Cut down the fig tree! (Luke 13:6-9) – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is the second part of a study from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This post will take the form of a sermon, calling the sinner to repentance before it is too late. The context for this parable is the subject of saving repentance. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:1-5 stresses the critical importance of repentance, and the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 stresses the urgency of repentance.

In the previous post #485 on January 17, 2022, we had looked at the “big picture” interpretation of the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. We saw that the parable could be understood as a picture of national Israel and their long-term rebellion against God culminating in the rejection of their promised Messiah, Jesus. God finally decides to “Cut it down,” which He does in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

THE MEANING FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SINNER

But there is another way to understand this parable that applies to every unbeliever who hears the gospel. For just as Israel continued in their rebellion against God and their rejection of the Messiah until God’s patience finally ran out, so the individual sinner can continue in their own personal rejection of Jesus the Messiah until the Lord closes the door to repentance and salvation. In other words, in this parable, instead of the fig tree representing the nation of Israel, the fig tree represents the individual who continues to reject Jesus as Lord of his life. In this case, God would figuratively come to the individual looking for the fruit of repentance and faith. After all, this person has heard the gospel many times, so by now there should have been a response to Jesus. But, in fact, there has been no response at all to the gospel call. Instead, the person has continued in their sin and has rejected and despised Jesus. Thus, God the vineyard owner decides to cut the fig tree down, by ending the person’s life. But in this hypothetical conversation, the vineyard-keeper, Jesus, intercedes and asks for a little more time. But if there is still no response to the gospel, then the fig tree will be cut down.

The chilling reality for every unbeliever is that only the Lord knows when your life will be over or when you will have rejected Jesus for the last time, and you will be “cut down.”

We know that there are many people in this world who never hear about Jesus. They never hear the gospel message of Jesus’ sinless life, of His atoning death, or of His glorious resurrection. They never hear a herald calling them to faith in Christ and calling them to repentance from sin. They never hear of Christ and so they perish (Romans 2:12) and are forever condemned.

But we also know that there are many who do hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but who never respond in faith. Perhaps they are always learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7), but the gospel message is useless to them. They hear the glorious, good news, but they go away unchanged. In the New Testament, Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), but he never believed his message. The philosophers in Athens (Acts 17) heard Paul tell of the resurrection of Jesus, but they scoffed and did not believe. In Corinth (Acts 18:6) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9), the people rejected Paul and his gospel and did not believe. Felix (Acts 24:26) talked often with the apostle Paul, but he never believed. Agrippa and Festus heard Paul proclaim the gospel (Acts 26), but they never believed in Jesus. In each of these cases, there came a last time to hear the gospel. The gospel was proclaimed, Jesus was exalted, and the people were urged to repent and believe, but they refused, and so there came a time when the Lord said, “Cut it down!”

What I am saying is that you must respond now to the gospel call, for you do not know when God will decide that you have heard your last salvation message and it is time for you to be “cut down.” In Luke 13:1-5, the Lord Jesus speaks about the necessity of repentance for salvation, and then He follows that teaching with a parable about the urgency of repentance. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2), and you do not know if there will ever be another such day.

EXHORTATION TO THE UNBELIEVER

It is urgent that you repent and believe now, so I offer you these words of exhortation.

O, unbeliever! O, you who refuse to confess Jesus as Lord! You who continue to live as if your life will go on forever and who despise God’s gracious gift of His crucified Son! You do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?” You do not know when the Lord will finally harden your heart so that you cannot respond to the call to repent and come to Christ. The gospel declares your moral ruin, that you have sinned against the living God. You have violated God’s holy laws and you have rejected the offering of His Son, and you are condemned and stand under God’s terrifying judgment.

But now consider this parable that we have read. As long as you still draw breath there is time to repent. O, today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart, for you do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does he still use up the ground?”

Today, right now if you hear God’s voice, believe in the Lord Jesus. Today you must respond to Christ. Know that your response to Christ is never neutral. You either embrace Christ as Lord or you rebel against Him and reject Him and despise His salvation. You are either for Him or against Him, and there is no middle ground (Matthew 12:30).

“Maybe tomorrow I will come to Christ.” But tomorrow never comes! Today is the day of salvation. If you do not come now, you have rejected Christ.

“The next time I hear the gospel, then I will respond.” That would be a foolish response, for there will never be a time like now. Now the Lord is delaying the axe and is offering Christ. If you wait till next time, you have rejected Christ.

