Text: John 15: 1-11
Life flows only from Christ. In the wilderness of this world, this waste, howling desert of sin, there is only one Plant of Renown, with life in itself, which needs no wind, rain, sun, nor season; which stands and flourishes, anchored evermore in the depths of God’s Covenant purposes, deriving nothing from this alien soil of a wicked and hostile world, but having its roots in eternity, its branches in the uttermost parts of the earth, its crowned head soaring into heaven; independent of earth, uncultivated by the hand of man - and that Plant is Christ, the True Vine, which the Father has planted, and of which He is the sole proprietor and the Husbandman.
This is the message of Christ to His disciples as they rose from the Table where the Last Supper had been spread, the bread and the wine distributed, the symbols of the Everlasting Covenant instituted. They prepare to make their way into the streets of the city at midnight, and on through its gates, across the brook, up the slopes of the Mount of Olives, through Gethsemane where was the winepress, on to the Judgement Hall, on to Pilate, on to Calvary, on to death and the grave, on through death to life eternal, on to the eternal abode, where a Throne of Glory and an imperishable Kingdom awaited.
This is the drama that was being enacted that night - the drama of man’s salvation, man’s rescue by Man from sin and misery, man’s deliverance from Satanic captivity and thralldom, man’s death to sin and his rising again to new life in Christ.
And Christ gave them a picture - and gives it to us too: a picture to make it all plain and easy to be understood, yet deep and mysterious nonetheless; that we might gaze on the glory of it and delight evermore in the experience of it. What He gave is the picture of the True Vine.
There was therefore a false or an unfruitful vine. Israel, of which at that time the Jews were the surviving representatives in Judea, was a vine planted by God in a barren and hostile world - a world which in its day was given over entirely to idolatry, darkness, willful blindness and sin unmentionable. Yet Israel was an unprofitable and unfruitful vine. Asaph, the singing prophet of David’s day, spoke of that unhappy vine in Psalm 80. He looks upon it from the day of its highest glory under the rule of King David. His prophetic eye travels down the avenue of time and he sees its end. He sees the vine of Israel given over into the hand of the spoiler. The walls of the vineyard are broken down. The keepers are gone. The jungle has taken over. The wild boar is loose, wasting the vine and rooting it up. The fire of judgment devours it and the divine displeasure hovers over it.
What curse is this that hangs over the Israelitish vine? What has brought it about? The answer is in Isaiah 5 - the OT parable of the vine. The owner, God, comes looking for the fruit in its season, but instead of grapes the vine has brought forth wild grapes - the grapes of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The fate of the Israelitish vine is the fate of its original in the Garden of Eden. God planted the human race in the Garden as a pure and fertile vine. He made a Covenant with it known as The Covenant of Works. That Covenant was in express terms that the vine should bring forth good fruit for the One who planted it. The promised reward to the race was life for evermore. The penalty was rejection and death. We are all branches and twigs of that original vine - and behold the fruit! We are all in breach of that Old Covenant, just as Israel in the Dead Sea fruit produced on their vine. Israel was planted as a second vine to keep hope alive in an otherwise doomed race, but the Jewish vine fully and finally proved that nothing can survive or flourish which depends in any way upon man.
Only THE TRUE VINE of God’s own planting will withstand the storms and violence of sin, of wrath and of judgment.
So in the fullness of time a tender shoot from the Vine of heaven was transplanted from the glory and placed in human nature at Bethlehem. It grew and flourished in the favour of God. The enemy sought to uproot and destroy it in the cradle and could not. He sought to crush and defile it in the wilderness of temptation but failed. At last however - and this was the night, my brethren, this was the night - he would succeed, or think to succeed by bringing down upon it the blight of death and the grave.
But the agony of death and the darkness of the tomb could not destroy it. Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes, and in the might of that new life Christ comes forth as THE PLANT OF RENOWN which now fills the world with its fruitful boughs.
This is the New Covenant of Grace, which is sure to succeed, because it does not depend, as the Old Covenant, on the ability and the obedience of man, but on the faithfulness of God and the uncorruptible merit of the God-Man Christ Jesus, who fulfilled and magnified the Law of God, and made it honourable.
Here at last is a Kingdom which is indestructible, a power that is greater than the greatest and stronger than the strongest. Here is the TRUE VINE of which God Himself is the owner and the Husbandman - a Vine which will succeed at the last in filling the storehouses of heaven with Creation’s fruit, and add to the wealth of God a new and adorable value of praise, thanksgiving, joy and rejoicing, beside which the Old Vine, and all who cling to it, will be forever forgotten.
