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John 15:1-8 Remain in Jesus, the true vine!

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Listen to these instructions, “Remain in the garden area and your tomato plant will bear many tomatoes.” But as soon as the plant was in hand, the listening stopped and a new place to plant the tomato plant was found. Weeks later when tomatoes typically appear, there were none to be found outside the garden. The one given the tomato plant did not listen carefully to the instructions for the kind of soil, sun exposure and water schedule necessary for tomatoes to bear fruit, and with no fruit, the withered plant was thrown out. Jesus tells us that he is the vine, and we are the branches. When we do not remain in his words, we no longer remain in him. When we listen to him, we remain in him, the true vine.

The religious leaders did not listen to Jesus’ words. Jesus had proved all his words to be true through his resurrection, but many who lived at his time still did not believe. Denial of the resurrection was like staring at a tomato plant full of red, ripe fruit with disappointment. In both cases, there is clear life, so denial and disappointment are foolish. Yet, in Acts 4, we hear that Peter and John faced opposition 2 … because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. Peter and John taught the resurrection of the dead in Jesus and by his name they performed a miraculous healing, which landed them in jail at the request of the religious leaders.

After they were released, they went and told the believers what had happened. Then, they prayed to God praising him and asking for boldness to continue speaking the word of God and to perform miraculous healings in the name of Jesus. God answered their prayers, and we hear this description of the early believers in our Old Testament reading from Acts 4, 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

The believers remained in Jesus, who worked in them love to care for one another’s needs. For example, Barnabas sold a field he owned and brought the money to be shared, while Ananias and his wife Sapphira, lied about selling some of their property for the church. They kept some of the money, and when confronted Ananias dropped to the ground dead for lying, and then the same thing happened to Sapphira. God made clear judgments in the time just after Jesus’ resurrection between those who remained in him and those who did not.

God remains clear in his judgment to cut off those who do not remain in Jesus. In our Gospel reading from John 15, Jesus made one of his “I am” statements, which appear throughout the Gospel of John. Last week, we heard another one of these statements in John 10 when Jesus said, 11 “I am the good shepherd.” These bold statements connected Jesus back to a crucial moment in the life of Moses when in Exodus 3, 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

This name was for God alone and given the highest reverence. So, when Jesus made these statements, it enraged some of the people as they heard it as blasphemy, falsely claiming to be God. Whereas others heard Jesus’ claim to be God with amazement as the Holy Spirit filled their hearts with faith in him as the Son of God. When Jesus made this statement in John 15, it was at the end of the Passover meal on Thursday evening before Jesus walked with the disciples to the garden where he would be arrested, taken to trial and on Friday crucified. There was likely a sense of foreboding as Jesus spoke these words, 1 “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.” These were some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before his crucifixion. After this night, things would be different. They needed to understand how the Father would tend to them and all believers after them.

The Father tends to us like a gardener. Jesus used the gardener imagery to make a point about the difference between pruning and cutting off a branch. The religious leaders who rejected Jesus as the resurrected Messiah would be cut off along with Ananias and Sapphira who held on to earthly possessions rather than the heavenly treasure. Jesus was clear about what cut off meant when he said in John 15, 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. Jesus painted the awful picture of hell. For those who do not remain in Jesus, the sinful sap stops fruit from growing and so the withered soul is thrown into the fire.

It might be easy to spot the difference between a fruit filled branch and a barren one in a garden, but not so with our own hearts. We may be producing what looks like the fruits of faith in love, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. We might have branches full of green leaves, but there may not be Jesus fruit. We may be growing our influence in the world, while hiding Jesus as if he was just a moral teacher whose resurrection is not worth sharing, making it as if he was still dead and buried. We also get stuck in our lives at points where we do not know what to do, where to go, how to act or react to sickness, a changing relationship, making ends meet or answering what our status is with God. Fruit is what a gardener looks for, just like the Father. When the gardener comes to tend to us with a pair of garden shears in his hand, we as branches wonder what the future holds.

Your future as a branch is in the true vine. When the gardener finds fruit, the branch is not cut off, just like the Father does not cut off living branches. Our confidence as fruit filled, living branches comes from Jesus. These are the words Jesus spoke for you in John 15, 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Jesus assured his disciples that they were saved from being cut off through his words. In the same way, God calls you clean, which can also be translated ‘pruned’. You are already who God wants, loves and accepts because of his word. Your future is sure not because of your fruits, but because Jesus is the true vine.

There are many words of God that assure us we are already saved. With the authority of his name, God has claimed us as his own in the words of our baptism from Matthew 28, 19 … “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This claim on us, sealing by the Holy Spirit and washing away of sins assures us of the words in 1 Corinthians 6, 11 … But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. We are sure the Lord Jesus Christ is the chosen Son of God, our Savior because from heaven God spoke in Mark 9, 7 …“This is my Son, whom I love.”

We are sure that all has been done to save us because of Jesus’ words from the cross in John 19, 30 “It is finished.” And we are sure that Jesus is the true, life-giving vine because of the angel’s words in Matthew 28, 6 “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Along with all of these words, Jesus spoke in John 15 so that we would not go looking anywhere else for assurance, 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.” With Jesus the true vine you have everything; you have forgiveness, resurrection, eternal life and even fruits.

God wants you to remain in Jesus. God wants you to remain in Jesus becoming more like him as we hear in John 15, 2 … every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. As you remain in Jesus, you will grow in your love for God and others. God works this in you through his word, which prunes away love for the world and selfish desires. This is not a quick process but lasts our whole life in this world. As we go through different seasons of life, the pruning will match those seasons. Again, those moments when you get too focused on yourself and earthly treasures, God will prune you humbling you to show you his treasures are better. And those moments when you have lots of questions, fear and worry, God will prune you reminding you that God’s understanding, power and control are superior to any obstacle stealing your focus from him.

This is good pruning that keeps you connected to God and not lost with the condemned world. God wants you to remain in Jesus for his good purposes as we hear in John 15, 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. You remain in Jesus even though you do not see him by remaining in his words. Jesus’ words shape the way you pray and prioritize your life. In a few minutes when we say the Lord’s Prayer, let us meditate on the words of Jesus as he shows us how to pray to our Father in heaven. When you remain in him bearing fruits, God is glorified because you show yourselves to be his disciples who live not by their power, but by the power of the true vine, the resurrected Jesus. This was the encouragement we heard in our New Testament reading from 1 John 3, 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Ignoring the ‘how to care for’ your tomato plant words will not end well. Ignore the words for proper care and there will be no fruit, just a withered plant to be thrown out. Remain in the tomato care words and bear much fruit. Jesus did not mince words the night before his crucifixion. He spoke clearly to his disciples, and he means for us to listen closely as well. You bear no fruit apart from Jesus, and that leads to fiery judgment. Remain in him then. Jesus is the one who lived, died and rose to take away your sins and give you eternal life. Jesus does not want you cut off; he wants you to remain in Him, the true vine. Amen.

Gunnar Ledermann, Pastor Divine Peace Church

Gunnar Ledermann

I’m passionate about Rockwall’s vibrant community and actively engage with local non-profits and community organizations, including the Rockwall Chamber of Commerce, the City of Rockwall, and the Downtown Rockwall Association. My background includes a bachelor’s degree in Classical Languages and a master’s degree in divinity. Currently serving as a pastor at Divine Peace Church in Rockwall, I also enjoy spending time with my wife, Marinda, and our three children.

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