By Mark Scott
Matchless means peerless; no equal; unsurpassed. When we speak of God’s love for us, it is matchless. Our text is in the middle of what is called the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. The content stretches from John 13–15. It was the night of his betrayal. In an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem, Jesus met with his disciples, washed their feet, instituted the Lord’s Supper, predicted his betrayal and denial, and promised the Holy Spirit. The words are tender and drip with emotion. The genre follows the typical farewell address forms in the Bible and during Jesus’ time. The theme of the evening is love. In fact, love appears around 43 times from John 13–21.
Out text begins with yet another “I am” claim from Jesus. Perhaps as they anticipated the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane from the Upper Room, the metaphor of the vine was generated. Jesus said, I am the true vine. The vine was a familiar image in the Jewish reservoir of understanding. They viewed themselves as God’s vine in the world (Isaiah 5:1-7). But nowhere inside or outside of the Bible can we find evidence of someone saying that they were the true vine. Jesus may well have been claiming that he is the New Israel. The details of the imagery are easily discerned: God is the gardener and the one who does the pruning. Jesus is the true vine, and disciples are the branches. Vines produce fruit. The best fruit in the Christian experience is love. Jesus marked out two keys to the production of matchless love. The first is to abide (remain). The word remain appears 11 times in our text with 8 of those times being in these first 8 verses. To love like Jesus we must receive the love of Jesus. This is done best by constantly abiding in him. We must remain in the vine. The second is to be pruned. In God’s vineyard it is not just the old worn-out branches that get cut out. The healthy branches he also cuts back (literally, lifts and separates). The goal in pruning is to make the branches even more productive.
Jesus also marked out three results of this production of matchless love. First we learn that by abiding in Jesus we avoid judgment. While all people will appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), those who stay connected to the vine get a free pass on judgment. Second, we have the prospect of answered prayer. This promise seems wide open: ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. No strings attached? But remember that if we are abiding in the vine, we most likely will not ask for anything that is not in line with the Father’s wishes. Third, we prove ourselves to be disciples of Jesus. Disciples stay connected to the vine to bear fruit (a phrase that occurs 8 times in this passage). This fruit of matchless love gives evidence of our discipleship.
Matchless love produces a bumper crop. But matchless love also shows up in tremendous sacrifice. Jesus got intimate in this section of our text. He spoke about the closeness he has with his Father, and he invites believers into that intimacy by being their friend. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the disciples. The disciples love each other. Often this love takes the path of most resistance. It involves sacrifice, but that thought is not oppressive. When love is in high gear, sacrifice is actually a joy. Jesus wants our joy meter running high. Sacrifice is what creates intimacy. Is there a greater way to demonstrate love than through sacrifice?
Jesus removed any awkward distance by calling those who love him and remain in him friends. There is a difference between a friend and a servant. Servants serve because they must. Friends serve because they want to serve. Jesus chose the disciples to be his friends. He bridged that gap with them by giving himself on the cross.
Sacrifice also leads to greater productivity in prayer. As it is in John 15:7, so it is in v. 16. God answers our prayers because we are his kids—not because we always do everything he wants. Jesus loves us so much, it hurts.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.