The Fruit Bearing Branch
1. The topic of today's sermon is "The Fruit Bearing Branch," or "The Branch That Bears Fruit." The biblical passage given to us is the well known parable of "The Vine." I myself put this title to today's sermon. But to speak personally about it, I did not care for this kind of phrase, ["The Fruit Bearing Branch"] originally. Because I always feel very apprehensive if asked if [I] am a branch with an abundance of fruit. Something really scary is at the opening of chapter fifteen, isn't it?
2. "I am the true vine, my Father is the gardener. Although connected to me, all the branches which don't bear fruit, my Father will remove. But, all that do bear fruit, he will maintain so that they bear more and more fruit in abundance," (verses one through two).
3. What is "the fruit" spoken of here? The following is written in verse sixteen. "You did not choose me. I chose you. I have ordained you to go out and bear fruit and that the fruit remain, and you are to be given anything you request of my Father in my name." If we simply read this portion, "the fruit" is clearly a product of missionary work. Therefore, it means the branch not bearing the fruit of such missionary work will be pruned by God the Father. It's terribly frightening.
4. I sometimes hear the old people in this church say "I'm sorry that I can do nothing for God." While far from my own [business], I wonder when those who have put in such a term of service read this passage what in the world kind of things will they think about from it? "Oooh, I will be cut out and thrown away!" Wouldn't that lead to a really harassing fear for them? I might be going too far, but I sometimes think like that. Therefore, I myself did not really like the words "The Fruit Bearing Branch." What about you?
To Remain In Christ
5. However, as we proceed to read this scripture passage carefully we come to notice an important point written here which we should not overlook as far as for understanding the words of the Lord. It is the words "my Father is the gardener," written in the place I read shortly ago. It says the one who sees whether or not a branch has fruit is God the Father. The one who judges is God the Father. It is not any human being. Therefore, it doesn't seem the type of thing like "How great a job did I do?," where we are able to simply compare and evaluate with the human eye. Even if the fruit is invisible to the human eye, there is the likelihood that God is looking at the abundant fruit. On the other hand even when abundant fruit is reflected in the human eye, there is the likelihood that God has not seen fruit at all.
6. While thinking in such a light as we read chapter fifteen, indeed, we come to notice the emphasis is not put on "what abundant fruit do you have?" That is not the important factor, rather, the emphasis is put on "what kind of branch is bearing the fruit?" What kind of branch is "the branch that bears fruit?" He says it is the branch which is spiritually [or in a living way] connected to the vine1 of Christ. The focal point of the issue is whether or not it is connected.
7. Please look from verse three onwards. "According to the words I have spoken, you have already become clean. Please be connected to me. I am also connected to you. As unless the branch of the vine is connected to the vine, it cannot bear fruit by itself, so you also unless you are connected to me, you cannot bear fruit. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a person is connected to me and I also am connected to that person, he or she will bear fruit abundantly. Apart from me you cannot do anything. If there is a person who is not connected to me, he or she will be thrown out like a branch and will wither to death. Then, [the persons] will be gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned up," (verses three through six).
8. The abundant fruit is not borne by the effort of the branches. The branches themselves do not have the power to bear fruit. When they are connected in a living way to the vine, by its life the branch bears fruit. Therefore, one should not think only about "fruit." You must question the relationship of the branch to the main line of the grape vine. Here is the promise Christ made when he said, "If a person is connected to me and I am connected to him [or her], that person will bear fruit abundantly." At first glance the message of verse one seems to be inconsistent with his promise because the text says "though one is connected to me, the branch which does not produce fruit..." But, you can often see such a thing if it is of a plant. In short, while this [branch] is visibly connected [or seems to be connected], in essence it is a branch that is not alive. In other words, the facts about being connected is the issue. Therefore, we, first of all, must understand what "to be connected to Christ" means.
Keeping In The Word Of Christ
9. So, I would like to read beginning with verse seven. "If you are connected to me and my words are always in you, please ask for whatever you wish. If you do that, I will fulfill it. When you bear fruit abundantly and become my disciples, my Father will receive glory through it," (verses seven through eight).
10. The words "be connected" can be translated "remain in, keep in." Furthermore, we don't know it from the translations but the word "remain in, be connected to" is used twice in verse seven. If translated literally, the text says, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you." This matter of being connected to Christ [or remaining in him] does not seem to simply be a matter of a mystical union. If it does not have any mysterious mood, neither does it have [anything to do with some] paranormal stimulation. It is specifically nothing other than the word of Christ remaining inside of us.
11. This matter of saying "be connected to" or "remain in" means that at the background there existed people who "left off" and "did not stay connected." Furthermore, what reminds us of a link back to people "who left" is the sixth chapter of the gospel [of John]. Please open to it. Recorded there is first of all the story dealing with "The Miracle Of The Bread," and in association with that miracle story, the Lord Jesus gives a lengthy sermon. The theme of the sermon is "The Bread Of Life." The Lord said, "I am the bread of life. The person who comes to me will never starve and the person who believes in me will never be thirsty," (6:35). Furthermore, beginning in verse fifty-six, he gave the following message. "The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood is always in me and I am also always in that person. The Father who lives has sent me and as I live in the Father, the person who eats me will live through me. This is the bread that fell from heaven. It is different from the kind which although your ancestors had eaten it, they ended up dying. The person who eats this bread will live forever," (6:56-58). What is translated here as "he [or she] is in me and ... I am in him [or her]" is the phrase used earlier "remains."
