Text: Lk 13:6-9
Theme: God has planted us to bear fruit.
Image: Barren trees
Need: lack fruit of Spirit
Message: work toward gaining fruit of Spirit
The Jews hated the governor Pilate, and they got into altercations with him quite often. He had little to no respect for the customs and religious practices of the Jews. Though the Romans allowed for a variety of religions to operate within the empire, the main religion of Rome was a civil religion with Caesar as god. At one point Pilate brought Roman flags bearing Caesar's image into the Jerusalem temple mount. This infuriated the Jews who resented having his image in the Holy City, and a major protest erupted. The protesters were so committed to their case, they were willing to die for it. Pilate relented and removed the flags.
Not long after that Rome wanted to build an aqueduct and they needed money. Pilate, wondering where he could get the money, spotted the temple treasury. Driven by the need to finance the project, he appropriated the money from the temple treasury. As Pilate's guards were breaking into the treasury box in the outer court of the temple a large group of angry Jews gathered to oppose them. Pilate sent some of his soldiers into the mob, dressed as civilians, with concealed weapons. When the commander gave the order, the soldiers began to attack everyone in the crowd. They killed all who were in the mob, and cleaned out the treasury. Some who were travelling with Jesus told him about some Galileans whose blood Pilate has mixed with their sacrifices, and this may have been the incident they were referring to. Jesus answered them, “Do you think they died because they were worse sinners than others? Well, they weren't. What about those 18 who died when the Siloam tower fell on them? Were they more sinful than other Jews? No, they weren't!”
Here, Jesus refutes the long held idea that pain, suffering, and death are connected to individual sinfulness. Job's friends assumed he did something wrong to deserve the pain inflicted on him. People asked Jesus if a man born blind was born that way because he sinned, or because his parents sinned. “Neither,” he answered. Our physical sufferings and death are not the result of our individual sins. They are the result of a broken and sinful world which has been cursed due to our sinfulness, however, we cannot link pain, suffering, and death to divine vengeance over an individual's sin.
This does not mean that personal judgement is not going to come. Jesus refutes the idea that physical pain and suffering are punishment for sin, but he does not say that punishment will not come. Jesus gives the people two warnings that reminds them that punishment is coming. Twice he tells his listeners, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The presence of suffering, hurt, and death in the world is meant to show us that punishment is coming and that we need to get right with God. To help illustrate his point, Jesus tells the parable we just read.
Page 1: Fig tree (God's people) has proven barren.
A man was walking around the Judean countryside, looking for a place to plant his vineyard. He settles on a beautiful spot on the side of a hill overlooking the Jordan river. Looking to the north it looked like the river merged with the distant hills as it came down from the Sea of Galilee. Looking to the south, the river wound its way slowly between it lush banks before entering into the Dead Sea. “This is a good spot,” he says to his servants who immediately agree with him. So the man and his servants began to clear the soil of rocks and built stone fences around the plot of land. After all the vines were planted, the man decides he wants some other trees in the vineyard as well. So he plants an assortment of various trees, olive, pomegranate, and at least one fig tree. “Are you sure you want to plant a fig tree here?” asks his vineyard keeper. “According to the law of Moses you aren't allowed to take any of the fruit for the first three years, and the fourth years crop belongs to the LORD. You won't get anything from that tree for at least five years. Why don't you just use the trees which are growing by the road?” “No, plant one here,” replied the man. “I want it to have the safety of the vineyard.” So the servants planted the trees as the master had asked.
The heat of the Jordan valley, and the timely rains caused the tree to grow and flourish. After four years of waiting for the fig tree to develop the man went to the vineyard to check on his tree. He did not find any fruit on it. The same thing happened the next year. The man went back again the third year. It was hot that day, and the man's cloak was beginning to stick to his back as he climbed the hill side to his vineyard. Sweat was pouring off his face when he finally reached the gate. It was even hotter in the vineyard as the high walls cut off the slight breeze coming down the valley from the lake of Galilee. He strides around the vineyard examining all the trees and vines. He finally comes to the fig tree, hoping that this year it would have born at least a little fruit. He searches every branch for even a hint of fruit, and is again disappointed; no fruit. He storms over to his vineyard keeper, grabs him by the arm and drags him back to the fig tree. “For three years now I have come to look for fruit on this fig tree, but have not found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
God's chosen people are that fig tree. God has provided them with a wonderful vineyard to grow in. He gave them the safety and security of the law of Moses, which was meant to drive the people to bear fruit, to be a light to the nations, to turn all peoples to God, to show others who is the real God. The Israelites failed over and over again to bear fruit. God had been patient with them. He gave them plenty of time to produce the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of faith, but people are not being saved, and Israel itself has not remained true to God. The chosen people of God did not live up to their end of the bargain. God promised that he would be their God, and they would be his people, if they followed his commands. They did not do so, however, and God has given them enough time. He commands his vineyard keeper to cut them down, to throw them out, to destroy the entire works. He is going to give up on the whole thing, because his people have not produced fruit. Why should he waste the good things he has given them? Why should they use up the soil of his covenant, of his law, of his love? They shouldn't! He has given them more than enough time to produce the fruit which he had planted them for. It was time to root them out. God was exasperated with his people.
Page 2&4: Gardener gives tree better chance.
The vineyard owner was exasperated with his fig tree. He could not believe that the tree would not produce fruit. It had every opportunity. He would not let the tree waste the space in the vineyard any longer. He wanted it cut down. The vineyard keeper took a close look at the tree. He walked around in its shade, inspecting the plant. He did not want to cut the tree down, but it was not producing, and he could not keep something which was not producing. So he intercedes for the tree. “No, don't cut it down just yet. Give it one more chance. I will dig around it and spread manure around it. I will give it a better chance at producing fruit. If you come back next year and it has produced fruit, then the time has not been wasted. If it does not, then cut it down. That is the best we can do for it.”
