Living On Borrowed Time (3): The Awesome Patience of God
October 4, 2015
Read Lu 13:6-9 -- American writer John Gardner once wrote, “The reason you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is that he is quite content with his mastery of the old tricks, and thinks that learning new tricks is strictly for puppies. Besides, he is busy paying off the mortgage on the dog house.” That is a very apt description of Jesus’ world – and ours! Busy with routine; no time for the big questions of life. So God warns Rom 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” That means everyone, kids included. Since we’ve come to Eaton more than ½ doz kids killed. You and I are alive thru God’s kindness. But we must not mistake patience for approval! This parable, ending a sermon that started in 12:1, teaches it’s a grave error to take His patience for granted. His point is twofold. Repentance is imperative. And the opportunity is limited.
A farmer plants a fig tree a vineyard managed by a vinedresser. Lev 19:23-25 forbade taking fruit the 1st 3 years [buds would be pinched off to allow the tree to mature]. Fruit in the 4th year was an offering to God. Then, Lev 19: 25 But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit.” Thus, by law, the owner would not have expected fruit for himself until the 5th year. And now he’s been 3 years seeking fruit to no avail. Thus he has 7 fruitless years invested in this tree. No wonder he is saying, “Cut it down!” It’s had ample opportunity to produce. BUT the vinedresser wants to nurture the tree for one more try. Then if there is no fruit, he agrees – it has to go!. Simple parable, illustrating the patience of the owner and the extended but limited opportunity provided.
This parable has two levels of interpretation -- one national and one personal. The owner is God the Father. The vinedresser is Jesus. And the fruitless fig tree is the nation of Israel, OR any individual. The fruitless tree is in danger of being “cut down” – taken away, removed and destroyed in judgment.
The key element is fruit, right? The tree must produce or go! And it’s not. So what fruit is God seeking in the nation and in individuals? What would make the nation or an individual acceptable to the Father? What fruit? Well, we don’t have to look far. V. 3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And v. 5: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Same exact words – spoken twice for emphasis.
John the Baptist addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees who came out of curiosity in Mt 3:8, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Note, the fruit of repentance leads to other fruits that are in keeping with repentance. What is that about? It is about a changed life. What does it mean to repent? The word means to turn around. I was going toward CA and now I turn and head to NY. I was serving self; now I am serving God. I was obeying my own desires and now I am obeying God’s desires. That is fruit in keeping with repentance. True repentance always brings about change. When John said “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” the people asked what would that LOOK like? What shall we do? And John’s response in Lu 4:9 ff. is to the people in general share your clothing and food; to the tax collectors, don’t cheat; and to the soldiers, don’t extort money and make false accusations for profit. In other words when repentance happens, behavior changes.
Paul teaches that in Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [Works contribute nothing to salvation! But look! After salvation, nothing but works.]10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This is the fruit the Father is seeking – repentance, followed by a life change that shows it to be valid. We’re not saved just to avoid hell and go to heaven. We’re saved to walk in good works; and if they are lacking, so is salvation! This is NT gospel! Paul Paul told King Agrippa in Acts 26:20 that every place he preached “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”
In his book about the Jesus people of the late 60’s, God’s Forever People, Larry Eskridge tells of one young man from Anderson, Indiana who came to Christ at a coffee shop – Gerry’s Place. He later testified, “My life before I found Jesus was a real bummer. I was doing a lot of dope, booze and had low morals. My idea of a good weekend was a hit of acid, a good-looking chick, and all the booze I could hold. But since then I have died and been reborn. . . . [I’m] free!” That’s fruit in keeping with repentance, Beloved.
In the parable, the owner has been seeking fruit for 3 years -- symbolic (this is a parable after all) of the whole history of Israel which was one of almost uninterrupted fruitlessness. Hos 9:10: “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season.” Jer 8:13, “When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree.” No fruit. And no fruit = no repentance!
So the Father rightfully says, “Cut them down.” He could say the same of unrepentant individuals: “Cut them down”! He would be perfectly justified. They have squandered all their opportunity. BUT Jesus steps in. He asks for 1 more year – extended opportunity for them to hear and respond to the Word -- a second chance. This doesn’t mean Jesus and the Father are at odds on this. The Father is as willing to give as Jesus is to ask. Mercy is at the heart of both. This is an illustration of II Pet 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise [promise of judgment] as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The heart of God is reflected in this parable. He let Israel live and He lets us live on borrowed time -- kindness intended to lead to repentance. That’s the interpretation of the parable. Now – what about the application. Three points.
A.God’s Patience is Passionate
Do you see it in the parable? The tree has been given every opportunity. Three long years after it should have produced, it is still fruitless. It has been on borrowed time for a LONG time. And yet – the caretaker wants to give it one more chance. That’s God’s love, Beloved. Rom 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It cost Him everything to provide the possibility for us to repent and bear fruit. And now, He willingly extends the time – the opportunity. Why? Because He loves us.
The greatest news ever: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God loves you. Whatever the rest of the world may think, God loves you more than you’ll ever know. And He loves me. Not because we are loveable! We’re not. The sin in our hearts would cast us from His presence forever. We are not loveable. But God does not love for what He sees finds in us; God loves for what He finds in Himself! God loves for what He finds in Himself, and so He extends opportunity after opportunity for us to turn to Him.
If you don’t believe Jesus loves you, you haven’t been to the cross and you haven’t seen your eternal destiny hangs by a thread that He alone sustains. The night Abe Lincoln was killed, they emptied his wallet and found a Confed $5 bill. Why would he carry that? As a symbol of his love for and desire for the rebellious half of his family. He wanted them back. Just like Jesus wants you back, dear friend. He loves you passionately and He wants you back.
