of the Holy Spirit, they would learn that faithful following mean trusting Christ in every season (abiding in Him) and living for Him (producing good fruit).
The Last of the I Am’s
As John writes his Gospel, he remembers a specific theme of Jesus’ teaching and its claim – The “I am.” Six times in the Gospel, John highlighted Jesus’s use of the phrase “I am” as he has taught about himself. Jesus is not speaking about himself in some abstract way; no, each time he uses the phrase I am, he makes a specific claim about his Divine Nature and Equality with God the Father. Each time he describes himself in such a manner, he deliberately draws on Yahweh’s first description of himself to Moses: John 15:1-8 is the last of those great sayings. In John 14:61 Jesus had described himself as the way, truth and life: now, He declares himself to be the true vine. Thus, using this allegory, Jesus seeks to teach the disciples about himself, following him and what it means to be rooted in him. Furthermore, Jesus speaks to show them the motion of the Kingdom of God forward. Additionally, that by which the Kingdom will be identified in them: their fruit.
Learning to Truly Abide
This group of merry men have known nothing but Jesus; they have been in his presence for some three years, eating with him, spending days listening to him teach about God, the world, and truth. They have seen him raise the dead, give sight to the blind, open the ears of the deaf, treat the untreatable diseases and value the people the world might reject.
They have been abiding in the presence of Jesus for all the time they have known him. Thus, at that moment, the image and teaching might seem strange, yet, soon, things would change, and they would learn that true abiding is not a physical act but a reality of faith. To Abide in Jesus is a response of Faith. The disciples could only truly understand what it meant to remain in Christ when he was no longer with them, hence as they moved within to his arrest, as they watched him hang on the cross, die. Then as they tried to understand his resurrection and what it meant for them, they would only grasp those things by remaining/trusting in him.
Jesus is God; it is in Him we find all that we are looking for: the peace of God, the way to God; and, the truth and life of God. To abide in Jesus Christ is to root ourselves the truth of who God, what Jesus has done and what God will do come to the judgement of all things. John 15:1-8 reminds us that when we remain in Him, we find the faithfulness of Christ that produces the fruitfulness he needs to make known his Good news.
The Passage: John 15:1-8 NIV
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Images with Inferences: The True Vine and the Heavenly Gardener
I am not sure this short allegory makes the cut of a parable, yet it contains characters, and those characters have specific meanings. Before we dive into it, it is important to understand the wider inference from some imagery.
The True Vine
We have already considered the inference of the “I Am” statements of Jesus, yet, there is also an additional exclusive claim that Jesus makes from the start when he states that he is the true vine and that one must be connected to him. The inference: we as humans can route ourselves into false vines that may look like the source of life but will only lead to death. Jesus is the true vine, the source of true life and to be planted in him is to know that life.
God is the gardener, the one who does the pruning and the trimming; what does that mean? That the Life received from the vine, and even our fruitfulness is a gift from God. We must act to be fruitful and abide, but the owner of our successful fruitfulness is not us, but God. As faith is the gift of God, so fruitfulness is a work of God in and through the life of a believer. Equally, so too is judgement a work of God. As we walk the road of the Kingdom, as seek to remain in Christ, being fruitful where he has placed us – God is the one who does the work in us and through us. Our job is to remain, trust and produce. Real faith produces real fruit; that is what the imagery of the vine is all about.
The disciples know all too well what Jesus is alluding to in imagery and contrast. The fruitful image of the Vine that Jesus gives here is contrasted to the Old Testament images of Judgment using the same Imagery. Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, the imagery of the Vine and Vineyard was used concerning the spiritual state of the nation:
The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. – Isaiah 5:7 NIV
I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? – Jeremiah 2:21 NIV
Jesus’ imagery is double-edged here, as much as he is calling for the new Kingdom people to be faithful and fruitful by remaining in Him. He is pronouncing the Judgement of God on those who claim to know God, who by their lifestyle and “righteousness” might suggest fruitfulness as they walk with God, but in reality, they are far from it. They are branches being cut off to be made ready for the fire. Thus, there are two types of branches: The Good, who are fruitful and truly rooted into the vine’s life; the bad, who even though they appear in their vine, their fruit tells otherwise. I wonder perhaps at that moment, was Jesus referencing the Spiritual reality of those he had walked with? The Good branches, the eleven still with him: The Bad branch, Judas?
