I grew up in a family that did not drink any alcohol, including wine. So when I went on my first trip to Napa Valley to tour the wineries this past week, I knew absolutely nothing about wine or how wine is made. Before heading to Napa Valley, I did not think that I would be too impressed with the vineyards. Having grown up in the South where there are lots of gardens, corn fields, and other types of fields, I thought it would take more than a field of grape plants to awe me. However, much to my surprise, the sight of these beautiful vineyards on softly, rolling hills took my breath away.
A vineyard is a widely used metaphor in the Bible of God’s people – Israel in the Old Testament and Christians in the New Testament. In Isaiah 5:1-7, we read about God’s first vineyard – Israel. Isaiah tells us that God planted this vineyard on a fertile hill; he cleared it of stones. He planted in it the choicest of vines and built a watchtower in the middle of it. He also hewed a wine vat in it and built up a wall and a hedge of protection around it. (Is. 5:1-2,5) God loved this vineyard and did everything necessary for a fruitful and profitable return. However, at the end of it all, this vineyard yielded wild grapes (Is. 5:2,4). What was wrong with this vineyard? It had faulty vines. Despite all that God did for it, the vines could not produce good fruit. Who are the vines? The vines are the people.
Because of sin, people have been estranged from God ever since the Garden of Eden. When God called the nation of Israel out from among the nations of the world, He did everything necessary for them to have fellowship with Him and for them to produce good fruit. He gave them the Law; He gave them His presence in the tent of meeting. He gave them the sacrificial system so that atonement could be made for their sin. God gave them righteous men and women to serve as judges, kings, and prophets to guide them in the way of righteousness. He protected them many times from enemies, and fought on their behalf. Yet, after all God did, many of God’s people turned to idols, murdered their brothers, practiced corrupt business, divorced their spouses, gave their children up for unholy things, and the list goes on. The vines had produced sour, wild grapes.
Yet, 22 chapters later, Isaiah is given a vision for the future. A vision of hope. A vision of a pleasant vineyard that will produce the fruit God desires – the good and choicest fruit.
Isaiah 27:2-6 says:
In that day,
‘A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
I, the LORD, am its keeper;
every moment I water it.
Lest anyone punish it,
I keep it night and day;
I have no wrath.
Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
I would march against them,
I would burn them up together.
Or let them lay hold of my protection,
let them make peace with me,
let them make peace with me.’
In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit.
This passage begins with “in that day.” As prophetic literature, “in that day” denotes something in the future. However, many people today will still read this passage as something futuristic that has not happened. Although there is an element of “not yet,” the majority of the prophecies in the Old Testament have already been realized in Jesus Christ. We can best understand Is. 27:2-6 by reading John 15:1-6. Nothing changed with how God kept the vineyard in chapter 5 to how he tended it in chapter 27. God is still the keeper of the vineyard. He still takes care of it most ardently. He still protects it so that he challenges even the briers to get in. Yet, something has changed to which now the vineyard in chapter 27 is producing good and sweet fruit instead of wild grapes in chapter 5. The vineyard has gone from being accursed to pleasant. The vineyard has changed because there is a new vine.
Can you imagine a vineyard with only one vine? Having seen vineyards, the idea is laughable. One vine to produce hundreds and millions of grapes? One vine? Yes, one vine. In John 15 Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Look at the image below:
We see in this picture the vine coming forth from the ground and from the vine little branches shooting off in every direction. Because Jesus came to earth as completely human, remaining both 100% God and 100% human in the flesh, Jesus was able to live a life without sin. Being God in human flesh, He was able to be the perfect “vine,” which is to say the perfect human. This vine – Jesus – is not diseased by sin, so this vine will always produce good fruit. Therefore, this new and pleasant vineyard has already begun, and it is a vineyard with one vine and millions of branches. God uses this metaphor of the vine and branches to drive home the point that as branches cannot bear fruit apart from the vine so neither can we bear fruit apart from Christ. The branches on a vine that do not bear fruit will be destroyed; likewise, the people who do not have a relationship with Christ will experience the wrath of God.
Through the metaphor of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, 27:2-6, and John 15:1-5, we have been told the history of God’s salvation. I encourage you to look at other places in Scripture where the metaphor of the vineyard is used to make a teaching point. It comes up often in prophetic literature as well as the parables of Jesus.
I couldn’t go to Napa Valley without tasting one of the wines, though probably much to my parents’ dismay. However, it was important for me to taste something that was made from cultivating the fruit grown right outside its door.
What a wonderful thing to be part of this pleasant vineyard that began 2000 years ago with the coming of Jesus Christ and to be producing good fruit for the harvesting of our vinedresser God.
(*To my Shades Mountain Baptist peeps, I began writing and formulating this blog post earlier this week. It is only, in my estimation, by divine appointment that today’s sermon would be on one of the passages used here and thus a similar message being spoken.)