Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 5, 2024

John 15:9-17 Commentary

A couple of weeks ago Jesus compared being the Good Shepherd with how a hired hand works: the Good Shepherd is committed to the core, the hired hand high tails it when trouble comes. Now, in the second half of his discourse on being the True Vine, Jesus describes his disciples as friends rather than servants. It’s a similar message: there is more to this bond than doing a job or producing results.

This subtle reminder is important in a section expounding the importance of producing fruit that will last. We do not do so out of fear of being pruned by the vinegrower… we produce good fruit from the bonds of friendship and love—and because that is what we are being fed by the True Vine.

Jesus tells the disciples that they know everything about what he is up to now. They have seen it in these three years of ministry, they have heard it from his very lips (even if they have tried to deny some of it). They have witnessed Jesus commune with the Father and have had Jesus share with them the Trinity’s mutual purposes.

Now, Jesus is helping them get ready for a new way of abiding and remaining with him. Soon, he will no longer walk among them, but they are still the ones he has chosen to produce the fruit of the Kingdom. They will need to learn to turn to the Father in prayer (v 16), they will need receive the Holy Spirit (which Jesus will breathe onto them after his resurrection), and they will need to keep themselves connected to how they have learned to be and think from their Rabbi.

Here, in the True Vine discourse, Jesus summarizes how their thinking and being is to be; they are to love one another as friends of God. Jesus tells them to look at the bond he has with the Father and how that bond of love has been shared with them. Jesus modelled obedience for them—obedience known through listening, doing, and staying close.

Far from calling us to blind obedience to a set of arbitrary rules, Jesus has been fulfilling the law and producing good fruit in their midst by filling the law with love—love for God and neighbour is righteousness. Jesus Christ has shown them the blessing of being known as God’s beloved and how belovedness flows in blessings to others. This is the fruit that will last.

St. Paul summarized such abiding in love in 1 Corinthians as the “more excellent way.” (12.31b): “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (13.4-8a) If this is not a summary of the purpose and way Jesus lived among us, I don’t know what is. Along with the Fruit of the Spirit, it’s a rather good summary of what “fruit that lasts” looks like.

There is one other similarity in this speech about the vines to the Good Shepherd discourse. Jesus the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep and as the True Vine, Jesus tells his disciples to love one another, saying that the greatest measure of love is “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v 13) Many of us still have a ways to go before we are literally willing to lay down our lives for a friend, but there is much sacrificial fruit we can bear along the way of maturing. Each time we keep the commandments out of love for another we bear fruit and let the sinful self in us be pruned.

Textual Point

In verse 12 Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Grammatically, the clauses break down this way:

Main clause: This is my commandment

Substantive hina clause: that you love one another (love is in the present subjunctive)

Comparative clause: as I have loved you. (loved is in the aorist indicative)

Jesus is saying he has already given them the example: his own love for them is well established. What is unknown but what he hopes to see in their life and witness together is whether they will love one another as they ought—hence the subjunctive mood.

Illustration Idea

The lifecycle of a healthy grapevine is significant. Though it may take a few years to mature and be able to produce a crop, it has the potential to do so for a very long time—maybe even a hundred years. I appreciate that Jesus uses a nature image that inherently encapsulates the need to mature (i.e., remain even when not producing fruit) to describe our life of discipleship. In his Good and Beautiful Series, James Bryan Smith uses the image of pickling to express the same idea. Cucumbers do not become pickles unless they spend time being saturated (remaining) in the brine.


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