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Notes for Sermon...
How could the disciples possibly go on without Jesus?
What would come of His kingdom?
Was the Lord challenging them to build a kingdom without a king?
Not exactly.
He promised that His going away played a crucial role in the plan of God to redeem the world and that He would return (John 14:1–15).
He promised that He would not leave them to fend for themselves; He would be present within them in the person of the Holy Spirit, whose role is to teach and provide courage (14:16–24).
He promised that confidence in the truth of His words and comfort in His continual presence would grow as they obeyed Him (14:25–31).
In our text today, the focus is the believer’s relationship with Christ, or our union with Him, the key term being “abide” which is used 10 times in 11 verses.
Four observations will help our interpretation of this section:
First, this passage has meaning for believers only.
Second, Jesus draws heavily on the metaphor of a vineyard, a powerful symbol with roots running deep into the soil of Israel’s history (Ps.
80:8–9; Isa.
5:1–7; Ezek.
15:1–5; Hos.
Third, the primary subject of Christ’s teaching is abiding, not bearing fruit.
Fourth, the illustration Jesus chose would have been familiar to every disciple and virtually all of John’s readers, but unfamiliar to most of us today.
The Illustration of God’s nurturing care 15:1-2
The image of a vine and vinedresser poignantly illustrated God’s special care for the nation of Israel, which gave the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel a perfect image for their stinging rebukes
God had originally planted Israel in the Promised Land to be a means of revealing His Word to the world and for teaching all nations about His grace.
Israel was to flourish as a living example of how obedience bears the fruit of righteousness.
Moreover, the Lord promised to bless Israel as the nation’s relationship of trust grew stronger.
But Israel failed.
Jesus, the “true vine,” took the place of Israel, claiming to be the authentic, healthy vineyard the nation had failed to become.
Just as the Father had tended the failed vineyard of Israel, He would tend the flourishing vineyard of the Son.
The Greek verb airō [142], translated “takes away,” has the primary definition of “to lift from the ground,” although the term can and often does mean “to lift with a view to carrying, to carry off or put away” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:185).
John has used airō in both senses: “take away”
John 11:39 (NASB95)
Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
and “to lift up”
Therefore, a strong case for either definition can be made.
The definition “to lift up” fits better for a couple reasons.
First, these two verses introduce the illustration in summary fashion, describing the general care of a vinedresser nurturing a vine.
Secondly, a combination of “takes away” and “prunes” places too great an emphasis on cutting the vine when Jesus appears to be highlighting the Father’s care during the growing season.
2. Our command: to abide in Christ, 15:3-4
The Lord reassured the disciples that they had already been pruned.
The adjective translated “clean” is based on the same verb for “prune” in 15:2.
Jesus followed this assurance with a command to “abide.”
The verb means “to remain” or “to stay in place,” very often in reference to one’s home.
“Abiding” in terms of this metaphor refers to the branch remaining connected to the vine.
A key to understanding what Jesus meant by “abiding” is the expression “in Me,” which reflects a theological concept called “positional truth” or “identification.”
Paul the apostle often described believers as being “in Christ.”
“Identification” describes the believer’s relationship with Christ such that God treats him or her as He would Jesus.
[Illustration] Imagine driving to the front gate of the White House.
You won’t get very far before having to turn around.
Without the proper credentials, the guards will turn you away.
However, if President sent his official car to pick you up and drive you to the gate, you would receive the same treatment she does.
Because you are in the President’s official car, the guard will give you the same treatment due the President of the United States.
Similarly, being “in Christ” allows the believer to share the Son’s identity.
Consequently, those who are “in Christ” enjoy all the benefits of His relationship, including unrestricted access to the Father.
In 15:3, the Lord affirmed the disciples’ salvation, assuring them that God had already done His part; they were “already clean.”
Jesus used this illustration to discuss the Christian life after salvation.
He turned from the issue of position— “in Me”—to that of production.
3. Abiding in Christ is the key to vitality, 15:5.
It is vitally important to keep two points in focus: The subject is not salvation, but vitality as a believer.
The image of “fruit” in biblical literature is a common metaphor for “evidence.”
Fruit proves the identity of a plant and reveals its state of health (15:8).
[Illustration} An expert horticulturist knows when he or she is looking at a pear tree instead of an apple tree just by examining its leaves and bark.
Untrained observers will have difficulty identifying what kind of tree they’re observing.
If, however, the tree hangs heavy with fruit, then there’s no chance of error.
Furthermore, good quality fruit is a strong indication of good health.
Even a novice in horticulture knows that lots of lush, delicious fruit can come only from a strong, vibrant plant.
A seriously sick plant cannot accomplish its purpose.
Jesus clearly indicated that the branches are the disciples—not nonbelievers—and He promised that abiding would inevitably lead to bearing fruit.
Moreover, the presence of fruit will testify to their good health in Christ.
On the other hand, branches that do not bear fruit do not cease to be grapevines; however, their health becomes suspect and their identity might be questioned.
Christians often assume that producing fruit is their responsibility, something they must do in gratitude for what Christ has done for them.
Jesus instructed His followers to focus their attention on abiding rather than production.
4. The danger of failing to abide in Christ,15:6.
The interpretation of John 15:6 can be the cause of heated debate among believers.
(1) There are some who believe those who “do not abide in Me” are believers who have been unfaithful and have lost their salvation, that the Vinedresser decided they should be cut off and thrown away.
But Jesus said that no one can be saved and then unsaved.
(2) These non-abiding branches represent those who never genuinely believed—people who reject Jesus outright or those who merely profess to believe.
However, Jesus’ illustration applies only to believers.
We know this because John 15:2 speaks of every branch “in Me,” which presumes a relationship exists, and because 15:3 specifies Jesus’ audience as those who are “already clean.”
More likely, Jesus drew upon the imagery of Ezekiel’s illustration:
The point is simply this: vinedressers toss disconnected branches aside because they are good for nothing.
It is unwise to build a theological doctrine on a parable or allegory.
Jesus was teaching one main truth—the fruitful life of the believer—and we must not press the details too much.
Just as an unfruitful branch is useless, so an unfruitful believer is useless; and both must be dealt with.
It is a tragic thing for a once-fruitful believer to backslide and lose his privilege of fellowship and service.
Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:356)
Jesus drew upon Ezekiel’s analogy to call believers who do not abide in Him good for nothing.
We cannot produce fruit on our own.
The fruit of abiding in Christ, 15:7-11.
Jesus quickly turned from the negative to the positive.
As the believer abides, or remains vitally connected to Jesus Christ, he or she begins to assume a Christlike character.
The believer is transformed from the inside out.
His or her mind dwells on the kinds of thoughts that God thinks.
The believer’s heart begins to reflect the values of God.
This is reflected in the new covenant found in Jeremiah 31:
And as we think as God thinks, we ask for what is consistent with His plan, which results in His giving us what we ask.
1. Prayers are answered, v.7
2. God is glorified, v.8
How does one “abide in Christ”?
According to Jesus, the question is answered in one word: obedience.
Take note of the parallel relationships established by Jesus.
His connection with the Father is the pattern for our connection with Him.
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