In the fifteenth chapter of John, we find these words:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
These were no idle comments. Sometimes Jesus would take an example from something common and nearby like a fruit tree or a nameless child, but here He uses the symbol of the vine and that is not to be taken lightly because the vine had long been the symbol for all Israel—it’s hard to fully explain how important it was. In the time of Jesus a great golden vine hung over the entrance to the Jerusalem temple. Josephus describes it: “The gate opening into the building was, as I say, completely overlaid with gold, as was the whole wall around it. It had, moreover, above it those golden vines, from which depended grape-clusters as tall as a man.” The grapevine symbol may also be found in coins, Temple décor, burial places, and art of the period. These examples demonstrate the very powerful cultural presence of the vine symbolism for Israel before, during, and after the time of Christ. Every one of His listeners would have understood in ways that we, today, do not. In addition, all of the emphasis of Christ’s words here are on the fruit which was the only really useful part of the vine. He says very plainly that if we abide in Him and He in us, we will bear much fruit for apart from Christ, we can do nothing. That’s an incredibly significant and powerful statement. He goes on to say that if we do bear fruit, we will be pruned so we can bear even more. I know about that pruning. It’s not something to eagerly await, but it is valuable and moving. Just this year, I’ve gone from expecting death in January to reclaim life and rededicate my life to God’s mission just five months later. Was it fun? No. Was it necessary? Of course, if you read and understand the fifteenth chapter of John. I’ve said before I’m a “red letter” man because many Bibles print the words of Christ in red, and I suspect that means they are the most important words for us to remember and embrace. There is a very strong negative message here, too. The wood of a grape vine is absolutely worthless. It is porous and weak, unusable for building anything (although I may have smoked some when I was eleven). It is not even good for use as firewood because it burns too hot, too quickly, and becomes ashes in just seconds, so no cooking fires or fires for warmth. What He says, in red letters, is that if we bear no fruit (service to others out of love for Christ), we will be thrown in the fire and burned. I get the image. There will be judgement even if many Christians live as if there will be none. Me, I want to be a fruit bearing branch of that vine and will live to my utmost to make that true. Perhaps, you need to read this passage more than once, silently and aloud, and remember that in many Bibles these words are written in red. Much reward albeit with pruning for those who love Christ with Him in their hearts. No love for those who bear no fruit. I get the message. It’s crystal clear, isn’t it?