Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“Connected to the Vine”

John Chapter 15

In this chapter, Jesus continues his farewell address to his disciples. He begins teaching using the metaphor of the vine. “I am the vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” The branches on the vine represent the believer’s connection to Jesus Christ and the Father. Every branch that does not bear fruit will be removed, and every branch that bears fruit will be pruned so that it can produce more fruit. The words “cleanse” and “prune” can be used interchangeably in this context. Therefore, the cleansing comes from encountering the word of God in our lives. Boring and Craddock open with an explanation of what the connection means. “Membership in the people of God is not names on a list…but living branches of a living vine. Christ is the whole vine in John’s gospel. Christ is not the stem or the trunk, but Christ is the vine as a whole into which believers are incorporated.”[i]

Jesus encouraged the disciples to stay connected to him. Without that connection, they would not be able to do anything – “apart from me you can do nothing.” What does this mean for discipleship? “The individual branch has its life-giving connection, not only in personal relation to God through Christ, but in relation to all the other branches that comprise the vine with which Christ identifies himself. To be connected with Christ is to be organically related to his church (see I Cor. 12:12-31).”[ii] I reflect on how people in the world who are not in a relationship with Jesus or his church – how they make it, how they weather the storms that come, where is their faith and hope grounded that helps them to navigate life? In John’s Gospel, those who do not abide are thrown away like a branch that withers, and those branches are tossed into a fire and burned.

Jesus goes on to say to the disciples that if they abide in him, they can ask for whatever they wish and it will be done for them. “This mind-blowing promise is to be explained neither literally nor spiritually, for here we are confronted by a reality beyond ourselves, beyond our capacity to explain. It is thus an encouragement to pray, to bring our petitions before a God greater than all our theology.”[iii]  If we pray needing an explanation or an answer, either we will cease praying or try to explain our prayers away, “unworthy of address to a transcendent God.”[iv]

Jesus loved the disciples as the Father loved him. He asked the disciples to abide in his love and keep his commandments. To love God is to keep his commandments. “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” I love the next part of the scripture where Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus called his disciples friends. He called them servants no longer, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But Jesus called them friends because he revealed everything to them. Everything that he heard from the Father, he shared with the disciples. “His disciples are not those who offer him a blind, mechanical obedience, but are friends (not a casual word in the Hellenistic world), of Jesus and of one another, those who are in the know and obey with informed commitment.”[v]  Jesus does not bring them the revelation, but he is the revelation. “John emphasizes that there is no secret, mysterious body of knowledge known only to the elite super-Christians…but that the Christ event itself is the full revelation of God.”[vi]

The disciples did not choose Jesus. That Jesus chose them may be a surprise to the disciples. They thought they were making their own decision when Jesus initially called them and asked them to follow him. “Now they learn, in a way that does not eliminate or minimize their own responsibility, that the initiative has been with Christ.” Christ chose them to go into the world and bear fruit. Here, if we had time, we could delve deep into divine sovereignty and predestination (see Romans 8:28).[vii]

Jesus then shifts from the word love to the word hate. He wanted the disciples to be aware that if the world hated him, the world would hate the disciples also. They do not belong to the world. Jesus chose the disciples out of the world; therefore, the world would hate them. He finishes this section with his intention of coming so that sin could be revealed in the world. Jesus did not come to introduce the sin of rejecting God. However, “As the light of the world, Jesus does not introduce sin but forces the decision that reveals what people already are.” Jesus coming into the world was a fulfillment of the scripture, “They hated me without a cause.”

The close of this chapter once again centers around a third paraclete saying. “The Paraclete-Spirit, the believer’s counselor in the legal setting, will also be a witness and will testify on Jesus’ behalf.”[viii]  The Spirit will testify on Jesus’ behalf. The disciples will also testify because they had been with Jesus since the beginning of his earthly ministry.

———-

[i] Craddock and Boring, pg. 340.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid, pg. 338

[v] Ibid., pg. 341.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid., pg. 342.

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