God’s good news
Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:6-7 packs a powerful punch! A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard. Each year for three years he expected it to bear figs, and each year he was disappointed. He finally had enough of it and decided to have his gardener cut it down. It was taking up ground that could be used for something that was fruitful and profitable.
However, the gardener was not ready to give up on the fig tree. He appealed to his master to give the tree one more year, at the end of which he would cut it down if it did not produce figs.
Jesus’ parables were stories drawn from life in this world to drive home spiritual lessons. Jesus didn’t tell this story just to be telling a story. Neither did he tell it because he was interested in the problems that vineyard-owners have with their vineyards. Instead, Jesus designed this parable to speak to the people of his own day and to people of every day. The vineyard-owner in this parable represents God, and the fig tree represents men and women.
It is not hard to see how the parable applied to the people of Jesus’ day. God had planted the nation of Israel like a fig tree. It existed because of him, and God had planted it for the express purpose of that nation bearing fruit for him.
What does it mean to bear fruit for God? It means doing those things that please him. It means living for his glory and obeying his commandments. It means worshipping him with true, spiritual worship.
However, the nation of Israel was a fruitless fig tree. Even though God had planted it and carefully tended it, there was no fruit to be found. The people of Israel were not living for God; they were living for themselves.
God had given special attention to the nation during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry but there was still no fruit. So God determined that he would cut the nation down and cut it down he did! In 70AD, the Roman army came in and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple.
It is easy enough to see this application of Jesus’ parable. It is more difficult to see the second application. Jesus designed this parable to speak to us today. Can you see yourself here?
You are on this earth because God put you here, and he put you here for a purpose. He wants you to bear fruit for him. He wants you to do those things that bring him pleasure. He wants you to live for his glory, to obey his commandments and to worship him truly. How are you doing on this matter of bringing forth fruit for God?
We all know that we are topics of conversation for other people. Sometimes the conversation about us is good and sometimes it is not so good. But have you ever considered yourself as a topic of conversation in heaven? This is a strange thought for most people. They think very little about heaven, and they probably assume that heaven thinks very little about them. However, this parable asserts that God has planted each of us; he perfectly knows us and he discusses us. We might say that God discusses each of us within himself. What might God be saying about you?
The voice of justice
God is just, and his justice may very well be speaking to him about you. What is God’s justice saying about you right now? Could it be something along these lines: ‘I placed that man on my earth so that he would live for me. But look at him. He never produces any fruit for me at all. He lives as if I don’t even exist. He never has any time for me or for my work. He lives completely for himself and the gratification of his own desires and appetites. I believe the time has come for me to remove him from earth. He is no good to me at all. He is just using up my ground and breathing my air’.
Please be clear on this: God would be entirely just if he never granted another moment to those who use his earth to live for themselves and to ignore him completely. Yes, God would be just in cutting down at this moment everyone who is a fruitless tree.
The voice of grace
A conversation, however, requires at least two parties, and there is another party in this conversation we are thinking about. This party is the grace or the mercy of God.
Justice has had her say. She has looked upon that person who is living exclusively for him-or-herself and without regard to God and has said, ‘Cut that individual down!’
Now it is time for God’s grace to speak, and speak she does. She says to justice, ‘You are quite right about this man. God has given him life for a considerable time now, and he has never borne any fruit for God at all. But give me a little more time to take some special measures with him. If at the end of that time he is still not bearing fruit, then, by all means, cut him down.’
Could it be that you are one of those for whom grace has pleaded? Are you perhaps in the category of those for whom God has determined to grant a little more time? Are you one with whom God’s grace is even now taking special measures?
What are the special measures of grace? They are many. Perhaps grace will bring some hardship into your life so that you will realise that this life is not all there is and that you must prepare for eternity. Perhaps grace will bring some Christians into your life to witness to you. Perhaps God will use family members to speak more tenderly and urgently to you about your soul. Perhaps grace will prompt some of God’s people to pray more fervently for the salvation of your soul. Perhaps grace will cause a pastor to preach more passionately to you when you happen to be in the house of God.
Will you respond favourably to the special measures grace is taking with you in the extra time that God is giving you? Or is God’s grace even now saying of you, ‘My special season is almost over and my special measures are not working. I will soon have to hand this person over to the justice of God’? This we know: a great day of cutting down is coming! Jesus put it like this in John 15:6: ‘If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.’
If you want to escape that terrible day, you must heed these words from Jesus: ‘I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser … I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:1,5).
The only way we can bear fruit for God is through being connected to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the only way to be connected to Christ is through repenting of our sins and trusting wholly in him.
This extract is taken from ‘God’s good news in the parables of Jesus’ by Roger Ellsworth, recently published by Day One. Used with kind permission.