B.God’s Patience is Purposeful
Why does the caretaker ask for one more year? Why? So that the tree can continue on in its self-centered existence? So that it can live out its full 80-100 years life span – fruitless!? Is that what He is after? I don’t think so. He’s giving opportunity – one last chance to produce fruit. If we think God has left us here for our own enjoyment, we must think again. We must. That’s not it! He’s giving opportunity “to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” If you think you have life this morning for any other purpose, you must think again. If you have never come to Christ and thrown yourself on His mercy, you have missed His purpose for you. You will eventually be cut down, separated from God for all eternity. You may have a great now, but you will have a horrendous forever. He’s giving life with the intention that you turn to Him.
And if you are a believer, He is looking for continued fruit. You’re not here to satisfy your own desires and pursue your own ends. That’s a huge misconception. That’s a fruitless existence and may indicate that you are not saved at all. R. C. Sproul tells of an unmarried couple in his church who were living together and selling drugs. When the church found out and confronted them, the young man said, “Hey, don’t worry about me. I’ve accepted Christ. I’m just a carnal Christian. I’ll be all right.” Really? That’s what you’re going to tell Jesus? Then He’s going to tell you that you are no Christian at all. True believers obey. John 15:4: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” They’re not perfect, but their heart is toward God, and they are producing fruit in keeping with repentance. That’s the point of God’s patience. Not to allow us to pursue pleasure or live out a fruitless 80 years -- but that we might live a life of repentance and fruitfulness.
C.God’s Patience is Passing
Owner says, “Okay 1 more year.” 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” Opportunity will not last forever. The clock is ticking. Things will not stay the same forever. Judgment is coming. God’s patience is awesome – far beyond anything we could expect, but it is not infinite. It cannot be. Sooner or later He must deal with the violations to His character or quit being God. Judgment must and will come.
Israel had its opportunity. Rather than repent they crucified their Messiah. They refused Him and judgment fell. Jesus had prophesied it in Lu 19:43, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Forty years later in AD 70 the Romans were fed up. They laid siege to Jerusalem. Food supplies got so low that people resorted to cannibalism. When the Romans finally got in they burned Herod’s beautiful temple. As the gold melted it ran down between the stones. The Romans dug them up to get the gold. They lie in a great pile at the bottom of the temple wall today – not one stone left upon another. When God says cut it down, Beloved, it comes down. Judgment falls. You will not be the first to escape.
And just as the nation fell, so will any individual who does not produce fruit in keeping with repentance. It’s a matter of when, not if. And notice this verse has two “if” clauses. They are significant. In English, if means if – maybe yes, maybe no. But Greek has 4 ways to say if driven by degree of probability. The first clause -- if it should bear fruit next year – is a 3rd class condition, indicating a lot of doubt. “If it happens, and I assume it won’t”. But the last clause, “but if not” is a 1st class condition. It assumes the thing won’t happen. Jesus is saying those who have heard the message over and over, and still have not repented probably never will. He is buying time, but He is not optimistic. The principle is every time someone rejects Christ, it gets a little easier to reject Him the next time, and the next and the next. Putting it off increases the odds that it will never happen. The point is, it’ll never be easier than now. And you never know when it will be the last time.
God is under no obligation to keep on fertilizing your heart. Now’s the time to put aside whatever is keeping you away. A year from now may be too late. When you are ready, He may be gone. There is only one time to respond to the call of God and that is now. John the Baptist warned, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lu 3:9). Judgment came for Israel and it will come for you. You will not be the first to escape the hand of God.
Conc -- Now, note in closing that the Lord does not state whether this fig tree ever bore fruit. Why? That answer is up to you. God loves you more than you could ever imagine. That’s true. And you see it here. He does not delay judgment because of any good found in you or me. The mediator is pleading for you. He loves you enough to wait. But God’s patience is severely misjudged by our generation. People completely misinterpret His delay! R. C. Sproul says they see Him as “some sort of stubble, a wisp of straw, or little drop of cold water. . . . To the world God seems to be nothing but a sleepy, yawning fellow, or a deceived husband who allows another man sleep with his wife and acts as if he did not see it.”
But there is another side to God. He loves you enough to wait. But He hates sin enough to judge it. That is the other side of God. Heb 10:29: “for our God is a consuming fire.” That is the other side of God – the side that must judge unrepented sin. He is like the frontier hanging judge who is your best friend if you have clean hands but who is your worst nightmare if you are guilty. He is a consuming fire, so the time to repent is now. Now is all you have. And every time you say, “Later” to Christ, it gets that much harder to say, “Yes.”
An old preacher, Clarence Macartney told of growing up near the steel mills in PA. He could picture the streams of molten metal coming out of the furnaces, writhing and twisting like they were being tortured. Attendants with great tongs in their hands waited to receive the metal and pour it into molds. But if the metal cooled below a certain temperature, it refused the mold. It was too late. Macartney said life is like that. In a tender moment we are nearly there, but if the moment passes, the hardening process begins; a fixed state of rebellion ensures, and the fruit of repentance is long past. The time is now. Eternity is coming fast. You are already on borrowed time. Rom 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
Interviewed in the hospital a couple of days after President Kennedy was assassinated, TX governor John Connolly, said this: “Here we were, two relatively young men riding with two of the most beautiful wives in this country. The president and Jackie were happy. . . . And then in the space of seconds – it is unbelievable how an incident can happen that changed all of our lives.” We’re all on borrowed time. The question is what will we do with it. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, or ignore the warning signs until God says, “Cut it down”. Let’s produce fruit! Let’s pray.