The gospel by John, chapter 15. We have been seeing that there
are two books in the New Testament which are wholly occupied with
a special matter, and that is the transition from the old
Jerusalem to the new Jerusalem, from the old Israel to
the new Israel: the old being left behind, the new coming into
view, but the new being constituted upon the spiritual principles
of the old. The two books referred to are the gospel by John and
the letter to the Hebrews.
We have said that in the gospel by John
there are 16 steps in this transition. Now, I'm afraid that I have
made a mistake over that, for I have discovered some more today!
But I'm not going to include them, I'm not sure that we shall be
able to take number sixteen, but however, we will come to number
15 tonight. And the fifteenth step in this transition is here in
the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel by John: "I am the true vine,
and My Father is the husbandman." The rest of the chapter is well
known to you and I shall not read it all through, but shall refer
to it later.
Before we go on we must get to our Old Testament. First of all in
the book of the psalms, Psalm 80, verse 8: "Thou broughtest a vine
out of Egypt. Thou didst drive out the nations and planted him".
Verse 14: "Turn again, we beseech thee O God of hosts: Look down
from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine."
The prophecies of Isaiah, chapter 5: "Let me sing for my
well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My
well-beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill and he made a
trench about it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted
it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it,
and also hewed out a winepress therein: and he looked that it
should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes."
Prophecies of Jeremiah, chapter 2, verse 21: "Yet I had planted
thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed, how then art thou turned
into the dangerous plant of a strange vine unto me?" Chapter 6,
verse 9: "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, they shall truly glean the
remnant of Israel as a vine: turn again thine hand as a
grape-gatherer into the baskets."
Prophecies of Ezekiel chapter 15, "And the word of the Lord came
unto me saying, Son of man, what is the vine tree more than any
tree, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest?
Shall wood be taken thereof to make any work? Or will men take a
pin of it to hang any vessels thereon? Behold, it is cast into the
fire for fuel, the fire hath devoured both the ends of it and the
midst of it is burned; is it profitable for any work? Behold, when
it was whole it was meet for no one, how much less when the fire
hath devoured it and it is burned; shall it be meet for anyone?
Therefore thus saith the Lord God, As the vine tree among the
trees of the forest which I have given to the fire for fuel, so
will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem."
Well, there you have the old Israel background. What Israel was
intended to be, what Israel failed to
be, and the destiny of that Israel - "Cast into the fire". It is
from these Scriptures that Israel was called, "God's vine", but
that vine became a
false vine and God had to cast it into the fire. It has
been in the fire
for these nearly twenty centuries.
But when God cast that vine into the fire, He brought forth
another. We have said that this Gospel by John sets forth the
putting away of the old Israel and the bringing in of the new. We
seen that various names of Israel have been taken over
into the new Israel, and here in this chapter "the vine" is taken
over. When Jesus said "I am the true vine", He emphasised that
word "true". If
you could hear Him saying it, you would hear Him saying it like
am the TRUE vine". And the implication is perfectly clear: "I take
the place of the false
vine. The false vine has been cast away; I am the true
vine which takes
We have received for a little while how Israel was false to its
very nature and purpose.
What is the nature of a vine? It is the nature of a vine to
far and wide. We have at least two vines in England and Scotland
which are as long as this room. They have just spread out on the
right and on the left, they are always reaching out to
cover more space. It is not the nature of the vine just to go
straight up. It is its nature to reach out; that is the nature of
the vine: to expand itself.
Israel was raised up for this very purpose: to stretch out
their arms to embrace the nations: "I will give thee for a light
Gentiles" is the word. "The nations
shall come to thy light, and kings to the shining of thy
brightness". Israel was just raised up of God to be a testimony in
all the nations, to
bring to the whole world the knowledge of God. It was Israel's
calling to fulfil a world purpose and a world
vision. Israel was
intended to be God's missionary nation to the whole world, but
instead of embracing the nations, they excluded the nations. They
wall round themselves and they said, "We are the people
others are dogs." They called the Gentiles "dogs".
themselves in to themselves, they became an exclusive people, and
they contradicted their own nature and their own mission.
