Several years ago, a few friends and i were making a trek through a city in China. Some of our group were from the US, and some lived in that city. Our Chinese friends were giving the rest of us a guided tour of some of their favorite sites. Along the way, we stopped at an art shop that had beautiful, colorful sketches hanging on the walls. And most of the sketches included a word of wisdom that was also penned on the canvas. We came upon one that was a beautiful drawing of a grapevine with clusters of grapes. i asked one of our friends to translate the words that were inscribed beside the drawing. She read, “I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, but without Me you can do nothing.” She was speaking the exact same words that Jesus had spoken to His disciples in a vineyard one night. She was reading an important truth that Jesus taught His disciples just minutes before His arrest. He wanted them to remember who He was, who they were and what their purpose was.
A number of us in the group had heard that verse before. But some of our friends were reading that verse for the very first time. They wanted to know where the saying came from and who said it. Having never read it before, or seen a Bible, or studied about Jesus, they proceeded to tell the rest of us that this saying was about a relationship between two people – one was the vine and the other was the branch. They perceived that the branch’s purpose was in the vine and that apart from the vine, the branch was incapable of doing anything! Our friends clearly understood the truth of what Jesus was saying – the very first time they ever heard it! The owner of the shop had been quietly listening in the background. Having heard our friends comments, she pulled out her Bible, and together we had the opportunity to show our friends where the saying was written. Later, having given each of our friends a Bible, we encouraged them to read more about Jesus – who He is and what He has said. But, as i said, they got it – the first time – they understood this simple truth that Jesus is the Vine, and as His followers, we are the branches. All our friends needed to know now was, who this Jesus was.
Jesus and the disciples were headed from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. More than likely, they were walking through a vineyard in the Kidron Valley. It would have been a full moon, like the one we all enjoyed a few nights ago. Since they were able to clearly see the vineyard that was around them, Jesus used it as an illustration of a foundational truth.
The disciples knew who Jesus was. You and i know who Jesus is. The question is, do we truly understand the truth He was sharing? Like our Chinese friends said, it is all about a relationship between two people – each one of us, in a relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the VINE. It is in Him and through Him that all we need for life and nourishment flows. It is through Him that we have life – life that is abundant and fruitful. We are the BRANCHES. Jesus has made the way for us to be grafted into His Vine – by accepting Him and trusting Him to be our Savior and LORD. The branch apart from the vine is dead, and so are we if we are apart from Him. Our branch is drying up and decaying. But through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, He made the way for us to have life – to be grafted into the Vine and through Him, to have everlasting, abundant life.
And Jesus, right at the beginning, told His disciples that this was the Father’s plan. The Father is the VINEDRESSER. He sent the Vine, He prepared the way for the branches to be grafted and He even selected the branches – so that through the branches, the Vine could produce fruit – fruit that remains – inner fruit and outward fruit. Fruit that is full and sweet. And the Vinedresser tenderly cares for His branches so that they produce the fullest crop possible. When the branches fall into the dirt, the Vinedresser doesn’t throw them away or abandon them. He lifts them up and cleans them off and helps them to flourish again so that they can bear fruit. So it is with you and i. God didn’t graft us onto the Vine so that we might grow and become beautiful branches. He grafted us onto the Vine so that through us He can bear fruit. And the Vinedresser lovingly does in our lives, all that He needs to do to maximize the crop.
As we understand our relationship (as the branch) to Jesus (the Vine) and to the Father (the Vinedresser), there are three principles that our LORD would teach us regarding the work He is doing through all of our lives, in order to bear fruit that is full and sweet.
First, if your life consistently bears no fruit, God will intervene to discipline you.Branches that are covered in dirt won’t bear fruit. Air and light can’t get in. The branch sags. No fruit develops. Our sin is just like that dirt. It prevents the Light of God’s Word from shining in and through our lives. It keeps us from getting the nourishment we need. It causes our lives to “sag”. But, because God loves us and desires His best for us, and desires to cleanse us and free us from sin so that we can live a more abundant life for His glory, He disciplines us. Not to punish us, but to move us from barrenness toward fruitfulness. Allow God’s discipline to train you and cleanse you; not only to escape sin but also to grow you in maturity. Allow Him through His discipline to take you not just from minus ten to zero but from minus ten to plus ten. Don’t resist His discipline; respond to it – and in so doing, allow Him to take you to a new level of fruitfulness.
Second, if your life bears some fruit, God will intervene to prune you so that you bear more fruit. The Father’s strategy for coaxing a greater harvest out of His branches is not the one we would prefer. His plan is to prune, which means to thin, to reduce or to cut-off. The Vinedresser’s secret for more … is less. In the process of pruning, He will cut away immature commitments and lesser priorities to make room for more growth. The vinedresser removes the growth that is preventing the sun from reaching into the area where fruit should form. So it is with the Father, He will prune away the areas of our lives that are preventing the S-O-N from reaching in and producing fruit.
We so easily get caught up in appearances – how we look and what we have. We’re more concerned with how we as branches look. But the branch’s purpose isn’t to look good, or even feel good. The branch’s purpose is bear fruit. Our Father, the Vinedresser, will prune away anything that is keeping us from bearing more fruit. Pruning is about our values and our personal identity. When Jesus told His friends what it would cost to follow Him, many turned back. Yet the impact of those who didn’t turn back is still shaking the world. His artful pruning is not just “taking away”; He is faithfully “making room”to add strength, productivity and spiritual power in our lives, so that through our lives, He can shake the world.
Lastly, God does not want us to do more forHim, He wants us to be more withHim. He is inviting us to abide more deeply in Him.Abiding isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command! Abiding doesn’t come naturally, it’s a choice and an action that we must take. It means placing our complete trust and faith in Him. It means seeking, longing for, thirsting for, waiting for, seeing, knowing, loving, hearing and responding to … His Person. Abiding is the connection to the Vine. It is the place through which all of the life nutrients flow through which the fruit is produced. The amount of fruit isn’t dependent on the size of the branch, it is dependent on the size of the connection – and what flows from the vine through the branch as a result of the connection. And the harvest that results brings great joy – and great glory – to the Vinedresser.
Yes, our Chinese friends were right on target. It comes down to a relationship with a person – the Person of the Vine – Jesus! The Vinedresser has great plans for each of us for 2019. So, as we approach the start of this new year, let’s not just FOLLOW Him, let’s ABIDE in Him.
Scripture reference: John 15:1-8