As Jesus sat with His disciples in the Upper Room, He continued to give them His last lessons before His journey to the cross. Over and over again, He showed the deep interconnectedness that they would have with Christ and His Father through the Holy Spirit. This time, He used a picture where He was a grapevine and His followers were the branches that stem off from it. This is what He said:
“‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will 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.’”
Jesus was trying to show just how close they would be with Him, even after He was gone. A branch finds its whole life from what it receives from the vine. His followers are meant to live in complete dependence on Him. The branch that does not honor Christ does not truly belong to Him, and God the Father will cut it off and cast it away. That was the very thing that was happening in the nation of Israel. The religious leaders were like bad branches. They weren’t loyal to the plans of God and they were betraying His Son with their every rejection. God was going to cut them off from the New Covenant blessings.
For those who did have faith, God would prune the same way a good farmer will cut back His vineyard. The vines look stark and empty as God does His work, but the branches will be freed from giving nourishment to leaves and branches that are not going to bear fruit. They will have energy to have new growth so they can bear new fruit.
The job of the followers of Jesus is to act like the branch. We are to stay in connection and utter dependence on the Person of Jesus Christ. As His followers draw their strength and hope from Him, Jesus will bear fruit through them! This is how Jesus described it:
“‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.’”
When Jesus says that His disciples can do nothing apart from Him, He does not mean that they will become blobs on the ground that can’t move. God gives all human beings their ability to get up and move and breathe and have their being every day, whether they believe in Jesus or not. By His lavish, common grace, He keeps the whole universe going at all times. Jesus sustains it all by His powerful Word. But when those who are called to be Jesus’ disciples begin to live for the Kingdom, they are joining the work of the Spirit. It simply cannot be done apart from the Lord! They must make nearness to Jesus their highest goal. They must be so closely connected to Jesus that it is like the physical connection between a vine and its branches. From that deep connection and that transformed life, the Spirit will flow into the lives of others. And the rewards are pretty amazing. Listen to what Jesus said next:
“‘As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’”
Wow. Do you see how love the love of God expands? First, Jesus and the Holy Spirit respond to God the Father with devoted obedience. The Father sent the Son to earth. He was going to send the Spirit next. In the richness of their divine love, they work in perfect harmony and unity. Each follower of Christ is drawn into that powerful love and that beautiful work. It is a place of infinite joy! And the outpouring of that nearness to God flows to the people around them. We are to love one another with the love of God Himself. This is how Jesus described it:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. 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. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. This is My command: Love one another.’”
Wow. That is the second time Jesus issued that command on the night of His arrest. This was something He wanted His disciples to pay special attention to. Their love for each other had to be so extreme that they would be willing to die for one another. It was the same love Jesus gave. He had every right to demand it from us. The children of God’s Kingdom are called to radically love one another. But that was not what they could expect from the rest of the world. Jesus also said:
“‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than His master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law, “They have hated Me without reason.”’”
As Jesus prepared to return to His Father, He knew He was leaving a situation on the ground that His disciples were going to have to live with. The disciples could expect the same kind of terrible treatment from the very same men that were about to put Jesus to death.
What terrible guilt hung over the religious leaders and those who followed them! They had been given chance after exhaustive chance to see the beauty of the miracles. They knew the Old Testament law, they understood the prophets. As Jesus taught the true interpretation of the Word of God from God’s point of view, they could have let it light their way to an even deeper, purer understanding! These priests and scribes and Pharisees of Israel had been given the unimaginably great honor of leading God’s holy nation, but when God came to serve them, they killed Him. When they showed hatred for the Words of Jesus, they showed that they hated God the Father as well. If they were so grounded in their hatred of God, so deeply steeped in rebellion and sin, why would they listen to Jesus’ disciples as they carried on with His message?
The followers of Christ throughout time have continued to face the same hostile opposition from the people of their own generations. Jesus was leading an invasion of the Kingdom of Light into the Kingdom of Darkness, and those loyal to the enemy of God would fight against the work of God no matter which century they belong to. This message was meant for the disciples, but it was also meant for you and me.