St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Remain in Jesus

Sermon on John 15:1-8
Text: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
     5 “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
     Our text for this morning builds off a basic fact of nature.  If a branch or shoot is removed from the trunk or stalk, it will soon wither and die.  If it remains in the trunk or stalk, it will continue to grow and produce fruit.  This text shows us the importance of remaining in Jesus.  It also encourages us to REMAIN IN JESUS 1. Planted 2. Pruned and 3. Productive.
     Jesus spoke the words of our text to his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, just before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus would be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.  There the disciples would see their Lord taken captive.  During the next days they would see Jesus put on trial.  They would see him nailed to the cross, suffering.  They would see their Friend give up his life.  It would be easy to give up all hope and desert their faith.  Jesus knew what would happen and the troubles the disciples would have.  He wanted to encourage them in their faith.
     Jesus begins by saying, “I am the true vine.”  He points to himself as the source of strength in the face of all troubles and hardships.  He was the one who sustained them and gave them life.  Just as the vine gives everything that the branches need to survive, so also Jesus gives us everything that we need for our physical and spiritual lives.  Just as the vine is the source of all moisture and nutrients for the branches, so also Jesus is the source of everything our faith needs to thrive and survive.
     Jesus encourages his disciples and us, as well, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”  He speaks of a close relationship between us, the branches, and himself, the vine.  If he is encouraging us to remain in him, we must be in Christ right now.  How did we get in Christ?  How did we become a part of him?  The answer is “by faith.”  By faith in Jesus as our Savior, we are planted in Jesus.  What does this faith entail?  First of all, it is an acknowledgment of the fact that we are sinners.  It is realizing that our sinful acts, words, and thoughts had separated us from God and earned for us eternal punishment.  That is not the extent of our faith, though.  The Holy Spirit comes to us and creates a trust in Jesus as our Savior from sin.  The Holy Spirit created this faith for most of us, at our baptisms.  When we come to faith, we are like a little shoot that comes off of the vine.  As we were in that vine, we grew because of the life-sustaining Word of God that was given to us.  We have been planted into Jesus Christ, the true vine.
     Now that we have become a branch off of Jesus Christ, something is expected of us.  Just as the branch of the grapevine is expected to produce grapes, so also we are expected to produce “fruits” of faith.  These fruits of faith are called good works.  Good works are those things Christians do as their way of saying “Thank you” to God for all that he has done for us.
     Jesus calls his Father “the gardener.”  He is the one that takes care of the plants.  He looks at the branches to see what can be done to ensure a good harvest.  So, sometimes, he prunes the branches.  He does so for a better harvest.  When we lived in Arizona, we had two grapevines in the backyard of the house.  Since I knew next to nothing about grapes, I left them alone.  When they ripened, I wished I had paid more attention to them.  The grapes were small and inedible.  If I had pruned them, I’m sure that they would have produced more fruit.  Pruning helps the branches produce.
     God, the Father, sometimes prunes us, as well.  When a gardener prunes the vines, he gets rid of the unnecessary buds that sap the strength of the branch.  These buds interfere with the harvest.  Sometimes we have buds that sap our strength from producing a God-pleasing harvest.  We pay more attention to other things, devote more time to our own pursuits.  When we do this, when other things get in the way of God, he may allow certain things to enter our lives that are unpleasant.  Pruning involves cutting.  He does so to correct us, to bring us back on the right path.  He does so to get rid of those things that have been interfering with producing a good harvest.
     The Christian may experience some bad things in life.  However, he does not need to ask God, ‘Why?’.  He can be assured of the fact that God is doing everything for his good.  As a matter of fact, we can even thank God for his pruning, his discipline.  We are told in Hebrews 12:6: “ the Lord disciplines those he loves.”  He cares so much for us, that he wants to rid us of all those things which could harm us.  The writer to the Hebrews also says in the same chapter, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  God, the Father, prunes us so that we might become more productive branches.
     Jesus speaks of two types of branches.  The one type of branch does not produce any fruit.  The other type produces a good harvest.  Let us, first of all, look at the unproductive branch.  The gardener “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.”  As we said earlier, God looks for fruits of faith.  When he comes to this branch, he sees no fruit, so he cuts it off.  Why?  Because the lack of fruit shows a lack of life in that branch.  We are told in the book of James, “Faith without works is dead.”  If there are no fruits of faith, it shows a faith that has grown cold.  For, if that person believed, he could not help but show his thanks to God.  But, when faith is gone, so is the desire for good works.  They were in Jesus as a branch, but they chose to reject Jesus.  Perhaps they felt they were strong enough to do it on their own.  But, listen to how Jesus describes what awaits the branches that do not remain in Jesus, the true vine: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”  Those who choose to reject Jesus are destined for the eternal fires of hell.  The lack of productivity shows a lack of faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Such is the end for the unproductive branches.  This serves as a warning for all branches.
     Now let us turn to the productive branch.  This branch, having been pruned of all those strength-sapping buds, produces a harvest of good works.  Again, this is our way of saying “Thank you” to God.  We produce these good works because we remain in Jesus.  Since we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin, we will want to do such things are pleasing to God.  Jesus reminds us, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  The strength to produce these good works comes from Jesus.  It does not come from within ourselves, but from the faith he has created in our hearts.  Because we remain in Jesus, we will produce “much fruit.”
     To the world, a good harvest is a positive reflection on the green-thumbed gardener.  Everyone in town knows who grows the best cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever.  The harvest brings a degree of honor to the gardener.  This is also true for with the Christian.  A faithful Christian is an honor to the divine gardener, God.  When Christians produce the fruits of faith, they are a positive reflection on God.  Verse 8 reminds us of this when Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  When we do God-pleasing things, we bring glory to the Father.  When we live our Christianity, people cannot help but notice that there is something different about us.  Jesus said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  May each of us strive to be productive branches.
     One word that comes up again and again in our text is “remain.”  We are shown what happens when we choose not to remain in Jesus.  We are also shown the blessings that are ours if we remain in Jesus.  We have all been planted in Jesus by faith.  We have been given the power to produce God-pleasing fruits of faith because of our association with Jesus.  May each of us accept God’s pruning as a way of cleaning out all that hinders us from producing a plentiful harvest.  Most of all, let us remain as good branches firmly attached to the true Vine, Jesus Christ.  Amen.