The Vine and the Branches

John 15:1-8
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not abide in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The Vine and the Branches
The Congregational Church of Easton, April 28, 2024
Our New Testament reading this morning is part of the Upper Room Discourse and is the most intimate and loving sermon by Jesus in the Bible.
Jesus knew his time was short, and so He gathered His disciples together and gave them his final teachings. In a sense, it was their graduation ceremony from Christ’s seminary, and Christ was the keynote speaker. This was the commencement address. He summarized everything he had taught them, told them what they must not forget, and reminded them of the essential truths they must remember.
He warned them of the trials that were coming and encouraged them to stay strong in the faith. If you want to understand the heart of Jesus, the place to start would be the Upper Room Discourse. In the middle of this passage, there is a section where Jesus illustrates what he has been teaching. As He so often does, he uses a common, everyday image to portray the lesson He has taught. In John 15, He gives us the image of the vine and the vinedresser.
What Jesus teaches here has been the source of great confusion and misunderstanding. He says in verses 2 and 6 that if a branch does not bear fruit, it is cut off, taken away and burned in the fire. When most people read this, they think Jesus is saying that if we do not have adequate works, then this proves we are not a Christian, or will be cut off.
For example, one author writes:
A branch that is truly connected to the Vine is secure and will never be removed. But one that only appears to be connected – one that has only a superficial attachment – will be removed…
…There are people who…appear by all human perception to be united with Christ, but they are false Christians. They may attend church, know all the right answers, and go through religious motions; but God will remove them, and they will be burned.
This is NOT what Jesus is saying. To understand what He is truly saying, we have to understand the methods and practice of tending grapevines.
A vinedresser is more than just a farmer. He knows all about grapes, how they grow, what they need, and when they need it. A vinedresser’s grapevines remain with him for decades. He comes to know each and every vine intimately, for they are all unique and different. He knows how each vine fares from year to year and which ones are more productive than others. He knows how each vine responds to the various forms of caring for the vines, and how best to care for each vine’s needs.
In our passage this morning, there is only one vine – Jesus – which has branches coming off from him, so God as the vinedresser only has one vine to tend.
The main part of tending the vine is taking care of the branches. It is the branches Jesus talks about in John 15:2. Let me read it again:
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.
Jesus is talking about two kinds of branches. branches that do not bear fruit, and branches that do bear fruit. There are actions associated with each kind. Branches that do not bear fruit He takes away, and branches that do bear fruit he prunes, that they may bear more fruit.
Notice that both branches are clearly Christians. Both branches are said to be in Christ. But if both branches are Christians, then what does it mean for God to take the unfruitful branches away and prune the fruitful branches? Let’s look at each and see.
First let’s look at the unfruitful branches that are taken away. The Greek word for takes away is aerei, and can be translated as either “lifts up” or “takes away.” The New International Version has “cuts off,” which is not a good translation. The Greek word either means “lifts up,” or it means “takes away,” but never “cuts off.”
So how are we to know which translation to use. – ‘lifts up’ or ‘takes away’? Vinedressers would tell us that grapevines, if left unattended, will grow along the ground, and if they are left there, they will send little roots down into the soil rather than producing any fruit.
So when a vinedresser sees branches lying on the ground, he knows that what they need is not to draw their own nutrients from the soil, but to get their nutrients from the vine. So, what does he do? He lifts the branch up off the ground and supports it in the air with a trellis or lattice. This way, the branch has no choice but to draw all of its sustenance from the vine, and, as a result, will produce many sweet clusters of grapes.
“Lifts up,” then is the correct translation, not “takes away”
I understand that if you travel south from Jerusalem past Bethlehem to Hebron, you will see mile after mile of grapevines bending down to the ground. During the dry and nonproductive season, the vinedressers allow the branches to grow along the ground – but not produce fruit. This way, the branches can still grow, but they don’t waste energy producing fruit.
There isn’t enough moisture or heat to produce fruit. But when the time comes for fruit, the vinedressers lift the branches up off the ground. The process of lifting them to be properly positioned for fruit bearing takes a week or two because to lift them too fast too soon could cause the branch to break. So the vinedresser is gentle and goes slow so that the branch is kept whole and secure.
What does it mean for US to be lifted up? Far from being taken away or being cut off, Jesus depicts the tender and loving care of the Father for us when He wants us to produce more fruit. He shows how much God loves us and takes care of us so He can turn us into productive branches.
No vinedresser in the world immediately cuts off an unproductive branch without giving it the chance to produce fruit. If a vinedresser always cut off unproductive branches, the vinedresser would never get any fruit, because all branches are unproductive from time to time. Similarly, God the vinedresser, rather than cutting you off when you don’t produce fruit – God lifts you up where you can bask in the sun, and get nutrients from the vine.
So that’s what God does with the unproductive branches. He lifts them up so that they will produce fruit. God always preserves and nurtures the unfruitful branches so that they will produce fruit in the next season.
But what does he do with them once they do produce fruit? Jesus says in verse 2 that these branches are pruned. The Greek word here is a play on words with the first Greek word we looked at. The Greek word for lift up was aerei. The one used here is kathaerei, which means “to cleanse.”

Jesus cleans. He cleanses the branches that are producing fruit. And this is vinedressers do. In cleaning a branch, first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot.
Second, live wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit. The vineyards in the early spring look like a collection of barren, bleeding stumps; but in the fall they are filled with luxuriant purple grapes.
You and I have been lifted up. We have also been cleansed. John 15:3 says, “ You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
Jesus tells the apostles that they are clean because of the word he has spoken to them. Listen to verse 3 again:
3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
You are cleaned by studying the Word, praying over the Word, meditating upon the Word, and applying the Word. Ephesians 5 tells us that God cleanses us with the washing of water of the Word. Romans 12 says that the way we renew or cleanse our minds is with the Word of God.
When you are filled with the Word of God, you are also filled with the Spirit. Your mind will be renewed, and you will produce much fruit.
In the next verse, Jesus tells us to abide in him. I’ll read it again:
4 Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.
He uses the word, “abide” seven times in our reading.
So what does it mean to abide? It comes from the Greek word meno, which means “abide, remain, live, stay, dwell.” It is used all over in the writings of John. The book of 1 John is very helpful in understanding what abiding in Christ is all about. It begins with trusting Christ. We receive eternal life by trusting Jesus. We experience eternal life here and now by continuing to trust Him.
We also must understand that abiding in Christ is more than just trusting Him. The first letter of John points out that to abide, you must also love one another, walk as Jesus, be strong in the faith, and do the will of God (2:17).
Listen again to what Jesus says in verses 4-5.
Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.
Fruit is not automatic. You cannot produce fruit on your own effort. No one has ever produced a single grape in their life by trying to produce a grape. Only the vine can produce fruit. Only Jesus can produce fruit in our lives.
So what is our responsibility? How can we allow Jesus to do this? Abide in Him. Trust him to produce fruit in you as you love other people and live as Jesus lived. Continue to trust that as you allow the Word of God to dwell in you richly, Jesus will follow through on his promise to you and you will produce much fruit.
In Hampton Court near London there is a grapevine under glass. It is about a thousand years old and has only one root, that is at least two feet thick. Some of the branches are two hundred feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, that one vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smaller branches are two hundred feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them.
The moral of this story is be joined to the vine, abide in the vine, and you will bear much fruit. Be joined to Christ. Abide in Christ by trusting Him, loving one another, walking as Jesus, being strong in the faith, and doing the will of God. Then you will produce much fruit.
I imagine you are asking yourself what it means to be joined to Christ and to abide in him. I struggle to get my head around this, as well. I think the apostle Paul makes it much clearer. Paul talks about being “in Christ.” Paul uses the metaphor of being “in Christ” to describe the believer’s intimate connection with Him. It signifies a spiritual identification and participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Through faith, believers are united with Christ and become partakers of His redemptive work.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!” And in Galatians 3:26 he says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith….”
Recently I’ve been finding myself saying something on and off through the day. It is: “All things are in God, and God is in all things.” We are always united to God. And, we forget this or deny this or in other ways cut ourselves off from awareness of this reality. In the words of today’s scripture, we always abide in the vine, even when we cut ourselves off from awareness of that reality.
Let us pray: Holy One, thank you joining us to you as a vine is joined to a branch. Thank you for making our lives abundant and fruitful though our intimate connection with You. Amen.