The Fourth Sunday After Easter May 10, 2009
1 John 3:18-24
209, 397, 402, 655
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 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. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 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. 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. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
What good is a fruit tree without fruit? Orchard managers will tell you that if a tree is unable to produce, whether because of disease or something else, it is taken from the ground and thrown on the pile to be burned. If an apple tree cannot bring forth apples or a cherry tree cannot bring forth cherries, they are cast aside. The fruit is pretty important because it’s the reason the trees were planted in the first place.
Using the picture of a vine and branches, Jesus explained to His disciples that “fruit” was important in the life of every Christian. Jesus is the vine and we are “branches” which are connected to Him—branches which produce fruit. Not apples, cherries, or oranges—Christian branches show fruits of a different sort. These are Fruits which the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV). And again in the book of Ephesians we are told about this fruit with the words “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).
The kind of fruit that “grows” on believers is the fruit of loving works that are done out of respect and love for the gracious Lord Jesus who loved and gave Himself for us all. The kind of fruit that “grows” on Christ’s children are acts of love for one another—even for our enemies—a love that is not just talk, but is evident in the things we do. We heard of this type of love in the Epistle lesson this morning when John wrote: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
But this fruit cannot be brought forth on its own. We know that well enough because when we look at what good fruit is and then look at some of the things we have produced, we see that sometimes there is quite a difference. Instead of producing love, our sinful nature has brought forth hatred and anger. Instead of bearing patience and understanding, we bear grudges and unwillingness to forgive. Instead of trying to help and defend others with our words, people gossip and jump to conclusions. No, any honest look at ourselves will always bring us to this: that if we were told to produce good fruit—God-pleasing lives of service to our Creator and our neighbor—and do this on our own, we could never manage it. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18).
The world, of course, thinks that it can bring forth good fruit all on its own. Some people think they are full of good fruit when they make a huge monetary donation charity, or when they contribute something great to humanity by way of a discovery, or by writing a famous and well-accepted book, or some other such thing. Certainly in society we would prefer to see folks doing things like these as opposed to openly criminal or harmful activity, but even these things which appear so pleasant and good on the outside are not seen by God as good fruit if they do not come from hearts that know and love the Lord Jesus—hearts that thank Him for His gracious suffering on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
The person who does a good turn for his neighbor but who does not know God and does it only for the good feeling of pride and the enjoyment to be gained from thinking about a job well-done, this person is not really producing good fruit.
If the scientist who so cleverly invents an antidote for a deadly disease and in so doing does much to help mankind, if that same scientist in His heart despises the God and Father of all and speaks of Jesus as though He were nothing but foolishness, God will not consider anything that scientist does to be truly good fruit.
If one gives a multi-million dollar donation to help the hungry, but does not love the Lord, the gift, no matter what the amount, will not be considered by God to be truly good and pleasing fruit. Better would be two pennies put into the collection plate with joyful thanksgiving than billions put in without it.
The fruit we are talking about here, right and proper Christian love toward one another, can only be produced upon a branch which is connected to the Vine. The Vine is Jesus and only those branches which are attached to Him are going to grow the fruit which is pleasing to God. Jesus said “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 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.” [vv.4-5] Without Jesus, all our righteous acts appear as filthy rags (cf. Isaiah 64:6). Without Him, who by His death on the cross was punished for all the sinful acts of men, our best efforts are meaningless heaps of rubbish before the throne of heaven. Only because we have been forgiven in Him can we produce fruit which God does not despise. Only because His death declares us innocent of all charges laid against us—can we do anything to make God smile.
Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing—nothing of any true value in the eyes of Heaven. But connected to Him, there can be real fruit. With the message of life and forgiveness which the Vine provides in abundance day after day, we—the branches—can bring forth the fruits of Christian faith. Jesus’ love for us warms our hearts to show kindness, love, and respect for God and one another. “We love because He first loved us,” says 1 John 4:18. Surely the Devil and our own sinful nature will try to spoil and destroy our fruit. Our Old Adam will put its smudges on the fruit from time to time, but nourished by the Vine, there will be fruit—growing upon every person who is connected to Jesus through faith in Him. How weak or how strong the faith connection is may differ from person to person. Some are blessed with a rock-like trust in the Lord while others are weaker. How much or how big or how obvious the fruit is will differ from person to person as well. But if the branch is connected to the Savior that branch will not remain barren. It will produce. That’s Jesus’ promise.
But the farmer does not want cherries for just one year, does he? He wants them year after year. In order to accomplish this he takes care of the trees. He tends them. He works with them so they grow more and richer fruit.
It is important that the fruit keep coming, because if it does not, then the Gardener knows that the connection to the Vine has been severed, and that is a bad situation. Jesus says what happens when the branch is no longer attached to the Vine—when faith in Christ has been lost—the branch eventually faces destruction. “My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away…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.” [vv.1-2,6]
So the heavenly Gardener works with the branches on the Vine to keep them connected. We branches are kept connected to Jesus through His Word and Sacraments. Every time we hear God’s Word at church that connection is made stronger. Every time we study God’s Word at home strengthening occurs. When a child is baptized he is given faith in Christ, connecting him to the Vine. Every time we take the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of our sins, our hearts are touched and we believe more firmly in Jesus and His salvation. Every time we sing, talk with one another about our Savior, lookup passages in Bible class, go to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School—every time the Father in Heaven opens His Word to us, our faith in Christ grows stronger, we branches become sturdier, and more fruit comes forth.
The Father also tends His branches by “pruning” them. Jesus says “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” [v.2] Those of you who garden at home know the need for pruning. Sometimes it is necessary to cut a plant down a little so that it can grow back even stronger. It seems I always forget this with our raspberries, but I remember the one fall that I did think to cut them all the way down for the winter. They came back in the spring producing better than ever!
How does God “prune” us? He sometimes “cuts us back” by allowing hardship to come into our lives. Troubles and difficulties that we must deal with. Maybe He uses them to put down our pride or to remind us to rely more heavily on Him. Look at the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah had in his mind that he was going to defy God. God had told him to go to Nineveh to preach and he went the other direction. So God “cut him back” a little by bringing the storm and giving him three days in the belly of the fish to think about things. When it was over Jonah’s trust in the Lord was stronger and he showed the fruit of his faith by traveling to Nineveh as God wanted. Have there been trials in your life where you have looked back and said, “Well, it was a hard time, but my faith was strengthened because of it”? That’s what pruning is all about.
Your Father in Heaven loves you dearly, and His Son Jesus loves you dearly too. Jesus wants you branches to stay connected to the Vine so you can live your Christian lives to the fullest! He wants you to be able to flourish, gain maturity, and produce good and pleasing fruit for Him and your neighbors. He encourages you to stay with Him by reminding you to call on Him in prayer—anytime—for help and reassurance. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” [v.7] He is risen from the dead to be with you always, to be a living Vine that will support and sustain you.
When you bear fruits like love, patience, faithfulness, and kindness in your lives and everyday dealings toward God and one another, it will be a credit to the Gardener Himself! It will be, as Jesus says, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” [v.8] Even with cherries and apples it is not the fruit which is ultimately praised, but the One who grew the fruit! May all our fruits glorify You, dear Father in heaven. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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