Where to Remain (1-3)
As the disciples listened to Jesus teaching about the vine, they must have thought: “We are Good in terms of abiding because we are walking with him.” After all, they were literally abiding in his presence, yet, soon, everything would change. It would be a few days before they would grasp just what was going on as he would be arrested, then they would watch as the state authorities would crucify him, as they would experience three days of hopelessness, waiting without expecting the resurrection to come.
You wonder what words of Christ must have rung in their heads as they tried to process their collapsing world? Why would he tell us to abide in him, to trust him when he has gone. Little did they realise that in the waiting, God was working, and they were learning what true abiding looks like. To remain in Jesus is not a physical reality but a spiritual one, meaning it is possible at all times, in all places for all followers of God.
The disciples would learn that even as he went from them, he was still with them throughout the dwelling presence and power of God the Holy Spirit. Their faithfulness to his call and their trust in him was possible because of the reality of the new Kingdom. Hence, the disciples and all followers of Jesus would learn that to remain in him and trust him is to walk with him on whatever road we find ourselves journeying down.
They were learning where to abide. We might find ourselves some two thousand years after them; we might find ourselves navigating a season and storm of life like no other as we walk this covid-road. Still, the meta-lesson remain the same: true life is found in Jesus, and we must learn to trust and be confident in Him no matter the road! The lessons of the first three verses are one of ‘where,’ even as we walk on down the road of life, we are to remain steadfast in Christ, abiding in the true vine because this is where true life is found. Jesus is the strong foundation for every season in life. He is the rock on which the disciples could learn and the sustenance they needed during those tumultuous early days.
Today, in this season of covid, whether we find ourselves resting on green pastures or under the long shadow of the dark valley, we must follow the example of the disciples and root ourselves in the true vine. We find all we need for the journey, for rooted in the true vine is the sustenance of faith and life.
The Gardener is no Fool (1-2)
Yet, we must not fool ourselves about what rootedness looks like, for the Gardener is always tending the vines, making sure that those which are rooted are producing fruit in keeping with their source. In the same movement, the Gardner cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit and prunes the fruitful to be even more abundant in their production.
What does this mean? That there will be those who claim connection with Christ, but the content of their life (their fruit) will prove otherwise. They might fool some of the other branches, but God will not be mocked, and his work which is both one of judgment and pruning, will work on all branches. To the fruitless, he will cut off, yet in the same motion, he will prune the fruitful to increase their production. A reminder that as our faith is a gift of grace, so too is the content of our Kingdom walk; it is God who does all the work in us and through us, and we rejoice in that freeing truth!
The life of the Vine (3)
Verse three is somewhat obscure in its meaning as if the words of Jesus might be in that moment that pruning shears of the Lord or that because they know his word and are in some way connected to the vine, they are already fruitful and safe in the Eyes of God the Father. Yet, what we learn is that the words of Jesus are the Life source of the Kingdom. The words of Jesus are the sustenance of the vine. Not that the literal words of Jesus have some magical/mystical potency about them; no, but that the sum of Christs’ teachings (Gk Logos as translated teaching in 14:23 in the NIV), is the sustenance the vine provides for those who truly remain. The word’s of Christ being all that he said and all that he did because he himself is the incarnate word of God. Let us make sure we are feeding on the right source.
The Logic of Fruitfulness
The logic of Fruitfulness flows through the New Testament. In Matthew 7:16, Jesus states: “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”2 Do you see the Fruitful Logic? On this journey of life, the fruit we produce is directly correlated to the source for which we feed.
If we drink from the wells of the world, then we will produce worldly fruit: if we drink from the well of Life (if we are rooted into the true vine), then our fruit will be that which advances the Kingdom of God. As a fig tree cannot produce olives, a false branch cannot produce Gospel fruit. Let us use the logic of Kingdom Fruitfulness to assess our own lives and make sure that our fruit is in keeping with the true Vine we claim to be connected to.
