“No greater love has anyone than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 (ESV)
It’s a good bet that this is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, even among people who don’t read the Bible, don’t especially believe what it says about Jesus, or maybe are unaware that this even is a Bible verse.
Dying for others as an act of sacrificial love is something that abides deeply in our American DNA. No other country has military cemeteries in as many far-flung places as has the U.S., which has advanced the cause of freedom with its own treasure and blood throughout her history. Americans “get” this.
Among the Bible literate, John 15:1-17 is known as “The True Vine” or “The Vine and Branches” story. The “someone” who “lays down his life for his friends” is Jesus, whose death and resurrection restores our relationship with God. This passage has fascinating depth, symbolism, instruction and Old Testament pedigree.
Essentially, these words are Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples as they leave the last supper. Heading to the garden of Gethsemane where He will “sweat blood” in distressful prayer, be arrested by Jewish guards, be abandoned by most of his disciples and then led away to trials, beatings, rejection, humiliation, crucifixion and death, Jesus talks of abiding in His love and loving one another.
In Isaiah 5:1-7, “The Song of the Vineyard,” the “vine” is the symbol of Israel; much like Americans would recognize the bald eagle as the symbol of our nation. God is telling Israel, through Isaiah, that “the vine” he has loved and set apart, i.e., their nation, has failed him. Jesus is now telling the disciples that He is the true vine, the true representation of God’s will and purpose. And after all … Jesus is God.
This is the kind of teaching that regularly infuriated the Jewish leaders. Jesus constantly represented to them that He was the Messiah savior, son of God, come to save all mankind. The Jews did not want to lose what they assumed was exclusively theirs and were unwilling to share God’s favor with all humanity.
The instruction of “The Vine” of Jesus is simply this: “Love one another as I have loved you” (verse 12). And we can only properly love each other if we properly abide in the love of Jesus (verses 4-7, 9-10). It is instruction for everyone.
The circle is complete when our love for each other abides in the love of Jesus, and then produces fruit for the glory of God.
That’s abiding in the true vine.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) thanks Dr. David Faust, pastor, mentor and friend, for the Vine background.