“I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.” (Isaiah 63: 3-4)
This mystic and wondrous Vine through which flows that elixir of life, that atoning virtue of the New Covenant of Grace, the Blood of Christ, reveals the glory and the grace of God.
IT SPEAKS OF THE SON OF GOD, THE SECOND PERSON OF THE GODHEAD.
“I am the True Vine.” He who bears up the pillars of Creation is the One who speaks. He tells us who He is and what has brought Him into the world. What is He doing here? Why - He is bringing life and peace and joy and mercy to a lost and guilty world. Where death universally reigns through the curse of a Law which nobody kept and everyone has broken, He who is the Prince of Life, the fountain of life and grace and truth, has been planted in our nature in the midst of this moral creation which has sold itself to the devil and death, and made its own fatal covenant with the grave and hell. He has been planted in our midst that we might be grafted into Him as into the Vine, and His life through that rugged and scarred stem - that life which is both human and divine, which is of this world and yet not of this world - His life, we say, should be ours and ours should be His.
Plucked from our own vine of sin and death and hell, we are by grace grafted into the heavenly Vine; the life sap of that Plant of Renown begins to flow through us; all things become new, and behold, where death reigned and where all was barrenness and sin, life appears, eternal life, new thoughts and new desires show themselves - His thoughts and desires. Whatever He is we now are, as Paul writes: “As He is so are we in this world.”
Before we were reborn in Christ we had a false promise of life. We thought indeed that we had life - and so we had, but it was the degenerate life of the strange vine, bearing only the bitter fruit of death and the grave, of hate and shame, of enmity against God and truth.
THROUGH THE RUIN OF THE OLD VINE AND THE PLANTING OF THE NEW, GOD HAS RECEIVED FAR MORE THAN WAS LOST AND HAS ACHIEVED A GREATER HARVEST THAN EVER COULD HAVE BEEN.
The Old Covenant failed because it was built upon man. That was how it had to be. The New Covenant - the planting of the True Vine - could not be set up till place had been found for it. It is a Covenant of Grace for sinners, and therefore could not be brought in till the ruin of sin had made way for mercy. In its very nature therefore it is a covenant of grace and mercy, not of works and not of man’s deserving. It was only when all else had proved insufficient that God Himself could enter in and take upon Himself the curse of the Law that was broken and the covenant that was defiled. As He turned His face away from the old vine, in His wrath, so He turned to the Beloved One, the Eternal Son, His other and very self, giving Him in death to be planted in the room and stead of the old, and by this means to fill heaven with the fruit of it, and the beauty, the fragrance and the renown of it.
ALL WHO ARE NOT GRAFTED INTO CHRIST AS THE SPECIAL CARE OF THE HEAVENLY HUSBANDMAN
ARE CUT OFF FOR EVER FROM HIS LIFE.
So the words of Christ in His description of the True Vine – “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered, and men gather then and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
All hope of salvation apart from Christ is vain and delusive. It is only “He that abideth in me and I in him” who “bringeth forth fruit.”
The error of Israel, then and now, was to go about to establish their own righteousness. To this day they look to themselves and their own obedience and to the regulations of the Law as their hope of salvation. They boast of their vine, in willful ignorance that it is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: that their grapes are grapes of gall, and their clusters are bitter (Duet. 32:32) Jeremiah (chap. 2, verse 21) declares “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?”
So is the sinner’s hope outside of Christ. It is a hope which springs from heady pride and culpable ignorance, for who does not know - if he is honest - that within the heart is nothing but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores (Isaiah 1: 6).
The world about us, it is self evident, is on the broad way that leads to destruction - this mad, mad, crazy world. Yet all think it shall be well with them and are well content with the wild grapes of sin and worldly pleasure. Any fable will be believed, but the truth no-one will believe unless awakened and constrained by the Spirit of Truth. They are occupied with the passing fancy, the new fad, the latest craze, but no-one inquires after the Plant of Renown. Here is the greatest and grandest news the world ever heard, and it is conclusive evidence of our lost and cursed human state that it is “nothing to those who pass by.”
Here is life from the dead, victory over sin, over death and over that grave which awaits the entire human race; here is the gift and assurance of eternal life; joy and peace are here, and the warrant of a blissful eternity. There the glory of Christ as Creation’s Plant of Renown will come to full fruition in everyone who believes - but “who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isaiah 53: 1)
And make no mistake about it: it is only those who believe who are grafted into the True Vine. The Heavenly Husbandman knows all (from eternity) whom He grafted in. They are there by His master skill and eternal choice. Those who believe are those who repent. Those who repent are those who hear the Word and in whom that Word works to the giving of life - even life for evermore.