Psalm 80:8-11; John 15:1-8
The Greatest After-Dinner ConversationThe setting of John chapter 15 goes back to John 13 where Jesus is in Jerusalem with His disciples; it’s Thursday night, the day before Jesus will be crucified; and Jesus and His disciples are having dinner together — so everything we read from John chapter 13, verse 4 all the way through John chapter 17 is the conversation that happens after that dinner. Judas Iscariot leaves the dinner in chapter 13, verse 30, so by the end of chapter 13 what we are reading is a conversation that is happening just between Jesus and His 11 closest friends.
In John chapter 14, there are different disciples who are part of this conversation with Jesus — different disciples were taking turns asking Jesus questions. First, it’s Peter, then Thomas, then Philip, then in verse 22, it’s the other Judas (not Iscariot). And just to get the image right in your minds, the disciples are all going around asking Jesus questions because they’re all sitting around the dinner table together — and John, the disciple who wrote this, was sitting there with them (actually sitting beside Jesus, we read in chapter 13:23–25).
The last verse in John chapter 14 tells us that Jesus and the His disciples are getting ready to leave the upper room in Jerusalem where they had dinner and celebrated the Passover. They are headed to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus will pray His great High Priestly prayer and will later be arrested by the mob led by Judas. Apparently, Jesus speaks the words which make up John chapters 15 and 16 in route to the garden.
So as I mentioned, John 15 and 16 are after dinner discourse. Sharing meals with others is a good thing, and what’s best about it really isn’t the food, but it’s the conversation that happens around the food. Think about the times you’ve had dinner with friends, either recently or just in general — think about after-dinner conversations. That’s where friendship happens. After-dinner conversations are important, and that is absolutely the case here in John 15.
Jesus the True Vine
It is in this context that the Lord Jesus Christ concluded His seven “I am” Statements. The seventh “I am” statement is found in John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” The last “I am” statement pictures Jesus as the “True Vine.” I can imagine Jesus and the disciples going through the darkened streets of the city and then passing beyond the walls into the surrounding countryside. During this time of year, mid April, the grape vines would be beginning to blossom with the promise of a fresh harvest. As Jesus walked with His disciples, perhaps He reached out and took a vine in His hands and used it to teach as an object lesson to His followers. He wanted to teach them about the most important and vital relationship they have in their lives ~ their relationship with Him.
The Image of a Vineyard in the Bible
When Christ called Himself the “True Vine,” He used an image that was very common and very familiar to His disciples. Nothing was more obvious to first century Jews than a vineyard. They lived, walked, slept and ate in the very shadow of the vine. The Israelites calendar was governed by growing season: In the winter was pruning of the vines; spring welcomed the first buds which were followed by vigorous growth of vines in summer; heavy clusters of grapes came in fall harvest.
For that reason, the vineyard became a preeminent symbol of God’s care for His people. Frequently in the Scripture, especially the books Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Israel is described as “a choice vine”, brought out of Egypt to serve the Lord. In Psalm 80:8 we read, “You transplanted a vine from Egypt.” The prophet Isaiah writes these words in Isaiah 5:1-2 “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” Isaiah 27:2-3 also says, “In that day, sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it.”
And although God is the wise gardener, diligently caring for His vineyard, preparing the ground, planting the grapevines, Israel failed to be fruitful. The good vine planted by God was to bear the fruit of an obedient life, but it produced only sour grapes. The gardener’s disappointment is clear. Jeremiah wrote in 2:21: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against into a corrupt, wild vine?” Israel had been an unproductive vineyard, unfaithful to her covenant with the Lord. But thank God that Jesus is the True Vine. He is “true” because He is perfect, complete, and enduring. He is the genuine in contrast to that which is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretentious. Having covered the context, the importance of the vineyard image in the Bible, let me conclude with one short introductory observation for us this morning as we look together at the last “I am”, and, Lord willing, we shall say more next week.
The Father Has Done It All
The image of Jesus being the “True Vine” and we, the believers, are the branches, is an image that is so rich in meaning and full of practical implications. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the Gardner.” Our God is an amazing God. He’s the one who is tending to the vine. He’s doing the pruning. He’s cleaning it up. He feeds the vine. He protects and watches over His vineyard. In other words, the whole thing is His doing. All of this. The whole thing. He has done it all. We’re just branches, man. We’re just branches on a vine that is truer and better than anything we could ever dream of. We’re just glad to be here. We are part of this thing that is so much bigger than us and beyond us and not up to us. The gardener is the one who is handling all this — and He’s the one who gets the glory. And that gives us joy. And it’s in that joy that we are invited to this Table this morning. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, September 1st, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor