The True Vine
Sermon by Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Metaphor: “a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison” (Grammarly.com). If you paid attention in English class, you know that metaphor and its more obvious cousin, simile, are the tools poets and writers wield to introduce a visual element to their work. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a word picture is worth at least a dozen. The beauty of metaphor is that if you explore it a bit, you’ll likely find something beyond the initial imagery. Something unexpected, perhaps. Bonus material, if you will.
Metaphors and similes appear throughout the Bible: “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” (Prov. 13:14); “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you our Potter” (Isaiah 64:8); “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” (Matt. 13:31). Jesus was a master of metaphor, notably in his “I Am” statements: he called himself the bread of life; the light of the world; the way, the truth, and the life; the good shepherd; the gate; the resurrection and the life. All of these we have explored in the past few weeks, discovering the bonus material beyond the initial imagery.
Here Jesus compares himself to a vine and God to a gardener. In the Old Testament, the vine appeared frequently as a symbol of Israel, usually when the nation was lacking in some way. God warned his children through the prophet: “So now let me tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and it will be consumed; I will break down its walls, and it will become trampled ground” (Isaiah 5:5). Unless Israel turned back to God in obedience, he would remove his protection and allow their enemies to destroy them. They were his people, his vineyard, and he would do with them as he saw fit and necessary. So the metaphor of the vine and the gardener would have been a familiar one to the Jewish disciples of Jesus.
However, instead of a recalcitrant Israel, this time Jesus was the metaphorical vine, and his followers the branches. Picture a mature grapevine, its stem as thick as your arm, emerging from the soil, its branches extending from the vine, sagging with clusters of fruit. Now, imagine the gardener making his way through the vineyard, cutting away all the dead branches and pruning the others to make them even more productive. If you’ve ever grown fruit trees or grapevines you know the importance of cleaning up the dead wood: it’s a magnet for insects that will eventually infest the entire structure and damage or even kill it. Pruning is necessary to ensure that the fruit-bearing branches can get the proper amount of sunlight and that they aren’t impeding other branches, so they can grow and thrive and bear more fruit. What this metaphor tells us without spelling it out is that God didn’t plant a vineyard—us—and then walk away: he is active and purposeful in our lives.
Now imagine one of those branches breaks away and falls to the ground. How long can it live without the nourishment it receives from the vine? Just like the branch, we must remain attached to the vine if we want to live and be productive. How do we abide, or remain, in Jesus, the vine? By obeying his command to love each other as he loved us: completely, unconditionally, and sacrificially. Not as his servants but as his friends, his brothers and sisters. Chosen and appointed by him to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. To join in fellowship with other believers, the church, so that we can worship him and grow together spiritually. To share his gospel of love, peace, and salvation with the world. To display the joy and fulfillment of a life in Jesus, the true vine.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship.