Bayou City Women’s 2018 Summer Bible Study Project studied the gospel of King Jesus in his own words. We walked through his statements in the Book of John where he declared himself to be the great I AM. He did so indirectly many times, but also just flat out said he was God. The answer we were seeking was if he is who he says he is, what does that mean for us? What we learned is that Jesus changes everything. I got to be part of a study group, and I thought I’d share some of my notes over the next few weeks from the teaching time for each chapter. This isn’t a synopsis of the study, but rather pieces of my personal research and my testimony and a few fun nuggets I found along the way. You can read previous posts here: (1) The Bread of Life, (2) The Light of the World, (3) The Door & The Good Shepherd, (4) The Way, The Truth, & The Life, (5) The Resurrection & The Life
Week 6: The True Vine
I can hardly believe it, but this is our last week of this series! This summer flew by for me, and this fall seems to be going just as fast, but it’s been so good to take some time to really soak in who Jesus is and what that means for us today. I hope you’ve learned something new about our Lord and who you are in him. You are so loved.
Avanta and Lauren wrote the final chapter of our study, and did a beautiful job teaching us and sharing their hearts.I love that we finished the Vine. It was fascinating to dig in and examine each little detail of the lesson Jesus thought was so important.
We know by now that the I AM statements of Jesus provide a framework for much of the book of John. The book begins with a prologue that sets up the idea that Jesus is God. And last week we looked at the 7 miraculous signs that Jesus used to proclaim his divinity and authority. Those take up half the book and cover much of his public ministry and teachings. Then we get into Holy Week, beginning with Mary anointing his feet at Bethany, then the triumphant entry riding on a donkey into Jerusalem with the crowds shouting hosanna, hosanna! Then we arrive at where we’ll be today, the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane, studying the farewell words of our Jesus before he was killed. These five chapters are packed with his final teachings and prayer. I even have a map so you can follow along with the story.
At the Last Supper in John 13-14, Jesus and his disciples celebrated passover in the Upper Room. Jesus washed his disciples feet, predicted Judas’ betrayal, predicted Peter’s denial, instituted communion, and asked us to remember him. He comforted his disciples and told them that he is the way to the Father and promised the Holy Spirit’s arrival. By then their passover celebration had ended and they started to make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.
We don’t know exactly where the last supper took place, but a good guess is somewhere around the red number 4 on the map. Now, the old city was a lot smaller than you might think. The walk from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane over off the northeast corner of the city was probably only about half a mile.
He would have walked this way a lot, in fact Luke 22 tells us that he liked to spend his evenings there. Later on in John 18 we see that they met there often. It was on the way from Jerusalem to his friends Mary, Martha, and Larazus’ house where he stayed many times. And he would have passed through the garden when he went to the temple.
Now the passover feast is always celebrated during a full moon. If the weather was clear, their path would have been lit by moonlight. It was spring, so it was probably cool that evening. It wasn’t a long walk, but it is a rocky hillside so the going might have been slow. Almost all the city gates were closed at night, but the Gate of Essenes was open. They might have passed through here on their way around the city. This gate was so small, camel drivers had to unload their animals and guide them through, crouched down low. They called it the “needle’s eye” and it was the gate that Jesus had in mind when he taught “is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). I wonder how many of the disciples heard those words echo in their mind as they passed through, following Jesus. I wonder if he thought about it?
If they thought guards might be out looking to arrest them, they might have skipped the Essene Gate and snuck out through the Dung Gate. This led around to Gehenna, the city dump, which was the place that symbolized death. If they walked that way, I wonder what would have gone through Jesus’ mind? He knew what was about to happen. He was walking to his doom, and our salvation. He knew what he was rescuing us from, and what he was laying down.
Once they made it out of the city, they passed the Pool of Siloam, where the blind man washed the mud off his eyes and was healed, and where Jesus proclaimed I AM the Light of the World. (John 9:1-7) I wonder if the world seemed dark that night as they crept passed in the moonlight?
As they made their way up the Kidron Valley, there was a large cemetery. It’s marked on this map as “remains of 1st century tombs.” They could not have missed noticing the gravemarkers gleaming in the dark.
And then finally, just before they split from the city wall and turned east toward the garden, they passed the temple. The same one the devil took Jesus to tempt him at the very beginning of his ministry three years before. He told Jesus, “if you are the son of God, throw yourself off the roof.” (Matthew 4:5-7) As they walked past, I wonder, did Jesus’ heart beat faster, knowing in a few hours, he’d be nailed to a cross and the crowds would mock him saying “if you are the son of God, come down off that cross.” (Matthew 27:38-44)
No wonder he needed to find a quiet place to pray.
The hillside was dotted with gardens and vineyards. And there was a large vine forged in gold on the temple gate. Maybe they paused in the middle of a vineyard and he ran his hands along the vine and branches as he spoke. Jesus began to teach them about the Vinedresser, and the Vine, and the Branches. Tonight we’re going to talk about each piece of the abiding relationship that we are invited to be a part of. We’re going to see how we each have a part to play in order to make the vineyard a thriving, fruitful place.
The relationship that Jesus describes in John 15 is an invitation to something that is active and alive. Abiding isn’t a passive way to live. As followers of Jesus, we are called to action — but we aren’t the only ones at work here. God the Father, our Vinedresser, is always at work, caring for his vineyard, fulfilling the work in our hearts that he has always longed to do. God the Son, our Jesus, is at work as our Vine, our connection to God, and through him flows life that we can never grasp for ourselves, but through him, we have a path, a gate, a way to the living water that is eternal life. Being a part of the vine is a process. Jesus unbraids our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our wounds and braids us together with the power, the hope, and the healing of God. He takes who we are, and who God the Father is, and connects us forever, for our good and his glory.
The Vinedresser adjusts unproductive branches.
John 15:2 (AMP): “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away…”
The greek word for “take away” is airo, which means to raise up, to elevate, to lift up; to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised up, to bear.
Last summer I tried to grow a cucumber vine. It was not successful. But part of the problem was that the vine was hanging down and dragging in the dirt. It needed to be propped up to give it air underneath and keep it from getting soggy and be able grow cucumbers!
If we read verse 2 and think that the Vinedresser just chops off the unproductive branches and hauls them away, I think we’re missing something. There’s no hope of them ever producing if they’re just removed! Because this verse is about productivity, it makes sense that this means that the Vinedresser lifts up or adjusts the branches that are not fruitful. So let’s be clear here: God will adjust your position so you can be fruitful. Can you think of a time that God adjusted you? Over the years, he’s adjusted my relationships, my expectations, my comfort, my attitude, my position…that’s his right as the Vinedresser. And his adjustments are always for our good. He brings us to a place of trust in him, to purity, to peace.
The Vinedresser prunes fruit-bearing branches.
John 15:2 (AMP) continues: “…every branch that continues to bear fruit, He [repeatedly] prunes, so that it will bear more fruit [even richer and finer fruit].”
So this is beyond just a little adjustment, lifting, repositioning right? Now the Vinedresser is cutting stuff off. Repeatedly. If grapevines are left on their own, they sprawl out and grow a lot of leafy greenery…and not many grapes. It’s the vines that have their leaves cut back, repeatedly, that grow the best grapes. Sometimes in our lives, we like to grow a lot of leaves, sort of sprawl out, create some shade for ourselves, get comfy. And when God begins to cut off comfort — our habits, our security, our dreams — do you ever resent that? When comfort is our goal, us branches resent pruning. What if instead of comfort, fruit was our goal? Do you think that would change the way we see pruning, even when it’s painful? When producing fruit is the goal, that helps us see pruning as help and even a gift from God. Even when it hurts.
The Vinedresser removes detached branches.
John 15:6 (AMP): “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken off] branch, and withers and dies; and they gather such branches and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
So now the cut off branches are removed. Why are branches cut off? Jesus taught there are two reasons: 1) they refuse to stay connected to the vine and 2) they are cut off so other branches can produce more fruit. There’s a lot of hope here, I think. When I’ve experienced loss in my life, even when it’s someone or something good, it’s painful. But so often I’ve seen that loss sparks revival. I’m reminded of God’s promises, and his Spirit is comforting, and I begin to see why this pruning had to happen.
The Vinedresser is glorified by the harvest.
John 15:8 (AMP): “My Father is glorified and honored by this, when you bear much fruit, and prove yourselves to be My [true] disciples.”
Romans 12:1-2 puts it this way: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Do you go through life just trying to not get in trouble with God? Just trying not to offend him or upset him? What would it look like if we lived to delight him?
The Vinedresser loves the Vine.
John 15:9-10 (AMP): “I have loved you just as the Father has loved Me; remain in My love[and do not doubt My love for you]. If you keep My commandments and obey My teaching, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.”
God loves his vine. We studied that a lot this summer. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. And the Vinedresser works in his vineyard out of love, always. He knows what’s best. And through Jesus, we have been promised a lot. We’ve been promised everything. Even as Jesus was struggling internally between fleeing his doom and taking a stand against death itself, he was making promises to his disciples.
The Vine makes us clean.
John 15:3 (AMP): “You are already clean because of the word which I have given you [the teachings which I have discussed with you].”
Maybe this seems a little out of place in the whole vineyard analogy thing we have going here. But remember, they had just come from the upper room, where Jesus had washed their feet. He told them that without his washing, they could have no part with him. We are made clean by the power of his word and his blood. Many of you have been a Christian for a long time. You’ve been washed clean. But maybe you’ve been walking in the paths of the world. Maybe your feet have gotten dirty. Let me tell you the truth: Jesus redeems us once and for all, and again and again and again. And in case you’ve ever thought he can’t redeem every single piece of you and your story and your mistakes, God has something to say about that:
The Vine trains us.
