The Sermon for Sunday, May 14th, 2023, Rogation Sunday
The Lessons: Psalm 148:7-14; Isaiah 41:17-20; John 15:1-11
The Text: John 15:1-11
On Wednesday October 11, 1994, NASA’s Magellan space explorer fell silent. The Magellan had circled Venus more than fifteen thousand times since arriving at the planet in 1990, but on this day NASA scientists intentionally changed the satellite’s course and sent it veering into the planet where it burned to a crisp in the atmosphere.
Why would NASA send the Magellan – which cost nine hundred million dollars – plummeting into the planet? The reason was that the Magellan was virtually out of power. One final experiment had drained its batteries to the point where it could no longer transmit data.
Without power, even the highest technology is worthless. Without the grace and life of God, even the most committed Christian can bear no fruit.
Our Second Lesson today clearly illustrates the life-giving connection between the Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples.
JOHN 15:1-11: THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The Lord Jesus uses the grape vine, an ancient symbol of Israel, in a new way to show how Christians need to stay spiritually connected to Him, if they are to bear the fruit that God requires. This extract from Psalm 80 shows the vine as representing the whole nation of Israel:
Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. It is burned with fire; it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.
(Psalm 80:14-17, KJV)
This extract ends with a prayer for God to strengthen “the son of man” and it prophetically connects the vine with the son of man.
In this symbolic discourse here in John 15, our Lord begins by setting a new definition for this ancient symbol of Israel by saying that He is the true vine, and his Father is the vinedresser (John 15:1). The vine is no longer the nation of Israel subject to the ravages of history. The Lord Jesus Christ is himself the true Vine, and God the Father the vine dresser responsible for the pruning, care, and growth of the Vine. The work of the Father in caring for the Vine is now explained.
The first part of the Father’s work is to remove the branches that bear no fruit. This is a principle used in any fruit tree pruning as well. The dead wood must go. On the other hand, every branch that bears fruit is pruned in order to bear more fruit (John 15:2). The word used for “prune” in the Greek can also be translated as “purge” or “cleanse,” and in the next verse the Lord states that his disciples are already clean through the word, or teaching and commandments, He has given them (John 15:3). This means that God uses all that He has spoken through the Son, to cleanse or purify Christians.
Now the pruning process is taking place as Christians read, learn, study, and apply God’s written and spoken word to their lives. But this leads to a fundamental action necessary for Christians to have Christ’s life and have it abundantly to produce the spiritual fruit that God requires. Just as a branch of the vine cannot bear fruit unless it remains on the vine and organically draws on the sap of the vine, so Christians cannot bear the spiritual fruit God requires, unless they remain united to the Lord Jesus Christ. This must not be merely a theoretical or structural union with him, but an organic, experiential one, in which we grow daily, as we pray, listen to him, and read his word.
The Lord emphasizes He is the Vine, and his disciples are the branches (John 15:5). The one who abides in Him and He in them, bears much fruit. What is the fruit of which the Lord speaks? The fruit is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the virtues produced in our lives by the Holy Spirit according to Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23, KJV)
To these can be added the good deeds the Holy Spirit leads Christians to do, and the use of their spiritual gifts, ministries, resources, and abilities to edify God’s people and to share the Gospel with the lost.
But for those that do not abide in the Lord Jesus Christ by keeping his commands, they are cast out like dead vine branches that have no use. Instead they are gathered up and burnt. Vine branches, as Ezekiel 15:1-8 makes clear, cannot be used for any useful purpose, except for firewood. Really this is a picture of destruction in the fires of hell for all who refuse to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ. In contrast to this, if a person remains in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord’s words remain in him in that they are applied to his life, that person, God will do for him whatever he asks (John 15:7). This may sound incredible, but this blessing arises from a life of deep communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, God the Father is glorified in our lives when we bear abundant spiritual fruit and show ourselves disciples of Christ (John 15:8).
Abiding in Christ’s love means that we keep his commandments and do his will. Then it will be that the joy that Christ has from obeying the Father continually will also be in us, and it will be the fullness of joy (John 15:11).
What steps of obedience will you take to deepen your daily communion and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may bear abundant spiritual fruit?
 p. 408, Craig Brian Larson and Leadership Journal: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2002, 2008.