Exclusiveness was a
contradiction to the very nature of Israel - and exclusiveness is
always a contradiction
to Divine nature because it is not written in Scripture: "God so
the Jewish nation that He gave His only begotten Son". It is
"God so loved the world..." The
very love of God was contradicted by their exclusiveness. The very
nature of God amongst them was violated in that way. To turn in
themselves, or upon ourselves, is always a violation of Divine
calling. For any people or any person to make themselves
an end in themselves is a sin. That is why, in
the order of nature - when nature is normal - a family expands.
The Lord laid down this law right at the beginning of human
history; He said to Adam and Eve [meant to be Noah]: "Be fruitful
multiply, and replenish the earth".
It was in the very nature of things by the appointment of God. And
I say, when things are normal, no lives are an end in themselves.
Of course, I know of those exceptions where it is not possible to
do this, but I am speaking of the normal course. In the
very nature of things, normally, God intends life
to be an expanding life and anybody who deliberately
violates that law will be an end in themselves and will sin
against God's law.
Now, Israel was called to expand and to fill the earth with the
knowledge of the Lord. Israel withheld that from the
nations, turned in on themselves, made themselves an end in
themselves. And God came down upon that and said: "All right! You
shall be an end in yourselves." God's judgments are usually the
confirmation of our own choices!
Well, that was Israel's nature and that was Israel's violation of
their nature as a vine.
Instead of expanding to the world, it contracted into itself;
anything like that is always fatal.
Well, that was the nature, what about the purpose? Well, quite
obviously the purpose of a
vine is to bear fruit. It is to bear grapes, and from the grapes
to come the wine. Do you know that in the Old Testament wine is
always the symbol of
life. It means life; that is why we have it at the Lord's Table.
His blood, and in His blood there is life. He Himself called it
fruit of the vine". He did not say: "I will not drink of My
blood again with you until I drink it in the kingdom of heaven",
He said: "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine again with you
until I drink it in the kingdom".
The grapes and the wine are symbols of life.
Israel of old was called to minister the life of God to all
the nations. When you read these gospels and you look to see what
of fruit it is that that Israel is bearing, it is
anything but life. It is really death. It is sour fruit. All
those who were tasting the fruit of that Israel were turning away
and saying: "We don't want any more; this is not life, this is
death". The gospels are just full of that truth.
Jesus said: "I am the true vine", "In Him was life: and
the life was the
light of men", men's faces grew light when they tasted of Him.
Now, did you notice one thing that we read from the
Old Testament about the vine? Those verses in Ezekiel 15, there we
read that the vine has no other
purpose in its existence but to bear fruit. Have you ever seen
anything made of a vine? You have never seen a table made of the
vine, you have never seen any vessel made of a vine, you have not
even seen a walking-stick made of a vine! You can do nothing with
a vine, that is what Ezekiel says, "men will not even take of it a
peg to hang something on". It is absolutely useless apart
from the fruit. The only purpose of its existence is the grapes,
and if it does not bear the grapes, you put it
into the fire, says Ezekiel. There are no by-products of the vine,
there is no secondary
use for the vine. It exists for one thing, and one thing only, and
And that is what God raised up the old Israel for - to bear His
Divine fruit of
life and light for the nations - Israel failed to do that. God
has no other use for an Israel like that, and so He says, "Cast it
the fire". And He cast it into the fire these nearly twenty
centuries ago and that's
where it is.
And from that we can see what the Lord Jesus means by being the
true vine and we being the branches. The true vine is that
which fulfils the one and only purpose of its existence. So Jesus
brings this illustration over to Himself and His church, and it is
perfectly clear what the nature of the Lord
Jesus is. His nature is reaching out to all men, embracing
the whole world.
He takes into His heart all the
nations, all men are His concern, not any one
nation, but all the nations. To His apostles He said: "Go into all
the world, preaching the gospel to every nation". It is the very
nature of Jesus to do that. It is quite foreign to the nature of
Jesus to be
exclusive; to be small and narrow and self-occupied.
Our salvation is to have our hearts enlarged bigger than
ourselves. Anybody who turns in on himself or
herself, and is always occupied with themselves, is
dying while they live. It cannot be avoided. Let a little company
of the Lord's people just live to themselves, become wholly
with themselves, and their days are numbered. They are living a
death - their destiny is to fade out. That is true of any one
Christian or of any company of the Lord's people, because Christ
is in the believer and His very nature is to reach out like the
vine. He would draw all men unto Himself, and to be
otherwise, is to be a contradiction to the very nature of Christ.