John 15:5&7 (AMP): “abide in me, and I in you….If you abide in Me and My words abide in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart]…”
When we allow the word of the Lord to sink down deep in our soul, it changes us. Because then Jesus is abiding with us. One way to test if you’re abiding is to see how you react when you go through a storm. I’m not talking about Harvey, but maybe that was something that really impacted you. Remember one of the parables that Jesus taught, about the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand? I still remember the song from Vacation Bible School. The rains came down and the floods came up. When you’ve encountered a storm, have you stood firm? Rooted in the word? If not, what are you connected to? Because it’s not going to hold. The house on the sand went crash. Jesus, our True Vine, trains us and makes us strong.
The Vine empowers.
John 15:4 (AMP): “…Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me.”
If you feel like following Jesus is too hard: you are right. As we seek to honor God, serve his church, share Jesus with the world, love our families, our neighbors, our enemies….we should hear the voice of Jesus telling us: apart from me, you can do nothing. At Bayou City Fellowship before church each Sunday morning, we gather to pray. One of the things that Pastor Curtis reminds us of often is that without Jesus, we can’t do anything to push forward. But with Jesus, we can change the world.
The Vine sustains us.
John 15:6 (AMP): “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken off] branch, and withers and dies; and they gather such branches and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Without connection to Jesus, we wither and die. I’ve talked a lot this summer about how Jesus is God, and was present at Creation. God the Father created the world and holds all things together through Jesus. Only by abiding in Jesus are we connected to LIFE. And don’t forget, he never changes, never ages, and he’s making all things new.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne [Jesus] said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:3-5
The Vine provides.
John 15:7: “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.”
So here’s what this isn’t: Jesus isn’t promising to do whatever we want. But when we submit our desires, our dreams, our wishes to his word and his will, when we align ourselves with him, there is no limit to what he’ll do. Because everything we ask will be for the glory of the Father. Everything we ask will draw us closer to Jesus.
The Vine demonstrates.
In John 15:10, Jesus says, “just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.” He’s our example, the ultimate illustration in how to relate to the Father. We are to act like him.
Jesus was steady, not fickle. Jesus was happy, not overwhelmed. Jesus was in love, not in angst. He walked in obedience to His Father out of love. He didn’t try to strive for love, because he was already perfectly abiding in love. How many times have you found yourself trying to earn love that already surrounds you? I know I’ve done that. Like, today.
The Vine secures our joy.
John 15:11: “I have told you these things so that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy may be made full and complete and overflowing.”
What Jesus asks of us is not meant to bind us up, or break our spirits, or burden us — it is to fill us with joy to overflowing. When we listen to Jesus as our True Vine, we can trust him.
And finally, the branches. That’s you and me. What are we supposed to do? Abiding in Jesus is intentional, and it’s continual. It’s a day by day, sometimes hour by hour act of surrender. God doesn’t bear the fruit directly — he births it through the Vine, through the Branches. What does that look like?
The Branches respond to the Vinedresser.
We need to understand why God saved us. It’s not just so we can go to heaven when we die. And it’s not so we can live comfortably here on earth. It’s so we can bear fruit for his glory. This is good news for us! He didn’t just stamp us with some “get out of hell free” sticker and leave us to live out the rest of our lives all willy nilly. I mean seriously. His tending might hurt sometimes, and we might not understand it, but we can trust his pruning process. So how can we practice the right response to the Vinedresser? We study his ways. We speak to him, often. We learn to recognize his actions and the sound of his voice. And so we learn to obey.
John 15:16 (AMP): “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed and placed and purposefully planted you, so that you would go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit will remain and be lasting…”
God chose us and planted us in the Vineyard to bear fruit. The fruit is obedience that flows out of a relationship with him. Obedience to his commandments. The greatest of these is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. Our fruit honors and glorifies him. Our connection to him is the source of all good things: our hope, our peace, our joy.
The Branches abide in the Vine.
When we are connected to Jesus, our whole life changes. Our obedience isn’t rooted in being controlled, it’s rooted in love. Mutual love between Jesus and us. And that isn’t exhausting. Branches don’t get exhausted producing fruit. Branches that are pruned well and connected to the grapevine have a continuous supply of LIFE flowing into them. They are naturally abundant.
But never forget: we are not the ones making the fruit. We obey God, we abide in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit makes the fruit. Everything flows out of relationship. We have to first BE and then the DOING in life will follow. If we can remember that, if we can turn our life upside down and ABIDE first, then everything will change.
Jesus finished his teaching that night in the Garden with what we call his “High Priestly Prayer.” He prayed for himself, his disciples, and for you and me. He prayed for all who would come to faith in the centuries to come. As this series draws to a close, I am praying these words over us both. From John 17:20-26:
…I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the disciple’s message], that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
To love him and make his name known, sisters. Because Jesus changes everything.