The Vine Must Be Pruned

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

This is how my Father will be glorified. Phillips

If the Romans had not destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, we could visit Jerusalem and see it in its glory. As we gaze on the eastern side, we would see the 75 foot tall doors that allow two priests to enter morning and evening. On either side of the doors we would see grape vines ‘growing’ up on either side. Each grape was the size of a bowling ball, and even heavier because it was made of pure gold.


Several passages in the OT refer to Israel as a grape vine. Ps 80:8-16Isa 5:1-7Jer 2:21Ezek 15:1-817:5-1019:10-14, and Hos 10:1. When the Herodian Temple was built, the vine was placed by the entrance to God’s House to remind the people of their true nature.

Sadly, most of the references to the vine in the OT also include descriptions of the vine not bearing fruit and being chopped down and thrown into the fire. John included this message from Jesus. Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts offCJB He being God.

To back up a bit, let’s read the first two verses. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruitESV

Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples. He is telling them that he has been feeding them so that they could grow into healthy witnesses to the Word of God. But he includes the reminder that bearing fruit is the key factor in deciding if a person is thrown into the eternal fires of damnation or pruned to yield even more fruit. Jesus knows he is speaking to one of the Twelve who would be cut off.

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to youNIV Again, this is for the Twelve, Eleven actually. Several translations read, You are already pruned.

Every year in any vineyard the gardener must spend hours clipping off long runners that only suck up nutrients without producing fruit. These can grow to fifteen feet and more. The gardener must also clip off last year’s fruit-yielding vines because they will not produce a second time. Looking at the vine above, you see multiple long canes from last year’s growth. Proper pruning will cut off at least 80% of that growth.

How does Jesus prune his disciples? The similarity is removal of the non-fruit bearing canes. Am I angry at my boss or co-workers? Prune that anger. Do I fear foreigners? Prune that fear. Whatever is in your life that prevents you from showing God’s love must be pruned.

We must always remember these words of Jesus, my Father is the vinedresser. I cannot prune myself any more than a grape vine can.

Remember that the disciples were clean because they had heard and taken to heart the teachings of Jesus. We each seek more and more understanding of and closeness to God. We see how Jesus and his disciples lived and we strive for imitation. With the power of the Holy Spirit the imitation becomes better and better.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in meESV 

It is instructive that the OT used the vine image mostly as a warning to Israel. If you do not follow My Word, you will be thrown into the fire. In the first 21 verses of Ezekiel 17, we read about King Zedekiah disobeying God and being cut down and thrown into the fires. It is not the image of the coming Messiah that we now associate with Jesus.

Jesus chose the vine image for himself in this passage of John as both a praise and a warning. He pointed to the vine at the Temple and said, I am the true vine of Israel. But that also means that God will prune those who are not of my vine.

In Ezekiel 17:22, God says of the promised Messiah, I will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and plant itNET This is the OT image of the Messiah. The vine of Israel has failed so God moves to cedar. Jesus does not claim to be the cedar, rather he claims to be the true vine. Does that mean Jesus is not the Messiah?

The Messiah is promised by God. The details of the promise are numerous, and Jesus did not claim every one of them. Jews of the day understood the image of the vine, so Jesus stuck to it. Besides, and more importantly, Jesus is the perfect vine. Where Israel fails, Jesus succeeds.

Back to you and me. Jesus is actually the trunk while we are the canes. It is the canes that produce fruit. But don’t get an inflated notion that we are more important than the trunk. Take away the trunk and the canes can do nothing. The image breaks down a little because Jesus yielded more fruit in three short years than any of us has done in a lifetime.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

I Am the Good Shepherd

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay 

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

The Gospel reading today has Jesus responding to the Pharisees. In chapter 9 Jesus healed a blind man on Shabbat. The Pharisees attacked the man, accusing him of only pretending to be blind to fool the crowds as a shill for Jesus. At the end of the chapter Jesus was again questioned by the Pharisees. He upset them with the truth. Then Jesus said, “My coming into this world is itself a judgment—those who cannot see have their eyes opened and those who think they can see become blind.” Phillips

That lead into the discussion about the shepherd. You will notice that the Psalm for today is the familiar 23. Jesus borrows some of the imaginary from the Psalm in his description of himself.

The first verse of chapter 10 is: Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robberNIV Jesus jumped from talking about sight for the blind to talking about a shepherd; no wonder the Pharisees were confused.

In what way were the Pharisees thieves and robbers? The Pharisees of the First Century had committed to memory the 613 Commandments from God. They constantly told others to follow their example of ‘perfection’ when they should have been encouraging them to follow God. They stole the true relationship with God from His chosen ones.

If a man goes in through me, he will be safe and sound; he can come in and out and find his foodPhillips Notice in this verse 9, Jesus mixes the metaphor with the real world by substituting ‘a man’ for the sheep. I picture his listeners with quizzical looks and dropped jaws, so Jesus had to alter his explanation.

Verses 10, 12, & 13 make a whole section. The thief comes with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying, but I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. …. But the hired man, who is not the shepherd, and does not own the sheep, will see the wolf coming, desert the sheep and run away. And the wolf will attack the flock and send them flying. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and has no interest in the sheepPhillips

Note first that the thief and the hired man are not the same. The thief only wants to steal the sheep to eat or sell. The hired man does his best, but he does not want to die for a bunch of dumb sheep. Everyone listening to Jesus would have identified the thief with Satan and they would have understood the hired man’s reluctance. Both those images are just the setup for the next two verses.

I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheepPhillips

The Pharisees heard Jesus claiming a special relationship with God that they did not have. That was upsetting enough but Jesus was also saying that he was the Good Shepherd of Scripture—Psalms and most of the prophets used the image.

Yet, none of the Pharisees understood Jesus when he said, “I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep.” The disciples had a vague understand of what he said, but even they did not think he meant actual death. They probably envisioned Jesus having to give up teaching to become king.

Just in case the Pharisees (and disciples) weren’t properly confused yet, Jesus went on with; And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voicePhillips

None of them could have imagined that Jesus might have been talking about Gentiles, and by none, I include Peter, James, and John. If they had considered it for very long, they might have decided he meant the Jews living in other parts of the Empire. He did include them but by the time John was writing these words, the Church was largely Gentile.

So there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is the reason why the Father loves me—that I lay down my life, and I lay it down to take it up again! No one is taking it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again. This is an order that I have received from my FatherPhillips

Jesus laid claim to the Resurrection. Not only would he die, but he would arise from the grave and resume his life as God’s Blessed Servant. In several New Testament citations—Acts 2:32; Romans 6:4; Hebrews 13:20, etc.—Jesus is said to have been raised up by God, yet Jesus says here that he has the power to arise. This is not a conflict; Jesus and God are so in tune that God doing it is like Jesus doing it. Because he knows God so well, Jesus knows that God will make sure that the Master Plan is carried out. It was all contained in the orders given to Jesus by his birth Father.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence