Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. ~Mark 12:29-31
Today, on the Sixteenth Day of Lent, we continue to discuss the Primo Credo. We will be meditating on it over the period leading up to Resurrection (Easter) Sunday; and we will be trying to remember to recite it daily, once in the morning and once again in the evening. For over two weeks now, we have stressed the importance of intentionality; thinking, feeling, and meaning the words as we repeat them- not just hollowly reciting them. Our goal is to let the words work in us, and hopefully through us, and back out of us.
Today’s Scripture Reading: John 15:1-17, esp v. 5
I am the vine and you are the branches; If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; Apart from me, you can do nothing John 15:5
First, we need to read this passage and hear it with First Century Middle-Eastern ears (not 21st century American/Western ones). When Jesus used this analogy, the disciples were sure to have understood it in the context of “the vine” being Israel. There are lots of passages in the Old Testament where the term vine is used for Israel, such as: Ps 80:8-16, Isa 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ezek 15:1-8, 17:5-10, 19:10-14, and Hos 10:1. The vine to Israel was as symbolic as the bald eagle is to America. In fact, the vine was even put on some of the coins made by the Maccabees in the century BC. Additionally, this symbol was pominently displayed above the gate of the Temple- according to ancient historical accounts, including those of Josephus, there were golden vines and grape clusters as large as a man over the Temple gates.
To the people of Jesus’ day, the symbolism of this was similar to the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty- we can be quite sure that the symbolic significance would not have been missed on them. So, Jesus was not making a new analogy, per se, but he was attributing the symbolism differently- and that was what was so novel about what he says in John 15. When He says: “I AM the TRUE VINE”…that is one heck of a claim to be making! So here Jesus re-cast himself in the role of the true vine, making a clear statement that Israel as the vine was insufficient. He also re-casts the disciples (for they were Israelites/Jews) as branches.
Then, Jesus makes it clear that the branches have a responsibility. Johns uses the imperative verb “abide”- which indicates that direct and deliberate effort must be expended in order to maintain a close personal relationship to the true vine. Now, to be clear, we do not expend effort to abide in Christ, to gain salvation, or even to keep our salvation; we abide in Him because our fruitfulness as believers directly correlates to our intimacy with Jesus. Our Spiritual health and our Christ-walk are inseparably connected (entwined and engrafted) to Him, and apart from our continued intimate connectedness to Him, we can do nothing…we cannot bear fruit.
It is important, also here to understand that Jesus spoke of “abiding” in two senses. He used it as a synonym for saving faith (6:56). However, He also used it to describe the intimate relationship that those who have exercised saving faith need to cultivate with God (8:31). All believers abide in Jesus in the first sense, but all do not abide in Him in the second sense (John 5:10; 1 John 3:24). It is in this second sense that Jesus spoke of abiding here (cf. vv. 9-10). He stressed the importance of believers abiding in Him by using the word meno (“abide”) three times in this verse.
In John 15:5, Jesus continues to stress the importance of believers abiding in Him (i.e., cultivating intimacy through loving obedience, 14:23; 15:10) to bear much fruit. So abide then has two distinct qualities or senses: the first is security (which includes, but is not limited to salvation); the second is a healthy, vibrant and flourishing intimate relationship.
I can think of nowhere else in scripture where the sense of security and healthy intimacy are captured than in the following scripture passage:
Psalm 16:8-9 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
8 I keep the LORD in mind always.
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also rests securely.
It is clear from this passage that a life lived in “abide-ience” (under the Lordship of Christ) is hallmarked by…
Today, as you reflect on your relationship With YHWH, may you experience and ever-growing sense of that unshakable confidence we have in and through the person of Jesus Christ.