President's Gallery: Making Sense of the Cross [John 15:1-17]
Photo taken by President at Bishan PCN, Singapore, February 2021.
John 15:1-8 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."
John 15:1-17 speaks of how we live in Christ and His love. This passage has been instrumental in helping me understand God’s great love as revealed through the Cross and guided me in understanding how to be a better child of God. Let us think about God’s love in this article.
In verses 1 to 7, Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase “abide in me“, when speaking to His disciples. Jesus used a parable of vines, a common sight during those times. He likened the relationship between His disciples and Him to that of a vine and branch, with our Father Lord as the Planter, responsible for pruning. The vine and its branch cannot be separated; the branch cannot exist independently, it relies on the nutrients provided by the vine to germinate, flower, and bear fruit.
Photo taken by President, January 2021.
Recently, I stayed home much more during the pandemic and started gardening. If I desired my plants to bloom, I needed to actively prune them, and not allow too many branches or leaves to grow on them. All the dry branches in the garden that do not bloom or bear fruit will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, will we similarly be pruned? This is a timely reminder; so let us stay vigilant and abide in Christ, live our lives closely connected to the vine, and bear fruits.
The famous revivalist and South African Christian pastor Andrew Murray gave a detailed explanation of John 15 in his book “Abide in Christ”. He said the connection between the vine and the branch is a living one. The branch draws from the life-sap of the vine. This union is not a mechanical construct that had been soldered together; but rather, a living union, that allows the branch to bear fruit.
The vine and its branch cannot be separated; the branch cannot exist independently, it relies on the nutrients provided by the vine to germinate, flower and bear fruit.
Through the parable of the vine and branch, we can see that to abide in Christ is to receive His abundant life, so that our life can bear many fruits. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ allows us to be forgiven of our sins and connects us to the True Vine so that we may receive God’s abundant blessings and His immeasurable love and grace.
The parable also teaches us the completeness of the union. Without the vine, the branch cannot do anything. The Lord says: Without me, you can do nothing. Only through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ dwelling within us, can we experience the redemptive grace of God. The vine also needs the branch, for without the branch, it cannot bear fruit. The branch bears fruit for the vine, and in so doing, passes on this grace to others.
God’s willingness to bind Himself to us, is akin to Jesus’ Great Commission today. Jesus is willing to enter our lives and act as a bridge for our covenant with God. Jesus wants to make our lives a blessing to others, a channel for His Gospel to be witnessed. When we bear many fruits, we glorify our Heavenly Father. As Jesus’ disciples, we have a duty to carry out His Great Commission.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ allows us to be forgiven of our sins and connects us to this True Vine.
All that the vine possesses belongs to the branch. God is willing to give His all to us without reservation. For God so loves the world, that He bestowed His one and only Son to the world. So does all that the branch possesses also belong to the vine? Today we have received many blessings from God, yet we seem to have forgotten that everything of ours belongs to our Heavenly Father.
When I was reading Andrew Murray’s book, I received great relief. I still recall that I had been working hard at that time to be a disciple that was pleasing to God, but I had felt that I was not doing enough, and was plagued with many trials. In the midst of my struggles, I came across Murray’s book and finally came to realise that I should not be relying on my own might. I had to surrender to God to ensure a close union with this true vine. To fully submit to God, always keep in the grace of Christ: through prayer, spiritual discipline, and worship. Only then will Jesus’ life bring about transformation in my life and lead me to a life of abundance.
Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you… If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remained in His love.” To obey God’s commands is to enable us to be in God’s love, and is not an onerous task. A heart of obedience makes us joyful and contented to be in God’s love. The parable of the vine and branch makes us more aware of our union with God, one born out of the love from God. So Jesus said: Love one another as I have loved you. This is my command.
To obey God’s commands is to enable us to be in God’s love, and is not an onerous task. A heart of obedience makes us joyful and contented to be in God’s love.
During the Holy Week, we remember Jesus’ suffering. Every time I watch the film “The Passion of Christ”, especially at the scene when Jesus was whipped savagely, I feel so much pain that I cannot bear to continue watching. The crucifixion of Jesus was not enacted to draw our sympathy. Jesus’ crucifixion is an expression of His great love for us, that His love triumphs over death.
Today, how do we ensure that we are open to God’s grace, and remain in the true vine of God, obeying the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ? “Disciple” is derived from a Latin word and means “a student who is willing to fully commit himself to learn the mind, skills, and spirit of the Master”. The life of a faithful disciple is based not merely on a foundation of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but on one built on spiritual discipline. Christians throughout the ages have opened up to the grace of God and followed the teachings of Jesus Christ. So we need to be spiritually disciplined as Christians to always remain connected to this True Vine, and to allow the life-giving goodness of God to flow uninhibited in our lives.
In abiding in Jesus’ love, we draw closer in a loving relationship with God. This love is not gained through human effort. It is something so amazing yet so hard to comprehend: that all we need to do is to allow ourselves to be a channel of God’s grace. By observing God’s commands, we allow the abundance of God to flow into our lives and transform us. And as we love, we watch over one another. Jesus’ crucifixion does not ask for our sympathy. The Cross is a call of love. The Cross is God’s message to us: I love you, I love you so much, abide in my love, in my true vine, and I will give you all that I have. For without me, you are nothing. This Good Friday season, let us learn to abide in the love of Christ.
Jesus’ crucifixion does not ask for our sympathy. The Cross is a call of love. The Cross is God’s message to us: I love you, I love you so much, abide in my love, on my true vine, and I give you all that I have.
Rev Gregory Goh Nai Lat
President, Chinese Annual Conference