Day 21: Jesus is the Vine
Jisu Darkha Bejii Achechena sii-e (Poula)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” – John 15:1
Airports provide great scenes for contrasting human emotions. In India, we see some people with garlands, smiling and waiting for the arrival of their loved ones. And once they arrive, some break into bhangra (a Punjabi dance). We also witness some families huddling together for their last-minute goodbyes, with tears glistening in their eyes. If reunion ignites joy, farewell surely stirs up sorrow.
John 15 is placed in a sombre setting, the mood darkened by the cloud of Jesus’ impending departure. If we zoom out and look at chapter 15 in context, we find it amidst the farewell words of Jesus. After the triumphal entry of Jesus in John 12, he had begun to talk openly about his impending death as the hour of his glorification (John 12:23; 13:31). Previously, Jesus avoided the risk of being seized or stoned because his time had not yet come (John 7:30; 8:59; 10:39). But from John 12 onwards, Jesus began to prepare his disciples for his imminent departure and their life after that.
Coming back to the airport scene, as we zoom in at the family bidding farewell, sometimes we notice a son or a daughter listening attentively to the parents’ final advice, as if the fate of his or her life hangs on them. As the disciples travel this road of life, their lives, too, would hang on the teachings and the work of Jesus on the cross. In John 15, maybe as they walked in a vineyard and He pointed his finger at the vine trees, Jesus revealed the secret of a fruit-bearing life. In verse 1, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” Jesus identifies himself as the “true vine” to assert his divinity and introduce himself as the source of a fruitful life. The metaphor Jesus used was an everyday picture, familiar to the disciples, but it conveyed profound spiritual insight that bears historical significance. Jesus called himself the “true vine,” unlike the “degenerate…wild vine,” identified with the unfaithful and idolatrous Israel, that bore no fruit (Jeremiah 2:21; Psalm 80:8-16). Jesus fulfils where Israel had failed. He has become the true Israel (Matthew 2:15; cf. Hosea 11:1) by becoming a channel of blessing to the nations. Now, whoever abides in him will bear fruit, “fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
Even after two millennia of the gospel’s global impact, some people are still unconvinced of Jesus’ cosmic and heavenly authority to give life. Some people think that Jesus is not enough; they need something else. We see fragments of syncretism in various societies, and the Naga society is no exception. Although the majority of Naga Christians have abandoned pagan religious practices, some are still controlled by its murky, residual ideas. For instance, when someone gets sick in the family, the father slays a domestic fowl and looks for signs in its innards, hoping that it will point to the affected organ of the sick person. Such practices undervalue Christ as the source of life and wholeness. To practice them—or anything else that puts hope in something in addition to or instead of Jesus—is not to abide in the vine.
Stretching this metaphorical idea, those who syncretize are like rogue branches drawing death-giving sap from a neighbouring poisonous tree even as they claim to abide and draw life-giving sap from the vine. Can such a thing happen? Can such a branch bear good fruit? This does not happen in the botanical world, but people think they can make it happen in the spiritual world, dividing allegiances and covering their bases.
New birth in Christ should lead a believer to a maturing and spiritually evolving life, towards becoming the best version of themselves, producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus impresses upon his disciples, then and now, that the only way towards fruitfulness is through connectedness. As a mobile phone cannot fulfil its purpose without being connected to a network, you and I cannot experience an abundant life without being connected to Jesus, the only source of life. Are you connected to the vine? Is Jesus bearing fruit through you?
Dr R.T. Johnson Raih is the Pastor of Carey Baptist Church, Kolkata, India, and he helps train pastors with Langham in Nagaland. With support from Langham, he has written books that open God’s Word for believers across his region.