In my recent sermon series titled Portraits of the Christ, I have found delight in viewing afresh some of the characterizations of Jesus in the Gospels. In a recent excursion in the Gospel of John, I encountered again the oft explored metaphor of the 15th chapter where Jesus proclaims himself “the Vine”. He claims, in fact, that he is the “true vine”.
Jesus is drawing upon a familiar term here. He fully understands that his Jewish comrades have long been familiar with the term, “vine” as descriptive of God’s people. He is, in fact, aware that the term is used to describe the unfaithfulness of Israel in several Old Testament texts. Ezekiel 15: 1-10, Jeremiah 2:21 and Hosea 10:1 are representative of such Old Testament usages.
The vine is recognized by Israel as a graphic image of God’s view of his people and his desire to bring about His divine agenda for the world through them as His people. The vine is featured prominently over the doors of synagogues, on coins and other artistic representations of Jesus’ day.
When Jesus speaks to his disciples, and proclaims himself the “true vine”, they might have been intrigued by the metaphor but they most certainly would not have been confused by the term.
He establishes his theme clearly in John 15:5 as he exclaims: “I am the vine; you are the branches If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
We, his branches are attached to the vine. If we as disciples are to remain alive we must maintain our connection to the life source. This is especially evident in the New International Version where the word “remain” is used 11 times in verses 1-17. At every turn, we are reminded that we must stay connected.
The clear idea here is that the disciples remain true to the agenda of the “true vine”.
So what is this true agenda?
It is found in the new command of v. 17. “Love one another”. This is an echo of chapter 13:34 where the exhortation to love one another is expressed as the criteria by which all men will know we are his disciples. The sweeping transformation of bringing heaven’s agenda to earth will only be sustainable if there is commitment and consistency made possible only in love. Real, honest to goodness, I’ll never give up….love.
His model prayer had made the plea: “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” This “heaven on earth work” will only be sustained by people who love.
One more word about vines. If you’ve ever been around vines, you know that vines are invasive and aggressive. The tendrils of a vine grip and find a growing place and will cover a surface completely in time.
Jesus, the true vine, is not about finding one little special place in your life to hide out. Jesus wants to envelope you and cover you and dominate your world view. He wants to have a say in your behaviors, your language, your thinking and your actions. He desires to make us love like he loves, with an insatiable, “I will die for you” love. He calls his disciples to love the world like he loves the world. He is calling us to bring about transformation of this world by loving enough to serve, sacrifice and restore things to God’s original order.
This is the work of God. It has always been His work. He calls us to join Him. To remain in Him. To participate in His divine agenda. God’s Holy Spirit will empower and accompany us in this great work.
In this, we find……. not just challenge…….but joy.