Devotional for April 29, 2018 based upon John 15: 1-8
Our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is part of Jesus’ final words to His disciples on the night when He was betrayed. After supper they must have passed through a vineyard on their way to the Mount of Olives. Jesus stops. The disciples gather around Him. He reaches for a branch and begins, “I am the vine, and My Father is the vinegrower.” Then He begins to talk about grapes and branches. It certainly was not what His friends had expected to hear, especially after having been told that one of them would betray Him. But at this moment Jesus chooses to reveal to them what their Heavenly Father wants for them and how He has been at work in their lives to bring it about. And I believe that Jesus was also thinking about you and me that night. For God is at work in our lives, too, to bring about what He wants to see come from our lives. So let’s look at what He is saying.
Jesus is the vine, the trunk that grows out of the ground and ends in a large gnarl from which the branches grow in either direction along the trellis. The Father is the vinegrower, the keeper of the vineyard who coaxes from the plants the largest, juiciest, and most grapes possible. We are the branches – the focus of the vinegrower’s efforts – because it is the branches that produce the fruit. Here Jesus is distinguishing between four different kinds of branches – those that produce no fruit, some fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. How much fruit do you see in your life today? Are you satisfied with that level of fruit? How can all of us live a life that is more fruitful for God?
First, NO FRUIT. Some Christians live lives that produce nothing of eternal consequence. Jesus describes these people when He says, “Every branch in Me that bears no fruit He removes.” This is a person who is connected to Christ – a branch that is connected to the vine – but is producing no fruit over a period of time. Most Bible translations use words like “he removes” and “he cuts off” to describe what the vinegrower does to that part of the vine. But I have read that the Greek verb can also be translated, “he lifts up.”
The vinegrower leans over to lift up the branch that is trailing down and growing along the ground, because branches do not bear any fruit down there. The leaves on branches that grow along the ground get coated with dirt. When it rains, they get muddy and mildewed. They become sick and unproductive. But they are too precious just to cut off and throw away. So the vinegrower goes through the vineyard with a bucket of water, looking for branches like that. He lifts them up, washes them off, and then wraps them around the trellis or ties them up. Soon they are thriving once again.
For the Christian, sin is like that dirt covering the leaves so that air and light cannot get in. The vinegrower will use even painful measures if necessary to bring us to repentance, because His purpose is to cleanse us and free us of sin so that we can live lives that are productive for Him. God loves you so much that He will take whatever measures He needs to to correct you. He will even bring or allow pain into your life to get your attention and to bring about the needed change. So if you are down in the dirt, do not stay there a minute longer. Thank God for the way He is intervening in your life. It is His love for you that motivates Him to discipline you. And He will raise the stakes if He has to. One day you will look back on your determination to stay in the dirt and wonder why you resisted your Heavenly Father for so long.
Second, SOME FRUIT. What does the Heavenly Father do when the branch looks pretty good – it is covered with leaves – yet it is not producing much fruit? Jesus said, “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
If your life is bearing some fruit, God will intervene to prune you. Left to itself, a branch will always prefer producing leaves over grapes. So the vinegrower must cut away any unnecessary shoots, no matter how vigorous, because the vine’s purpose is to produce not leaves but grapes.
For the Christian, a vigorous growth of leaves represents all the preoccupations and priorities in our lives which, while not wrong, are keeping us from being more productive for God. Without pruning, we will live up to only a fraction of our potential.
The expert pruner removes what is dead, dying, and not fruit producing so that the sunlight can get to the branches that are bearing fruit. In the same way our Heavenly Father wants to cut away from our lives those things that drain precious time and energy away from that which is truly important. In pruning, God asks you to let go of those things that keep you from your ultimate good. But pruning is cutting, and cutting always hurts.
If you feel that God is pruning you, ask Him to show you what it is that He wants you to let go of, and then trust Him enough to release it completely to Him. You might be looking down the fence line of your life and seeing all your favorite branches being hacked away. You might be saying, “God, I never asked for the shears.” You might be wondering what He will do next. He loves you so much that He will not stop tending your life. What God asks of you may seem difficult and demanding. But the results, if you say yes, will be more than you could have ever asked for.
Third, MORE FRUIT. In mature pruning – the kind of pruning that produces more fruit – God’s shears cut even closer to the core of who we are. In mature pruning, God is not just taking away. Rather He is faithfully at work in our lives to make room for more strength, productivity, and spiritual power. Where does it hurt in your life today? That could be where God’s shears are at work. Pain always comes when shears are snipping. How is God shaping and directing you so that He can strengthen you for the season of abundance that He has in mind for you?
Fourth, MUCH FRUIT. I see Jesus leaning forward and placing His fingers at the point where the trunk divides into branches. “Abide in Me, as I abide in you,” He says. And then, directing His disciples’ attention to the branch that is swelling with the promise of a great harvest, He adds, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in Me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from Me you can do nothing.”
He points to the place where trunk meets branches. That is where the abiding happens. That is the connecting point, through which the life-giving nutrients flow. Many times Jesus uses the word “abide.” You can feel His passion. He is about to leave His friends. And yet He is saying, “We must stay together.”
Abiding is all about the most important relationship in your life. It is not primarily about how well you know the Bible or how many church committees you are on or even how many good things you do. Rather it is about how much you long for and thirst for a relationship with God. Abiding means wanting and having more of God in your life. More of God in your activities, thoughts, and desires. It means enjoying His company.
So what season of life are you in? If you are in the SEASON OF DISCIPLINE, the Vinegrower is kneeling down beside you, reaching down to intervene in your life. He wants to lift you up and bring you back to fruitfulness. He does not see you as a chronic loser, but as a precious branch that is only one choice away from a better life.
If you are in the SEASON OF PRUNING, the Vinegrower is standing beside you, wielding some rather serious-looking shears. His face conveys delight and anticipation as He carefully and purposefully snips away unwanted, unproductive shoots. He is impressed with your energy and promise.
If you are in the SEASON OF ABIDING, the Vinegrower is learning against a nearby trellis, looking at you with great pleasure, satisfaction, and joy. The huge clusters of grapes that are crowding your branch are exactly what He had in mind for you since you first sprouted from the vine.
Know for sure that God will always be at work in your life. He can use you no matter what season you are in. His plans for you are unique and suited specifically for you. It’s never too late to begin bearing fruit. He wants you to participate in the joy of an abundant harvest.
What Jesus said to His friends that night in the vineyard, He is also saying to you “so that (His) joy may be in you, and so that your joy may be complete.”
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE