“Who is Jesus, Really? – The True Vine”


At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series “Who Is Jesus, Really?.”

Jesus claimed He can protect those who follow Him. What if the news is filled with tragedy, and the world feels unsafe? Discover how a relationship with God helps us connect to the One who can bring us peace and protection in the midst of life’s challenges.

Bonus Resources for “Who is Jesus, Really?”

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“Who is Jesus, Really? – The Good Shepherd” Next Steps

Message Video:

Gateway in South Austin – Music and Message

Gateway Online Message:

Message Notes from John Burke:

We’re in this series looking at what Jesus claimed about himself, as reported by the eyewitnesses who walked and talked and witnessed all he did. 

We’re looking at these “I am” statements that Jesus made I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the World, and today “I am the Vine.”

We’re looking at these all the way up to Easter, when we will talk about Jesus saying “I am the Resurrection and the Life” And John Burke interviewed the foremost Historical Scholar on the resurrection of Jesus—he’s debated atheists that then changed their minds, because the historical facts are there.

Jesus was making claims that either put him in the camp of delusional psychotic, or the long foretold revelation of the Creator in a form we could relate to—one of the two.  And history and Jesus’ impact on history—points to the latter.

Today we’re looking at Jesus statement “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” John 15:1  A vine is the Source of life and nourishment that produces fruit.  But what does that have to do with us?

Let’s play the “What If” game, can we? I find this very helpful to get at what I’m really searching for in those rumbling, questioning days.  What if you could change one external circumstance, but at the cost of one internal quality.

  • What if you had your dream job—you just loved your work, yet you still didn’t have peace.  Would that be enough? If you had to choose, which would be more important?  I’m guessing peace. 
  • What if you had your dream person—found Mr. or Mrs Right.  Yet over time you still didn’t feel really loved or satisfied (it happens).  Would that be enough—or would you need love and contentment too? 
  • What if you had all the money and possessions you’ve ever dreamed of—Lotto Jackpot winner.  If you had it all materially, but still had no joy—no deep happiness. Would that be enough.  Which would you choose—millions and millions of dollars, vacation homes, tropical paradise getaways, boats and cars…or joy? 
    Maybe I didn’t phrase that right—some of you look puzzled. Would you want all that stuff if you still weren’t happy—no deep happiness?  Joy is an overwhelming sense of happiness despite circumstances. My guess is “you’d want joy” though I know some of you are still confused because all that is still supposed to bring joy.

These are the things of the inner life.  Love, joy, peace, contentment…things that nothing external can give.  Ironically, often the pursuit of all these external things crowds out the development of an inner life that gives us what we’re really searching for. But how do we get them?  That’s what we’re going to talk about today.  Where do love and joy and these inner qualities come from?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  John 15:1-4

Let me give you a little context to this statement. It’s the last night before Jesus’ Crucifixion, and they just had the last supper in Jerusalem up on Mt. Zion, and now they’re walking down Mt Zion to the garden of Gethsemane—and they had to pass through the Kidron Valley where the vineyards were. That’s when Jesus says “I am the TRUE vine.” 

By the way—every time Jesus says “I am…”  That I am, translated from Ego Eime (ego aimee) in Greek, would trigger a Jewish person.  “I am” (ego aimee) is the very name Yahweh used when asked by Moses “who are you?”  So Jesus is again alluding to his divinity.

But Why the true vine?

  • Remember—a vine is the Source of Life and nourishment that causes grapes to grow on the branches. But this had deeper roots to the Jewish people of the 1st Century because all through the Old Testament prophets, Israel had been God’s Vine and Vineyard. 
  • Many passages written over 1000s of years portrayed Israel as the Vine and Vineyard God would use to help the nations see God’s love, kindness, goodness—to bear good fruit and show the world God’s goodness. 
  • But they kept turning away from God’s love and following after idols—idols aren’t just wooden carvings, but anything we put first at the center of life—what we live for and serve, and we all do.

For some, an idol is money—if it’s between God’s will and ways or money, you go with money. 

For some it’s a relationship—if it’s God’s will or ways or that person’s, you go with the person. 

For some it’s success, if it’s God’s will or ways or getting ahead—you opt to get ahead at any cost. 

See, idols are many in our society.  But at the root, to God, it’s about relationship and love and trust. 

God wants our love, trust, faithfulness because it’s what we need most–what flows out of that connection is Love, Joy, Peace from the inside out.

So God says to the prophet Jeremiah of Israel:
“This is what the Lord says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me…What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves… you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. [that’s where they set up idols—it felt like adultery to God who loved them. Then he says] 21 I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? – Jeremiah 2:2, 5, 20-21

So Jesus says:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. – John 15:1-2

Jesus is saying “I am the true Source of Love, Joy, Peace.”  Where Israel failed to lead the nations to the Source—I have come as the true Source. 

You see the same in Isaiah 49, Israel was God’s Servant to point the nations to God, but they were unfaithful to God, so God foretells the Servant Messiah:
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” But I [Israel] said, “I have labored in vain… And now the Lord says—he who formed me [Messiah] in the womb to be his servant…he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:3-6

This was written down 800 years before Jesus—yet Jesus has brought salvation to the ends of the earth.

  • Where Israel failed as the Vine, the Servant, Jesus was the True Vine and True Servant to reconnect people to the Source. 
  • That’s why he says My Father is the Vinedresser who cuts off branches that bear no fruit.  He was referring to those in Israel who might look connected to God, but there was no real Spiritual Life in them.
  • Judas—remember—this is an hour after Judas betrayed Jesus, but it would have seemed he was a follower. 
  • The Pharisees which were the religious leaders that would kill him—claimed they did it serving God—but Jesus claimed both were spiritually dead, only using God to serve their hidden idols of greed and power, fame and fortune.

What makes a branch dead? 

  • When the Life and Source from the Vine cannot flow through it. Spiritually, what makes a branch dead or alive is not what the branch does, but if the branch is alive to the Vine.
  • For us, it’s a matter of allowing God, the Source, to flow his Life and Truth through us.  The only way to be a dead branch is to reject the Source—to shut God out of your life. 
  • A branch can’t grow fruit—fruit is the evidence of a healthy branch connected to the Source.
  • Likewise, a lack of fruit is evidence that there’s no Life or Source flowing through that branch. 

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  John 15:4.

Jesus turns to the 11 disciples left and says “You are already clean (or pruned—same word) because of the word I’ve spoken to you.”  What does that mean? 

Well, they have believed His Words—they are healthy, good, fruit bearing branches that His words prune to make even more fruitful. 

See they are not healthy good branches because of what they do or don’t do, but because they have loved and trusted Jesus. 

Notice also, God prunes those he loves so they will be even more fruitful. What does this mean? And Fruitful in what way? 

Well, look at where “fruit” is talked about: 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25.

There it is…love, joy…all those inner qualities we really want most.  Where does it come from—they come from God—spiritual qualities that come from staying connected to the Source. Or as this says, living and keeping in step with God’s Spirit. 

Or as Jesus will say:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5.

Nothing? Seriously? 

Let’s test that because I know all kinds of people who don’t follow God, yet who have done a lot—fought diseases, founded non-profits, loved their families—so what does Jesus mean “apart from me you can do nothing?” 

It has to do with the very purpose the Creator created us. 

  • God didn’t create you to primarily be productive—he didn’t create slaves or robots.
  • God didn’t create you primarily to do good—though He wants us to do good because good is aligned with His nature. 
  • God created you to be his kids—his children, who then grow up in relationship with God so deep and intimate, it’s beyond that of Bride to groom—that’s why he uses that language in the Old Testament. 

So if you do all the good in the world, but reject and are spiritually dead to the Source of all good, what good is it eternally—none.  You’ve cut yourself off from the Source of all the good you valued. 

Jesus said it this way:
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36.

You were created for a love relationship with God—and out of staying connected to that love, the Life of the Source will flow through you and naturally grow good tasty fruit—good deeds, motivated out of Love, Joy, and Peace from within that God flows through you. 

That’s the exact opposite of trying to do good, or prove you are good, so you can be loved. 

You don’t have to do that—just stay connected to God’s Spirit, remaining connected to Christ, and fruit grows naturally. 

Jesus says a bit later in John 15:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:9-11.  

So that your Joy my overflow—a joy that comes from God, as we remain connected to the Source of all Love.

Okay but how practically?

Stay Connected to God’s Love

Love is the point of everything God does.  No one loves you more—no one!  Jesus came as the example of the Source of all Love. 

That night, he said:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13.

The next day, he proved how great God’s love is for you—he laid down his life willingly.  Not because he wanted to—remember that night in Gethsemane he prayed “Father take this cup of suffering from me…I don’t want to suffer…but not my will, but your will be done.” 

Who in this world has ever loved you enough to lay down their life? Yet Jesus demonstrated in human terms the depth of God’s love for you.

So stay connected to the Source of all Love. God wants you to go through life knowing you are unconditionally, ridiculously loved—just as you are.  You don’t have to change anything and God is crazy in love with you.

Why?

Because He made you. You are His—unless you choose to reject God and not accept his forgiveness and Love—but if you simply accept it, you are God’s dearly loved child.

So how do you stay connected to that reality and the Source of Love?

First, don’t believe lies that tell you otherwise—believe Jesus as the Vine, the Source of all Life and Love.  If you feel unworthy of His great love, welcome to the club, we are all unworthy—but it’s not about you, or me, it’s about how Loving God is toward all he created.

He wants to do life with you in a loving relationship. 

Love moves you to do things for others, not always easy for you—laying down your life isn’t.  When God prompts you to die to yourself to act for the good of another—respond—and watch how His love grows from the inside out.

And in a world where hate seems to be more rampant and in a time when violence against people because of their ethnic identity has been increasing at alarming rates (over 150% against Asian Americans since the pandemic began), our world needs us to love.

Love can be contagious and overcome the division and the fear that seems to overwhelm so many.

