Remain in Me
Viticulture is an interesting year-round business. My contacts in the vineyard business testify to the hard work involved as well as the specific conditions necessary to produce a crop.
Vineyards were common in ancient Israel. Isaiah 5:1–7 likely serves as the Old Testament background for Jesus’ analogy of the vineyard owner and vineyard. In Isaiah and other Old Testament passages, God is the vineyard owner and Israel is His vineyard. The Mishnah, the written form of rabbinic teachings, describes a vine as the symbol of Israel. In Jesus’ time, a large golden vine was above the door of the temple in Jerusalem.
John 14:31 says Jesus and the disciples left the upper room. As they walked, the full Passover moon would enable them to see the golden vine Herod placed above the temple door. But in Jesus’ analogy, He is the Vine and the disciples are the branches.
The key point of the vine/branch analogy is the dependence of the branches on the vine for nourishment and life. While I’ve never planted a vineyard, I have attempted to grow tomatoes. When I was a young pastor, a deacon taught this military dependent how to grow tomatoes. True or false, he told me you must pluck off, or prune, sucker vines that do not produce. In a play on words, Jesus’ terms of prune and cleanse are synonymous.
Jesus’ goal is for believers to be fruitful. Fruitfulness is possible only as believers remain in Jesus. The Father is the vineyard owner and master gardener who distinguishes between unproductive branches that are cut off and branches that need pruning to be more fruitful.
The tool the vineyard owner uses to prune is the Word of God: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Yet the believing branches also have responsibility. We must remain, or abide, in Jesus to be fruitful. One pruning tool Jesus uses is His Word. And one fruit of abiding in the Vine is answered prayer.
In John 15:9–17, Jesus changes analogies from the vineyard to a personal love relationship. Jesus’ love for the disciples mirrors the Father’s love for the Son. Biblical love is more than an attitude — biblical love for God is demonstrated in a life of obedience. A life of obedience is the way a believer remains in God’s love. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus mentioned joy seven times. Notice the order of Jesus’ words. The joy of Jesus is His joy in us!
Jesus commanded His followers to “love one another as I have loved you.” In some way, this seems like a person who raises chickens holding up an ostrich egg and saying to the chickens, “Try harder.” Since Jesus’ love was a sacrificial love, every believer is capable of loving like Jesus through sacrificial living.
In the ancient world, one of the highest honorific titles was “friend of the king.” The King of kings honors believers with the greatest possible title — friend. Friends share intimacy. Jesus revealed to His friends the message of God the Father. As a friend, Jesus chose the disciples (and us) to bear fruit.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida