Few people grow grapes, but many people enjoy roses, which have the same properties. Both types of plants require care, which remind us of the True Vine lesson of Christ. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman” (Jn. 15:1-KJV).
A rose grower will prune away all the deadwood on his bushes, which makes the plants want to produce. The grower will also prune the branches which bloom, so they blossom even more. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (v. 2).
Beginners do not want to prune the deadwood or the few blooms which show on the neglected plant, but experienced gardeners know that pruning is part of God’s plan of creation for roses and for us.
Those who do not rely on Christ’s merit for their salvation are dead wood, even if they dress up for Sunday worship, serve on five committees, and give regularly. They will be pruned away, because they do not bear fruit.
Sincere believers are pruned in two ways. First, the preaching of the Law and Gospel cleanses them of their sin through the work of the Holy Spirit. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (v. 3). Secondly, the crosses they bear purify their faith and make them thirst for the living water of the Word.
The beloved Son of God offers a great promise in verses 4 and 5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
God Will Accomplish His Will
No one expects a rose to bloom on its own. The flower derives all of its strength from the plant. No Christian can bloom apart from Christ, who comes to us solely through the Word and the Sacraments. Because the Holy Spirit is always bound to the Word and always effective, we can always trust that God will accomplish His will through His appointed Means of Grace.
“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is. 55:10-11). Rain and snow bring inevitable growth. The Word brings inevitable results. God has promised. God never deceives.
In contrast, Jesus warns that those who do not abide in Him will be cast away and will wither, just as pruned branches dry up on the trash heap. Moreover, they will be gathered and burned in eternal judgment (Jn. 15:6). The Bible teaches only two alternatives: fruitfulness from abiding in Christ; eternal punishment from rejecting Christ.
The happy task of the Christian is simply to remain in Christ through the Word. As Luther taught, the pastor who preaches God’s Word has God in his mouth, and the listeners have God in their ears, and then in their hearts. How can God be in our hearts without being fruitful (v. 7)? So we pray with faith and God answers our prayers, as He has promised faithfully.
When Christians are fruitful from enjoying the Means of Grace, the Father is glorified (v. 8).
The rose grower obeys the laws of Creation and sees a cascade of roses, delighting the eye and filling the air with perfume. But nothing compares with the overwhelming abundance of blessings pouring forth wherever the Word is taught in truth and purity.
–Pastor Gregory L. Jackson