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John 15:1-15:7
Key Verse: 15:5

Thank God for granting us a New Year 2013. Some people thought that 21.12, 2012 would be the end of the world. But that end did not come. People try to find out the end of the world astronomically or through some other phenomena and prepare themselves by escaping to certain safe places. However, the end of the world is clearly written in the Bible, and the end of the age is the day of Jesus’ coming again in the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. No place will be safe. At that time what matters is whether to be called by Jesus through the trumpet. He will call his elect and gather them one by one. So both at the present and at the time of the end of the age the most important thing in life is relationship with Jesus. He is the central figure of human history and the future world to come. Today’s passage well teaches what kind of relationship we have with Jesus and what kind of life we should live in this world. May God speak to us as we begin this New Year 2013.

First, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” Look at verse 1. “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” John’s gospel is the gospel of “I am.” There are seven “I am” statement: “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am the gate” (10:9), “I am the good shepherd” (10:11), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6), “I am the (true) vine” (15:1,5). In Exodus when Moses asked God, “What is your name?” God answered, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:13, 14). So Jesus “I am” statement is astonishing. No human being can make such a statement, but Jesus.

Also, in John’s gospel the word “true” is significant. John 21:24 says, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” In the gospel of John Jesus is referred to “the true light” (1:9) “the true bread” (6:32) and here “the true vine” (15:1), and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only true God” (17:3). Something or someone that is true must be distinguished with the counterfeit. Because of the counterfeit people are deceived and the whole world can be tricked. What is true must be stated and confirmed. Jesus himself said, “I am the true vine.” Vine is the representative of fruit-baring trees in Israel. Jesus is the only true (or unique) vine God planted in the world for the fruitful life of human beings.

God is the Owner and the gardener as well. What does the gardener do? Look at verse 2. “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.” The gardener does two things, “cutting off” and “pruning.” We should recognize both. All of God’s people should know that God is both kind and stern. Romans 11:22 says, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” There are some people who think that however they live God does not care since they believe in Jesus the Saviour. They are greatly mistaken. God is concerned about each one’s life. The righteousness and holiness of God cannot be compromised or mocked, but preserved and maintained. And certainly he never cuts off anyone who genuinely strives to live a fruit-bearing life before him. He sees one’s motive. We don’t need to worry about our human weaknesses or failures. He is willing to bear them endlessly as long as we sincerely live by faith in him. The sternness of God makes us awake.

All those who know about the vine know the importance of pruning its branches. Verse 2 says that pruning makes the fruit-bearing branches even more fruitful. In our previous centre we have a vine. In the years the pruning was done, the fruit was more than double compared to the years without pruning. The branches are not humans and so seem to have no feelings and pains. But when the pruning work was done on the branches, we felt that the branches were crying in pain, even shedding tears that were dropping to the ground. Pruning in life also is necessary and painful. God does the pruning work in our lives. It is obvious in the life of Abraham. When God called Abraham, God promised that he would be a great nation and a blessing to many people. He started his life of faith with Lot, his nephew, who was like a son to him. Abraham must have been comforted by Lot’s being with him itself. However, Lot was a very selfish person and they could not stay together, despite Abraham’s whole-hearted love for him. When Lot left Abraham for a better life in the world, Abraham was greatly hurt and despaired. But that was God’s pruning, his divine training for Abraham to depend on God alone. And when God promised that Abraham would be a great nation, it meant he would definitely have a son regardless of his old age and his wife’s barrenness. But he compromised and had a son through his Egyptian servant, rationalizing that the son was also from his own body. To God that was the fruit of unbelief and flesh, not the fruit of faith and promise. God was not pleased with it. Later on the son Isaac of promise was born. When the time came, God gave him a direction to cast out Ishmael, because the son of flesh was mocking the son of promise and so the two could not grow together. It was too painful for Abraham to obey this direction. But he did it in obedience to God overcoming all humanistic thoughts. Since then his life was sincerer and purer enough to be recognized as the one who truly feared God and loved God more than anything else, even his own son Isaac.

But Lot did not accept God’s pruning. He loved the world and lived according to his desire for the materialistic and pleasure-seeking life in Sodom. He could not see the imminent destruction of the city. He moved closer and closer to the city of Sodom, showing that he did not move into the city. Later he was found in the city and was barely saved due to Abraham at the time of God’s judgment upon the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. His life was a shameful and fruitless one, when he rejected God’s pruning.

