Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7 • Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 • Hebrews 11:29-12:2 • Luke 12:49-56
This week’s theme is Stay Connected to the Vine. The prophet Isaiah reminds Israel—through the example of a vineyard—how God carefully planted and cared for them. He did everything for them, but they rebelled against him, and he had to clear the vineyard. The Psalmist tells a similar story—using a vine as an example—asking God to restore them. Hebrews 11 shares the stories of many who were faithful—who stayed connected to God. These faithful are our “great cloud of witnesses,” reminding us to run with perseverance and to stay focused on Jesus. Luke shares Jesus’ statement that he didn’t come to bring peace—he came to draw people to himself. This would result in much division as people choose their own way. We can interpret the weather, but we fail to see that our problems are the result of not being connected to the vine. The sermon begins with the passage in Isaiah 5, and ends with Hebrews 12.
Stay Connected to the Vine
Introduction: Show some pictures of vineyards.
Vines. Vineyards. Grapes. Wild Grapes. Wine. We could be talking about a beautiful scene in Napa, CA, Tuscany, Italy, Burgundy or Bordeaux, France, Germany, Australia, Israel or numerous other places around the world.
These words, however, are found throughout the Bible. There are approximately 60 verses talking about vineyards, more than 30 mentioning grapes, and more than 200 references to wine. Interestingly, Israel was a land of vineyards. So it’s no surprise that the vine and vineyard are characteristic of this country’s agricultural abundance, and they serve as vivid images for the land itself. Isaiah used the vineyard as a metaphor describing the relationship between God and Israel.
I will sing for the one I love, a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. (Isaiah 5:1)
Illustration: If you’ve ever prepared a garden, share some of the steps. Or ask someone in the congregation who loves to garden, to share the steps in preparing and planting the garden. The point is to show it takes a lot of work and the ground needs a lot of care.
Isaiah is showing God’s love for his vineyard—Israel—and their response. God painstakingly cleared the rocks, turned over the soil, and planted only the best vines. Isaiah is showing the purposeful and powerful way that God prepared a place for his people. In this way the parable describes God’s election of Israel as a nation. As with any vineyard, the vinedresser does all the work with the expectation of a fruitful and bountiful harvest. God wanted the best for Israel. He wanted them to trust him and rely on him. God wants the best for us, too. He will go to great lengths to make it so.
He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah 5:2)
God is also the protector; which Isaiah points out. But something happened; Israel lost their way. They spurned God and went their own way. Isaiah compared the result to bad fruit—wild grapes; the vineyard had lost its value.
Notice then, the prophecy:
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. (Isaiah 5:5-6)
Whoa! Is God being vindictive here? That is not his nature, so why this reaction from God? Why make Israel a wasteland? Why command the clouds not to rain on it? Because things can’t continue the way they are. It’s easy to put the focus on God’s reaction, rather than on the reason behind that reaction.
God had done everything for Israel. He brought them out of slavery. He blessed their crops and their livestock. He poured out his love on them and protected them, and they turned their back on it all.
What do you do with plants that don’t produce fruit? You pluck them from the garden, so they don’t rob healthy plants of nutrients. You trim dead limbs off a tree, so the tree becomes healthy. You cut dead branches off a vine so the vine can produce better fruit.
Should God continue to provide protection and blessings to those who now live in contradiction to who he is? What example does this state? You can do anything, and God will still pour out his blessings on you. What lesson does this give to those who don’t yet know God? If God blesses, protects and provides for those who defy him, why bother following him? What message would others be hearing? God’s “reaction” could be referred to as tough love.
Israel rejected the very one who made them a nation. They turned their back on the one who gave them land and livestock. Rather than care for the vineyard God gave them—weeding it, trimming it, pruning the branches—they allowed weeds to overflow and take over the grapes. The result was bad fruit—nothing but useless wild grapes.
All because they didn’t stay attached to the vine. This prophecy was for Israel, and it’s for us today. When we stay attached to the vine, we can experience God’s love, protection and provision. His desire is to hold us up as his beloved, to let the world see what it means when one walks with him—lives in communion with Father, Son, Spirit and each other. This does not mean a charmed life where nothing bad ever happens to us. Rather, it means a life of faith, hope and love even when bad things do happen.
He loves to share the stories of those who stay connected to the vine. Hebrews 11 is filled with stories of the faithful. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses are all mentioned. There are many more; let’s read Hebrews 11:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:32-38)
Notice something here? God doesn’t promise us life without difficulty. We face challenges, trials, persecution, even death. There was a lot of conflict in the lives of those mentioned here in Isaiah. Some he delivered outright; some were not delivered, but all those who stayed connected to the vine are listed among the faithful.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:39-12:2)
Jesus is the vine; you are one of the branches on that vine. As long as you stay connected to the vine—not allowing weeds (the world) to choke the life out of you—you will be counted among the faithful.
This world will always have trouble—that’s the way of humanity. But Jesus overcame the world and planted a new vineyard—the kingdom of God. Fix your eyes on him, the perfecter of your faith.
As you go through this week, face every negative story with praise for God’s redemption. Look at every trial as an opportunity to be a light to someone else. Take opportunity to see Jesus moments as you interact with your kids, your grandkids, your fellow employees. Face each day knowing you are connected to the greatest, strongest, most fruit-producing vine that ever was. Fix your eyes on him and share in his joy.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Why do you think the imagery of vines and vineyards is used so much in the Bible? (Isaiah 5, Psalm 80, Genesis 49, Jeremiah 2, 5 & 6, Hosea 10, Ezekiel 17, Isaiah 16, Micah 1, Zephaniah 1, Deuteronomy 32, Amos 5, Song of Solomon, Matthew 20 & 21, John 15, Revelation 14.)
- How do you think the kingdom is like a “vineyard?”
- What do you think it Jesus means when he said he came to bring division? What does it have to do with staying connected to the vine?
- What does it look like in your life to “remain” in Jesus?
- Jesus says he is the “true vine.” Does that mean there are “false vines”?
- Share a time you felt disconnected from the vine, and how God brought you back.