Easter 5B John 15:1-8
Today, we need to think mental images of “much fruit.” The gospel lesson for today is about fruit. The word, “fruit,” is used more often in John 15:1-8, than in any other place in the Bible. The word “fruit” occurs six times in our text for today. Three times we hear about “much fruit.” “Fruit” is the dominant theme of our gospel lesson for today, therefore we need to think of mental images of “fruit” and “much fruit.”
Think of images of trees laden with fruit: Apples trees, pear trees, orange trees, all laden with enormous quantities of fruit. Imagine those fruit trees in your mind.
Think of the opulence of nature: clusters of grapes on grape vines, clusters of blue berries on blue berry bushes, clusters of cherries on cherry trees. Think “much fruit.”
What is fruit? The New Testament does not give us a meaning for the word. But by reading the Gospel of John, we know that fruit is symbolic of the love of Christ. The attitudes of Christ. The actions of Christ. The Apostle Paul tells us “the fruit of the Spirit” is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. Nine of them. Nine glorious virtues that sweeten life for those who give and those who receive.
Fruit is so good, so tasty, so flavorful. The same is true with those nine virtues of the spirit, the fruit of the spirit: they sweeten life.
So let’s look at pictures of trees and bushes laden with fruit. First, let’s see pictures of fruit that are part of our lives today. Then let’s take a look at pictures of fruit that we find during Old and New Testament times.
In the following pictures, we will see “much fruit.” When we see pictures of “much fruit,” the presupposes a healthy tree, a healthy connection between the tree and the branch, and a healthy branch. When that happens; a healthy tree, a healthy connection and a healthy branch, it is automatic that we will see much fruit.
Apples on a healthy apple tree. The branch produces much fruit.
Oranges on a healthy orange tree. The branches produce much fruit.
Pears on a healthy pear tree. The branches produce much fruit.
Cherries on a healthy cherry tree. The branches produces much fruit.
Blue berries on a healthy blue berry bush. The branches produce much fruit.
Peaches on a healthy peach tree. The branches produce much fruit.
Many peaches on a heavily laden peach tree, so much so that the branches have to be held up.
The above fruit tree is what God wants our lives to look like. This peach tree is loaded with peaches, so much so that long two by fours are needed to hold up those fruit-laden branches. The Lord God wants us to produce much love, attitudes of love, and actions of love.
We all get the basic idea. A good fruit tree produces good fruit. This is a no brainer. We all “get” the allegory that Jesus used. Good fruit trees produce good fruit.
We all get the idea. If a branch is IN the tree; that branch will produce good fruit…whether it be apples, peaches, pears, cherries, oranges, blue berries or whatever.
We all get the idea. As follows of Jesus Christ, we are to produce much fruit.
We all get the idea. There lots of branches on a tree. There is never one branch but a huge number of branches on a tree. There are numerous Christians, billions of us through the centuries, who are IN Christ and we produce much fruit. We are never alone; there are numerous branches on the tree.
Now, let’s take a moment and look at fruit that was popular in the Old and New Testament. Fruit trees were important during Biblical times. In Jesus’ day, he would have tasted grapes, dates, pomegranates, figs, and olives. All of these fruit are referred to in the Bible.
We remember that the land of Israel was a land flowing with milk and honey. Deuteronomy 8:8 says, “A land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”
We sometimes forget that there are numerous streams in Israel and those streams were a source of water to grow plants, crops and fruit trees. Fruit was eaten fresh or dried.
Dates were common in Biblical times.
Dates were and still are an importance source of food and especially sweetness. We can see and taste the sweetness of those dates. Dates were like candy for the first century Israelites.
Grapes were common in Biblical times.
The Bible has all kinds of stories about grapes. You can taste their sweetness. When vines are referred to in the Old and New Testament, the references are primarily to grapevines.
Pomegranates were common in Biblical times.
The pomegranate is difficult to eat, but its beauty and flavor makes it very popular. You will find numerous references to pomegranates in the books of Exodus and Leviticus when you read about the construction of the temple.
Figs were common in Biblical times.
We remember the story in the New Testament where Jesus condemned the fig tree which was not bearing fruit. The appearance of the fig tree looked beautiful, but on closer inspection, it was found not to have fruit on it. So it was with the Pharisees: they looked good and they looked religious but they did not produce the fruit of love. The Pharisees produced leaves but no fruit. Christian people today still can produce leaves and look good but not produce any fruit.
Olives were common in Biblical times.
Olives and olive oil were are staple foods in Palestine. We recall Jesus on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. We recall that Jesus taught a parable where a man owed for eight hundred gallons of olive oil. There are numerous references to olive orchards in the Old Testament.
An olive tree a thousand years old.
We remember Jesus at the Mount of Olives, the site of the Garden of Gethsemane and where Jesus camped out when he was in Jerusalem.
With these images of fruit, the sweetness of fruit, the abundance of fruit, that fruit always grown on the vine, let us proceed with a Bible study on the text for today from John 15:1-8. Please turn to your bulletin insert.