The vineyard keeper decides to give the tree a second chance, this time with better odds. He does not simply ask the owner to wait another year, he offers to do extra work to it to help it grow. Fig trees are not usually given manure for fertiliser. They are normally self sufficient and hardy trees, but the keeper decides that he will do this one last thing to help save the tree. He is going to do everything that he can for the tree. Even though the tree had not born fruit, it had an intercessor.
God's people had not produced fruit as they were supposed to, but they had an intercessor. Christ had come down to help his people bear fruit. He will give his people a second chance by dying on the cross and bearing the punishment for sin on his own. He was giving his people better odds. He does not simply ask God for more time for his people. He does not ask God to be lenient. He bears the judgement of our sinful natures, and fulfils the requirements of the law of Moses. In doing this he digs out the old covenant at Sinai. He takes away the burden of responsibility on God's people, and places it on himself. He seals a new covenant in his blood. After returning to heaven, he sends his Holy Spirit to help bring people to God, to help them on the road to sanctification, to holiness. He fertilises his new covenant with the power of the Spirit.
He does all this to prevent God's people from being eliminated. He hopes to see his people bear fruit. He does all that he can to make it easier for them to develop the fruits of righteousness. God has already given his people plenty of time to do what they were called to do, but Christ asks for more time. He intercedes on their behalf. When Peter discussed the patience of God he said, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He wants all people to produce the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of faith.
Page 3: God is coming back to check on his tree.
God has relented to the intercession of Christ, and has granted the change in circumstance that we now find ourselves in. Even though he had provided plenty of opportunity to produce the fruit of faith before, he allows Christ to do all that he can to ensure that his people produce fruit. God had given us the new covenant in Christ's blood, and he has given us the Holy Spirit to fertilise our growth in faith. And that is what we are called to do, to grow in our faith. God will be returning some day to check over his tree, to see if he can find fruit. There will be a time of judgement. He has not decided to leave the tree standing indefinitely. He has given an extension, but he will return to demand that which he is entitled. He has given us everything we need to produce the fruit he requires.
When I was growing up we had a dog named Ryan. He was a pure bread German shepherd and had been trained for police service. The last step in the training is where the dogs are introduced to guns. There are a surprising number of dogs which have an instinctive fear toward weapons, and Ryan was one of them. Every time a weapon was drawn the dog would run away and cower in fear behind the trainers legs. Needless to say, the dog failed the training because he was unable to learn how to disarm a criminal. One of the people at the training ground was so attached to the dog that he decided to take him home as his pet. The owner was placed on an assignment which saw him away from the house for days, sometimes weeks, leaving him wife and kids home alone. One night after his wife had locked up and gone to bed, she heard some movement in the room. She was just about to turn on the light when there was a commotion in the corner, she heard Ryan growl and she heard a man swearing. She turned on the light and she saw a man dressed all in black with Ryan attached to his privates. He had dropped the weapon he had been carrying. His face was full of fear and panic as Ryan would not let go of him. He looked at the wife, imploring her not to let the dog hurt him. She picked up the phone, and called the cops. Within three minutes the cops arrived and the wife finally called off the dog. Ryan held on to the intruder until his master said it was safe to let go. He had been given a second chance at a life of protecting people, and he learned how to disarm someone. When the wife asked the trainer why Ryan would have been able to protect her when he was so scared in the training grounds, he said, “Its because he now had a reason to disarm the person. He sensed that there was real danger, and did what he had been trained to do, all he needed was the right opportunity to prove himself.”
How do we prove ourselves? We are saved by our faith in Christ's death, and that faith spurs us on to do go work, to produce fruit. What is this fruit? Paul gives us a list in Gal 5. “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Notice that Paul calls this the fruit of the Spirit (singular), not fruits (plural). We are not allowed to pick and choose which fruits suit us best. This is not the same as having different gifts. We are all given the same Spirit, and the Spirit works only one fruit. The list describes the various aspects of the one fruit. Some of these may seem more feminine than others, and some may seem more masculine. Some may seem to fit the elderly better, and some the young. A man might pride himself in his self-control to stop him from honking the horn while he is not at peace waiting for the person in front to turn left. A woman might take pride in her faithfulness of caring for her kids while she is increasingly impatient with them for not listening. Because our world is broken, we think this is quite alright. We do not expect more from each other. But God does; God expects much more from us. God calls us all to bear this fruit, with all of its various aspects. We are all to work on all areas of our lives to be more Christ-like.
The Israelite nation did not produce fruit, and so Jesus changed the circumstances. We have now been grafted into that fig tree. As Christians, we have been given the right opportunity to prove ourselves. We have been grafted into the tree of Abraham. Jesus has given us all the benefits we need and could ever ask for. He has taken away the curse of the law. He has set us free from our slavery to sin, and from the oppression of the law. When the day of Pentecost came, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. The Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles when Peter preached to them at Cornelius's house. The promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because through Jesus all nations were now accepted as God's people. Now there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, for we have all been baptised into one body, Christ. We are now part of the fig tree. We have been given a second chance to bear fruit, and the Holy Spirit is preparing our hearts to do just that. Jesus has provided all that we need for growth, and then some. All he asks is that we bear fruit before God comes back at the end of time to judge the heavens and the earth. What aspect of the fruit of the Spirit are you lacking? No one knows the time when Christ will return and usher in the judgement. Perhaps it is time to begin to cultivate our fruit.
Let us pray
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the second chance you have given your people to bear fruit. We thank you for the care with which you have tended us, and the advantages you have given us. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us grow and develop our fruit. We ask that you would go with us when we leave this place and help us develop the fruit you have called us to produce. In Jesus name we ask this, through the power of the Holy Spirit.