When Symbols Obscure the Signs



October 25, 2020

John 15:1-4

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”


They are walking now with the Upper Room in the rearview mirror and the garden of Gethsemane in their sites. As they pass by the temple complex, they look up at the grand edifice and there at the top of the structure they see a vine carved into the stone. This was Israel’s great symbol. “I am the true vine,” he tells them. The whole Israel project had been a failure. Despite every effort of the Father, the vine of this once great nation had failed.

As they cross the Kieron Valley, I wonder if they passed by an active vineyard. It strikes me that Jesus was setting up a massive contrast for his followers. On the one hand, this incredible institution marked by grand buildings and run by the power structures of a prestigious establishment. On the other hand, this ordinary vineyard was flourishing with grapes and yet in need of constant tending and care. The structure depended on its systems. The vineyard depended on its Vinedresser.

When our symbols come to represent our systems and structures instead of the signs for which it stands, it’s only a matter of time before the signs disappear. This is why the signs and sayings of Jesus are so critical. Each one of them, in its own way, indicts the system and its hypocrisy and reveals the truth of the true God and all his glory.

We would be well served to go back and re-read the Gospels with this in mind. In the very first sign Jesus, the True Vine, turns water into wine. He completes it with the sign in an Upper Room as he lifts up the cup and offers it to his disciples, saying, “This is my blood, the blood of the New Covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins” (see Matthew 26:28).

His very first saying was, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). He completes it with the sign in an Upper Room as he breaks bread and gives it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, given for you” (Luke 22:19). The whole thing holds together in such mystical integrity and concrete practicality only God could have imagined it. In fact, the only way God could reveal it was by coming himself. And isn’t that the miracle of it all—how the complexity of it all coheres so simply and comes together so completely in the person of Jesus Messiah.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

This is the pruning we need, a cutting away and a discarding of all the complexity we have created in our own religious establishments that we might get back to the piercing simplicity of the True Vine and the God of the garden.


Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who reveals the truth to us in his very personhood. Expose all of the false vines we turn to for the life only Jesus can give. Prune us. Grant us the mercy of showing us what we are really trusting in, and give us the courage to return to you with all of our hearts; to place our trust in you alone, whatever it takes. Come, Holy Spirit! We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


1. What insight is the Holy Spirit impressing on you in today’s text?

2. How have our symbols obscured the signs? Are we saluting our symbols? What would it mean to re-embrace the sign who is Jesus?

3. What false vines have you or do you tend to trust in for life? Will you welcome new pruning? It’s not something you have to do for yourself. He will do it. Will you let him?

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For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.


  1. This text seems to confirm in my own mind the need for another reformation. I find it ironic that this Daily Text falls less than a week away from our remembrance of the Protestant Reformation . As I look around, it seems we’ve come full circle to where we we were some 500 years ago.
    The Church that God established on Pentecost has in many ways become more an institution again, rather than the new humanity, with Jesus Christ the second Adam being it’s pro-generator, that He came to establish. It will require a fresh infusion of the Holy Spirit to awaken, renew, restore, and uphold the Body of Christ to its original calling.
    Because I am an avid gardener, I can fully appreciate the need to occasionally prune away the dead wood in order to restore vitality to a plant in decline. I realize this pruning will not occur without a certain amount of pain. But I continue to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven .” Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Break me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God ,fall afresh on me.