This is the
nature of the true vine.
And Jesus says: "I am the vine, and you
are the branches". And the
branches and the vine make one vine - they partake of the same
nature. And do you notice that it is the very branches themselves
do the expanding work of Jesus? Yes, it is by the branches
that this expanding nature is
Do you notice that that is what happened in Jerusalem right at
beginning? Some troubles sprang up in the church, the Christian
church right at the beginning. It was the first bit of trouble
that the Christian church
had! Some of the first apostles wanted to stay in Jerusalem, they
build up this church in Jerusalem. They were forgetting the
commandment of the Lord,
and they were just settling down in Jerusalem; to make Jerusalem
the centre of
everything and to make Jerusalem an exclusive body.
And then there
rose up in
their midst a young man, "full of the Holy
Spirit and of faith". That young man's name was Stephen. And if you
listen to what Stephen said
you will hear him saying, "This will not do! We
have been called for the nations. We are not to be an exclusive
people. We are called to a world mission, we must not
settle down again
in the old Judaism". Some of the first Christians and Christian
leaders did not agree with him. Of course, the old Israel did not
agree with that! And so they stoned Stephen on this very issue;
they stoned Stephen on the issue of
the world mission of the Church. I cannot help asking the
question: where were James and where was Peter when Stephen was
stoned? They were in Jerusalem, but they were not there. Why was
that Stephen was stoned and not Peter or James? Because at that
time Peter and James were not taking the line that Stephen was
were making Jerusalem everything, and of course, the old Israel
won't stone them if they do that, so somewhere in Jerusalem they
are quite safe. But Stephen
was stoned for this very thing.
Do understand, dear friends, that there is something here to be
taken note of and it is this that we must take
note of: that this new Israel is given a mission to all
and there is a great price to pay for that mission. The whole
Satan is against that. If you will just become a little, quiet,
compromising local sect you'll be all right. Just living within
your own walls and closed
doors, the devil won't worry you, and the world won't trouble its
head about you. It will leave you
alone... but if you go out on this heavenly level of things to
embrace all men in Christ, you will find the world is
you, you will find the devil is against you. And you and I ought
to see this in
our day as no one has ever seen it before.
Do you not see what is
happening in the nations? There is not a missionary left in China!
And it is no longer possible for a missionary to go into China;
and in large parts of the world that
same thing is happening. They have
tried to drive them out of Africa. Why is this? Oh, the kingdom of
Satan does not want Jesus to get into his world. There have been
literally some millions of martyrs in China for Jesus Christ, and
many others in Africa, and in other parts. It was never quite
like this before. This is a new phase of things. Satan knows that
his time is short and he must do all that he can to close the
nations to Jesus Christ. And there is a great price bound up with
this world mission. Stephen is the great example of that.
The purpose, then, of Christ and His church - of the vine
and the branches - is to bring Life to men all over this
I wonder if that is true, altogether true, of the church today!
you think that even the Christian church today is failing in
matter? It is not really bringing life to the nations. Many, many
place called a "church" is not bringing Life even to its own
little village. This is a contradiction of Christ!
But it is quite very well to think of this objectively. This
has got to come down to every one of us. What is the proof
is in you and in me? How can it be known that Christ is
Only in one way: that others are receiving Life through us,
we minister Life to others, the Life of Christ - that when hungry
needy people come into touch with us, they feel the touch of Life.
They may express it in different ways, but it amounts to this:
"That man, that woman, has got something that I have not got; he
or she has
something that I need. I feel it about them, there's
something about them that I feel,
and it is what I really need." That should be true of every
Christian because Christ who is the true Vine is in us; expanding
Himself through us
and ministering His Life through us.
