John 15 The Vine and the Branches sermon – Tim Giovanelli

In this sermon Pastor Tim explores Jesus teaching on the vine and the branches, that as we stay connected to the source of life, we will be fruitful!


Well we are doing a series in John’s gospel… particularly in the last week of Jesus life… 

  • Entered Jerusalem and explained his coming death as like a seed that falls to the ground and then sprouts and grows and reproduces…
  • It’s a foreshadowing of what is to come in the following days with his death and resurrection… and the birth of the church. 
  • Washed his disciples feet and explained that this is the way of life he is calling his disciples into… 

He then gives the only command recorded by Jesus in all of the gospels… “love one another as I have loved you.”

  • And then we talked about Jesus comforting his disciples by promising them a room in his Fathers house and how he is the way, the truth and the life…
  • Next, knowing he is going away and not wanting to leave them as orphans in the world, he promises to send the Holy Spirit…
  • And then we are just swapping weeks around, so Clayton will finish John 14 next week on the promise of peace…
  • And today, I’m speaking on fruitfulness… Jesus as the vine, and we the branches, connected to him in order to bring  forth life!

15:1-8… Jesus said…

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also 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.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”

16 years ago while in Kenya I drove with Stephen and Rosemary Mbogo to a field in the Ngong Hills just outside of Nairobi.

  • Stephen is now the head of African Enterprise – a major mission organization in Africa which focuses on evangelism, leadership development and aid projects.
  • But 16 years ago, Stephen and Rosemary wanted to show me an empty block of land upon which they wanted to start painting a dream that God put on their hearts
  • Although at the time Stephen was the head of African Enterprise Kenya and Rosemary lecturing at African International University

Still involved in a church in a slum in Nairobi called Mathare North. 

  • There, lived hundreds of child orphans from the HIV crisis that was sweeping Kenya. Many of those kids end up in street gangs sniffing glue or being trafficked into prostitution. 
  • So on that field they purchased, far from the worst conditions of the slums they built a children’s home.

So a few years ago, 13 years later, I was back in Kenya and I was privileged to go back to the same field… now transformed into a school and children’s home called ByGrace.

  • On that field stands an amazing children’s home for orphans, there now stands three, 4 story classroom towers, a kitchen, toilets, a soccer pitch and extensive gardens. 
  • Of the 400 students, over 100 are orphans or from destitute families who pay no fees….
  • Instead they are educated, loved and brought up in an atmosphere of faith and kindness and hope…
  • Head student was in the words of my friend who was there with me last year, “a total jock!” 
  • Means that in a good way… like he was the Luke Wilson of Kenya! Muscles in his neck!

His name was Fred and just 4 years earlier he was living with his parents in a fishing village living day to day in poverty. They couldn’t afford to educate him so By Grace sponsored him to come study.

  • In 4 years he has learnt English and become head boy… and he just kept popping up
  • At recess we found him with his sleeves rolled up unblocking the toilets 
  • During the holidays, rather than going home he did laboring jobs so that he could pay for his brother to come to the school.
  • In a chapel service he jumped up on the keyboard and during one of my talks, he didn’t have any paper so he took notes all over his arms… (tough to do with black skin)
  • And Fred loves Jesus and is so thankful for ByGrace.
  • Without the vision and actions of Stephen and Rosemary he would still be uneducated and living in squalor. 
  • And if your wondering…. Its too late… Maria from our church (also on the trip) is already helping him get through uni!

On the Sunday after I preached at African International University’s chapel service, Stephen and Rosemary invited us back to their house on campus for lunch.

  • Got to there house and was greeted with this incredible shoe rack 
  • Thinking what is this? Some kind of weird shoe fettish?
  • Then I realised that 16 of the children from the ByGrace home now live with them because they have graduated High School and are studying at uni.
  • And they all call Stephen and Rosemary “mum and dad”
  • Stephen as a Kenyan earns good money as head of an international mission agency – African Enterprise and Rosemary is a lecturer at African International University. 
  • They love their jobs, but I got the sense the reason they do them rather than be full time at ByGrace was so that could afford to adopt more and more children. 
  • Introduce them to Jesus, love them like their own children and provide opportunities they would otherwise never have!

Now I tell this story, obviously because I am inspired and challenged

  • But I wonder for us here this morning? What does fruitfulness look like to you?
  • What does a life of meaning and purpose look like for you?
  • Indeed could you define what you are wanting the result of your life to be?
  • And why do something like this? Why not keep upgrading your life to higher levels of luxury?
  • Well hopefully the answer is you want to bear good fruit in your life… fruit that will last!

