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

Sow your seed morning and evening (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

To be a witness for Jesus Christ is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus has called His disciples to be witnesses to Him. In fact, the last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection was, “You shall be My witnesses . . . to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Thus, being a witness (“martyr” in the Greek) for Jesus is virtually synonymous with being a disciple. And what is the best means that we have, as His followers, to witness for Him in this world? The best means we have been given is the gospel. We are called to sow the seed of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is glorified.

AGRICULTURAL WISDOM

Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether this or that will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

The author of Ecclesiastes gives us simple wisdom about successful agriculture in chapter 11, verse 6: Scatter the seed! And then continue to sow the seed. Morning and evening (an expression that means “all the time”) sow the seed, because you have no idea which will sprout, but we do know that you will not have a good harvest if you do not scatter any seed. Of course, God gives us this wisdom for more than just agriculture. When considering the seed of the gospel, what wisdom can we take away from this? Scatter the seed! Morning and evening and all the time sow the seed, for we do not know which of them God will use to change a heart.

Matthew 13 is a chapter that is full of “kingdom parables,” which tell us about the kingdom of heaven through stories of everyday life. In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus tells the large crowds, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Then we see the sower scatter the seed indiscriminately on roads and among weeds and on the rocks and in good soil, apparently indifferent to where the seed is going. Yet, despite the sower’s careless sowing, Jesus makes no mention about the need for greater skill on the part of the sower. The sower is not rebuked. Why not? Because the sower is not called to evaluate the condition of the soil, but is called to sow the seed, and trust that the seed will yield a crop. The sower’s confidence is in the seed. Just so, we cannot see the condition of the human heart and so we cannot know what the Lord will do when we sow the seed of the gospel. We have been called to sow the seed indiscriminately and extravagantly and then trust the Lord to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

FAITHFUL SOWERS AND WASTED SEED

The sower who does not sow is a contradiction in terms. How can it be that the one who is defined by his task does not do the work that defines him? A sower is obviously hired to sow seed. If he does not sow seed, shouldn’t his compensation be in jeopardy? Indeed, his very identity is in jeopardy! Now, the believer is called to be a sower of the seed of the gospel. If we do not sow the gospel seed, shouldn’t we be concerned about our identity? Therefore, since Jesus has called us to be sowers of the seed of the gospel, let us be sure that we are laboring at our defining task.

If some of his master’s seed is “wasted” by extravagant and indiscriminate sowing, the sower will still be praised as faithful to his duty, because the master has called the sower into the field to sow. Now, we know that the seed of the gospel is potent seed and that the master has an ample supply, but we also know that the sowers of the seed are few (Matthew 9:37). Finding faithful sowers of the seed is the limiting factor.

The only “wasted seed” is the seed that is never sown.

The unfaithful sower is the sower who has been given seed that he does not sow (Matthew 25:24-26).

Let us, therefore, be faithful sowers who extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 1/22/2021

What is the price of a treasure or a pearl? (Matthew 13:44-46)

What is so valuable that it is worth the ultimate price, the price of my life? That is the question that Jesus is going to address with these two short parables in Matthew 13:44 and then in 13:45-46. What cost are you willing to pay for that one thing you have been seeking your whole life?

In the first parable, a man finds treasure buried in a field. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).” The second parable is about a merchant seeking pearls. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).” Although the details of the parables are different, their structure and their flow and, most importantly, their message is the same.

But before we get too far, we need to define what we mean by “the kingdom of heaven.” This phrase basically means salvation, and the peace and rest that King Jesus offers. The kingdom of heaven is that place where Jesus is King.

In both parables, the main characters are seeking something. There is something “out there” that they desire and so they seek it diligently. They were seeking something of immense value that can only be obtained at huge cost. But they know that, if they find what they are seeking, any price they pay will be justified by the value of what they obtain. So, they seek.

What are we seeking? Before we know Jesus as Lord, I believe we are seeking something “out there” that will satisfy our soul. Each of us has just one life to give away, but what is so valuable that it is worth the price of my life? Jesus asked, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?” So, we seek something that is worth our soul. In Isaiah 55, the prophet says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near (v. 6).” In Jeremiah, the LORD says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart (29:13).” So first, we must seek.

Again, in both parables, the man and the merchant find what they are seeking. The man finds the treasure in the field and the merchant finds the pearl of great value. They realize that this is the moment that have been waiting for. This is that once in a lifetime find, the discovery on which their life pivots. This is it! Now is the opportunity to end their seeking and make the commitment.

What is Jesus telling us? It is clear from these parables that the kingdom of heaven with Jesus as King is the treasure in the field and is the pearl of great value. Jesus is declaring to all who will listen that this is the moment you have been waiting for. The kingdom of heaven is the end of your search. Will you make the commitment?

Finally, both the man and the merchant agree to pay the outrageous price. What is the price for the find of a lifetime? They go and they sell all that they have and buy it. There is no hesitation and there is no “buyer’s remorse.” Instead, there is joy! But how can there be joy when you have spent all that you have? There is joy when the value of what you obtained is infinitely greater than the cost. For the man with the treasure, the field cost him everything he had, but he obtained lifetime satisfaction. His treasure hunt was forever over. The pearl merchant was left with nothing but the fabulous pearl, but now he could rest from his search for pearls.

What is the price I must pay for the kingdom of heaven? What will it cost me to obtain eternal satisfaction for my soul? When Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler about the cost of eternal life in Mark 10:21, He says, “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and come, follow Me,” but the man was not willing to pay the price and he suffered infinite loss. The apostle Paul lost everything to follow Christ, yet he counted all he lost “as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).” When Jesus called Peter, James, John, and Matthew (Levi), they “left everything and followed Him (Luke 5:11, 28).” It is the same for all who would follow Jesus. The price you must pay to obtain the kingdom of heaven is the price of your whole life. You must give everything you have. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).” The message of these two short parables is that Jesus is offering the infinite value of the kingdom of heaven to anyone who is willing to seek Him and find Him and give their life away in serving Him and obeying Him.

There is another reason why the kingdom of heaven is of infinite value. We have been talking about what it will cost us to obtain it, but we also need to consider how much it cost to make the kingdom of heaven available to seeking sinners. The kingdom of heaven is of infinite value because it was purchased for us at the price of the death of the Son of God. It cost the Lord Jesus the price of His life poured out on a Roman cross to buy access for sinners to the kingdom of heaven. Now the kingdom of heaven can be obtained by anyone who is willing to give their life away to Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2020