1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
Take a night walk. What do you see? The stars. Darkness. A silver ribbon of path in the moonlight. The deep shadows of woods or the glow of streetlights, houses and city life. Walking at night can be one of the most pleasurable and relaxing experiences.
I greatly enjoy walks at night. In part because I live in the southern United States where the heat and humidity can make the daylight hours seem oppressive while the darkness may at least offer some comfort. My family and I try to walk most every evening for exercise, get some fresh air–or to nosily see what the neighbors may be up to.
Some of my best memories come from walks at night. In college, my future wife and I would walk the campus and small town on free evenings to take a break from study and to get to know one another. Hand-in-hand we would stroll beneath spreading oaks and along lighted paths to sometimes sit on a swinging bench and talk for hours.
An older couple in town had a large garden planted with azaleas that the man devotedly tended and eagerly welcomed visitors to enjoy at any time–even at night. Carefully trimmed pathways took one between beds of sculpted azalea that cascaded with color in the spring months. We visited it often to enjoy the change of seasons and treasured it as an oasis on our night walks.
As we walked and talked in the blue shadows of evening, we grew to know and love each other more. A spring rain would make the azalea garden come alive with color and energy as frogs would chorus in the shadows while raindrops from the recent storm dripped in time. It was reminiscent of the Van Morrison song Sweet Thing:
And I will raise my hand up
Into the night time sky
And count the stars
That's shining in your eye
Just to dig it all an' not to wonder
That's just fine
And I'll be satisfied
Not to read in between the lines
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever
Grow so old again
Life seemed so safe and simple then, compared to the times we have today–where pandemic, war and even the monthly bills seem to weigh heavy on the soul.
During these complicated days of modern life it is easy to lose the hope and optimism that comes with youth and innocence. If you allow happy memories or your earthly dreams to sustain you in life you can quickly lose hope. Jesus takes his last hours on earth to remind you where true hope lies: in the savior who sustains and keeps you–even in the face of a harsh and lonely world.
In John, chapter 15, Jesus takes his disciples on a night walk. They leave the Upper Room, tagging along behind their master and friend. The night is expectant and charged with emotion from the Passover meal and the things Jesus has done and said. This will be a night walk that they will never forget.
As the meal ends, Jesus gives tells them that it is time for a walk:
31 But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.–John 14:31
John is recounts that after the meal, after Jesus sends away Judas Iscariot to “…do quickly” his wicked task (John 13:27), Jesus begins to teach. He lays out before them the path of life as a believer and follower of the Christ. With gentle urgency Jesus lets them know that they will not be alone in the world–that they will be given a Comforter who will be His own presence in their hearts.
The disciples struggle to understand. All that has happened over the past week fill them with awe and maybe now a growing fear. Will something happen to our Lord? What does He mean? Where is He going?
Wherever Jesus is going, the disciples want to come too–and Peter declares as much. For now they must content themselves with a night walk through the streets and along the hills of Jerusalem. They waking to the Garden of Gethsemane.
As they walk, Jesus runs his hand along a thick vine that hangs over a wall. A grape arbor covers the courtyard of a house, providing shade during the hot Palestinian day and nourishing fruit to the family who dwells there.
Perhaps Jesus thinks of the temple, standing in golden glory in the moonlight, and the carvings of grapevines that grace its walls. He begins to speak.
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.–John 15:1
“Vinedresser” here can be translated “gardener” as Jesus describes the one who carefully, lovingly tends a vineyard–a farmer tending his prize crop.
The disciples cluster around Jesus in their walk, those in the back straining to hear. They immediately begin to relate to the words and the imagery for not only are they surrounded by agricultural land where many vineyards grow, they are of a faith–like many ancient faiths–that often uses the imagery of grapes and vines:
8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
You have cast out the nations, and planted it.–Psalm 80:8
God, the eternal gardener, tended the vine of his people, Israel. How heartbroken He must have been to see his object of love struggle to respond to His loving care:
21 Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality.
How then have you turned before Me
Into the degenerate plant of an alien vine?–Jeremiah 2:21
He sent His prophets into the vineyard, protected it and gave it His love–only to see wildness return again and again:
2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.–Isaiah 5:2
A theme in John is replacement and here Jesus is telling His disciples that the old images have changed to new.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.–John 15:5
Jesus is telling the disciples that even if He will soon be taken from them, He will nevertheless never leave them. They will be inextricably connected to him from now through eternity.
Jesus, the true vine, connects you to him here in your earthly life and in the life beyond. His kingdom reigns here and life with Him is thus heaven on earth.
How can this be? How does this happen?
It begins with the work of the Father. God, the eternal gardener. He plants, He tends, He prunes:
2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.–John 15:2
The thought of God pruning you can be daunting–even unnerving–for later Jesus speaks of throwing fruitless branches into the fire. On a vine or fruit tree if a branch is withering the tree will expend energy and effort to repair the branch–at the expense of the other branches.
Pruning is necessary to allow a plant to grow and be productive. A gardener will know where to make the cut and once the withered branch has been removed, the plant will flourish.
He tells us how we may be fruitful branches:
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.–John 15:7-8
Jesus’s picture to the disciples on this walk and to you and me is that spiritual fruitfulness is impossible without Him. Jesus is the source of our fruitfulness and it is He who enables us to do so. He even tells us how this can be. To be fruitful is to be like Him.
Jesus loved perfectly.
Jesus prayed continually to His father.
Jesus forgave and showed true forgiveness.
Therefore, to bear fruit you must love like Jesus loved, pray like Jesus prayed and forgive like Jesus forgave.
As the Father tends to the branch that is your life you must live as Christ lived and commune regularly with Jesus through prayer and the study of His Word. Without these you will not be fruitful.
As Paul later wrote to the Ephesians:
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.–Ephesians 5:8-9
To do this something must die within you. Like the grain of wheat Jesus describes in John 12, death must work in you in order that life may flourish. The death of old sins, the death of self. Sinclair Ferguson said that,
…it the the vine Himself who receives the severest below. Branches bearing fruit do not mind the separation.
Could you give up that which keeps you from bearing fruit for the Lord? Could you live without Him? Is your private thought life a haven to which you continually run to commune with him? Or do you seldom pray anymore because it seems that God doesn’t answer–or says no to things you want?
Even if the world and these times seem too depressing you must never forget that you abide in Christ and it is He who keeps you close:
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.–John 15:9-10
This night walk with the disciples reminds me of the hymn Abide With Me by minister Henry Francis Lyte who served in Wexford, Ireland and penned a song of abiding hope:
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.