Well what an amazing passage.

  • As Jesus prepares his disciples for life without him… knowing they will become the church… the visible expression of his life and ministry going forward.
  • He calls them to a very specific task… fruitfulness. 
  • As the children of God, we are called to be fruitful, to live faithfully connected to the source of life.
  • So Jesus in John 15, describing himself as the vine, and we the branches….
  • And our role as the church is to bear fruit… to increase, to multiply, to live productive, meaningful lives as the church, and as the people of God.

Now one of the things that we want to do, if we want to be a healthy church… and represent Jesus well…

  • Is to be guided by the pictures in the NT of the church, away from buildings we attend or institution we are a part of… to God’s pictures of what he calls us to be.
  • So we are called to be a family, where we love and are loved.
  • We are called to be a body where we have a part to play to make it function and we serve one another.
  • We are called to be a spiritual temple to be built of living stones…
  • We are called to be like a bride in marriage in which we are called to be faithful
  • And now, Jesus’ people, as a vine and branches, in which we are called to stay connected to him and to be fruitful!
  • So not a bad picture emerging… loving, serving, growing, faithful and now fruitful.

So Fruitfulness. Meaning. Purpose. Productive lives. 

  • I find it interesting how much research there is on the creation of meaning in our lives through finding purpose and being productive. 
  • Oscar Wilde once said “to live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
  • It is the going through the motions, perhaps pursuing low level pleasures.
  • I must admit that one of the scariest things I could contemplate in life is treading water… or not living with purpose and trying to be productive!
  • Indeed one of the reasons I count myself so fortunate is that I have been able to be involved in the planting and growth of this church!
  • And what excites me is the potential of us having services in other campuses that are also healthy and alive!

But why do meaningful things? Why aim for a fruitful life?

  • Well, there is lots of reasons, but one of them is because life is full of suffering and darkness… 
  • And for this life to count, we need to be armed with virtue and a purpose to take on the futility and forces that rage against us. 
  • Jordan Peterson calls it the nobility of purpose.
  • You have that, you have something to set yourself against the suffering and darkness. 
  • So when Jesus calls us to bear much fruit, when he calls us to be the light of the world, when we are called in the scriptures to overcome evil with good…
  • That’s nobility of purpose!

The reality is that we all need a sustaining meaning… a reason to get out of bed on a terrible day!

  • In John’s gospel where we find this passage on the vine and the branches, Jesus is constantly at work, at battle against the darkness and death that pervades this world.
  • Whether it is the resurrection of Lazarus, the healing of the man born blind or the mercy he bestows on the woman caught in adultery…
  • Everything is oriented towards creating life! Towards bearing fruit and blessing!
  • Jesus says, look at my life… look at the kind of things I do, the way I treat people, the words I speak.
  • Then stay close to me… abide in me, remain in me, and you can start producing the same fruit. 

Now, this is an idea that we can trace from Genesis to the NT 

Constantly in Genesis, God commands his people to be fruitful and increase in numbers. Like over a dozen times… he keeps saying it to every generation…

  • And this is a part of this Abrahamic blessing or promises in Genesis 12, 15 and 17 
  • That God would take his family and make them into a great nation that would be blessed and a blessing to all nations.

So an example, Genesis 35:10-11 

God says to Jacob “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.”

  • And then in Genesis 49:13 Joseph is called a fruitful vine!
  • So the mandate of God’s people, his church… has always been to be fruitful and a blessing, just like a healthy vine produces fruit on its branches!
  • We are to increase in numbers and influence the world around us bringing life.

Now of course, the people of God are not always faithful in keeping this mandate to be his faithful, fruitful people.

  • I think my favourite passage on this is found in Isaiah 5 and parable of the vineyard.
  • In it, the prophet describes the people of God as vineyard that God has planted…
  • It says, verse 2 “He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.
    He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.

So there is this sense of God loving his children, looking out for them, longing for them to produce good fruit in their lives…

  • But verse 3 says “Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”
  • And it goes on to describe the kind of bad fruit being produced… 
  • Instead of justice, God saw bloodshed, instead of righteousness, cries of distress…
  • They become greedy, arrogant… and how is this for line (particularly with what we see in our culture going on…)
  • Verse 20 they call evil good, and good evil…
  • So what is God going to do?

So along comes Jesus in John 15… and he is going to do for the people of God, what they could never do for themselves!

