John 15:1–17 (NIV): 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 so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain 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 remain in me and my words remain 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.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Oh, the “Vine and the Branches” sermon! It is one of the most preached verses of Scripture. Many of you here have heard it at least a half the amount of your age! But we are going to do some work today. We are going to put one verse that is often misused and irresponsibly removed out of its proper context. That verse is John 15:13.
John 15:13 is often associated by being cherry picked and used as ultimately being Jesus’ death on the cross, and rightly so. Jesus did show his love for all people by his atoning sacrifice. That’s “Salvation 101” if you were to have had a class about it. But Jesus’ conversation goes far deeper than just that!
Our human imagination has promoted one way that is consistent with how we like to view John 15:13. In books, on television, and in the movies, there are countless ways that ways that are the same when we interpret this verse. It goes like this…
Somewhere in the crux of the story, there is someone wishing to do lethal harm to someone else. Then someone, either one that is close to the person the violence is directed to or a bystander of good character, observes that death is imminent, that person jumps in the path of the bullet or arrow, or knife, therefore sacrificing their own life to save someone else.
It really is a beautiful, heart tugging emotional way to see this. And indeed, we see this in the Gospels, and we see this this in other biblical stories. But how did Jesus’ parable of the Vine and the Branches make John 15:13 just about Jesus and Calvary. Because when you read it, the context for such a thought really isn’t there.
Insomuch, this week’s sermon rides on the coattails of last week. Last week we talked about how all the 10 Commandments could be summarized into one, love God, love your neighbor AS you understand yourself, Jesus’s message about the Vine and the Branches deepens this understanding of God-like love.
We talk so much about God grafting in the wild branches of the Gentiles into the ancient promises of the Old Testament. And some of us treat this much like a contestant on the Price is Right when our name gets called. Well, I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and then Heaven calls your name. But not much energy is spent talking about what happens to a plant when a gardener, especially one who grows grapes, grafts in a green shoot. You see, the grafting means that that young shoot begins taking on the characteristics of the vine. It is fed only by the vine. It gets its nutrients only from the vine. And once that shoot becomes healthy, it helps the whole vine by growing leaves that can absorb the sun and produce chlorophyl and it begins cellular respiration, taking CO2 to breath and producing O2. Now once that graft is now healthy and growing, a vinedresser prunes all around it so it can succeed and produce fruit…not its own, but the fruit commanded for it to make from the main vine. In the case of the parable of Jesus, LOVE is the fruit.
Jesus states that he learned love from his Father (vs 15). Jesus says that he loved them, and that love should feed them. By feeding them, good fruit is produced. What is that fruit? They love each other! (vs 17)
With that in mind, let’s read John 15:13-14:
13 Greater love* has no one than this: to lay down one’s life** for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.
*μείζων (mide’-zone) -greatest ἀγάπη (ag-ah’-pay) love feast- literally “greatest love feast”.
** τίθημι (tith’-ay-mee)- to put down, or to place down αὑτοῦ (how-too’) self- “to place yourself below”
“Greatest love feast has no comparison: place yourself below your friends!” GAC (Gospel According to Chad)
This lines up to what Jesus says in 15 when Jesus uses the word “servant” or in Greek δοῦλος (doo’-los) “a slave”.
Actually, Jesus repeated this numerous times towards his disciples but he physically showed them what this looked like in Chapter 13 of John.
1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.