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In this series we are studying the seven “I Am” statements of Christ found in John’s Gospel. As you probably know by now:), when Jesus said the words “I Am” preceding each of these statements, He was purposely connecting Himself with the word “Yahweh,” the Hebrew name for God which means “I Am.”
Once again, we’re going to set the backdrop for this final “I Am” statement before we get into the study of it. Like last week, this statement took place the evening of Jesus’ arrest. It took place at some point between the Last Supper passover meal and when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In last week’s lesson we talked about Jesus’ 6th “I Am” statement (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”), which He had used to explain to His disciples that they knew the way to the Father because HE was the way to the Father.
In this same conversation, Jesus went on to tell His disciples they were going to do great things on behalf of the kingdom of God:
John 14:12 (ESV)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
Jesus said it was BECAUSE He was “going to the Father” that they would do these great works - because the Father would then send the Holy Spirit to not only be with them, but be in them:
John 14:16-17 (ESV)
16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
John 14:26 (ESV)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
So in this Last Supper conversation, Jesus was saying, “I’m leaving, but you know the way because you know Me. I’m leaving, but you’re going to do great things for the kingdom of God. I’m leaving, but God will send the Holy Spirit to not only be with you, but be in you.”
I Am the Vine
This leads us straight into Jesus’ final “I Am” statement, which is the opening passage in the next chapter, John chapter 15:
John 15:1-5 (ESV)
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Before we get into studying the specifics of this passage, we have to talk about something that jumped out at me in this lesson. Jesus’ first four “I Am” statements were spoken to a group of people who didn’t know Him personally. Jesus used the phrase “I Am,” “ego eimi,” to get their attention, shift their focus onto Himself, and show them Who He was.
Then we have the last three statements. One was spoken to Martha, who, along with her family, was close to Jesus. The final two statements were spoken to Jesus’ disciples. So why did Jesus use this phrase, which carried such emphasis, to His own, to those closest to Him? Didn’t they already know Who He was?
Sometimes, even when we know Jesus, He still has to do something abrupt to get our attention.
Sometimes we can get fixated on a pattern of thinking that blocks what He’s trying to tell us, and sometimes He just wants to show us another side of Who He is!
Martha was fixated on her brother’s death and the fact that Jesus hadn’t been there to heal him. But Jesus wanted her to know He wasn’t only a Healer, He was also the Resurrector! The disciples were fixated on the fact that Jesus was leaving them and they didn’t know where He was going. But Jesus wanted them to know their focus wasn’t to be on the sadness of Him leaving, but rather on the BLESSING and PURPOSE of Him leaving!
This spoke so much to me. Sometimes God has to get our attention in an abrupt or emphatic way to shift our focus from the negative aspects of our situation, or even just our day, to the positive. And if we can’t yet see the blessing, or the positive, of our situation or our day, then we can just focus on Who Jesus is!
So often in my life I have to verbally thank God for things I don’t feel thankful for - things which feel negative, things in which I can’t quite see the positive yet, or things I tend to forget the positive of because I’m so focused on the negative. And sometimes I simply just have to thank God for Who He is because it reminds me He’s got a plan and it’s a good one!
Shifting our focus onto Jesus will never let us down.
Okay, back to the passage:)
When I got into this study I was completely blown away. This passage contains so much more than I’ve ever heard before and so much more than it appears at first glance.
Jesus is the True Vine
Jesus said He was the TRUE vine. This is from the same root word we studied last week when Jesus said He was the “truth,” or “reality” as opposed to an “illusion.” The word in the Greek means “true to the very origin of truth,” and “that which will be proven true.” Jesus Christ is the very origin of truth, and there will be a day for all people in which He is proven true (Romans 14:11).
This final “I Am” passage is talking about a grapevine. On the grapevine, the vine is the core of the plant, comparative to the trunk of the tree. It is the strength by which the plant grows and the strength by which it supports its fruit.
Jesus is the strength by which we grow and the strength which supports our fruit.
We cannot grow outside of Him, and we cannot produce fruit unless we are wholly connected to Him.
Now, there’s one more really awesome thing here. Jesus says in verse 4, “Abide in me, and I in you.” That word translated “abide” means to “stay, remain, wait.”
Did you catch that wonderful little word “wait?!”
Jesus is saying, “stay connected to Me, wait on Me, and I will stay connected to you and wait on you.”
Sometimes we think we’re waiting on God when He’s actually waiting on us to become the person He needs us to be!
That’s where the pruning comes in.
God is the Vinedresser
Jesus says God is the vinedresser. This imagery is tender and loving. The vinedresser takes great concern to care for his plants, as God does with us. But here’s the thing - the care of the vinedresser doesn’t always feel like care to the plant...UNTIL you understand the requirements for growth!
