Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 15

Fruit-bearing Branches

“Jesus,” said the apostle John, “knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world,” engaged in the time-honored practice of passing His important thoughts along to His disciples (John 13:1). Participating in the Passover meal and instituting the Lord’s Supper, He talked about His giving them “a new commandment,” and established that “no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He gave them initial seeds for contemplation about the coming of the Holy Spirit and His peace that He would give to these apostles. Finishing the time at the table, He explained that the “ruler of the world” was coming, and He then began to lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane with these words, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31). But the trip to the Kidron and across was not a silent one; He continued His discourse in imparting His wisdom and concerns to these chosen men.

The entire attention of heaven and its attendants is fixed on the vine and its branches. All its resources are poured into supplying the sustenance for the vine’s produce. And the Father, pictured as the vinedresser, hacks off the unproductive branches, and prunes back the productive ones. What heaven wants from the vine is more fruit, more fruit, more fruit! Every branch, while it is still on the vine, needs to take stock of its production, and get prepared for more production or be prepared to be chopped off.

 

 

The Special Role of the Apostles

Jesus warned that every unproductive branch in Him would be taken away. Every productive branch, He informed the interested, would be pruned back to bear more fruit. But He then made this amazing statement to the apostles: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). This final group of eleven Galileans had been chosen and honed by the Lord for the great purpose which lay before them. As apostles, they had been set apart from the regular disciples and had been given the special training and attention necessary for their functioning in the upcoming work of the King. This collection of fishermen, tax-gatherers, and agitators for political freedom were the best of the best; while confused about the nature of the kingdom and sometimes impulsive in their actions, these men had the best hearts of any in all history. Judas had already taken himself out of the game, but these remaining men would not fail in accomplishing Jesus’ mission.

The apostle Paul, by contrast, was not one of the original apostles. As “one untimely born,” he did not have the words, “You are already clean,” spoken to him. Therefore he, like all others following the original eleven plus Matthias, needed to arise, be immersed, and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). The twelve were special; all who would become disciples of Jesus would believe in Him “through their word” (John 17:20). And they were already “clean,” at the time of John 15, because of the word Jesus had spoken to them.

Abiding in Christ

A person is either “in” or he is “out.” There are many groups, clubs, cliques, or cabals of which a person may be in or out, but none of those have eternal value. What matters is whether the individual is “in Christ.”

All the great spiritual benefits are found “in Christ.” “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17). The Father “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The list continues, and is very extensive, as might be expected. It is eternally important to be in Christ, to continue to abide in Him, and at His return to “be found in Him” (Philippians 3:9). The challenge for all saints is to put sufficient value on this abiding in Christ, and to do all the spiritual things necessary to maintain and strengthen that abiding.

It is critical that each branch be in Christ initially, but it is equally critical that each branch abide in Christ for the long haul. As each branch remains attached to the vine, the life can flow and the branch can bear “much fruit.” There are two questions therefore for each Christian: 1) Am I abiding in the vine? 2) Am I doing everything I can in the body of Christ to bear much fruit?

Dry Branches

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” stated the Lord Christ. The branches, therefore, need to remember that they are branches and subservient to the vine. As branches, their role is to bear fruit. The role of the vine is not to make the branches happy; the role of the vine is simply to provide nourishment to the branches so that an abundance of grapes are produced. “And,” He had informed the apostles earlier, “My Father is the vinedresser.” The branches are thusly warned that the Father is going to be hacking away at the weaknesses of their characters, chopping off the unproductive to make way for the productive. So interested is the Vinedresser in the efficient, honed-down fruitfulness of the vine that this statement is made by Jesus: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.” What happens to those unfruitful branches?

