Thursday, October 4, 2012

Who Has the Grapes?

In the parable of the vineyard Jesus discusses just prior to going to the cross we learn about Jesus our Vine and how we, followers, are branches within and attached to Him at differing levels in accord with our faith and action.

Recently, I read Bruce Wilkerson's awesome little text, Secrets of the Vine. There were some interesting, even fascinating points made regarding the different levels that the Messiah discusses with His disciples. This story is found in John chapter 15 verses 1-17, which is as follows (Complete Jewish Bible):

“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. Right now, because of the word which I have spoken to you, you are pruned. Stay united with me, as I will with you — for just as the branch can’t put forth fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can’t bear fruit apart from me. 
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up.
“If you remain united with me, and my words with you, then ask whatever you want, and it will happen for you. This is how my Father is glorified — in your bearing much fruit; this is how you will prove to be my talmidim.
“Just as my Father has loved me, I too have loved you; so stay in my love. If you keep my commands, you will stay in my love — just as I have kept my Father’s commands and stay in his love. I have said this to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy be complete.
 “This is my command: that you keep on loving each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than a person who lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you.  I no longer call you slaves, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is about; but I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, I chose you; and I have commissioned you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that whatever you ask from the Father in my name he may give you. This is what I command you: keep loving each other!"

 All through the years, the interpretation I had of the branches who are cut off was that God was totally removing someone, but Dr. Wilkerson mentions that this is actually discipline and testing; not removing. Cutting isn't always removal; sometimes, it is a painful event or set of events. Such a different and more honorable interpretation that, indeed, in the Greek, actually makes more sense.

There are four baskets underneath vines, Wilkerson illustrates. One has nothing; one has a bare bit; one is about half full, and the fourth is full of the best looking grapes you've ever seen. Like the grapes Joshua and Caleb bring back to Israel from Jericho when they went in as spies to survey the land in Numbers chapter 13, these are plump, luscious, and as close to perfect they could be.

Basket one represents those who need cutting; discipline and testing. The Christ-followers whose baskets are empty are those who have made some decisions that go against the grain of the Lord's plan for their lives. There is unforgiveness, bitterness, or some other issue hindering them from moving forward and bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Once they are disciplined, though; once they are cut, they bear some fruit. Basket two has a few clusters that show promise, and so the Master Gardener prunes away some unnecessary, dead wood: deeds and relationships and attitudes that are not conducive for growth.

The fruit is good, and Father God, our Gardener, is encouraged, so He prunes away some more... more hindrances are removed; more definition is created. It pleases Him that His children of the Vine are doing so well. There is half a basket of ripe, delicious fruit to show now.

But God wants His children even closer; He seeks intimacy with us. To have a full basket is the goal of those who are truly seeking Him with all that they are and craving Him more than anything else. Full baskets; lives full of fruit from the Kingdom of God come from those who have had the deepest pruning, which comes from the deepest walk with God and therefore the most removal of what is not like Him. The more we become like Jesus... like the Vine... we bear fruit that resembles Him, in deed and Spirit.

Grapes with beautiful fall foliage; weheartit.com

We read that faith comes by hearing, and that by the Word of God, as well as that faith without works is dead (Romans 10:17; James 2:14-26). We also know that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control," (Galatians 5:22-23a, NASB) which we know are going to help us do the good deeds we were called to before the world began, because God predestined each of us from before the world began. Those who are in Christ are predestined, called, justified, glorified (Romans 8:28-30). Pruning, I believe, is one of the processes that He uses over time to create us into who we were meant to be. While destiny involves co-creating our lives with Christ - His plans and our actions - no matter what happens, God can turn it all for good. If we will accept the discipline and correction, accept the pruning, and run TO God instead of FROM Him during the process, we will become full to the brim with the life and fruit of the Kingdom.

"If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit," Paul writes in Galatians 5:25.  To allow God the Father to be the Gardener we we are healthy branches in the Vine, Jesus Christ, then we are indeed abiding in Him and He in us, and therefore we are walking by the Spirit of God and bearing much fruit.