Let us pray: Dear Savior, although it is hard on our ego to hear: “apart from Me, you can do nothing,” it’s also comforting to our soul. For it means that only in You do we have true peace, genuine goodness, and lasting truth which can sustain us literally forever. Today teach us to rejoice over remaining in You, glued to Your goodness and armed with Your powerful forgiveness. For only then can we live life to its fullest and not be disappointed. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE TRUE VINE OF LIFE!
Text: John 15: 1-8
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
What was the actual fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Popular lore tells us it was an apple. This view stems from one Christian writer who lived around the year 200 AD. To him apples looked “pleasing to the eye” much like Genesis describes that fateful fruit, so he decided an apple was it! Later people began calling man’s throat enlargement an “Adam’s apple” to mark how sin got stuck in his throat. Of course, we know both the tree of life and the tree of good and evil were one-of-a-kind trees which were destroyed in the great flood of Noah. They do not exist any more. But popular lore continues, doesn’t it?
I did a “google” search and discovered that in history 13 fruits and vegetables have been identified as the “forbidden fruit.” Islam lists it as the banana. Others list it as a fig. One medieval artist depicts it as an hallucinogenic mushroom! And still others single out the grape as the bad fruit. The grape was picked by some because apparently they didn’t like the aftereffects of wine, which comes from grapes!
Christ knew all about grapes. After all, He created them. God wasn’t adverse to wine, either. He ordained it to be used in the OT Passover celebration. Christ mandated its use in Holy Communion. Jesus grew up around grapes in Palestine, too. And here in our lesson, Jesus again uses the image of the grape vine to teach some vital truths to His people. So, today let’s learn more about:
GRAPE VINE WISDOM
Spring has sprung in Massachusetts! Have you been busy with your garden work? I have. I’ve planted my seeds for some vegetables and flowers and they have sprouted. Next comes transplanting them into little peat pots, hardening them off, and then it’s into the garden soil. Eventually, I hope, they will produce a crop. In our increasingly technocratic world, it’s good to get back to basics. It feels good to play around in the dirt, to get back to our “roots” as it were. In fact, we’re really the first generation of human beings who haven’t raised their own food. Unfortunately, that means that the imagery of the vine, raising grapes, is a little harder for us to grasp, but let’s try!
Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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.”
No matter whether it is grapes, flowers, or tomatoes—growing plants all need to be cared for. They cannot produce the desired crop unless and until someone tends them. Grapes and tomatoes will develop suckers, little side shoots which sap energy away from the main stem. Yes, you’ll still get a few fruits, but you’ll get many more if you prune grapes back, take off the suckers, and if you pinch them from your tomatoes. Likewise flowers. Pinch them back and you’ll get more blooms.
Christ is the only Source of true life, eternal life, spiritual life. No human being will ever be truly happy and fulfilled unless and until they recognize that He has to be # 1 in their lives. But humans develop “suckers.” Sin saps us of vitality. And then we bear no genuine spiritual fruit. So God cuts those suckers off. Likewise, even good branches will bear bigger and healthier fruit if they are pruned a bit. It centralizes the energy of the branch into specific grape clusters. So, God prunes all of us. He cuts back our pride, snips off our arrogance, and slices away any ideas concerning our independence from Him.—In short, He humbles us. Yes, such pruning can be painful, but in the end we’re stronger for it.
Lest any humble believer think they are on shaky ground and their faith in Christ is somehow a fake delusion, Jesus goes on to say this: “You are already clean because of the word (the gospel of the forgiveness of sins) I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will 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.”
All of us were wild shoots stemming from the wild grape of sin. All of us were alienated from our perfect and holy God when Adam and Eve disobeyed Him and ate of the forbidden fruit in Eden—thinking that their ideas about how to live were superior to God’s, Who created life itself. But Christ came. Jesus came to cleanse us of sin and graft us back into the only Vine of life. He has done this by giving us faith in His total forgiveness of sins via His cleansing blood. Faith forms the grafting point that links us to His goodness. And if we seek to remain grafted to Him, if we feed our faith on His holiness and listen to His word of guidance and truth, we’ll bear fruit. If not, we’ll wither and die. Unfaithfulness is never His fault, it is only our own.
To drive this home even more, He says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Many of you know that John 15:5 is my confirmation verse. Likewise, it was the verse used for our wedding. It’s a powerful text which lays it on the line.—Remain in Christ, be faithful to Him and great things will occur in your life. And keep your pride in your pocket, always, for apart from His love compelling you every step of the way—your life is nothing, worthless in His sight. Spouses can forget that. Pastors can forget that. Everyone can forget that fact. Sometimes our ego begins to take credit for any and all successes in life. God becomes an afterthought. Others may then applaud us, but Christ simply shakes His head and the Holy Father goes off to get His bigger pruning shears!
Today is Mother’s Day in our midst. In many respects, humanly speaking, Mothers serve as the earthly vines of their families. They are usually the primary caregivers, they are the ones who teach their children morality—right from wrong—and they are the ones who usually are the main impetus behind bringing their children to God. Well, thank God for Christian mothers! None of us would exist without them! And yet, both they and the rest of us can learn much from Grape Vine Wisdom. For ultimately, all of us are branches of the Vine of Life: Jesus Christ. All of us need to carefully guard our graft of faith and religiously feed on His love, strength, and forgiveness. All of us should accept His pruning for our mistakes, learn from them, and finally bring forth even more fruits of faith. And perhaps most of all, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, everyone should never forget those words of grapevine wisdom: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.” Amen