The seriousness of Jesus’ statements should be carefully considered by each claimant to discipleship. A time of self-examination is in order, wherein each branch presents himself with some poignant queries: “Am I really abiding in the vine, or is my claim to Christianity just a sham?” “Am I a productive fruit-bearing branch, or am I willing to be hacked off and burned?” “If I am a branch bearing fruit, am I willing to undergo the Vinedresser’s pruning with a great attitude, or will I cast aspersions on someone else instead of facing my responsibilities?” The advice from the scripture is to abide in Him, and bear much fruit!

The Proving Ground

It must be re-emphasized: the reason for a grapevine’s existence is to produce grapes. And the only reason for the universe is to provide a setting in which the Father, the vinedresser, can grow His vine and harvest His grapes. It stands to reason, then, that all the resources of heaven are funneled toward assisting the vine and the branches to bear fruit.

Jesus, “the true vine,” had access to the power of God through faith during the years of His earthly sojourn. “The Son,” He commented, “can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). As He then approached His crucifixion — His death being necessary for the bearing of future fruit — He petitioned the Father that the cup of His suffering might be removed from Him. But, as the plan was for the crucifixion to go on as scheduled, the assistance of heaven was provided. Luke records, “Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43). But more from heaven was forthcoming. As the apostle Paul described, Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:14). The power of the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead to the position of authority on the heavenly throne. What resources!

The only reason for being a branch on the vine is to bear fruit. Anyone who does not bear “much fruit” cannot prove that he is a disciple. God wants fruit! God wants fruit! God wants fruit! Let us prove that we are His disciples by throwing our whole efforts into going, making disciples, immersing those disciples, and teaching those disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded!

 

Abiding in His Love

God loves all people. But God is also a just God, and His justice requires the commensurate penalty for sin. God is also a righteous God, so the commensurate penalty for sin is eternal death - an eternal separation away from the presence of the Holy God. Inasmuch as God loves man, as He surveys history from beginning to end in His magnificent omniscience, His stark and accurate analysis is: "There is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).

The Almighty, then, is faced with a dilemma: Can He find some way to pardon this fallen creature, and yet not violate His own principles? As the late Don DeWelt put it: "The love of God searched with wisdom of God to find a means of satisfying the justice of God; and the result was the cross of Calvary." In the words of the late apostle Paul, "But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). One of the major purposes of the written revelation is to paint a clear picture for the sons of men - a picture delineating Godís greatest and abiding attribute, "God is love" (I John 4:6).

Love is so much more than a feeling; it is offering a life in sacrifice and service. In the home, it means that the Christian husband and wife will each lay down their lives for the other, and together they will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children. In the body of Christ, it means that self-serving interests will be set aside, and that saints will look for ways to serve Christ, serve the lost, and serve each other. If the saints will do this, they will abide in the Fatherís matchless love forever.



My Joy in You

Love and joy are inseparable. In fact, without love it is not possible to have real joy, and without joy love is pointless and short-lived. Therefore it is not surprising to find a significant statement about joy in the midst of one of Jesusí discourses on love.

Did the "Man of Sorrows" know anything about joy? When the seventy returned victoriously from their being sent out, the Lord was correspondingly upbeat. Luke records: "At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit" (Luke 10:21). Not only was there "the joy set before Him," but He also was a happy Man, filled with the Holy Spirit and exuding love and good cheer wherever He went.

How hard it seems to be for even the redeemed to listen to Jesus! Christians want to be happy, but have a tendency to do anything except to follow the Lordís prescription for joy. "These things I have spoken to you," we must be reminded, "that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." Love others enough to bear fruit, and experience the full joy that comes in sharing in the harvest.



The Greatest Commandment

God is love. So why should it be surprising that His great commandments are all about love? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind," was the greatest of the Old Testament commandments. The concomitant command, in the words of Jesus, was like the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The whole system of Judaism hung on those two commandments. But Judaism was a maintenance system, dedicated to preserving the Jewish people, rooting out idolatry within, and providing a remnant for the faith that would come through Jesus Christ. Christianity, being an expansion system, requires more than the mere maintenance of Judaism. Hence the new covenant requires an upgrade from the old covenant, coming in the form of a new command. "A new commandment I give to you," the Lord informed His apostles in connection with a new covenant, "that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). This means going further and sacrificing more for the neighbor than was ever a part of the Law of Moses.

If someone is pulled from the flames or drawn from the waters, his deliverance is physical and therefore very obvious. The deliverance offered through the sacrifice of Christ is spiritual, and consequently a step away from being so manifest. And because the physical realm obscures the spiritual realm for most, comparatively few respond to the greatest act of love ever performed in the history of the world. May the saints of God, however, pierce the veil, recognize the great love Jesus has for their souls, and respond with corresponding love and imitation.



Friends of Jesus

When Jesus issued a "hard saying" or "difficult statement" to the multitudes who listened to Him in the synagogue at Capernaum, they complained about Him and left. But not the apostles. When the crowds following Him needed thinning down a bit, the Lord stressed the necessity of a personís giving up his life to be a disciple. The impression is that many walked away. But not the apostles. Some turned away when the Lord informed them that He did not have a place to lay His head, and that His disciples would be subjected to the same privation. But not the apostles. When the rich young ruler was exhorted to break free of his covetousness by selling his possessions and following Jesus, "he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property" (Matthew 19:23). But not the apostles. It was these men who demonstrated their loyalty to Christ, and with whom He earnestly desired to eat the last Passover. They were His proven friends.

The true Emancipation Proclamation was delivered as recorded in Acts chapter two. There the apostles were set free as they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit; 3000 more joined them when they were immersed in the name of Jesus and received that same promise of the indwelling Spirit. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Corinthians 3:18). Multitudes upon multitudes have since had the Spirit of Godís Son sent into their hearts, crying out, "Abba! Father!" No longer slaves, but friends!



Knowing the Masters Will

Jesus in glory is the last word in Godís revelation to man. Having shown Jesus to be the radiance of the Fatherís glory and the exact representation of His nature, God has nothing further to reveal. What more could be added to the words of the Great Prophet who speaks from heaven? "In these last days," animadverted Hebrewsí author, God "has spoken to us in His Son" (Hebrews 1:2). Thus, "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (II Peter 1:3). The revelation is complete. He has "made known to us the mystery of His will" (Ephesians 1:9). And this has come about through a process Jesus started with the apostles.

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ," was the affirmation of the apostle Paul (Galatians 3:26). These intimate friends of Jesus are privy to the special information about the Fatherís will. This information, in printed form and to some degree readily accessible by everyone, is locked behind the door of faith. Only those whose lives are driven by the faith of Christ will press on to understand the things "hidden from the past ages and generations." The rest of mankind hears but does not understand, sees but does not perceive.



Choosing the Apostles

After some general opening comments, the gospel according to John takes us to the Jordan River. There John the Immerser has been preaching, making disciples, and immersing those disciples for the remission of their sins. When the day came for Jesus to be immersed by John, fourteen men, mostly unknown to each other, were among the throng who witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Son of Man. Their names are now well-known to Christians and most are recognized as the conduits of the message of Jesus Christ to the earth - names such as Peter, Andrew, James, John, Judas Iscariot, Joseph called Barsabbas, and Matthias. These men were willingly disciples of the Immerser, but unknown to them, a much larger plan was in motion. Two of those disciples, Andrew and John, by their own choice, were with the Immerser at the precise moment when the Lamb of God walked by following His descent from fasting in the wilderness. How coincidental! Andrew and John were immediately convinced that Jesus was indeed the Christ, soon followed by Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel. This began the flow of those close associates whom Jesus would later designate as His apostles or emissaries.

Just as the total plan of the Father for saving the world ran through Jesus, so it also ran through the apostles. These men were carefully selected by Jesus from all those available throughout the entire history of the world, and then appointed to lead the fruit-bearing. Once tested and appointed, the check book of heaven and the assistance of the angels were offered to them. This enabled them to execute their critical portion of the plan of God -setting the foundation of the church in place quickly and over a broad area, and recording the apostlesí doctrine for all later spiritual generations to follow.



Love/Hate Relationships

True love is the strongest of all bonds. It was the bond between Father and Son. As that which "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things," love holds husband and wife together through shocks and trials. Love provides a tight relationship between brother and sister. Love causes grandmothers to sacrifice greatly for their grandchildren. But a love far deeper than even these others sent the Son from heaven to suffer and die on behalf of the lost of earth. It is Godís intention that love be the "ambience" pervading His church, and that it be the "perfect bond of unity," holding the brethren together through the vagaries of Satanís scorching attacks. And it is His goal that His love be "poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5).

The underlying driving force of the world is the hate of Satan. His hostility toward God transfers over to those caught in his web, varying from outright hatred and rebellion toward the name of Jesus to a very subtle but deliberate deviation from the direction offered by the word of God. The apostles were chosen out of this into the realm where the love of God pervades all aspects of the great fellowship of the saints.



The Masters Example

One of the threads that runs through the fabric of Godís word has to do with the master/slave relationship. "A disciple," the Lord had stated, "is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master" (Matthew 10:24). The principle is that all things flow from the greater to the lesser, and that the extremities of blessings and cursings will fall on the greater. After the Christ had washed their feet at the institution of the Lordís Supper, He noted, "A slave is not greater than his master; neither is the one sent greater than the one who sent him" (John 13:16). If the Master was willing to stoop low enough to do the work of the simplest slave, then the disciples of the Lord should be willing to do the same. If the Master was willing to be sent with a message of hope and love into a hostile environment, then disciples of the Lord should be willing to go with that same message into that same hostile environment.

It is easy to see how these same principles carry over to all true disciples of the Lord - both the persecutions connected with and the blessings of distributing the word of Jesus. As He learned obedience, so His disciples are transformed in the process. "A pupil is not above his teacher," was another statement of the principle, "but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40).



Accountability

One of the natural tendencies of the race of men is to duck accountability. Tests are hated, performance evaluations are dreaded, and situations are avoided. When individuals are engaged in activities which they know are forbidden by God, or when they are refusing to do those things which are recommended by the Almighty, their consciences go to work, and they in general do not want attention called to their falling short of the glory of God. "Men loved the darkness rather than the light," was Jesusí inspired commentary, "for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:19,20). That, unfortunately, is a general description of the human race.

The world is going to continue to hate those who walk in the footsteps of Jesus and bring the word of God to the people around them. Christians just need to remind themselves of the source of that hatred, and continue to plow forward with message and lifestyle that is pleasing to God.



Witnesses

Witnesses have to have seen something, or experienced something. And when a witness claims to have seen something, or experienced something, the claims stand or fall based on the credibility of the witness. Many give "witness" or "testimony" as to how Jesus "saved" them in some wondrous or glorious fashion. But what did these "witnesses" really know other than their subjective feelings? This type of "witnessing what Jesus has done in my life" is based on a Calvinist perspective, an idea that God has to do something specific in an individualís life to show him that the Sovereign has already "saved" him apart from his own choice and action. Such a "witness" as this has no credibility because his testimony is not based on the word of God.

But apostles and select others were the ones called "witnesses" by the scriptures. Specifically the New Testament usage of witness refers to one who by the revelation of the Spirit has had a vision of Jesus in glory. In the selection of Matthias to take Judasí place as recorded in Acts chapter one, the man was to have already been in the company from the time that Jesus was immersed until the time when He was taken up to glory. Out of such, one "should become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:22).

The Holy Spirit would be the One bearing witness of Jesus, but He would bear that testimony first through the apostles. Not only would He bring to their remembrance all the words spoken by Jesus during His temporal time on earth, but He would be the One to bear witness of the heavenly things connected with Jesusí High Priesthood and reign from heaven. What an honor, to be chosen to be such witnesses!