Bearing Fruit to the Glory of God
Before us this morning is a passage so rich and deep with meaning that believers can turn to throughout the entire course of their life and draw insight and strength for their walk with Christ. It has been almost impossible for me to summarize in a short statement what the passage is about but here is my best attempt: this passage is a symbolic instruction manual for believers which instructs them as to how they might glorify God by, in Christ, bearing fruit. The glory of God is the preeminent concern of believers and should be our joy and focus. We say with Paul â€œNow to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.â€ (1 Timothy 1:17). If we will pay careful attention to this passage we will learn much about how to live lives which bring glory to our wonderful God.
This passage has led me to a different approach than the one I normally take when preaching. Rather than looking at each verse in order I will divide the text into categories that I think will help us retain the information we find here. The first category weâ€™re going to look at is the characters presented in this passage.
I. The Characters
There is an order in which the characters appear in the passage: Christ, the vine then the Father, the vinedresser, both in verse 1 and then believers, branches, in verse 5. Weâ€™re going to look at those in reverse order because their importance to our understanding of this passage starts small with believers and grows large when we come to Christ.
(C) Believers â€“ The Branches, vs. 5
â€œI am the vine, you are the branches.â€
In Christâ€™s symbol recorded here believers have no active role. They are to be the bearers of the fruit produced by the vine and tended by the Father. If anything can be said to be done by the vines it is only â€œabideâ€, a command given by Christ.
(B) The Father â€“ The Vinedresser, vs. 1
â€œâ€¦My Father is the vinedresser.â€
The Greek word translated â€œvinedresserâ€ is georgos (gheh-ore-gos) means â€œone who works the landâ€ and is translated â€œfarmerâ€ in both 2 Timothy 2:6 and James 5:7. Its use here is consistent with Isaiah 5 and Matthew 21, other passages that describe God as a vinedresser.
(A) Christ â€“ The Vine, vs. 1
â€œI am the true vineâ€¦â€
Remember that in 14:31 that Christ said â€œArise, let us go from here.â€ If we take this to mean that Christ is leading the disciples out of the upper room where they celebrated the Lord Supper and heading to the Garden of Gethsemane then He likely passed by the entrance to the Temple, which was decorated with a large golden grapevine.
The vine was more importantly a common Biblical symbol for Israel. The most famous of these references is the â€œVineyard Songâ€ of Isaiah 5:1-7
â€œLet me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 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? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!â€
This is far from the only reference. Jeremiah 2:21 records God asking of Israel â€œI had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt wild vine?â€
Ezekiel 15 and 19 both compare Israel to a vine as do passages in Hosea and others in both Isaiah and Jeremiah. Psalm 80:8-10 says of God â€œYou have brought a vine out of Egypt; you have cast out the nations, and planted it. You prepared room for it, and caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with its shadow, and the mighty cedars with its boughs.â€
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this important Biblical symbol for the nation of Israel is that the symbol is always brought forth representing Israelâ€™s degeneration rather than fruitfulness. In Hosea Israel is described as empty, producing only leaves. Jeremiah describes Israel as a â€œdegenerateâ€ and â€œstrangeâ€ vine. Even Psalm 80, which we read earlier, discusses Israel as a vine that had grown large but had been broken down. The one time I know of where the vine symbol is used of Israel where fruitfulness is mentioned indicates that the more prosperous Israel grows the more degenerate the nation becomes (Hosea 10:1).
Perhaps the most damning use of this symbol is found in Matthew 21:33-43.
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, â€˜He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.â€™ Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: â€˜The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lordâ€™s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.â€™â€
Not to belabor the point but it needs to be made clear that Godâ€™s use of the Vine motif to describe Israel was common, as was its use as a means to display Israelâ€™s apostasy. That truth has to be firmly in our minds if we are to appreciate the weight of what Christ is saying in the first part of our passage.
The other thing we need to understand is what God intended Israel to be.
â€œHe said to Me, â€˜You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My gloryâ€¦â€™ He says, â€˜It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.â€™” Isaiah 49:3, 6
Now, combine that with what we know about Israel being a fruitless vine. Once we do that we realize that rather than being a life-giving vine to the world through which God would reach the nations and spread His â€œsalvationâ€¦to the end of the earthâ€ Israel turned inwards and idolatrous. When they werenâ€™t worshipping false gods they were perverting their unique relationship to God and excluding other nations rather than pointing them to the One True God. Said another way, Israel was supposed to be Godâ€™s righteous and faithful servant, used to bring Him glory by spreading His salvation to all nations. They failed.
It is in to this national failure of Israel to be what God called them to be that Jesus Christ steps and declares, â€œI am the true vine.â€ This statement is pregnant with theological meaning. Where national Israel failed to be a life-giving vine Jesus Christ is just that. Where national Israel failed to live righteously in its unique relationship to God Jesus Christ walked with God with sinless perfection. Where national Israel failed to be Godâ€™s agent of salvation to all nations Jesus Christ offers redemption to all who would believe in Him.
We can summarize this truth this way: Ultimately, Jesus is the true Israel. The nation of Israel, in the Old Testament, was merely a shadow of the true Israel that was to come: Godâ€™s own Son, His perfect servant, Jesus Christ. This truth helps us make sense of Matthew 2:13-15.
â€œNow when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, â€˜Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.â€™ So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: â€˜OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.â€™â€
â€œIn Hosea 11:1, Hosea predicted a time when â€œIsrael was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.â€ But in Matthew 2:15, the evangelist tells us that Hoseaâ€™s prophecy was fulfilled when his parents took Jesus to Egypt to protect him from Herodâ€™s â€œslaughter of the innocentsâ€ (Matthew 2:3-18). Yet, after Herod had died, God called Jesus and his family to return to Nazareth. Matthew takes a passage from Hosea, which clearly refers to Israel, and tells his reader that this passage is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ! He does this to prove to his largely Jewish audience that Jesus is the servant of the Lord, foretold throughout the Old Testamentâ€¦ it should be clear that according to many New Testament writers, Jesus is the true servant, the true son and the true Israel of God.â€
â€“ Kim Riddlegarger
Speaking of the same passage of Scripture R. Scott Clarke says
â€œMatthew’s inspired interpretation of [Hosea] must norm [or regulate] our interpretation of Scripture and according to Matthew’s interpretation, it is our Lord Jesus, not the temporary, national, people who is the true Israel of God. Indeed it is not too much to say that the only reason God orchestrated the first Exodus was so that he might orchestrate the second Exodus and that so we might know that Jesus is the true Son of God and that all Christians are God’s Israel regardless of ethnicity. It is because Jesus is the true Israel of God that, in his infancy and indeed in his entire life, he recapitulated the history of national Israel. What rebellious national Israel would not do, Jesus did: He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself [as we see in Matt 22.37-40].â€
It is this truth, that Jesus is the True, Perfect, Obedient Israel that grounds our salvation. It is on the basis of Jesusâ€™ perfect obedience which has been credited to us through faith which gives believers righteous standing before the Father.