Part 64 – John 15:1
I AM the Vine
For the seventh and last time Jesus defines himself with an I AM ‘something’ statement, where this time the ‘something’ is a vine tree. In fact he does it twice, each time using the image of a vine tree to explain and develop an idea, as he has done on each occasion he has used this I AM construction.
On the first occasion he says ‘I am the true vine’ and goes on to use the image to explain his relationship with God the Father. The second time he says ‘I am the vine’ and uses the image to explain his relationship to his disciples and, of course, through them to us.
In a way it seems to be a bit in the wrong order. If we read 15: 5 first we have the scene set. We are the branches, forming part of the complete tree, which is not just Jesus but is Jesus and his people.
It is a many years since, for the first and only time, we walked through a vineyard and saw the vines. You may be much more familiar with what they look like. Forgive me, please, if I get some details a bit wrong! It was immediately obvious that it was not the trees who determined what shape they would be but the owner of the field. Each of them had clearly been heavily pruned to the exact shape that the owner required. They had all been carefully pruned so that they would each get a maximum exposure to the sun so that the grapes might be as good as possible. This is the picture that Jesus used. The owner is God the Father, using a very old image that, for instance, Isaiah used when he wrote his 5:1–7, saying in verse 7 that the LORD Almighty is the owner and the ancient people of Israel and Judah were the vines. In Isaiah’s vision the people were so bad that they had to be destroyed, completely. Jesus knows there is a future for all the new people of God if they walk well with the Lord so he only talks of them being pruned, so that they will develop in full view of the sun, or rather Son.
It seems to me a pity that the newer translations into English have changed from the old word ‘abide’ in favour of ‘remain’. A thing may remain. It is quite correct to say that a book remains on a shelf but we would never say that a book abides on the shelf. We reserve the word ‘abide’ for human beings. We may indeed remain in a house, but that only says that we are there. If however we ‘abide’ in the house that says much more – we live in the house; we are resident there. So it is an altogether more powerful word and surely more appropriate for saying something about our relationship to Jesus. What an amazing idea that is! We, you and I, are actually part of Jesus. How we should be careful about everything we do and say, and even think, if we are an integral part of the Lord of Creation.
Then in the second part of his use of the image he talks about the necessity that we should bear much fruit. (What exactly he meant by fruit we will consider in our next Gem, our next short study). Of all plants vines are one of the most difficult in which to identify which branch is which and which one goes where. They get intertwined and very closely knit together. It is easy to take a saw and prune most trees, but not a vine. This is an interesting and striking contract with the image that Paul uses later in his letters. He compares the Lord’s people to a human body. Every single part of a human body is clearly identified and Paul uses that to say that some of us will be hands, or eyes or ears – clearly distinguished parts of the body with very different functions (1 Corinthians 12: 15 – 18). Of course, Paul is not wrong in doing that. It suits his purpose which is to encourage the Christians to whom he is writing to develop the different gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to them, distributing the gifts widely and wisely. The purpose of Jesus is different and to be equally heeded. In terms of status we are all on a level. None of us is to consider himself or herself superior to any other believer because of the gifts they are to be given. There is a lovely saying: ‘the ground is level at the foot of the Cross’. We are all branches; all responsible to produce fruit, all equally liable to be pruned if we fail to do so.
Each of us has to show the Father’s glory by what we do and say and think. Brothers, sisters, let us be up and doing in the work of our great and gracious Lord and Father.
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