-I am the true vine, See the picture of grapes and a grape vine. (Leave the picture of the grapes and grapevine on the screen for the entire Bible study.)
Circle two sets of words. Circle the words, “I am” and also the words “true vine.”
“I am the true vine” is one of the seven I AM sayings in the Gospel of John and this teaching needs to be understood as one these teachings. You recall some of Jesus’ I AM teachings such as I am the good shepherd; I am the door; I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world. You can see these teachings. That is, you can imagine Jesus as being a good shepherd…a door…a loaf of bread…a light. So it is with the teaching for today, I am the true vine. You can see this teaching with your imagination.
Each I AM teaching teaches us something different about Jesus Christ. “I am the vine” teaches that Jesus Christ is the energy that produces fruit/acts of love in our lives.
Focus on the words, “true vine.” Jesus is the true vine. Jesus is the true vine, the authentic vine, the genuine vine. Jesus is the true vine.
There are other vines that we human beings are deeply interconnected with and from which we draw life and energy but these are false vines. Such false vines can be our job, our country, our team, our city, our recreation, our hobbies, and even our family and our church. The gospel text does not focus on false vines but simply says that Jesus is the true vine.
Vine refers to grape vines which were so popular for common Israelites in both the Old and New Testament.
and my Father is the vine grower. Jesus is the true vine, the authentic vine, the genuine vine. His Father, (our Father), is the vine grower of this vineyard. The Lord God is the owner of the vineyard.
Circle the word, “my.” God is Jesus’ Father. God is also your Father and mine.
We have heard before that one of the seminal teachings of Jesus is that God is his Father and our Father. Here in this text, the Lord God is not called the Lord God as in the Old Testament but simply “my Father.” The Lord God is the Father of Jesus and there is an intimate and family relationship between them.
In this parable, the Lord God, our heavenly Father, is the vine grower. He owns the farm.
-He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Near the word, “he,” write in the word, “God.” God is the owner and gardener of the vineyard.
The Pharisees were people who did not have a vital connection with Jesus Christ nor with God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus warned their listeners about the Pharisees and Sadducees who did not produce the good fruit of the kingdom and their dead lives would be pruned and they would be thrown into the unquenchable fire.
We think of tomato plants that grow up and are very full of green leaves but have no tomatoes on them. What a disappointment. We grow tomato plants to raise tomatoes, not simply to have green bushes. Some people like the Pharisees produce lives that are like tomato plants, all show and green. They tithe, read their Bibles and show up in church, but they don’t produce any attitudes and actions of love towards God and the neighbor.
-Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Circle and focus on the word, “every.” Every Christian experiences the “pruning back” by God. A sign of God’s love is to prune our lives back, so that we will be every more productive in our love. Even if our lives as Christians are bearing fruit (of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.), God will prune our lives back, so that we can bear more fruit. The vine grower wants us to produce more fruit.
It is the Lord God, our heavenly Father, who prunes, cleanses and removes unproductive branches/disciples and unproductive routines and relationships within our lives.
Within the image of Father, we know that a loving Father disciplines his children in order for the child to become healthier and wiser, and live life in a loving way.
Focus on the words, “every branch.” In this metaphor, Christ is the vine and we disciples are the branches that are connected to Christ and draw energy from Christ. As disciples, our growth and life are entirely dependent upon being connected with the trunk of the vine.
As gardeners who work in our backyards and gardens, we know that we prune “suckers” off the vine, “suckers” that suck energy from the plant but produce no fruit.
There are many connections in our lives which do not produce the sweet fruit of love, kindness and justice. Christ removes those non-productive connections/associations in our lives. Jesus says that those unhealthy routines and relationships need to be pruned back, so that our lives are more productive of love and goodness.
This logic makes sense to us. That is, it is beneficial for us for God to remove those unhealthy routines and relationships which diminish the kind and quality of people that God wants us to be.
What are those unhealthy routines from your life that need to be pruned back so that your life can be more productive? Think for a moment of your unhealthy habits that needs to be eliminated.
What are those unhealthy relationships that need to be pruned back and changed? Think for a moment of your relationships? What relationships need to be changed in your life?
The Lord God, our Father, who loves us deeply, prunes back those unhealthy habits and routines that need to be change.
Circle the word, “more.” God wants us to bear more fruit, to produce “much fruit,” to live a more productively loving life in Christ.
Underline the words, “more fruit.” This is what the Lord God wants: for our lives to be abundantly fruitful.
Think of the pictures that we showed at the beginning of the sermon. Think of numerous clusters of grapes on a grape vine or numerous apples on an apple tree that is so laden with apples that the branches are weighed down. Think of pears on a pear tree or oranges on an orange tree. The list of other mental images goes on and on. Trees laden with fruit. That is what the Lord God wants from each of our lives. This happens only if we are grafted INTO Christ, so that our love, joy, peace, patience and compassionate energy will come from him.
