Whenever I have gone away on a youth trip, mission trip, or a hunting trip … as much as I look forward to them and enjoy myself on them … there is also this voice in the back of my head which says, “Don’t call home.” Now it’s not that I don’t love my wife or my kids, but when I go on a trip and am gone for about a week … I never know what my wife will be up to. One year I had taken some youth on a servant event trip and on the same day we left, I received a picture from my wife. It was a picture of our kitchen cabinets empty and all the doors missing. What better time to start a kitchen cabinet restoration project than when I’m not around to slow it down?
In light of our gospel reading this morning, I’m reminded of another sudden surprise. Again, I was away on a youth servant event and even though Jessica knows how much I enjoy being out in the yard and how therapeutic it is for me … she took it upon herself to do some yard work. She decided to “trim” the bushes in the front of our Nebraska home. Sounds pretty innocent right? Well, when I say she “trimmed” the bushes, what I really mean is whacked them off at ground level. Granted they were overgrown as you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk to our front door without being brushed by them … but to buzz the bushes to the ground was a bit extreme in my mind. She told me that she was inspired by a passage of Scripture when she started on the bushes. Granted she took it out of context, but the passage roughly said, “if it offendeth thee … cut it off.” The bushes hath offendeth her.
Jesus this morning talks about his Heavenly Father’s pruning project. Jesus says, “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” (John 15:2). Unlike the buzzing of the bushes because they offendeth my wife, God has a different plan. He doesn’t cut off branches or prune branches because they are overgrown. No, instead he cuts off the branches which don’t bear any fruit. If a branch does bear fruit, it doesn’t get whacked off but pruned back so that it can bear even more fruit.
In all of this, Jesus is talking about you and me. Jesus is the vine and you and I are the branches. The good fruit which is produced are those good works we do for God and those around us. The fruit we bear because of the connection we have with the vine, from our connection to Jesus.
However … if one doesn’t bear fruit, it’s because that person isn’t receiving any nourishment from Jesus. If they aren’t receiving any nourishment, they are a dead branch, cut off from the vine. They may still be growing in the sense of leaves and becoming a bigger branch, but in spiritual terms … they’re dead to Christ.
Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh here. Maybe I’m jumping the gun. A branch doesn’t instantly bear fruit now does it. Before a branch can even bear fruit, the branch has to grow. It needs to be nourished. It needs to be taken care of and assisted in its growing through proper watering and pruning. The same thing is true with you and me. Think about it.
When you were baptized, when you came to faith and started to receive your nourishment from Christ … you didn’t instantly bear fruit. When I first started to receive that nourishment of Christ, all I could do was eat, sleep, cry, and dirty up a ton of diapers. Everything had to be given to me to help me grow so that when I became older I could actually bear fruit. And the fruit I first started to produce wasn’t much, but with proper pruning, with sometimes painful pruning as I went through my Confirmation classes, I was able to slowly bear more and more fruit. The same will happen with confirmands who are getting confirmed later today, the same happens with you and me as we continue to grow in our faith. There are times we still need to be pruned, but as long as we continue to abide in Christ, we will continue to bear fruit for his glory and honor.
But what if we were to take a different look at this. Listen again to what Jesus says … “‘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, thrown into the fire and burned’” (John 15:5-6). So far it is about you and me as the branch and Jesus is the vine. But … what if the “he” of verse six doesn’t refer to you or me at all? What if the “he” of “he is like a branch that is thrown away” is actually referring to Jesus? Before you call me out for preaching heresy, hear me out. I know that there is nothing in this gospel reading which would warrant this kind of idea, but when you look at the rest of Scripture … the rest of Scripture points to Jesus as being a branch. So, so what if Jesus is the branch instead of you and me? What would that mean, what would that look like?
Isaiah 11 is a chapter which prophesies about the coming of Christ. Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (11:1). Jeremiah 23 says, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land’” (23:5). Isaiah points to Jesse, which is David’s father. Jesus is a distant descendant of King David. Due to this royal lineage, this would also make Jesus King. As the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Jesus comes to reign wisely, and he does what is just and right. So in both Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus is called a Branch. Still with me?
Remember earlier how I said a branch doesn’t instantly bear fruit? Jesus didn’t either. Jesus had to grow up just like you and I did. He grew up as a child in stature and wisdom. I’m sure Jesus bore fruit before his public ministry began at the age of 30, but in the Gospels we really see the fruit which Jesus bore for God and for others.
But because of the kind of good fruit Jesus bore, some like the Pharisees and other religious elite felt threatened, they felt like they were being choked out. So what do you do if a branch offendeth thee? They cut it off. The religious elite cut off the Branch prophesied from of old and they grafted him into a different tree.
Cut off from the vine of God, Jesus, the righteous Branch was cast out of the temple, cast out of the Heavenly Father’s house, out of His presence. Jesus was cut off and grafted, was attached to a different tree … the tree of the cross. God viewed His son, He viewed Jesus as a branch whose fruit had withered and which failed to produce any fruit (Jude 12). God gathered Jesus and cast him along with all the other dead branches which had been cut off into the fire. Jesus, cast into the fire of hell cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). The Righteous branch coming forth from the stump of Jesse was severed from the vine, Jesus was separated from his Heavenly Father.
Why? St. Paul says that Christ willfully allowed himself to be severed from the vine because he was made to be our sin, he took upon himself the curse of our sin, our punishment (2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 3:13). Jesus was made to be the fruitless branch in your and my place and thus he suffered the fate of the fruitless branch in your and my place.
But you know … something interesting happens when you prune or cut off a branch. From the spot from where you cut that branch … a new one begins to grow. If Jesus is the fruitless branch which has been cut off because of our sins … then through His loving action, you and I are the new branches which are able grow out from the Father, from the vine. Because Jesus voluntarily let himself be cut off from the vine for you and me … we are able to live with God and for God as He is the one who fuels us with His amazing love.
As we continue to live being fueled from the vine, we will at times go through times of pruning. This pruning will hurt, but know and believe that since you are still connected to the vine of God, He is still there with you. He is going give you whatever it is you need to make it through. As our risen Savior continues to tend his vineyard and be with you … he will help you grow in your faith walk and you will bear much fruit. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior, now and forever. Amen.