Last Words for the Last Supper

Jesus' Farewell Teaching to His Disciples

John 13-17

Teaching t09870

Introduction

The Upper Room Discourse: a private conversation with his disciples about how to be effective as his followers in the interim between his ascension and return. Specifically, Jesus explains what it looks like to follow him, the resources he gives us that enable us to follow him, and the wonderful rewards of following him (true fulfillment; peace that triumphs over tribulation; fullness of joy).

In Jn. 15, Jesus provides us with an extended metaphor describing a spiritually fruitful life. Let’s start by reading the metaphor part (we’ll read the rest soon)—read 15:1-6,8,11,16a. First, let's identify the key elements of the metaphor:

The VINEDRESSER stands for God the Father, the One who oversees the vineyard and initiates key elements in the fruit-bearing process.

Jesus is the TRUE VINE, the unique source of spiritual life that produces the fruit. In calling himself the “true vine,” Jesus is echoing the many Old Testament passages where God calls Israel his vine or vineyard and laments their lack of fruitfulness. Jesus is the Messiah, the One who fulfills the hopes of Israel and enables God’s people to become truly fruitful.

The BRANCHES stand for human beings, whose fruitfulness is directly connected to how they relate to Jesus. We’ll look at these different kinds of branches in a minute.

And what is the FRUIT? Although it involves changes in our character and spiritual experience (“the fruit of the Spirit”), it is ultimately other people whose lives are lastingly changed by Jesus through our influence. The whole purpose of fruit is reproduction. Re-read 15:8. The idea of glorifying the Father means displaying the unique greatness of God to others so that they are drawn to him (see Matt. 5:16). Re-read 15:16. This language echoes Matt. 28:19,20 (read), where Jesus told his followers to “go and make disciples of me”—people who trust in Jesus as the Messiah and follow his instruction.

To live a spiritually fruitful life is to allow Jesus to transform you so that other people are drawn to him. True spirituality is ultimately other-centered rather than self-centered. If you relate to Jesus only so that he will bless you, you will be disappointed. But if you relate to him so that he may bless others through you, you will experience the full joy of being spiritually reproductive!

“OK, I want this—how do I become fruitful?” The first step (which is not explained in this passage because of the audience) is to be reconciled to God by receiving Christ. Once we have done this, the Vinedresser and the Vine want us to be spiritually fruitful, and they will faithfully play their roles toward this end. Our spiritual fruitfulness hinges on how we relate/respond to them . . .

Cooperate with the Vinedresser

Once we are in the Vine, we come under the Vinedresser's care. God the Father begins to intervene in very personal ways designed to help us become fruitful. And here the metaphor breaks down—we can choose to resist his work or cooperate with it. 15:2 speaks of two different ways he does this.

Read 15:2a. What does it mean that he “takes away” the branch that is not bearing fruit? This sounds like unless we bear fruit, God will reject us and judge us. But this is clearly contradictory to the rest of scripture, which teaches that God accepts us on the basis of our faith in Christ apart from works (Eph. 2:8,9) and that we are then eternally secure (Jn. 10:27-30). To whom then is Jesus referring? Two views are possible.

He could be referring to people who have a superficial association with him, but who have never truly believed in him—people like Judas, for example. In this case, these branches would be identical to the branches in 15:6 who are destined for God's judgment unless they turn to Christ.

It is also possible (and I think likely) that Jesus is referring to true Christians who are not fruitful. The verb translated “takes away” (airo) should be translated differently. Airo, like most words, has a fairly wide range of meaning—from “take away” (Jn. 1:29) to “take up” (Jn. 5:8). Jn. 11:41 contains both uses. It seems to make more sense to translate it “lift up” in this case for two reasons: Vinedressers do indeed lift up/tie up unfruitful branches out of the mud and shade so they get sunshine, and other passages speak of God's initiative to stimulate us to fruitfulness (read Heb. 12:11). He does this in many ways.

Maybe you’re ignorant of how to grow spiritually, so he brings you into contact with walking Christians who can guide us to the resources you need to grow. Maybe you’re mired in things that prevent fruitfulness (e.g., immoral relationship; materialism; bitterness), so he convicts you and/or allows you to experience the consequences of your poor choices to wake you up to your need to get back with him. Whatever he does, you can be sure it is motivated by his desire to see you have the true joy of being fruitful for him. Is the Vinedresser trying to “lift you up?” How are you responding?

What about those who are already bearing fruit? Why mess with success? Read 15:2b. Even fruitful branches have lots of extraneous growth that looks impressive, but uses precious life that could go to bearing more and bigger fruit. God wants the greatest harvest possible, so he “prunes” us so we may bear more fruit. Do you recognize God’s pruning activity in your life?

It may involve God asking to remove things that, while not overtly immoral, are extraneous and therefore inhibiting greater fruit production. HOBBIES, RELATIONSHIPS, PLANS, FINANCIAL ALLOCATIONS may have to be adjusted or abandoned—not because God is a COSMIC KILL-JOY—but because they stand in the way of even greater fruitfulness and true joy. Some of these are easy to abandon because they have already become stale in comparison to following Jesus—but some are very painful to lay aside.

It may involve ongoing revelation of how much more selfish and autonomous you are than you thought you were. Ironically, it is those who embrace the goal of impacting others for Christ who experience this painful revelation. To make matters worse, we usually experience this revelation in the midst of suffering for Christ (e.g., LEADERSHIP; PARENTING). It feels overwhelming—but the Vinedresser knows exactly what he is doing. This painful pruning is designed to increase our appreciation of God’s grace and our dependence on his power, so he can increase our spiritual depth and effectiveness.

Are you being pruned by God? How are you responding?

Abide in the Vine

Jesus is very clear about our part in this fruit-production—“abide in me” (re-read 15:4,5). Only his power can transform us and work through us so that others are drawn to him. “Abiding” connotes dependence on Jesus instead of self-sufficiency (15:4b,5b). “Abiding” also connotes ongoing dependence on Jesus (“remain;” present tense) instead of intermittent dependence. The key to a fruitful and therefore joyous life is not religious self-effort, but personal, ongoing dependence on Jesus to live his life through us.

What does this look like in real life? This sounds a little nebulous—almost like Eastern religious passivity. But it is an active dependence that expresses itself in practical ways. Jesus goes on in 15:7-12 to explain some of these ways. Which of these does the Spirit arrest your attention on?

Abiding in Christ involves praying effectively because your prayers are in accordance with his word. Read 15:7. What more basic way can we depend on Jesus than to pray to him and ask him for what we need and want? Many of us don’t pray much because we’re still self-sufficient. (The Father’s pruning is designed to address this!) But many of us pray little because it hasn’t “worked”—we have gotten what we wished, so we quit praying. But the key to “getting whatever we wish” is that we are abiding in Jesus’ words—letting his words inform us of what to wish and ask for. Jesus is not a Genie who appears when we rub the bottle of prayer, saying “Your wish is my command.” He is the Lord, who invites us to learn what he wants to do and to participate in advancing his will by asking him for it in very practical ways. As a baby Christian, most of my prayers were for what I wanted at the time. But when I listened to godly people pray, their prayers were studded with scripture. I found that the more I prayed for God’s priorities, the more answers to my prayers I experienced—and it is so exciting to experience answered prayer! And the more I spent time in God’s Word, the more familiar I became with God’s priorities and how they applied to my situation. CORPORATE PRAYER IS A GREAT WAY TO LEARN THIS!

Abiding in Christ involves experiencing his love by trusting and following his direction. Read 15:9,10. Now we must be very to understand what this does not mean, as well as understanding what it does mean. At first glance, this sounds extremely threatening—like God won’t accept us unless we obey him all the time. For some of us, this dredges up painful memories of abusive parents or authority figures whose commands were self-centered and rejected/punished us unless we complied. That is religion, not Christianity—law, not grace. If you have received Christ, he already loves you with a permanent and unconditional love (“I have loved you”). The point is not that we must continue to earn his love by obedience, but that we continue to experience his love by trusting him—and the acid test of trust is obedience. When I was a child, my parents’ love was unconditional—and I am so grateful for the security and stability their unconditional love gave me. But my enjoyment of their love and my experience of deepening intimacy with their love were connected with my trust in them—by following their guidance. When I mistrusted them and disobeyed them, I felt distant and alienated—and even convinced myself that they didn’t love me. But when I trusted their love and wisdom and followed their guidance, I felt even closer and more secure in their love. Something very similar to this is also true of our relationship with Jesus. Don’t think of his commands as oppressive, burdensome rules—think of them as invitations to experience his love more deeply!

Abiding in Christ involves building sacrificial love-relationships with other Christians. Read 15:12,13. Do you want to experience Christ’s love in deeper intimacy? Do you want to see him transform you into someone who draws others to him? Do you want to experience the fullness of joy that results from a spiritually productive life? Then you have to keep his command to get deeply involved in Christian community! There is no such thing as a fruitful Christian who is isolated from other Christians. His life-giving, life-transforming love flows into you not only as you pray according to his word and as you keep his commands—but also as you give his love to other Christians (and receive it from them). American Christianity tends to be autonomous (“Just Jesus and me”) and its community tends to be extremely superficial (once-a-week “Drive-thru”). Jesus is calling you to get involved enough with other Christians that you regularly receive and give his encouragement, admonition, forgiveness & forbearance, etc. to/from other Christians. This is the very best context to learn how to pray according to his word. This is the very best context to give and receive help to keep his other commandments. Many of you are spiritually unfruitful and joyless simply because you won’t get involved in this way! I had to learn this the hard way—and I still have to learn it. Will you trust Jesus enough to keep this commandment? If you’re not in a home group, join one! If you are in a home group, get off the bench and start laying down your life for your friends!

Conclusion

What has God arrested your attention on? Maybe it’s receiving Christ. Maybe it’s cooperating with his pruning. Maybe it’s praying informed by his word. Maybe it’s trusting him enough to follow his direction. Maybe it’s getting involved with other Christians and learning to love them. Just respond to the one thing he is outing his finger on—and you’ll begin to bear fruit!

Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt