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[John 15:1-8] Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine 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.”


Fruit of the Vine

                If the branch grows apples, you know to what kind of tree it belongs. And if it’s lying by itself on the ground, you know it won’t bear any fruit at all.

                “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” [Matthew 12:33]. And, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” [Matthew 7:19].

                Jesus speaks in a similar way in this morning’s Gospel, but here it’s about a vine: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” [John 15:1-2].           

                Jesus is the vine. The Father is the vinedresser who does the pruning. A branch which isn’t growing fruit is a dead branch. Though present in the vine, it’s not receiving its life from the vine. Likewise, any branch remaining separate from the vine doesn’t stay living nor does it bear true fruit.

                “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” [John 15:2,6].

                The very Vine who has produced the branches is warning His own – His baptized people – about the danger of living a fruitless life. A Christian living a fruitless life can lose his living faith. And our faith cannot survive forever on its own, apart from the body.

                But, in that Vine, what is the fruitful life being produced? What are the fruits on the branches?

                Abiding in the grapevine produces grapes on the branch. Abiding in Christ produces the love of God in the believer. “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” [1 John 4:16]. Yet, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” [1 John 4:20].

                God’s love in His branches is genuine. It is love for God, and it is God’s love for your neighbor abiding in you. God’s love loves the individuals around you.

                Easy love, on the other hand, loves categories of people. “The poor”. “The marginalized”. Easy love is charitable to the neighbor you don’t know and who doesn’t share your daily life. It’s convenient to not hate those with whom we rarely interact.

                Genuine love, the love of God, abiding in His branches, loves the individuals named in your daily life – “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” [1 John 4:21] – not just the convenient stranger. But also the stranger. And real people in need who are around you every day.

                God’s love is strong and heartfelt – is moved to action – considers its words – prays – and is concerned, deeply, for the welfare of the other branches, and for those not in the Vine.

                More specifically, the fruit of the Vine produced in the living branches is the keeping of God’s commandments toward God and your neighbor. Not whatever we call love, but what He calls love is the love of God.

                Our Scripture references to love this morning are from our Epistle reading, 1 John 4:1-21. This passage continues into chapter five, saying: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” [1 John 5:2-3].

                God has commanded us to have no other gods beside Him – to fear, love, and trust in God above all things; to not misuse but to call upon His name alone in prayer; and to find our rest in worshiping Him.

                God has commanded that we count our neighbor’s physical welfare as our own and not do them harm by passing over their bodily needs. “You shall not kill.” 

                God has commanded that husband and wife be there for each other with love and affection, to cherish and provide for each other, each in their way, and to be faithful. “You shall not commit adultery.”  

                God commands that we honor our father and our mother. Not always thinking that we know best, but hearing those parents that God has given us – and respecting them throughout life.

                God has commanded that we care about the financial welfare of the other person in the deal, not just our own. And that we trust God to provide for us so that we don’t steal or use underhanded ways. “You shall not steal.” And not to be jealous of those who have more than us – “You shall not covet.”

                And God commands me to bear witness in keeping with God’s love for, and redemption of, my neighbor. To see my neighbor through the lens of Christ’s forgiving blood, and therefore not to speak of his or her sins. To not “bear false witness” by spreading news of sins that Christ desires to forgive. Therefore, we speak well of our neighbor – and of our brothers and sisters – and put the best construction on everything.

                “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]

                “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-23]

                No honest follower of Christ can hear God’s commandments – nor hear about the fruits of the Vine that ought to be growing in this branch – without being pierced through the heart with guilt. I fall short. Is there fruit? Certainly. Is there what fruit there ought to be? Certainly not. And it’s my fault. And it’s your fault in you.

                But Jesus Christ, the true Vine, for His fruitless branches, was hung upon the dead wood of the cross. All that is lacking in you – the good that you’ve not done, and the evil you have done – He has made His own.

                Pierced and nailed upon the cross for your sins, the Vine suffered the fire of judgement that was due for the dead and fruitless branches. He was cut off. He was cast aside. He suffered. His death paid the price for your sin, and His one-and-only fruitful life became the good you owed.

                In short, He took your place. He did what you could not. And, this one and only Righteous Man, after He died, was buried – and then, as if planted, He grew again. He is risen and lives. The fruit of the Vine is His fruit – the fruit of His God-pleasing sacrifice and of His great resurrection from the dead, by the gory of God the Father.

                As a redeemed, bought-and-paid-for branch grafted back in, His life and fruit does flow through you. No longer a debt of work owed, but a new life given – His life – because you abide in Him.

                The point is that sinners – because of His work of redemption, the forgiveness of your sins – though still so lacking in good and full of sins – now have the glory and honor of being fruit-bearing branches on the King’s own Vine.

                The Vinedresser’s promise to prune you still stands. In the Greek, the word for “clean” and “prune” are the same. “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” You are clean, and He is cleaning you still.