Why We Remain (4-8)
The words of Jesus challenge us to consider where we are rooted as we walk the road set before us. Following him as a disciple is to both walk with him; and remain rooted in him through every season of life. Thus, produce fruit in keeping with the source of sustenance he provides – his teaching in word indeed. Where do we abide? In the person and work of Jesus, in the second half of this passage, we learn something of the why behind the what of abiding.
Without Christ We Can Do Nothing(4-6)
First Reason: we remain because we can do nothing of eternal significance without the person of Jesus Christ. He is not just the fountain on which we stand, nor the guide we follow. He is the reason and power behind all we do. As a branch must be connected to a vine to produce fruit, so too a disciple must remain in Jesus to produce fruit in keeping with the Kingdom. We remain in him because without him, we can do nothing for God.
While Salvation is a work of Grace, verse 4 seems to suggest a certain responsibility for the believer as they journey with Jesus – a responsibility of perseverance. We receive in faith, and then we faithfully follow: choosing to abide in Jesus over the things of the world because we know there is nothing better; when we know Jesus, then we will always choose Jesus because we know there is no better choice and he will respond in faithfulness to the same cause.
Verses 5-6 repeat much of what Jesus has already taught in the first four verses of this passage, without mentioning the Garden and pruning. The ultimate point is set out very simple – either we remain connected to the true vine and produce fruit in keeping with that link, or we will be thrown away and burned in the fire. What is the fruit? Verses 7 and 8 help us to understand that it is not some specific thing; new converts, acts of service, or being obedient to the call of God. Those are all good things, but too specific here for the teaching of God. No, the fruit that we much produce in response to Christ’s faithfulness regardless of context or trial is that which responds to our prayer to him (verse 7) and that which will bring Glory to God wherever he has placed us.
Fruitfulness for the Glory of God (7-8)
There is a purpose behind everything, and as we finish this section of the passage, the challenge that Jesus leaves us with is one of purpose. Specifically, as he continues teaching in these last two verses, the purpose of our fruitfulness is to move from using the vine imagery to referring to himself in the second person. It is not a new section of teaching but an extension of the same point. Specifically, Jesus here teaches further about Christian fruitfulness and its relationship with Him.
The Sovereign purpose of the Christian life is to bring Glory to God. The Bible teaches that humanity was made in the image of God, meaning we reflect something of God in our essence, and yet our essence lack’s completion without knowing God. Through his work on the cross, Christ came and made a possible full relationship with God and the ability to fulfil our supreme purpose. Thus, to come to know Christ is to find the supreme purpose of human existence: knowing God and making Him Know. Those rooted in Christ are those who have grasped that we bring nothing to the table in terms of our salvation.
We become those who live in response to the Grace of God, because in Jesus Christ we have all that we need, in every season of life, on every road we walk we Christ we know we have fully received, thus, we live with Him, dependant on him and for him.
The response of Grace is one of action; we as disciples of Jesus are those who recognise his Lordship, yet, more simply, a disciple identifies with teaching or way of life. Thus, in response to all that Jesus has done for us, we continue to live by his teachings, centring our lives on his word and example: being shaped by the sum of his teaching as we live for him. To be a disciple is to become obedient to the teacher; thus, in verse seven, Christ draws out the benefit of the disciple’s delightful obedience. The words of Jesus (literally the different sayings/teachings) must dwell so deeply in our hearts and minds that obedience to Christ and his way becomes the most natural thing.
Our Gospel obedience in one area is evidence of our trying to submit to Christ in all areas. Obedience is a product of the mutual dwelling of Christ in the believer and the believer in Christ. Verse 7 seems to frame such a relationship in the context of prayer: One who is truly being shaped by the way and teachings on Christ and transformed into his image (by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit) is one who will see the world as Christ sees’ and seek the Kingdom of Christ in all things. Hence, a believer who is rooted in the true vine will be effective in prayer because all that they will ask for will conform to God’s will and be shaped by their kingdom obedience. Our keeping of the word of Jesus is how we demonstrate our love for Jesus.
Prayer here is the example of the rooted life: when our lives are shaped by his way and lived out for His Kingdom when our prayers are for his cause and advancement: then as they are answered. As we live out our love (of Christ) in response to the Gospel gift of Grace, people will see the effects of Grace in all the areas of our lives where we submit to it. In essence, they will see something of God and perhaps desire to know more about it. Our obedience brings Glory to God because our living points to the certainty of God amid the mess of the world.
Conclusion: A Faithful People Are A Fruitful People
Every journey has a purpose; even when we go out for a pointless drive, it might be just to clear our head: We will eventually arrive where we need to be. The Dichotomy of the Christian journey is that we are a people who have both arrived yet, also have much travelling left to do. It’s the now and the not yet: in Christ, we have fully arrived and need nothing more; yet, we marvel, hope, and live knowing there is yet more to receive.
The Disciples walked with Jesus, kept walking (with) after he left them (via his ascension), and in that walking knew that he never left them. They had walked from the now towards the not yet. Even though they no longer knew the physical presence of Jesus, they were always aware of his more intimate Spiritual Presence through the dwelling peace of the Holy Spirit. They live in what it meant to abide, and they lived out what it meant to abide. It was not some motionless existence but the very means by which the Kingdom of God moved. When we abide, God abounds.
Abiding in the Shadow of the Cross
Words without context mean nothing; if I ordered a McChicken Sandwich in Burger King, they would laugh at me – It’s the wrong context. So often, the danger of our bible reading is that we consider something without the wider picture.3 Jesus spoke the assurance and command of abiding for the disciples in the shadow of the Cross. They did not know what was ahead for them in the short-term or the long term: Jesus did, and knowing that he reminded them of the importance of being in his presence, and the outworking of that. To remain is good because he is secure and can be trusted, but he is not a bunker that protects from the world; no to remain in him is to walk beside him down whatever road we find ourselves travelling and as we walk with we are changed by him – good company transforms. Hence, our abiding produces Kingdom Fruit and brings glory to God.
Jesus asked them to remain in him because he was about to go to the cross and fulfil the purpose of his ministry and action that would change the disciples understanding of him and the world, yet, amid the madness and confusion, the call to remain still existed. As they remained in him through his early ministry, so they must remain in him as he hung on the cross, even when it seemed foolish to the world. Why? because in every season, Jesus can be trusted. At the unexpected junctions of life, we must look to Jesus because he is making those turns with us. After all, he is there over the bumpy roads as we walk through the dark valleys and as we rest by green pastures. Jesus is the one who goes with us, and before us, and to whom there is no surprise, So let’s remain him, and trust that he is working whatever we find ourselves facing today and in the days ahead.
The Action of Abiding
To Abide in Jesus is not a motionless stance, nor is a movement of retreat. For the Christian abiding is a verb: when we abide, we act – we produce fruit. It does not matter the road we find ourselves on, the season we find ourselves in or the storm around us. Kingdom Disciples produce Kingdom fruit and continue the work of the harvest wherever they are because in abiding in Christ, we are those who know we are secure, have received and lived in response to the gift of Grace. Kingdom Fruit is the natural result of abiding. When we are rooted deep in Jesus, when his word and example is the dwelling of our hearts and minds, then we will live like him, with him, and to his Glory. Yet, while a natural result, we must also choose to act: we must fight to abide, by doing the things that renew in us the presence of Christ and the call of the Kingdom: Prayer, Scripture, Evangelism, Worship, and Church – they are both the means and some of the fruit. So this day, let us remain in Jesus whatever the season, let us fight to remain in Him by prioritising the things of the Kingdom and then let us produce fruit in keeping with where we feed as God prunes us to make us more abundant for his Glory.
The Logic of Fruitfulness
God is no fool. As a farmer reaps what he sows, as a fig tree will produce fruit, so is the logic of fruitfulness. No vineyard owner will walk through all that is his and expect olives from his vines, nor is he going to let fruitless fine use the feed, which could help growth on those vines that are producing. Hence in the same motion, the Gardner removes the fruitless and blesses the fruitful by pruning. The Imagery given to us first is the work of the Gardner as God the Father: Jesus point is clear, all things are an act of God, our fruitfulness in the vine is from God, and the fruit we produce is from the tender care of God, equally he will root out the fruitless. God is no fool, so neither should we be. First, as individuals and churches, let us make sure the fruit that we are producing is correlated to the source we claim as ours – Jesus. If the actions of our lives, the thoughts of our minds contradict his word, if our heart desires everything but Christ, then we are not rooted in the vine, and eventually, we will feel the judgement of the Father as he cares for his vine and protects the fruitful.
A Warning to the Fruitless
Another extension of the imagery is that there will be fruitless branches on the true vine; it is not that they are rooted into a different vine and growing among the fruitful. They are connected to the true vine, yet they produce no fruit. A warning that there will be those who claim some connection with Christ and may even look like him somehow, yet by their fruit, we will know their fruitlessness. What are we to do? Like the Garden, we must remove them from our lives and our churches to protect our own fruitfulness for the Kingdom and the Glory of God.
The Logic of Fruitfulness: That which sustains
The Fruitless are those who have not grasped the wonder of feeding on Christ. Contra, the fruitful know the richness of Christ and their privilege, so they feed abundantly the fruitful have. Disciples have grasped that the sustenance of the vine is the well of Christ: his word and example.
If a farmer wants to gather a good crop, not only will he tend to his crop, he will feed them all that is good for the harvest. What we feed on shapes our Fruit. To produce Kingdom Fruit naturally, we need a diet fit for the King, and that diet is Jesus. It is the natural focus of the Christian life to look to him as we seek to live for him. Yet, it requires a decision for us to feed on the well of life and the foundation that never runs dry. That which saves us is Jesus, and that which will sustain is us Jesus so let us make sure we are feasting on his teaching in word and deed and allowing those things to shape our hearts, minds and living. When we abide in him and his word in us, we will produce fruit in keeping with the Kingdom.
The Way of Fruitfulness: The Example of Prayer
Verse 7 can be difficult to understand. Yet, in simplicity, it shows us a specific example of fruit from abiding – answered prayers. Specifically, he will answer his disciples’ prayers because they are those who live for him and are being shaped by him. It is not an act of favouritism – no, it is a response of fruitful abiding. God will answer the prayers of Christ’s disciples because they have been so transformed by Grace and the work of the Holy Spirit that their prayers are aligned with him.
The Picture of answered prayers is not a promise of favouritism from God; it is a foretelling of the transformation that occurs when one walks with Jesus. As they go with him, they become like him: heart, desire, sight and purpose. Thus, their prayers are for the things he longs for and exists to do. Prayers answered is a result of the way of Fruitfulness. As we feed on him, we are shaped by him to live for him
The Purpose of Fruitfulness
All that is ours in Christ is a gift of grace that we have received from a Generous and giving God. We respond in faith, and yet even that faith is a saving act of God and a work of the Holy Spirit in response to what Christ has done. In summary, the Christian has grasped that we come before the throne of God with empty hands and leave full and rejoicing. To abide in Christ is a gift that the disciple gladly receives, and to be fruitful is a natural result of his faithfulness. Hence, disciples live not to earn more from God because they have all they need but because they have received full and want others to know the same Grace. Salvation is the culmination of our creation; as we were made in the image of God, so we live to reflect his image. Worship then as life is living to know God more and make Him Known more. Fruitfulness is worship, and that fruit highlights the hope that is ours in God through Christ to a fallen world.
Verse eight reminds us of the Supreme purpose of the Christian life, of our fruitfulness – The Glorification of God. We exist to know him and make him known; hence every aspect of our existence serves that purpose. As we remain in the vine, as we feast on his word and example and walk with him down this road of life. As we live in response to what he has done for us (worship), let us simply consider how as individuals and a church how is our fruitfulness in the contexts God has placed us bringing Glory to him?
As we abide in Christ, as his word and example abide in us and transform us into his likeness and produce fruit in us in keeping with the Kingdom, then the natural result will be the glorification of God. All Christ did point to the father, so as we abide in him, live like him, let us exist like him, take no glory for ourselves, and only give Glory to God. Let us walk the road, dwell on Christs’ teachings, serve our communities, and strive for fruitfulness not to earn or impress: but to bring glory to God. Thus the Purpose of our fruitfulness is to bring Glory to God so that others might see him and desire to know him!
- Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Jn 14:6–7). London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩
- Matthew 7:16 NIV ↩
- Especially the lectionary readings for Sundays which can split up passages in their natural flow and make us lose sense of the around scenes of a narrative by jumping back and forth in the same gospel. ↩