Text: John 15:1-8
Date: Easter V + 5/3/15
We remember that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was instituted and commanded to be repeated as reported to us from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and St. Luke and the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Interestingly, St. John’s Gospel, written much later than the others, does not include the institution of this sacrament. Rather it is the Apostle and Evangelist St. John who records for us and reports five entire chapters of everything else Jesus said and did on that night in which He was betrayed. Today’s Gospel is one little selection, our Lord’s words, “I am the true vine…you are the branches.”
Unlike His disciples Jesus knew what awaited Him in the next hours we call Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. He also knew the victory He would finally win at His resurrection on that first Easter day. But this night…this night you can imagine the anguish of His soul. If any one of us knew that we were going to die tonight, how many things would you want to do or say to your sons or daughters, brothers or sisters or parents or other friends? On this final night before His death Jesus wanted to impress upon the minds of His disciples two things. First, they must be led to know and believe who He really is. Secondly, they must be led to know and believe that He will continue to live in them and by faith they in Him.
In John 6 Jesus repeatedly claims, “I AM the bread of life.” In John 8 He says, “I AM the light of the world.” Last Sunday we heard His words from John 10, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” John 11, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” And now on this night He says, “I AM the way and the truth and the life,” and “I AM the true vine.” In addition we could note, when His enemies came to arrest Him He asked, “Whom do you seek?” They said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And when He then said, “I AM he” they drew back fell to the ground. At His trials He continued to say, “I AM” even as His chief apostle Peter outside repeatedly said, “I am not!” In all of this we are to remember when Moses was called by God he asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “YAHWEH” which means “I AM WHO I AM,” which means God is existence itself. So every time Jesus said, “I AM,” He was identifying Himself as the very God of Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus is God!
The disciples needed to know and believe this as never before especially on this night. For there is salvation in no one else. Why? Because only God Himself could save us, free us from sin, death and the devil. Only this sacrifice of the pure and holy Son of God could bear and atone for the sins of the whole world. Think of that and remember that especially when you may be tempted to wonder if you have sinned so greatly that you are beyond being able to be forgiven. By the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, there is no unforgiveable sin. In fact, because of His death we can say and proclaim to all there is no unforgiven sin, save only those who foolishly reject God’s forgiveness by rejecting, ignoring, despising, not believing in Jesus the Christ.
So Jesus says, “I AM the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Throughout the Bible God’s people are compared to a vineyard. Listen to the prophet Isaiah describing the family of God’s people. In the words leading up to those we call The Reproaches of Good Friday, the prophet sings: “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes…. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts (Yahweh) is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice…(and) for righteousness” (Isaiah 5:1-2, 5-7).
When Jesus says, “I AM the true vine,” He is claiming to be God our Savior. So the rest of Isaiah’s words are behind Jesus’ description of His disciples, His believers, His Christians as branches of Him the Vine with the expectation of bearing fruit. In Isaiah that fruit was called “justice” and “righteousness.” In Jesus we are to bear the fruit of faith, the fruit of the Spirit, chief and first of which and over all is “love.” So says St. John today in his first epistle, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” Now the apostle needs to say this and encourage this because though fruit grows naturally as a result of no effort on the part of the branch, still we can become barren. We not only do not produce love but even make it impossible or at least unlikely that we will love. Why is this?
It is because we still struggle with deadly sin in ourselves, the very sin that is forgiven in the blood of Christ. We are like those branches we see in our trees or vines that, for some reason during the winter, dry up and stop producing leaves, blossoms or fruit. For as the Apostle James reminds us, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). And the branches come tumbling down. “Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit [the vinedresser] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” So the struggle of the Christian life. Either way we feel the dresser’s knife, the objects of His care (cf. LW 273:3).
This is the result, the way Jesus who died and is risen again lives in us and us in Him. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” On this night the disciples need to know and believe that Jesus, their Lord and God, though He dies yet He lives, and He desires to live in you. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”