                Future fruitfulness is the promise for each of you who remain in the Vine, who abide in Him, gathering together, hearing His Word, receiving His Supper – the Food and Drink for His branches – patiently trusting in His work. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.”

                In Him, you won’t always be what you are, but what you ought to be will come bit by bit — and will come fully when you too are raised from the dead, our future hope, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

[John 10:11-18] Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”


Jesus, Good Shepherd 

Sheep are creatures that must be tended to and guided by a shepherd. Going it on their own doesn’t work. Their wool must be groomed and sheared. They must be led to safe and wholesome pasture. They must be protected from predators. Sheep are not self-sufficient. They, by nature, must be cared for.

We are the same way. As a group and as individuals. It’s in our nature, it’s in our design, that we must rely on another – someone greater. Men and women are not self-sufficient creatures. We were not created to be. We were created to live by faith in our Creator, expecting from Him every good thing.

Sheep tend to go astray, as if they have no shepherd to follow – even when they do. We are very much like sheep. “We all like sheep have gone astray” [Isaiah 53:6]. The original sin, which we all inherit in ourselves, is that we do not live by faith in God our Shepherd.

It is sin that we seek to go it on our own, making up our own way, facing the challenges of life as if there is no Shepherd to rely upon.

Maybe in pride, we don’t want to admit we need a Shepherd, so we go our own way. Maybe in some form of self-righteousness, we are seeking a better word than God’s Word.

Or, perhaps very often, as if there is no Shepherd tending us – as if there is not a Creator, Redeemer, and Savior for us – we react from an inward place of fear or anxiousness or isolation, as if we are sheep who must fend for themselves.

But there is a Shepherd. And He has made promises. We find many of those promises in Psalm 23, which begins with those words, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Here we find the promises which so comfort us. Yet, in so many ways, we live as if these promises are not true.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

In the face of financial trouble, it’s the fear and anxiety of feeling you are on your own, fending for yourself, that leads to the stress and arguments that shake up a family’s life.

But faith in the Good Shepherd says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” – which means, “I will not lack.” “I have a Shepherd; therefore, I will not lack. He will not leave me without what I need.”

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”

As if we have no Shepherd to give us good food for our soul, we occupy our days with a stream of frivolous distractions - or even with a steady flow of life’s best things – but “the one thing needed” [Luke 10:42] and the Bread of Life [John 6:35] are right in our reach - “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” [John 6:35].

Or you might cling to the idea of having some thing in life you don’t have but are convinced you must have – forgetting your life has a Shepherd who is leading you to what He knows is best – “green pastures; still waters” – according to His knowledge, not our understanding.  

“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

We read in our Epistle today, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” We’ve been given the new commandment to love one another as He has loved us [John 13:34]. “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him.” [1 John 3:16-24].

We fall far short of what we should be. In the face of our failure, “our heart condemns us” [1 John 3:19]. As if there is no Shepherd, our focus is set on how much we’ve strayed – or on how much we lack in progress toward doing better – then we despair, thinking we may be lost forever or that we cannot be improved.

But “God is greater than our heart” [1 John 3:20]. And our Shepherd is greater than our straying. His work in us in greater than our sin and flesh. He does prevail in you at doing what He has promised – “He restores your soul. He leads you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He restores and leads sheep-who-stray. He is a capable Shepherd who can successfully keep even the most difficult sheep.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Evils can come. Bad health can come. Untimely death can come. But these cannot harm us at all. We need not lose faith.

Your Shepherd guides you safely through every trouble. Because there is a Shepherd – who conquered the grave – there is comfort, and also joyfulness and thankfulness, during bad times – through that valley – even when in the world there is only fear.   

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Though we are sojourning in a world that has wolves, we do not need to fear the sinfulness of the world, the craftiness of the devil, nor opposition to the Truth more than we trust the goodness and capability of our Savior.

There are wolves. But we are a flock with a Shepherd. We are not unguarded.

Your Shepherd and Lord spreads His table every Sunday in the presence of the world, sin, the devil, and all enemies – and His cup overflows with His goodness toward us. We can confidently be witnesses to the Truth by our word and life, believing that doing so will bear fruit.

Jesus is “the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Of His own accord, willingly, Jesus the Shepherd became the Lamb who laid down His life for the sins of the sheep – “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” – “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” [Isaiah 53:5-6]

Upon the cross, the Shepherd-Lamb, Jesus, made His soul an offering for the guilt of His flock. He prolonged your days and made you to be counted righteous [Isaiah 53:10-11].

We, like sheep, are not creatures who are self-sufficient. In both physical and spiritual matters, we are dependent completely on that One who is greater than us.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:3]. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” [1 John 3:16].

Because He has done this, we can say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Amen.

[Luke 24:44-46] …Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…”


Fulfilling the Scriptures

One way to lift ourselves up is to bring others down, right? Of course, we learn that it never really works. Yet, there are ways in which we do it to the Lord our God.

To lift up our own reason or opinions – our own way of thinking – decisions we’ve made or actions we would like to take – to a higher rung of the ladder, we are tempted to bring the Scriptures, God’s Word, to a lower place than where they belong.  

For some, the motive is to cling to traditions or what we’re familiar with. For others, it’s to avoid Scripture’s moral commandments. Others struggle with the severity of God’s judgment as expressed in Scripture. And yet others struggle with the generosity of the Gospel’s free forgiveness as expressed in Scripture.  

And, we might remember in the Easter season, that for many individuals, it’s those big, miraculous things in Scripture – like the six-day creation in Genesis – or the flood – or Jonah swallowed by the fish – or the virgin birth of Jesus – His many miracles – or, His bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter – that are hard to believe, and we are tempted to bring the Scriptures lower.

In various ways, to lift up our life-decisions, our opinions, our ways of thinking, or our human reason to a higher rung on the ladder, we are tempted to put Scripture, the Bible, lower than where it belongs.

Why bring this up on the Third Sunday of Easter? Because in our Gospel reading today, the risen, living, resurrected Jesus Himself points to the Scriptures in regard to His resurrection.

As the Church, we can look to the perfect Man, the risen, living Jesus Christ, to see at what great height He holds the Scriptures – and, therefore, at what great height we ought to hold them.  

On the evening of His resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples. He shows them His hands and feet. They handle Him to see that He is flesh and bone. At first, they doubt for fear. Then, they disbelieve for joy.

But Jesus tells them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me – “Scripture” means “the writings” – in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms – a way of referring to the Old Testament Scriptures – must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…”

At what height does the risen Shepherd of the Church hold Scripture? In reference to His resurrection from the dead, Jesus tells His disciples, “I was fulfilling Scripture.” Jesus, risen from the dead, stands in front of His disciples and points to Scripture, saying, “There I am.”

Jesus then opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. With their minds opened to the Scriptures, then they can understand what they’re looking at in front of them on Easter.

Scripture is held at the highest heights on the day of His resurrection, and Jesus tells His disciples that it was necessary for Him to fulfill them.

In fact, from His conception to the events surrounding His birth – to His preaching and miracles – to the details of His humiliation, suffering, and death – and to His bodily resurrection from the dead – it is repeated again and again, throughout the four Gospels, that He did these things – and that these things happened – in order to fulfill the Scriptures.

The Scriptures had to be fulfilled – they had to be kept and accomplished – because they are God’s Word. Jesus came to do the will of His Father in Heaven, and has done it completely.

Jesus said of the Scriptures, “Scripture cannot be broken [John 10:35]. The apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God [2 Timothy 3:16]. The apostle Peter said, regarding the authorship of Scripture, that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:20-21].

(And in the time of the apostles, they were already regarding the New Testament writings as Scripture – 1 Timothy 5:18; Luke 10:7; 2 Peter 3:16.)

Scripture is the Word of God. And Scripture, all throughout, is about Jesus – “everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms…”

More amazing still, the Bible is God’s Word written – and Jesus Himself is God’s Word made flesh [John 1:1-14]. That’s a mystery beyond understanding. But a lower view of God’s Word in Scripture leads to a lower view of God’s Word altogether, even in the person of Jesus.

What does all this mean? Does it mean we throw out every proper use of human reason? Does it mean we throw out all human observation and thought as worthless? Of course not.

But it does mean we rejoice that in Scripture we have something that is more and greater than everything else. Greater than all other words. Truer than all other knowledge.

The Scriptures are true and reliable in every respect. If they’re not, then we have no reliable record of a single word of Jesus either. But if Jesus is true, then Scripture is also true – because the risen Jesus pointed to the Scriptures to show us Himself.

Every person has very basic questions that need to be answered: “What am I?” “Where did I come from?” “What am I worth?” “I know certain things are wrong and certain things are right, but what is it based on?”

“What about my wrongs, my sins?” “What can be done with those?” “Am I forgiven?”

And, “What about when I die, what happens?” “What happens to my body?”

In Scripture, you are not an animal. You are created. You are made in the image of God. You are accountable to God. You sin, and are not the person you ought to be, because we are all fallen in sin, fallen from that image.

In Scripture, you see that the Son of God, Jesus, died for you – in your place, for your wrongs. You see that He paid with His life for you. That gives you tremendous worth. It means that you are forgiven. Jesus has accomplished it.

 And you see in Scripture that your body will not end ruined in the grave. Jesus has conquered death. He is risen from the dead to never die again. He will “swallow up death forever” [Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54]. “Because I live, you also will live”, Jesus says [John 14:19].

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” [Matthew 24:35]. No matter what the struggle with faith is, we can never lift ourselves or others up by setting Scripture lower.

Instead, in the Scriptures we have that which is greater than our doubts and struggles, greater than heaven and earth. There, the risen Jesus still opens minds and hearts to know Him and all He has done for us. Amen.   


Pastor and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church

Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023. 

rinity Lutheran Church

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