As a personal note, when I almost died of a rare illness six years ago, in retrospect, I see the hand of God, pruning my life. My life was pruned way back. That is, I was attempting to become a philanthropist and was too involved with earning money in order to give it away. I had become too preoccupied with money and producing large sums of money. Since my near death experience, I have rarely looked at the stock market and have returned to my first love and calling in my professional life: to be a Biblical preacher and Biblical teacher.Now, after six years have gone by, I can look back and see where my life at that moment was going in unhealthy directions. Today, my life is much more productive and bearing much more fruit than it was six years ago before I became sick. As I look back, God pruned my life in a very healthy way, although I didn’t know it at the time.
-You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. As human beings who are also Christians, we constantly have impure thoughts and actions which we are keenly aware of and need to be washed clean in God’s forgiveness. Jesus the Lamb of God cleanses us from all of our sins.
Jesus is the purifier. We think of the praise song, “refiner’s fire,” and we recall a different metaphor about Jesus purifying us from the impurities of our daily lives by burning them away as a hot fire burns the impurities from metal.
-Abide in me as I abide in you. Circle the word, “abide,” and write the word, “live.” The word abide means “live.” To live in Christ and Christ to live in us.
We live in Christ and Christ lives in us. This relationship is often called “mutual indwelling.” Christ lives in us and we live in Christ, so energy flows from one to the other.
The word, “abide,” is a dominant word in the Gospel of John and is repeated often. 17 of the 18 times the word, “abide,” occurs in the New Testament are from the Gospel or Epistles of John.
Focus on the word, “in.” In me and in you. Can you think of a mental image when you hear the word, “in.” No, you can’t. Jesus provides us a metaphor or word picture to help us understand and see the word, “in.” It is like a branch is IN the vine. And the vine is IN the branch.
Now focus on the two little words, “in me.” Near the words, “in me,” write the word, “Jesus.”
Many scholars think that the heart of Johannine theology are the words, “in me” or “in him.” Within the Gospel of John, there are 23 uses of “in me” and 21 uses of “in him.”
Christian followers are “in Christ.”
Within the New Testament, the words, “in Christ” occurs 89 times and climax with 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation.”
Just as a branch is IN the vine; Christians are IN Christ.
A primary question of the metaphor of the vine and the branches is: What does that mean to be IN Christ?
There is to be a vital, living connection between each one of us and Jesus Christ. We are like branches growing out of the tree, Jesus Christ.
-Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. Our lives as Christians cannot produce fruit unless our nourishment comes from the vine, from Jesus himself. The only way to produce fruit is to be connected with the vine. Energy flows through the vine to the fruit.
As human beings, we know what happens to a branch that is ripped off a tree but left to hang there on that tree. The leaves wither and die. Why? Because the branch is not fully attached to the tree.
-I am the vine, you are the branches. This metaphor is clear. Jesus is the vine and his disciples are the branches. This metaphor is plain and simple.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Those who live in Christ find that Christ also lives in them. That is just the word it works.
Circle the words, “much fruit.” Jesus wants us to bear much fruit, to be unusually productive in our Christian life. This only happens when we are grafted into Christ and his energy flows through our love and compassion.
What causes Christians to produce “much fruit” in our lives? A branch produces numerous fruit when it is attached to the vine or tree. Like a branch is in the vine or my arm is in my body, all branches draw life from the tree just like arms and legs draw life from the body.
When we IN Christ. When our emotions are IN Christ. When our thoughts are IN Christ. When our action are IN Christ, we produce much fruit of love.
-Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. Judgment. Final judgment. In Matthew’s gospel, we heard Jesus talking about weeping, gnashing teeth and being thrown into the unquenchable fire. We hear these same themes judgment in John’s gospel.
-If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. If a person abides in Christ and Christ abides in that person, their wishes will be in harmony with the will of God. Our prayers will be fully answered because our prayers will be in harmony with God. Some people focus on the phrase “ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you” and ignore the phrases before that sentence. “If you live and me and my words live in you” come before Jesus’ teaching about God answering prayer. We need to understand this because so many people immaturely and erroneously believe that God is to answer all of our prayers, including our selfish and self centered prayers, including our deep prayers for our loved when they are sick and/or approaching death. When we are in Christ and Christ is in us, our prayers are for the will of God to be done, not merely what we want.
-My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. Circle the phrase, “much fruit.” This is the third time in this small section where Jesus wants his disciples to know that they are to bear “much fruit.”
A question is: How do we glorify God? We glorify God, not primarily by doing to church and singing praise songs and old classic hymns. Not primarily by saying our prayers in the morning and night. Not primarily by talking the Christian talk. The primary way we glorify God is by bearing MUCH fruit. God is glorified with we bear much fruit and are loving and compassionate.
As we conclude this sermon, we are reminded of the way that Jesus wants our lives to look.
When we are IN Christ and Christ is IN us, energy flows from Christ to us whereby we produce an enormous abundance of love. Amen.
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