So many of our community groups and life groups are a microcosm of our church which is a microcosom of our city. In the same group, we have men, women, singles, couples, young, and old people who are Asian American, African American, Hispanic, and white doing life together, listening to each other, growing together, and serving others together. It’s what the Church has always been – a beautiful mix of people who have discovered God’s love and bring God’s love to others.

Keep His Commands

Remember, Jesus said: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love…” 

We have to know God’s commands to be able to keep them.

The path to Love and Joy experienced is walking in step with the Source—but to walk in step, we have to know his character and his will.  God’s given the Bible that reason.  God superintended it’s writing, and he guides us by His Spirit as we are willing to listen and do what he says—His good fruits grow in us.

Radically Respond to God’s Promptings

Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you… when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. John 16:7, 13-15

Now, some may say “This is crazy—some invisible God that’s 3 persons, Father, Son, Spirit, yet one God that you can’t see, yet is supposedly there, working, sustaining, loving and guiding those willing.”

But think about it, we believe in lots of invisible things.

  • Drop Something—Gravity. Some invisible force that I can’t see, where is it? How does it work? You don’t know, but you respect it.
  • I don’t understand how electrons can be both particle and wave, mass yet pure energy, that’s a paradox, yet it doesn’t stop me from using electricity. You don’t have to fully understand it to turn on the lights.
  • Science is full of apparent paradoxes that probably only resolve outside our limited 4 dimensional understanding. Just as One God, revealed as Father, Son, and Spirit could resolve in Higher Dimensional space.
  • We can trust God, even if we don’t fully understand Him. His ways are mysterious, but He reveals His character which is the fruit of the Spirit.

Jesus gave us an analogy of following His Spirit like the wind.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 

You can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind.

You see a flag moving as evidence it’s there.

You feel it on your face, blowing your hair. You can’t see it, but it can affect you.

God’s Spirit cannot be seen, but you can see the effects when willing people are moved along by Listening and Responding.

Loving God by staying connected and responsive, letting him lead us to love others—it gets us all unstuck! You see the Effects of the Spirit prompting someone to risk by loving, caring, encouraging, apologizing, humbling myself, being patient, serving, being selfless. That’s the unseen Spirit moving willing hearts.

So many of us miss the ride of our lives because we live stuck in the past—condemning voices of the past, past fears, past failures, past hurts, past regrets, so we miss the only Moment we really have to Do life with God—Right NOW!

Some of us live out in the future so much, planning, strategizing, worrying about what might be or could be. Not wrong to plan or think ahead, but do you miss Responding in This Moment?

You know Jesus paid a heavy price to set you free from the past and from worries of the future. God wants you to live each moment as a new start—the beginning of the rest of your life, more connected to God this Moment, Sails Up, and then Stay in the Groove.

Have you ever met someone who just seems to be moving further and faster in their walk with God? It’s not they have access to something we don’t. It’s that they are staying closer to His Spirit.

Stay in Step with the Spirit

“Be filled with the Spirit.”  Ephesians 5:18

  • In the original language of the New Testament, Greek, it could be translated: “Keep on being filled, empowered along, by the Spirit.” 
  • It’s the picture of wind filling up the sails of our minds, and moving us along under God’s power. 
  • It’s something we have to keep on doing. 

See, we don’t have to keep on trying harder to be more loving or patient—that won’t work.  We have to train ourselves to keep on letting God’s Spirit empower us to go his direction right in that moment when we are acting unloving or impatient.

That’s how he changes our inner life from the Inside Out.

It works, but it takes training to learn to adjust our thoughts and actions to respond to God when the heat is on—rather than doing the old what comes natural thing.

Scripture gives another analogy. 

“Don’t get drunk with wine, but keep on being filled by the Spirit.”

When you go out and get drunk—you give your mind, your will, over to the influence of alcohol, right?  You decide, beer by beer, or shot by shot—to give yourself over to the influence of alcohol. You do things you wouldn’t normally do, usually to your detriment. Or the same is true with drugs. You give control of your mind over to a substance.

In contrast, we are to keep on giving our minds over to the influence of God’s Spirit thought by thought.

To be filled—under the influence. 

And the good thing is, you can legally drive that way! 

It’s not out of control, sloppy drunkenness—it’s not whacked out weirdo stuff like you sometimes see on TV, it’s you being fully in control, paying attention to God’s promptings and allowing Him to give you power to do things you might not normally do things He would do which would mean caring for people you might not care for, serving people instead of demanding, saying “I’m sorry” instead of bowing up for a fight, being patient instead of getting bent out of shape, experiencing moments of life instead of hydroplaning right over it. That’s the radical response you need to practice or you won’t SEE. 

You have Go to Know. Sails up each moment, adjusting your Mind and Actions to stay in the groove with the Wind of God’s Spirit.

God loves you that much too! He doesn’t care what you’ve done, where you’ve been, He’s paid to free you from it. What he cares about is this: “How willing are you this moment? And the next, and the next?”

So this week, with God’s help let’s Stay Connected to God’s love, keep his commands, radically respond, and keep in step with His Spirit.

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