Let’s go back to the verse describing what God, the Vinedresser, does:
John 15:2 (ESV)
2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
We’ve already said the vine of the grapevine is like the trunk of the tree. It’s the entire support system. Branches, called canes and shoots, grow from the vine to produce the fruit. So, if there is a fruitless branch, this verse says the vinedresser removes it.
We’re not going to get into a theological debate during this lesson, but this ties in with passages in Matthew and Luke, in which Jesus says this (we’re going to read the version from Luke):
Luke 6:43-45a (NIV)
43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
Fruit is evidence of the heart, and that is a matter between us and God, the branch and the Vinedresser.
So let’s talk about the branches. Jesus says we, Christians, are the branches. Leaves, tendrils, and tiny flowers all grow from these branches, but only the flowers produce the fruit. SO, all the parts of the branch that don’t produce fruit have to be, as the verse says, “pruned.”
We have to pause for a minute because this part blew me away. Although nearly every Bible version translates this word to read “prune,” because that is the message Jesus was conveying, the actual word He used here means “to cleanse, purify, to make clean by purging.” It’s taken from the Greek word “katharos,” which means “pure.” It’s the same root word used in this verse:
1 John 1:9 (NIV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
When we believe in Jesus, confess our sins, and give our life to Christ, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all unrighteousness. That’s why Jesus said in verse 3 of the passage we’re studying today, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” Let’s look at it one more time:
John 15:2-3 (ESV)
2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Both of these words, “prunes” in verse 2 and “clean” in verse 3, are from the same root word! The disciples were clean, pure, because they believed in Jesus. BUT, after the cleansing of our sins which comes with salvation, there is a process of FURTHER cleansing, further purifying, which takes place as we continue to grow in Christ and produce fruit!
2 Timothy 2:21 (ESV)
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
1 Thessalonians 4:7 (NIV)
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
Again, same root word!
Holiness is a process, and it is the prerequisite to bearing fruit!
I learned while researching for this lesson that pruning is of utmost importance in growth and fruit production of the grapevine. If you don’t have a watchful gardener, who purposely prunes the branches with great care, the branches won’t produce fruit at all. Pruning is everything! Pruning IS the care! Look at this excerpt from the Farmers Almanac talking about the grapevine:
“Pruning is important. Not only would vines run rampant without control, but canes will only produce fruit once. Prune annually when vines are dormant, in March or April. This is before the buds start to swell, but when winter damage is apparent. Don’t be afraid to remove at least 90 percent of the previous season’s growth. This will ensure a higher quality product. Remember, the more you prune, the more grapes you will have.” (Farmers Almanac)
Wow! We go through seasons of dormancy, and sometimes during these seasons “damage is apparent.” Often times these seasons of dormancy, and damage, come after seasons in which we have produced fruit! During these seasons, our loving and caring Vinedresser, will remove from us the things which will hinder our fruit production in the next season. It may feel like He is removing 90% of who we are, or what we have, but if we allow it, EVERY bit of the pruning is to “ensure a higher quality product” in the next season!
And there’s more. I have to add this from Wikipedia:) Most of the fruit produced from the grapevine is from buds that were developed (and then pruned) during the previous growing season!
“Grapevines usually only produce fruit on shoots that came from buds that were developed during the previous growing season. In viticulture, this is one of the principles behind pruning the previous year's growth...that includes shoots that have turned hard and woody during the winter.” (Wikipedia)
Sometimes God needs to remove from us the parts that have turned “hard and woody” in order to bring out better fruit in the next season! BUT remember, high quality fruit will come out of what was developed during that season!
God doesn’t waste a single thing if we allow Him to prune us!
There’s one last thing we’re going to discuss about this passage before we wrap up our series. Jesus said that unless we remain connected to Him as our source, we can do nothing. He said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself.”
This got me thinking. There are a lot of people out there doing good works. I believe that’s because God created us with a desire, even a NEED, to do good works because He created us FOR good works:
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Every person on the planet was created to do good works. However, good works do not necessarily equal good fruit.
Doing good works are not the same as producing good fruit.
Good fruit can only be produced through connection to Christ. Anything outside of that is simply a good work. We are called to good works, but only through Christ do our good works produce good fruit!
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
And that’s what it’s all about - that everything we do brings glory to God.
Because when God is glorified others see Who He is!
The “I Am.”
Oh Lord, thank You that I can know You don’t waste a single thing and that You can use me to produce fruit out of every season. Help me accept the pruning process, and thank You for being the strength that supports me through it all. Help me to show the world around me that You are the “I Am,” the Everything. Amen.