Before we begin to dissect our passage, we need to take a glimpse of what has happened before chapter 15. Beginning in chapter 12 we see Jesus heading towards Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. As was custom of the Jews, every year they held a celebration of remembrance for what God had done in leading them out of Egypt and out of slavery. Jesus then enters into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey as people shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And yet Jesus, in verse 32, indicates that he will be lifted up to die. Many may be believing at this time that Jesus is the Messiah, that he would restore Israel to what it was intended to be. But Jesus only proclaims his death. Many would now turn away from Jesus.
Before the Passover Festival, Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples by washing their feet. He did this to reveal to his disciples how they should love one another. Their love should be characterized by the same love Jesus showed them. After this, Jesus reveals that someone would betray him. John makes it clear that it is Judas Iscariot who would betray Jesus. Judas then leaves. Jesus continues to teach the remaining eleven disciples. It is here in the middle of Jesus’ teaching that we find our passage.
Read John 15:1-17
Disciples of Jesus remain in him because
- Jesus is the source of life. (v.1-10)
Right at the beginning of our passage we see Jesus declare that he is the true vine. This is not a metaphor that is to be taken lightly either. In the Old Testament Israel is often equated to a vine. It is familiar language to Jesus’ disciples and even for the Jewish readers who would later read John’s gospel. Israel was God’s nation. It is where God’s rule extended and where he blessed his people as they responded in obedience and joy to him. And in our passage, Jesus is pointing us to Isaiah 5:1-7 where God is seen as a vinedresser, otherwise known as a gardener. In Isaiah we see God prepare the soil where the vine, Israel, would be planted. He then plants the vine and takes care of it so that it may yield good grapes. But in the end, it yielded worthless grapes. Unlike this vine, Jesus reveals himself as the true vine. In a real sense, he is saying that he is the true Israel. He is the obedient child of God, unlike the nation Israel. He trusts in the Father’s Words, unlike the nation Israel. He produces fruit that glorifies God, unlike the nation Israel.
The very next thing Jesus says is shocking. And I’m afraid that those of us who have grown up in the church or have basic biblical knowledge miss the point of verse 2. Jesus declares, “Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes.” After claiming to be the true vine, Jesus states that every branch is in him. Imagine as the disciples hear this what they might be thinking. “I’ve heard about the vine. Why is Jesus saying he is the true vine? Wouldn’t that make him the true Israel? Hasn’t he been claiming to be the Messiah? If he is the true Israel, what is the true mission of the Messiah? I thought the Messiah was going to restore Israel? How can the Messiah be Israel?” These thoughts might have overtaken the disciples’ minds. I’m not sure, but I am sure that Jesus makes a bold claim to his disciples. If Jesus is the one that the branches are found in, then those who don’t believe in Jesus will be removed from him – they would be removed from Israel. Rejecting Jesus is the same as not producing fruit.
On the contrary, the Father prunes those who believe in Jesus. The word “prunes” is not one we use in our everyday vocabulary. It’s helpful here to clarify: The Bible is speaking of cleansing. It’s the removal of the filth or impurity so that growth may occur. The image then here is clear. The Father prunes the branches that are in Jesus so that they may continue to grow and produce fruit in Christ. The Father cleanses those on his vine.
It is here I want to remind you our context again. After Judas left, Jesus begins to teach the remaining eleven disciples. This is important if we are to understand verse 3. When Jesus says, “You are already clean,” he is directly speaking to these disciples. They have believed in Jesus and the Father has been pruning them. “The Word spoken” to them was the method the Father used to reveal to them the Son of God, Jesus. After many years of following Jesus, the Father has revealed to the disciples who Jesus truly is. They had this confirmed by the teachings of Jesus. But not all have believed in this word. Judas is shown as the one the Father has removed. He didn’t believe in the words of Jesus. He rejected these words, and he was removed.
Immediately, Jesus tells the disciples to remain in him. They aren’t given an explanation on how to do this. They might not even know where Jesus is going with all of this. What’s quite weird is that Jesus tells them the result of remaining in him before they are even told how to remain in him! It’s hinted on in the text that remaining in Jesus is to consciously choose to dwell in Jesus, to make a residence in him. Dwelling with him is the only way to produce fruit.
Finally, Jesus silences the questions in the minds of the disciples. He gives it to them straight. He is the vine and they are the branches. Up to this point they could only imply what he was meaning. But now they know. Jesus has been declaring that he is their source of life. Life that produces fruit in them. Not just a little amount of fruit; but, much fruit! There is nothing the disciples can produce by themselves, but only in Jesus do they have life. Only in Jesus do they reflect what Israel truly is. Only in Jesus are they God’s people.
Now, Jesus proclaims a message, much like the prophets of Israel once gave. He gives a message of judgment. Those who don’t remain in the true vine are cut off and they die. Later, the same branches are burned. Indeed, their works to appease the Father are worthless grapes. They aren’t acceptable. Sin had so overtaken Israel that it could not be the vine that produced life. Every branch that does not believe in Jesus as Messiah will wither, die, and be burned. This is a reality for the disciples. For a long time, they’ve been awaiting the Messiah, but here they know that those rejecting Jesus, like Judas, ultimately will perish.
Having reminded them of judgment, Jesus still encourages his disciples to remain in him. They know to remain in him is to produce fruit. They know that to depart from him is to perish. Additionally, this encouragement to remain in him gives them hope. If they remain in him and his words remain in them, they can ask the Father whatever they want in Jesus’ name and it will be done for them. Jesus does not tell them they can become rich or healthy just because they prayed in his name. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. No, there are some conditions attached. They must remain in Jesus, the source of life, and have his word dwell in them. These are fruit producing prayers. God is not a wishing well; he is the fruit producer. These are God-centered prayers.
Next, we see that when the disciples remain in Jesus, they remain in his love. Jesus has loved his disciples since the beginning, and as John 13:1 makes clear, he loved them till the end. Jesus loves the disciples the same way the Father has loved him. Here Jesus explains what it means to remain in him. It is a mutual loving of one another. Just as Jesus has loved his disciples so they are to love him. To display they are in his love they obey what he commands them. Jesus has shown them this by remaining in the Father’s love and by keeping the Father’s commands. In the same way, the disciples are to do the same with Jesus.
I know that I have been lengthy in explaining the section. Truly, it is because I’m afraid that we will miss the point of this section if I didn’t take the time to walk through it. When we hear the phrase, “Remain in me,” we tend to look at this passage with an imperative-driven mindset (that’s a mindset of works). We begin to read this text looking for clues on how to live our life or what we can do better to remain in Christ. My friends, this is not the point of this section. Jesus wants us to see he is the source of life!
How much fruit does a branch produce when it’s on a dead vine? None. This why Jesus looked to the disciples and said he was, “The true vine.” No other vine gives life. The way he pleads for them to remain in him as their source of life, is the same way I want to plead with you. Find your life in Jesus. He possesses the ability to give you life. Not, just life here on earth, but eternal life. I know of no other who can give you eternal life. He is the divine vine that gives life to those who believe in him.
Additionally, I want to point out that this isn’t about how well you can perform good deeds either. I often hear people say that doing good things for one another is “life-giving”. Performing good deeds doesn’t provide life. Don’t misunderstand me, doing something good for someone often brings happiness, but evil fills this earth. It takes no rest. How exhausting it must be to attempt to conquer evil in this world when it still persists in your heart. Yet, the Father prunes those who remain in Christ. He cleanses them of this evil in their heart, for it is Jesus who has given them life. And Jesus has conquered the evil in this world and one day will cleanse it from the earth.
Stop trying to do better. Instead, remain and rest in Christ. He has promised that the Father will answer the prayers of those who remain in him. From these prayers fruitfulness will grow and the Father will prune you.
I want to be honest for a moment and confess how I have struggled with remaining in Christ. There are many people in my life I’ve pushed aside because I didn’t find them worthy of my time. I never shared with them the gospel because I felt as if they wouldn’t respond. I never loved them because loving them would feel more like a chore than a pleasure. We all do this. You might have even thought of people in your life whom you’ve pushed away because they were hard to love, or you thought they were unworthy of your time and affection.
But here in verse 10, Jesus is telling us to keep his commands. Has he not commanded us to love our neighbors and to proclaim the gospel? When we follow these commands of Jesus it is shocking how much we express Jesus’ love. It is shocking how much we find life in proclaiming the glory of God. Just as Jesus has proclaimed, HE IS THE SOURCE OF LIFE! Living in obedience to Jesus gives us life! Repenting of sin isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a command. Let us kill our sin together as the church of Christ and start living out the commands of Jesus.
Friends, I would be mistaken to not mention that God has kept his promise of pruning those in Christ. The Holy Spirit within us is constantly transforming us into obedient children of God. We are inheriting the love and obedience of Jesus. The Spirit within in us keeps us connected to the vine Jesus. So when you feel as if you can’t obey remember that Christ has been obedient on your behalf and he has sent us the Spirit to transform us so that we may obedient and remain in Christ.
This brings us to our second point; the disciples of Jesus remain in him because
- Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples. (v. 11-17)
Here in verse 11 Jesus transitions his thoughts. He tells the disciples why he has told them that he is the true vine, that his joy may be in them. This is a benefit of remaining in Jesus, that his joy would be in his disciples. As a tangent, I want to ask you to go home and read the book of John. Look and see that as Jesus obeys his Father he gains joy. This is the same joy that Jesus wants his disciples to have. This joy actually becomes complete for the disciples when they remain in the love of Jesus. As we’ve seen part of remaining in the love of Jesus is obeying the commands of Jesus. If the disciples remain in the mutual love between them and Jesus, then they will naturally obey. Here we find the key to verse 11. Obedience out of love and joy is not the same as obedience out of obligation.
I believe we have all experienced some form of obedience out of obligation. If you have a job you do this every day. You go to work and you know the tasks set before you. Your obedience to these tasks is influenced by your desire to retain your job so that you can support yourself and your family. However, obedience out of love is different. When my wife asks me to do something I don’t obey because I’m obligated. Frankly, I could tell her no and not do it. It’s not the smartest thing to do, but I could still do it. But when my wife asks me to do something I do it because I love her. As a result, both my wife and I find joy in each other. Likewise, when we love Jesus and remain in his love we joyfully submit to him.
And what does Jesus command the disciples to do? To love one another as Jesus has loved them. The same mutual love that exists between Jesus and the disciples is now commanded for the disciples. They are to love one another mutually. In verse 8, Jesus said that the fruit produced from asking the Father would, “prove [them] to be [his] disciples.” We also see this in John 13:34. This may seem as if Jesus is being repetitive, but Jesus is about to show his disciples how this love is demonstrated even further.
“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” If you remember the context, we know that Jesus is about to be betrayed and sent to die. The disciples don’t know it yet, but Jesus would soon lay his life down for them. What a bold idea, that love could be expressed in the sacrifice of a friend. Jesus would hang on a tree, slowly suffocating so that the love of God would be displayed. He would die so that they would be his friends and longer the enemies of God.
Still, Jesus continues and tells the disciples that his friends do as he commands. Notice what he doesn’t say though. He doesn’t say, “If you do as I command you are my friends.” No, the love displayed to the disciples by Jesus has already led them to obey him. They are his friends and they do obey Jesus. This is further revealed in verse 15. Jesus says they are friends because he has made known to them everything he has heard from his Father. They believed that Jesus is the Son of God and have obeyed him. Because of their prior obedience to Jesus they are friends of his now.
Furthermore, Jesus reminds the eleven disciples that he chose them. Jesus selected these men to love on and to accompany him in his ministry. When Jesus chose these men, he chose them to carry on his work after his departure from earth. In this way, Jesus has appointed them to go and produce fruit. Because Jesus is the true vine this fruit will remain. Again, we see that the disciples are told that if they remain in Jesus the Father will grant them whatever they ask. And again, God is not a wishing well, he is a fruit producer. The Father grants that which glorifies him.
Let’s take a moment to reflect here on what Jesus has chosen as his primary instrument to proclaim the gospel. It began with the disciples and became the Church. Jesus has chosen the Church to produce fruit by proclaiming the glory of God. I implore to take seriously the task set before you as a member of the church of Christ. Pray that the Lord would produce much fruit within you that leads to others producing much fruit that leads to others producing much fruit, and so on and so on.
Now we see for a second time Jesus’ command to love one another. This love will be a brotherly love and a sacrificial love. It’s a command to love like Jesus has loved his disciples.
The God who created the heavens and the earth, the plants of the field and the birds of the sky, the land and the sea, who created humans in his image, this same God came down to earth and gave up his life so that we would find life. Sin entered the world and ruined God’s good creation. But God decided to send his Son, Jesus, to become sin for us so that we may be freed from the tyranny of sin. Jesus was crucified and he died. He was in the grave for three days, but death could not hold him! He resurrected and sent his disciples out into the world to deliver the good news of Jesus.
This is where we find ourselves today, needing to respond to the good news of Jesus. For those who are here today and don’t believe in Jesus, I want you to know that just as the disciples were Jesus’ friends, so you can be too. What he commands of you is to believe in him, to trust that his death is sufficient to pardon your sins. He would have you repent of your sin and find life in him. All this so that you may have joy in him. I plead with you to consider Christ, for he has shed his blood that you may be healed.
Christians, today we have seen how we are to love. We are to love boldly and fiercely like Jesus has. How do you reflect God’s love to your brothers and sisters? If you’re convicted that you don’t love them like you should, go to the Father and ask for Jesus’ love to be produced in you. Maybe you don’t find joy in obedience, go to the Father, he shall surely give you that joy. We as Christians are still sinful, but we have been promised that fruit shall remain in us. Plead to the Father for his grace, mercy, and love to consume us, so that it may consume others. We are one body and the world will know us by our love. So, may we love one another as Christ has loved us.
To conclude, disciples of Jesus remain in him because he is the source of life and he has demonstrated his love for his disciples.