Recently I attempted to explain the parable of ‘the vine and the branches’ to my kids using a plant they might be more familiar with. So it became ‘the pine and the branches’, since we have a lot of pine trees around here, and many pine cones on our lawn. I suppose it did illustrate how the branch must remain in the tree to stay alive and produce what it produces. But actually… the allegory of the vine and branches used in Scripture is much richer!
God had used the illustration of the vine throughout the history of His people to communicate His ideas – in the Law and the Psalms and the Prophets. Grapes and wine have been symbols of abundance and gladness, but one key usage of the vine in a parable is in Isaiah 5. In this story God had a vineyard, and He did everything for it so that it could produce good grapes. But it produced only “worthless” fruit. The vineyard was His people, and the fruit He longed to see was justice and righteousness, His character that would bring life and rest to the nation of Israel.
The disciples, listening to Jesus, likely would’ve remembered Isaiah’s words as He began telling them that He was the vine and they were the branches (John 15). Jesus was now making clear how it was possible for God’s people to produce good fruit, the ONLY way it was possible to produce the fruit that was pleasing to God…
The Father is the vinedresser, Christ is the vine, and His disciples are the branches. “Remain in Me and I in you,” Jesus says. “Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing.”
The branch has to remain in the vine, so that the life of the vine can remain in the branch. Unless we stay connected to Him in that way, anything that we are doing is fruitless and counts as “nothing”! We are not a vine unto ourselves, and there is no other vine that gives life. He is the TRUE vine. Without Him we are dry and dead branches.
If we are remaining in Him, we will bear fruit. That’s the promise! We will be truly alive, and because of that, through us He will reveal Who He is to others. Not only will we know true life ourselves but we will be the means by which His life will nourish others also. That’s what fruit is.
But, we also understand that sharing His life with others only happens through the ‘suffering’ of giving ourselves up as a sacrifice. Wine is made by crushing the grapes! It was wine that Jesus chose to represent the new covenant ‘in His blood’ (Luke 22) and this wine was contained in a cup of suffering (Matthew 26).
If we abide in Him, we will bear the fruit of His character and love, which will be shared with others through a life of self-giving allowing them to enjoy the same Life we enjoy! (Philippians 3:7-11 puts it all together pretty nicely.)
Are we truly His disciples? “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.”
By Kevin Galbraith