  • Verse 1 “I am the true vine.” So he says, I am what it looks like to be fruitful.”
  • Verse 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
  • So Jesus takes on the fulfilment of the promise to be the set apart one. The productive one, the one blessed by God who blesses the nations!
  • What does it mean for him to be fruitful… well as I said, he heals the sick, he has compassion on the broken, he speaks words of forgiveness and mercy.
  • Jesus is the embodiment of the mandate of Israel. He is the source of life from which we are blessed and will produce blessings. 

And then he calls us to stay connected to him as the branches in order that we might bear the same fruit!

  • 4 Remain in me, as I also 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. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”
  • So its simple gardening here… you can’t cut off a vines branch and then hope it will produce fruit.
  • I can’t go to my passionfruit, hack off all the branches and then expect those branches to keep producing fruit. 
  • It’s simple… unless the branch stays connected to the vine it cannot bear fruit!
  • Indeed the warning is that the branch that produces no fruit will be cut off and thrown away.

So let’s just be clear here!

  • You. Are. Called. To. Be. Fruitful. As. A. follower. Of. Jesus. 
  • We the church are called to be fruitful as the people of God…
  • And we can only do this by staying connected to Jesus. 
  • And really this is just what is called good old fashion discipleship. You learn the way of the master by being in his presence and learning the trade. 
  • Like a carpenter who spends 4 years connected with a Master Builder… and then over time begins to do the same work!
  • That is what it means to remain in Jesus. That is what it means to remain in his love. We stay connected in order to be fruitful.

And then here is the interesting thing for your life, for the life of the church. How do we produce fruit?

  • This is not to be the result of strategic masterplans (helpful as they may be)
  • This is not achieved by having brilliant facilities, (helpful as that may be)
  • But it is simply the result of being connected to Jesus. 
  • If we want to grow the church, or we want to be fruitful and live meaningful lives… it comes from being connected to the source of life.
  • Stephen and Rosemary… connected… fruitful…

Right? Branches don’t work really hard to bear fruit… (squeezie face)… they just do so naturally as a result of being part of a healthy vine. 

  • It is the vine that is the source of life. 
  • It is the vine that determines the type of fruit. You can’t get lemons from an orange tree.
  • It is our connection to Jesus that will produce Jesus like fruit. 

That’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of and serve.

One that is so full of the life of Jesus that it grows naturally out of our connection to Jesus. 

  • We watch and learn from his way of life and then imitate his way of life.
  • We see how he loves people and treats them with dignity and then we imitate his love
  • We watch the miracles and power and authority that he has and then we audaciously pray for the same miracles to be at work in our church
  • Right?

Years ago, some of you will have attended our ministry night with my friend from London, John Peters

  • And it was an incredibly fruitful night. Particularly in the ministry time. Some of you had deep, powerful encounters with God that night.
  • And undoubtedly, a big part of that was what John brought and the way he ministered…
  • But here is what is interesting to me… 
  • John arrived the day before and we did a leaders night… but then he had the entire day free in the lead up until the ministry night.
  • So typical me… I was like… yay! 
  • Let’s hang out… like all day… we can catch the Manly ferry, go swimming at the beach… get ice cream together…

But no. John basically said to me… pick me up at 5pm, I need to spend the day with Jesus in prayer and the Word. I need to get myself ready…

  • And then when he came to speak, he was doing it from a place within Jesus.
  • Does that make sense?
  • John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
  • It felt to me like Jesus was moving through the room that night encountering people. Why?
  • Because a branch of Jesus had spent the time to be deeply connected to the vine. 

So what about you? What about us as a church?

  • What do you see that this church could become?
  • What part do you see yourself playing? How will you serve and play your part?
  • And what about your life in general? What will be the outcome of the life that you live?
  • Will it produce no fruit because you get distracted or look inward or seek the wrong things in life
  • Or will it be fruitful? Will you have pushed back against the darkness and the temptation to worship idols or seek meaningless pleasures. 
  • Will you imitate the life of Jesus Christ and bear the kind of fruit that he produced in his life and ministry?

The Apostle Paul put that challenge to us this way in Colossians 1:10; “live a life worthy of the Lord, and please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work.”

What if rather than seeking happiness and comfortableness you pursued fruitfulness and meaning?

  • Question: What would be the most worthwhile thing you could do with your life? (PAUSE)
  • Command: Told you – Do the most worthwhile things with your life.
  • Campuses… ask you to be involved… to give, to serve, to go, to stay, to serve…
  • Find hard, difficult, costly things to do in your life and do that. 
  • The by product will be happiness… 
  • But even through difficult, deeply difficult times, you will have become strengthened by purpose and have developed the character to get through…
  • Seriously. 
  • Amen.

Published by timgiovanelli

My wife Victoria and I are planting a new church in Manly, NSW

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