Oh, do pray, dear friends, every day that you get up, pray:
make me a channel of Life to someone today. Lord, minister Your
own Life through me to someone today. May I bring Life
wherever I am". The Lord has no other purpose for you and for
me. We may try to do a lot of things, but if we belong to the Vine
we are no good for anything but to bear fruit; that is, to
bring Life to others. Yes, fruit... only fruit... not even to be a
peg upon which to
hang something, not even to be a walking-stick to help somebody to
straight. No, God has no use for us but to bear fruit, to
Now, Jesus said here in this chapter: "If a branch brings forth
fruit, my Father, the husbandman, pruneth it that it may bring
forth more fruit". Of course, we
understand that in nature and we agree with it. Perhaps if you
had anything to do with grape vines, it's what you have done. It's
strange that we believe in it as a law of nature and say: "It's
the right to do and it's the best thing to do to cut this piece
that it will do better", but we don't agree with the Lord doing
it to us. When the Lord begins to do that with us, we are full of
complaints! When the Lord for a little while calls us to do less
order that He might fit us to do more, we don't agree. When it
seems that the Lord is taking away some of our fruit, taking away
some of our
work, we are full of problems. We don't understand the Lord and
we begin to ask questions about His love.
Now, Jesus has laid it down as a positive truth. Here is some
branch that is bearing fruit (it is not a branch that is bearing
no fruit, He says He casts that into the fire) but it is the
fruit bearing branch that He
prunes. Here is the branch that is fulfilling its vocation, and
Lord looks at it, He says: "That is very good! I am very pleased
with that, but I can do better than that, there is better that
can do". So He takes the knife, and He disciplines us, He reduces
us in order to increase us. He cuts away some, in order that there
might be more.
What a lot of history there is in that statement! The
writer of our letter to the Hebrews said: "No chastening
for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: but
afterward it beareth the peaceable fruit of righteousness"
12:11). That is only saying that the Husbandman
does sometimes take the knife and He cuts deeply into our souls,
but afterward there's more and there's better fruit than there was
Time has gone. It just brings me to this last word. The wine
comes from the
grape through the winepress, the winepress is the symbol of
pressure is brought to bear upon that fruit in order to get the
wine! The winepress is the symbol of breaking, and that fruit is
broken to pieces. Out of that fruit is wrung by agony the
When Jesus said "I am the true Vine", it is
prophesied of Him that He would tread the winepress alone. The
Cross was the winepress of the Lord Jesus. How He was pressed in
the Cross! He was
crushed, He was broken, but out of that breaking has come the Life
which you and I have, and which so many in all the nations ever
And, in a measure, that is true of His church. It was out of
the crushing and the breaking of the church that the Life came to
world. And, dear friends, that is true of every member, every
branch, of the vine.
If we are to fulfil this true, living ministry, it will only be
through suffering, it will be through the winepress, it will be
pressure and breaking. Paul said: "We were pressed out
of measure, almost beyond our enduring..." but what Life has come
out of that man's
pressure! It is like that. I am not talking about preaching and
Bible teaching; there's a great deal of that which is not Life.
But I am talking about this great ministry of Christ giving His
Life through us. It may be through preaching, it may be through
teaching, it may be through living, but if it is His life, it
will come out of experiences of suffering. A preacher or a teacher
who has never suffered, never ministers Life.
Well, this may not seem a very pleasant outlook, but it is
true. The best doctors and nurses are those who know something
about suffering themselves. I would always choose a doctor who
knew something about sickness in himself. I've had many doctors
and I've had many nurses, and I know the difference - some are
just professionals, treating
you as a case; you are just number so-and so. But, ah! there are
who treat you as a person, as a human being, who care for you. And
ask why, they've got a background of suffering
themselves. They know just a little of what you are going through.
We read this morning from Hebrews: "We have not a high
priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our
infirmities; but was tempted in all points like
as we are... He is able therefore to succour those who are
has been the way of the winepress; we have received the
Is this why Paul said: "That I may know Him
and the fellowship of His sufferings"? Paul knew quite
well that the sufferings of Christ meant Life, and if there was
one thing that Paul wanted for others, it was that they should
have this Life, and that they should have it through Him. So he
said: "That I may know... the
fellowship of His sufferings".
That may not be our ambition, we may not like the idea
very much, but may the Lord help us to look at things in this way:
"The Lord is putting me in the winepress. He is putting me through
a time of great pressure. I am being broken and crushed. The Lord
intends more fruit, more Life, more people to
have the Life", for the very nature of this thing is to reach out
to others. That is the true vine.
Anything that is not like that is the false vine.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches."