Sermon for Sunday, June 28th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Psa 80:1-19 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Testimony. Of Asaph, a Psalm. Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. 2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! 3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. 11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. 12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? 13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. 14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15 the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. 16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! 17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! 18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! 19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
New Testament reading:
[Rom 11:17-24 ESV] 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Gospel reading and sermon text:
[Jhn 15:1-11 ESV] 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide 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. 5 I 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
The topic of “the Fruit of the Vine” and the “grafting on of branches” is a good fit with our special element of worship today; the receiving of new members into this church by affirmation of faith. Our confession of faith explains that such lawful oaths as these are a part of religious worship upon just occasion. Since these persons have been examined before our session of elders and have affirmed their faith in Jesus Christ this is now a just occasion for them to publicly affirm their faith and be received into membership of this church.
Our sermon passage, John 15:1-11, doesn’t actually mention the “grafting” on of branches, but Paul in his letter to Romans as we read in our New Testament reading, does use this idea of grafting on branches to explain God’s work in bringing the Gentiles into the fold of God’s people.
It is no coincidence that Paul uses an analogy of vines just as Jesus himself did. Paul, as we know, was an apostle of Jesus Christ; a claim he defends in the Scriptures. But Paul was also a disciple of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:26)—a student of Jesus’s teachings—and therefore apt to use some of the same metaphors as Jesus used.
But today we shall focus on the vine metaphor of Jesus as found in John’s Gospel.
In last week’s sermon I mentioned the idea of types and shadows in the Old Testament. The believers in the Old Testament had the Holy Spirit even then, but they didn’t know as much as we do now because they had only types and shadows while we have knowledge of Jesus Christ himself.
We’ve seen a number of these types and shadows fulfilled in Jesus Christ already in John’s Gospel. He is the “bread of life” like the manna in the wilderness. He is the “light of the world” like the pillar of fire guiding the Israelites in the wilderness. He is “the gate,” through which people are saved like the doorposts covered in the blood of the lamb at the first passover. Jesus is the fulfillment of those types and shadows of the Old Testament.
But you may not know that the Old Testament also speaks of vines in a way foreshadowing the work of Christ.
In our Old Testament from Psalm 80 we read about Israel as a vine:
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. 11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea also speak of Israel as a vine. But this is a vine that has gone bad.
[Isa 5:4 ESV] 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
[Jer 2:21 ESV] 21 Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?
[Hos 10:1-2 ESV] 1 Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. 2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.
Jesus now comes as “the true vine.” The vine of Israel is wild, but the vine of Christ is managed by the vinedresser.
I’ve explained before that when it comes to analogies, I can be a bit slow in figuring them out. And so I like to identify the meanings of each of the items. We have the vine, the vinedreser, the branches, the fruit, pruning, withering, and fire. Clearly identifying what each of these refer should help us understand the allegory, the extended metaphor.
The vine is Jesus.
The vinedresser is God the Father
The branches are people; those that bear fruit are Christians, and the fruitless are those who never truly believed.
And the fruit that is borne has a broad meaning, but it is at least good works, joy, and peace. The fruit is all the good things that come through the work of God in us.
The main idea of the allegory is that Jesus is the source of life.
I. Jesus is the source of life.
The vine of Israel grew wild, but Jesus is the true vine and God the Father prunes the branches to keep them healthy and producing fruit. Those that do not bear fruit at all are “taken way,” entirely cut off, but those which do bear fruit are pruned so that they may bear more fruit.
Jesus is the vine, the life source we need to be connected to or we will wither and die. We are but helpless dead branches apart the vine.
Therefore we must abide in Jesus.
II. Abide in Jesus and His love.
“Abide in me, and I in you.”
What does this mean? “Abide in me, and I in you.”
Jesus also says “Abide in my love.”
It is certainly not wrong to say that we must love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. These are the two greatest commandments.
But to abide in Christ’s love is not first about our love towards others, but rather it is about Christ’s love towards us. Calvin explain: “Jesus means that we should continually enjoy that love with which he once loved us, and, therefore, that we ought to take care not to deprive ourselves of it.”
We are to remember Christ’s love for us and find joy in it. That is to abide in his love. We are to belong to Jesus.
Whoever abides in Jesus bears much fruit.
III. Only in abiding in Jesus can we bear fruit.
ONLY in abiding in Jesus can we bear fruit.
Those who do not abide in Him do not produce fruit. [REPEAT: those who do not abide in Him do not produce fruit.
But you might ask, “What about God’s ‘Common Grace’?” “Doesn’t God somehow make unbelievers to do good things?”
The Westminster Confession answers that question quite well in saying:
Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God. (WCF, Chapter 16, Part 7)
Did you catch that? “They are sinful.” Though certain works done by unbelievers may benefit themselves, their family, or their society, these deeds cannot be called “good.” They are “sinful.”
We can summarize the teaching of the confession in say “every good thing comes from the Lord.”
“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)
If the branches are not connected to the vine, they are not going to be able to grow anything, they will be barren.
We should reflect upon ourselves and ask “Am I bearing fruit?” “Am I abiding in Christ?” These go together.
We cannot abide in Jesus merely for an hour per week. We must trust in Him from moment to moment, day to day.
And I think about those times that a song we hear on the radio gets stuck in our heads. And for three days you are singing “in the jungle the mighty jungle” or “I would walk 500 miles.” And you sing these on repeat.
Well, most of these lyrics are rather meaningless if not actually sinful.
But as a practical recommendation, consider the effect that hymn-singing has in having us abide in Christ. Singing a hymn on repeat in your head can be an encouraging thing and remind you of the power and promises of the Lord. It may even change the way you respond to a stressful situation in your life.
Abiding in Christ is to produce fruit. So get that hymn stuck in your head, or that Bible verse memorized so that you have positive reinforcement in life and a well of resources to draw up in times of trouble.
Abide in Christ and His word.
IV. Keeping the Commandments of God.
Integral, essential to abiding in Christ, to loving Him, is in keeping the commandments of God. Back in John 14:15 we read “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Now, in John 15:10 Jesus says “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
You simply cannot abide in Christ and disregard the commandments of the Lord.
Simply saying “I follow the commandment of love” is not sufficient.
V: The Love of Christ is not empty.
The Love of Christ is not empty. It needs contend. It is certainly true that we are to “love others.” But we need direction on HOW to love others. This direction is provided in God’s word.
For example, we are not to bear false witness against others. And while this might first and foremost be in regards to legal courtroom situations, we can apply it as well to our day-by-day living. Do not cut down others. To love one another is to build another up, not to cut one another down.
And how else are we direction in God’s word to love on another? It is to be “as we love ourselves.” That is, think of the needs of others as much as you think your own needs. Love of others is not some secondary thing we do AFTER we have satisfied all our own desires, but we are to love others “as ourselves.”
The love of Christ is not empty.
One minister has said “It is the fruit, not the flowers that is important.”
Show one another that you are a Christian, do not merely say that you are. Bear fruit in accordance with your faith.
“It is the fruit, not the flower that is important.” Don’t pray so that others see you pray, but pray in secret.
“It is the fruit, not the flowers that is important.”
And the fruit born of a Christian is the “fruit of the vine.” It is not something that we are to take credit for, but rather we are to praise God for providing for us and working in us that we do indeed produce fruit according to His commandments. Praise the Lord for his Holy Spirit working in us so that we both will and work for His good pleasure. Amen.