Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Upper Room Discourse

THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES – I

 

As the Passover mean came to a close, Jesus said to His disciples, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31; NKJV).  And then in Chapter 19, verse 1 we are told “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.”  Where exactly along the way the discussion recorded in chapters 15 and 16, and the prayer in chapter 17, took place is anyone’s guess.  But Jesus was certainly aware that He was now literally on His way to His arrest and crucifixion.  The tone of the discussion changes.  Whereas in the Upper Room there was give-and-take, now the discussion takes the form of an extended monologue.  The fact that He was about to depart has now been established; He now focuses on their responsibilities and privileges going forward.

Jesus begins this part of the discussion by telling them a parable (John 15:1-8).  “I am the true vine,” He tells them, “and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vv. 1,2).  Here we see two different types of branches: those that do not bear fruit and those that do.  The branches that do not bear fruit “He takes away.”  The ones that do bear fruit “He prunes.”

But whom do these two types of branches represent?  Is Jesus saying that it is possible to be a genuine believer and to lose his salvation?

It must be kept in mind when interpreting a parable like this that Jesus is typically making one or two main points, but that analogy must not be pressed too far as to the details.  The main point that Jesus is making in this parable is the importance of maintaining a close relationship with Him.  The details are incidental.

The best answer here seems to be that the branches of the vine are professing Christians, but not necessarily genuinely born-again ones.  They have made professions of faith; they have been baptized; they are recognized members of the visible church.  But not all are vitally connected to Christ through a genuine experience of the new birth, and as a result these show literal evidence of spiritual life.  They are content to go through the motions.  They show up for church most Sundays.  The put money in the offering plate.  They sit patiently and listen to the sermon.  But their heart is somewhere else.

These, then, Jesus says, the Father “takes away.”  Sometimes they fall away of their own accord.  Sometimes they are excommunicated by the church.  In the end they face the judgment seat of Christ who says, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).  What a terrifying prospect!

But then there are other branches as well, ones that do bear fruit.  Of these Jesus says that the Father “prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”   Here it is evident that He is speaking of genuinely born-again Christians, in contrast to the nominal professing Christian, for He goes on to say in the next verse, “You are already clean because of the world which I have spoken to you” (John 15:8).  In the process of hearing the gospel and responding to it they have been inwardly regenerated – they have a new heart and a desire to serve Christ.  The have put the things of the old life behind them.  Yet the Father still “cleans” and “prunes” them.  Even as born-again Christians there are things that come into our lives that come between us and Christ and interfere with our spiritual growth.  This is especially true when things are going well for us outwardly.  We become preoccupied with the things of this life and let our relationship with Christ languish.  But God is a wise and caring “vinedresser,” and His concern is that we “bear more fruit”; and to that end He prunes us – He disciplines us, subjects us to trials and difficulties, but all that we might be more fruitful and blessed in the work of the kingdom.

Sometimes when we are in the midst of trials and difficulties, and God does not seem to be answering our prayers for deliverance, we must keep in mind that God has His own purposes in what He brings our way, and that His divine purpose includes our sanctification and usefulness in the kingdom.  In such circumstances we must learn to submit to His will and patiently learn the lesson He has for us.  He will eventually bring us through the trial, and we will be the better for having gone through it!

THE APPROACHING ORDEAL

 

Having promised His disciples His peace, He told them, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27; NKJV).  He then reinforces this exhortation by reminding them of what He had told them earlier: that He was going away and coming back for them (v. 28; cf. 13:33,36; 14:2-4); and He points out that “If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.”  What was about to happen to Jesus would be a horrible ordeal; but in the end it would result in His being reunited with His Father, which for Jesus would have meant more than everything in this world.  If the disciples, then, genuinely loved Christ, they would have rejoiced at the prospect because the good that Jesus would experience would far outweigh the loss that they would be suffering, and if they truly loved Him they would be at least as concerned for His welfare as their own.

Then Jesus goes on to say, “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (v. 29).  This is an important point that He makes here.  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.  The Jews expected the Messiah to reign.  If Jesus, then, were really the Messiah, how could He get killed by the Romans?  Would that not be proof positive that He was not the Messiah? – That He was simply a helpless human being subject to circumstances beyond His control?

The answer is that Jesus knew in advance what would happen to Him and made no attempt to avoid it, because it was all a part of God’s foreordained plan.  What was about to happen would happen precisely because that was God’s plan for the Messiah, and the fact that Jesus would be killed by the Romans does not in any way detract from the fact that He was the Messiah.  The fact that He could tell His disciples in advance would only underscore the fact that He was really in control of the situation and that He submitted to it voluntarily.

Jesus now tells them, ominously, that “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (v. 30).  He recognized that the fateful hour had now come.  He also recognized that there was more to it than just a human social and political dynamic – what ultimately lay behind it was that “the ruler of this world was coming.”  This, of course, is a reference to Satan himself, who has been the archenemy of God all along, and has made every effort to frustrate the plan of redemption.  Satan knows who Jesus is, and wants to put an end to it all right at that moment, before, he thinks, it is too late.  He will be the real driving force behind Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.

But, Jesus says, “he has nothing in Me.”  Even though Jesus will go through the charade of a trial and an execution, He is perfectly innocent.  No one can point to any crime that He has actually committed.  In fact, He is perfectly sinless, the very model, ethically, of what every human being should be.

And then Jesus concludes this section by saying, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (v. 31).  Why would Jesus subject Himself to such a horrible ordeal?  Because He loved the Father and the Father ordered Him to do it.  What an amazing example of humble and self-sacrificing love!  He was willing to sacrifice His honor, His reputation, His very life, simply because this is what God the Father wanted Him to do.  What an example of humble submission to the Father’s will!

And what a lesson there is for all of us.  Our natural inclination is to be self-centered and act in our won self-interest.  Half of the time we really do not care about others, let alone make personal sacrifices for them.  And yet what God requires of us is that we love Him with all of our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.  And that, in turn, requires a willingness to sacrifice self.  If Christ was willing to do that for us, should we not be willing to do it for each other?  We are left without excuse!

Jesus then says, “Arise, let us go from here” (v. 31).  As He and the disciples left the upper room and walked through the streets of Jerusalem on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was conscious that He was now on His way to His execution.  The awful moment had finally come.