Know that to reject Christ is to continue in your rebellion. Know that today, if you do not worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then God sees you as a rebel and as an enemy. And, dear friend, you must understand that if you die as a rebel, you will be a rebel against God forever. For all of eternity, God’s holy wrath will be poured out on you.

But today you can pass from death to life! If you will bow the knee to Jesus, you will be adopted as a child of God. If you confess Jesus as Lord today, right now, you will never hear the Lord say about you, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?”

SDG                 rmb                 1/18/2022                   #486

Cut down the fig tree! (Luke 13:6-9) – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. A study in two parts from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This first post examines this parable as it applies to the nation of Israel and their rejection of Jesus the Messiah.

After His clear teaching on the necessity of repentance in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus goes on to tell a parable that illustrates the urgency of repentance. We would be wise to carefully consider the Lord’s message so that we do not get cut down like this fig tree.

THE PASSAGE, LUKE 13:6-9

And He (Jesus) began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9

The action in this parable is simple enough to understand. The owner of the vineyard (or garden) has come to harvest some fruit he expected to find on the fig tree, but once again, there is no fruit on that tree. He tells the keeper of the vineyard that this fig tree is useless and needs to be cut down so another tree can take its place. But the vineyard keeper suggests that they should wait one more year for fruit. Then, if still there is no fruit, cut the tree down.

As with any parable, the key is to interpret the meaning of the parable. The meaning of this parable will be determined by understanding its intent in its context. It turns out that this parable can be understood on two levels.

THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE – BIG PICTURE

First, then, we will consider the “big picture” meaning of the parable. The big picture has to do with the nation of Israel and their rejection of Jesus, their promised Messiah. The fig tree is a symbol for Israel. Ever since the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, the Lord has been calling national Israel to obedience of His commandments, to forsaking their idols and to stopping their rebellion against Him. And Israel and Judah have persisted in their stiff-necked disobedience. God is the vineyard owner looking for fruit, and now His patience has run out. Cut down the tree (the nation of Israel) and plant another one in its place (the Gentiles) that will bear the fruit of repentance (Matthew 21:40-43; Luke 3:8-9)! The vineyard-keeper symbolizes Jesus. He is Israel’s promised Messiah, and His coming to the vineyard represents Israel’s “last chance.” “Wait one more year. If they reject Me and continue in their rebellion even when their promised Messiah is in their midst, then go ahead and cut them down.”

Of course, we know that Israel did reject Jesus the Messiah. They despised Him and opposed Him and finally crucified Him. And the details of this parable were fulfilled in AD 70 when, as a result of Israel never bearing the fruit of repentance, “the fig tree was cut down” when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. This is the “big picture” understanding of this parable.

APPLICATION

Before we move on to another way to view this parable, we should consider how this parable applies to us. Consider that the nation of Israel had free access to God’s word. In fact, Israel was unique among the nations because they “were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). The LORD had given His Word, the Old Testament, to the nation of Israel. But despite having the Scriptures and having true prophets who called the people to obey the LORD, Israel continued in their rebellion and their disobedience. Finally, when their promised Messiah appeared in the flesh, instead of receiving Him with joy they rejected Him. So, most of the people perished in their sins.

But can you see the parallel with any person living in America? Like the nation of Israel, we have free access to God’s word, the Bible any time we want. Unlike countries where even reading a Bible is a capital offense, the people in this country can read and own the Bible without any risk of punishment or persecution. Preachers in America freely preach the Bible, bookstores sell Bibles, radio and TV programs teach the Bible, seminaries dissect the Bible. But despite an abundance of Bible resources and an immense number of proclaimers of the gospel message, most people ignore and reject all these opportunities and continue in their disobedience and rebellion. In the midst of easy access to the message of the gospel of salvation, most people run headlong toward destruction. So, most of the people perish in their sins. If you are one of those people who have ignored God’s word and have remained willfully deaf to the call to Jesus, I beg you to turn to Jesus Christ in faith before the Lord says, “Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?”

ANOTHER INTERPRETATION

So, one way to see this parable is to see Jesus giving a final warning to national Israel that they needed to receive their Messiah. But there is another way to understand this parable that has application to every single person who ever hears the gospel. We will explore that in our next article.

SDG                 rmb                 1/18/2022                   #485