We cannot love both God and the world. In many occasions we need pruning for time-management. Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” In a limited time we cannot do all that we want. We cannot meet all those we want to meet. We cannot live as others or our situations demand. Sometimes we should say, “No.” We should live a focused and productive life, discerning what God wants at each time. Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

Look at verse 3. “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Here we see that Jesus’ word trims us and makes us clean. The word of God is the instrument for pruning. Jesus prayed in John 17:7 for his disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” God prunes through his words of truth.

Second, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Look at verse 4. “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.” This is a self-evident truth that no branch can bear by itself; it must remain in the vine. Then in the same token Jesus says about the inevitable relationship that the disciples must remain in Jesus for fruit-bearing. Look at verse 5. “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.” Here Jesus clearly says who he is and who they are: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” In Bible our relationship with Jesus is depicted in many ways, shepherd and sheep relationship, father and children relationship, bridegroom and bride relationship, and here vine and branch relationship. The description of each relationship is very significant. But the vine and branch relationship is particularly life-sustaining relationship. Without the vine the branches have no life and cannot exist alive. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” So this relationship is most critical and fundamental.

In verse 5, after saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches”, Jesus promises, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” In ESV, it is written, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…” According to this promise each of his people can bear much fruit, with one condition to remain him. What a promise!

Then what does it mean to remain (or abide) in him? It means to live in him continually. Colossians 2:6,7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him...” People live in a residence. Their residence is their home, dwelling there. Homeless people are pitiful, especially in a winter time like this. All people need their home. Yet, there are many spiritually homeless people, young and old. When Jesus said, “Remain in me”, he is inviting each of his people to the spiritual home, himself. Jesus guarantees that this home is really good and anyone who remain in the home, Jesus, he or she will bear much fruit, that is to live a wonderful life. Fruit-bearing life is God’s creation purpose for men and it is a blessed life (Ge 1:28).

Then how can we remain in Jesus? Colossians 2:7 says continually, “…strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Jesus once said to the Jews who believed in him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (Jn 8:31). Here we see that we can remain in Jesus when we put our faith in his words and hold to the words and continue in them (KJV). Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the man...his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” And Joshua 1:8 says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Holding to or meditating on God’s word day and night means to think of God’s word over and over again, chewing it and digesting it. In doing so our thought world is changed, being occupied with the words of God. People live and act according to their way of thinking. When one’s way of thinking is changed, then certainly the person’s way of living is changed. When one’s way of thinking becomes Jesus-centred through the words of the Scriptures, the one will remain and live in him and so bear much fruit. Jesus once said that the words of the Scriptures testify about him (Jn 5:40).

So remaining in Jesus is directly related to one’s Bible study. It does not mean that we need to study the Bible 24/7 and acquire a lot of Bible knowledge. Rather, we need sincere Bible study and accept God’s word personally. For this it is good that you put aside a certain time to God each day and each week according to your decision. As for us daily morning devotion hour and weekly Bible study with writing Bible reflection are critical to remain in Jesus and bear much. Also, at the beginning of the year, each chooses a key verse which we can hold to the whole year so that the one word of God may be rooted in each one’s heart.

Then what kind of fruit can we think of? Galatians 5:22,23 says, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These are inner fruits resembling the characters of Jesus. These inner fruits become visible and have influence on others, leading them to Christ and helping them to also live a fruitful life in Christ.

Look at verse 6. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” We also should believe this stern truth, the awful result of not remaining in Jesus.

Look at verse 7. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” Remaining in Jesus includes the life of prayer, asking to God whatever we wish according to his words, believing that it will be surely given. Then verse 8 says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Through fruit-bearing life, most importantly we can show ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples and thus glorify God.

In verses 9-17, Jesus specifically mentions to remain in his love. What a beautiful life it is if one can remain in Jesus’ love! Jesus’ love is that he laid his life for us showing the greatest love for his friends. We will remain in Jesus’ love if we obey Jesus’ command, love each other. The purpose of Jesus’ choosing and calling his disciples is to bear fruit—fruit that will last.

We again thank God for granting us this New Year, 2013. May God help each of us to remain Jesus and bear much fruit to his glory in this year. Let’s remember Jesus’ promise: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”

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