12. But, the ones who "do not remain" come up next. "Therefore, many of the disciples asked this, 'This is a truly horrible message. Who will hear such a message?," (verse sixty). "For this reason, many of the disciples left and no longer walked with Jesus," (verse sixty-six). They were those who saw and believed the signs Jesus did. They must have been those who rejoiced greatly at the miracles of the Lord Jesus who multiplied the bread. But, they stumbled over the message of the Lord Jesus. They did not accept the message of the Lord Jesus when he said the Lord Jesus is the bread of life which came down form heaven and eating the Lord Jesus (that is, 'believing' [in him]) could grant eternal life. The words of the Lord did not remain in them.
13. So then, what kind of persons were they who did remain? Please look beginning with verse sixty-seven. "Then, Jesus said to the two of them, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered, 'O Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and we know that you indeed are the holy one of God,'" (6:67-69). Only the twelve who confessed like that remained.
14. The person, who pursues the things of this world and things which only will rot away and who only considers Christ just as a means to that end, cannot remain in Christ. Though there was a mind in them where Christ had satisfied their human desires, before too long they had come to breaking away and leaving. They had broken away when things went against their desires, that is when difficulties and persecution, when inconveniences to their person came into being. While it looked like they were connected to [him], it then became clear that they were truly2 withered branches which had no charge of life.
15. The ones who remained were only those who confessed that the Lord Jesus has the words of eternal life. This matter of keeping in one's mind and inner being these words of eternal life is indeed nothing other than being connected to Christ and remaining in Christ.
Remaining In The Love Of Christ
16. Let's go back to chapter fifteen. Please look beginning with verse nine. "As my Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Please remain in my love. As I keep the commandments of my Father and remain in his love, if you also keep my commandments, you will come to remain in my love," (verses nine and ten).
17. Well, the word "remain" which showed up right here in this text has turned up three times. In addition to that the words "being connected to Christ" here could be replaced with the words remaining in the love of Christ. What kind of meaning is there [in saying] to remain in the love of Christ? What precedes [his statement about remaining in the love of Christ] is the love of Christ [for us] where he says, "As my Father has loved me, I also have loved you." First of all, Christ loved us. Therefore, we can remain in the love of Christ.
18. However, it is not simply that he said "to live thinking about the love of Christ" or "to live thanking [God] for being loved by Christ." Christ is saying here, "If you keep my commandments, it amounts to your abiding in my love." Then what are Christ's "commandments" which he speaks of as "my commandments?" These are distinctly recorded immediately following in verse twelve. "As I have loved you, please love one another. This is my commandment." In other words, to live connected to Christ is nothing other than the disciples of Christ living together in mutual love for one another.
19. As it is clear through these particular words, whenever we think of how we live connected to Christ we mustn't be thinking only of the relationship between "Christ and me." Saying "I am alive connected to Christ by myself" won't cut it because this matter is clear from how Christ used the "grape vine" as a parable. Have we ever seen a grape vine where a single branch alone comes out of the vine [or the trunk line]? I haven't. In short, the image of the "grape vine" is an image of many branches coming out from one vine. This matter of a certain person being connected as a branch of grapes to the vine is nothing other than being connected to the vine in which many other branches are naturally connected. To sum it up, what is illustrated by this parable is the body of fellowship connecting in Christ, that is, the church. One cannot detach himself or herself from the church and just be connected to Christ alone. One cannot detach himself or herself from the brothers and the sisters who are in Christ and be connected only to Christ.
20. Well, these matters are spoken of in "The Last Supper." I suppose what we are reminded of with "The Last Supper" is probably "Holy Communion" which is repeated in the church. However, in The Gospel Of John, we don't have an account that has to do with the creation and establishment of holy communion in the way the other gospels tell it. For example, with reference to the bread of holy communion the words which were spoken by the Lord "This is my body which is given for you. Please carry this out as a remembrance of me," (Luke 22:19) do not appear in this gospel book. Why is [that]? Because John was not trying to give clarification to the origin of holy communion, but the very meaning of it. In the final analysis, holy communion was illustrated even in "this vine parable." He has illustrated in the words of the Lord how we are to take part in holy communion. It is about keeping in our minds his words and remaining in the love of Christ.
21. In holy communion, we believe and confess that Christ alone has the words of eternal life and without separating from the words of Christ, we continue on in eating Christ (in other words, we continue on in believing in Christ and continue on in taking part in his life). Furthermore, as persons remaining in the love of Christ, we live in building up the church where [the believers] love each other. That is what it is to be connected to Christ. Nothing special is required in order to bear fruit in abundance. It is nothing more than no matter what state we are in, we just hear the Word earnestly together and continue to take part in holy communion together and we plainly continue on in our quite everyday expected church life. The important thing is as we live connected to Christ like this we do not live all worried and in doubt over whether or not we ourselves are persons with abundant fruit.
1 Literally, "tree trunk"
2 This word "truly or truth" is also the word "fruit."