One of my abiding memories of Tuscan holidays is walks though Jan’s uncle’s wood. In the middle, there is a derelict house, the kind that many Brits buy and then do up as a holiday home. This one was still derelict and it had a mess of a garden filled with overgrown fruit – delicious figs, olives that would ripen in a few months and some messy old vines with disappointingly small clusters of grapes that were small and sour. When Jesus announces that He is the true vine and the Father the vinedresser who will prune to bear fruit, I think of that untended mini-vineyard as the what Jesus was sorting out.
Many times with Jesus sayings, you have to realise that he is alluded to some Old Testament concepts and fulfilling them. Vines in the Old Testament were used often to represent Israel and the God disappointment that they are untended and unfruitful.
Psalm 80 is a great example. Psalm 80 is built around the metaphor of the vine: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land” (Psalm 80:8–9 ESV). Israel is a vine clipping plucked out of Egypt and planted in Canaan. They had been a minority group in Egypt for 400 years and then are rescued, plucked out and replanted in the land of Canaan. It starts out well, and they flourish. “The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River” (Psalm 80:10–11 ESV).
But then something changes.
“Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.” (Psalm 80:12–13 ESV) Israel was full of sin and apostasy (mixing other religions in).
God withdrew his protection and the vine was messed by other nations. Isaiah the prophet tells us why, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:4 ESV).
The end of Psalm 80 sees the Lord starting again with the son of man. The hope in the Psalm rests upon “the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself”. Once he comes, the people will be made strong and faithful and they will truly call upon the name of God.
That’s the backstory. Jesus is the new shoot, He is the new vine and we are the branches grafted in.
How do we be good branches that bear fruit – Verse 2 could destroy our confidence and eternal security. Knowing the Old Testament backdrop, we know that were Israel failed as a vine. Jesus is the new vine and He has chosen us and appointed us to bear fruit v16. We cannot fail! We are not servants any more we are friends. We need to do what he commands and Jesus is confident of our witness and fruit bearing because He is sending (or for us 2,000 years down the line- has sent) the Helper, the Holy Spirit who will empower us to bear fruit just as was promised in chapter 15 yesterday.