Listening to a radio talk on gardening in the High Veld where frost is a problem in winter, the presenter made abundantly clear the importance of protecting one’s plants and shrubs, especially the roots. He suggested covering them with mowed grass, bark or wood chips, anything to protect the roots from the cold (in recent years I received training in organic vegetable farming, which confirmed the same – such a blanket is excellent for composting, retaining moisture and preventing soil erosion through wind and rain). What struck me was the presenter’s final axiom, ‘Remember, the power is in the root!’
It’s the same in the kingdom, isn’t it? The apostle John in the last chapter of the Apocalypse records the exalted Messiah’s declaration (22:16): ‘I Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches (cf. ch. 2-3). I AM the root and offspring of David.’
I have in front of me a vivid, colour photograph of a gnarled old vine, planted in 1882 on the farm Gevonden in the Rawsonville district (W. Cape), famous for its wines. The caption reads, ‘Gnarled old vines make fine new wines.’ The vine stem is huge, a few metres wide, with massive lower branches. It still produces between 4 and 7 tons of grapes per vintage. If the above-ground vine is so large and impressive, imagine the root system underground! It takes all this to produce a wine of extraordinary structure and quality for today’s buyers.
That’s what the nation of Israel was meant to be, a super vine and vineyard producing fruit for the nations of the earth. Do yourself a favour and read two songs from the OT, Ps. 80 (a song of Asaph) and Is. 5:1-7 (A Song about the LORD’S Vineyard) – two laments of the spectacular failure of Israel and Judah in this regard. This even though the original vines were ‘deeply rooted.’ Instead of love and justice God’s people produced only injustice, bloodshed and oppression – their destiny was judgment, barrenness and exile.
What Israel and Judah failed to be, the Messiah is. I love returning to Jn.15, ‘Jesus, the True Vine’ to his people (in the context of his promised Spirit): v. 1, ‘I AM the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts of every branch that does not bear fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me!’
In the context of the believer’s/the Church’s life, the ‘fruit’ is surely that of character and life (cf. Jn. 15:9ff, loving Jesus and each other; Gal. 5, ‘Living by the Spirit’s Power’).
The key then is living from the vine and the root, Jesus. This happens not by striving in our energy and wisdom but by simply and perpetually ‘believing in him.’ Some will never bear fruit because of their shallow roots – read again the story of the farmer scattering seed in Mt. 13:1-23. Some will bear abundant fruit because of their deep roots – compare Paul’s prayer for the Spirit-empowered Ephesian church (Eph. 3:17ff), beginning with ‘May your roots go deep into the soil of God’s marvellous love…’ (cf. also Col. 2:6ff, ‘Freedom from Rules and New Life in Christ’).
Here is the challenge for God’s new Israel, i.e. Christ and his Church. The power is in the root! We need to dig deep into Jesus himself. And into the gospel, his ‘good news’ – not the rife contemporary ‘3 simple steps’ variety but the biblical 1 Cor. 15 variety! We need to believe Jesus and his kingdom message again, not to resort to a myriad church programs, seminars, conferences, miracle-campaigns, OT ceremonies, activities (check out your bulging local/city church bulletin) etc that seem to impoverish faith rather than produce a harvest of righteousness and discipled ethnicities (Mt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:8).
Where are you and I, and our local church community, in God’s all-consuming plan to glorify his eternal Son? (Eph. ch. 1-3; Col. ch. 1) And if we’re not where we ought to be, what are we going to do about it??
Be brave in the Lord!
Grace and peace.