Grace For The Journey
The date September 11th has become a date that causes most of us to pause and reflect on the unfortunate reality of national tragedy. Our family recently watched a documentary about how persons were affected by this tragedy that occurred 20 years ago today. Most adults can tell you exactly where they were 20 years ago when they first heard the horrific news about terrorists hijacking planes and flying them into the World Trade Center in New York City. Nearly every American citizen can tell you something about what happened September 11th, that’s the nature of national tragedies.
Those who walked with Jesus 2,000 years ago were gripped with a similar sense of tragedy. There were two tragedies fresh on their minds; the first related to the senseless deaths of a number of people killed by a maniacal ruler while they were worshiping. They were “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices,” mentioned in verse one. Then there was another tragedy that occurred in Jerusalem, a tragedy even more similar to the tragedy of 9/11. Verse 4 tells about a people who were killed when a tower fell; the Tower of Siloam fell resulting in the deaths of some eighteen people.
Tragedies like these – whether national or personal tragedies – cause men and women to wonder about a number of things and ask questions such as, “Why did that happen? Could this have been prevented? Where was God?”
On Monday we began the first part of a two-part message on “What Tragedy My Teach Us.” And we noted that the passage – verses 1-9 – can be divide evenly into two main sections, the mystery of God and the mercy of God. Let’s review and then we will continue our study of what tragedy may teach us.
First . . .
I. Consider The Mystery Of God’s Ways: Verses 1-5.
Monday we looked at the fact that not all of God’s ways are easily figured out. There is great mystery in why God allows tragedy. God says in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.” For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” For some who walked with Jesus, however, there was no mystery at all. They thought they had God all figured out. They believed the reason these tragic events happened was because God was judging particularly bad sinners. The Galileans in verse 2 were killed because they were really bad sinners and they had it coming. The 18 who died when the Tower in Siloam fell were also killed because they were particularly bad people and they had it coming so God judged them.
This was a popular view in Jesus’ day, the belief that all tragedy occurred as a result of personal sin. Even in our day there are some who are quick to ascribe blame when national or personal tragedy occurs. It is noteworthy here in the text that Jesus nowhere rushes to any view regarding the judgment of God. He does not even attempt to explain why the two tragedies in these verses occurred. Jesus does not explain why some die tragically and why others live. Rather . . .\
He brings out one of the major lessons
We need to learn from tragedy.
He teaches about our need to repent,
To turn from our sin and to turn to God.
Twice He asks, “Do you think those people were worse sinners than others? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
That is, when death comes all will perish unless we have repented. Repentance must happen in our souls, or we will perish at the judgment. To illustrate this matter of repentance, and to highlight God’s mercy towards an unrepentant people, Jesus tells the parable in verses 6-9. This takes us to the second main division in the passage.
We have considered the mystery of God’s ways, secondly . . .
II. Consider The Mercy Of God’s Ways – Verses 6-9.
Jesus says in verse 6 that “a certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.” So the owner says to the keeper of his vineyard, the one who does the planting and tending, “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” In other words, he is saying, “Look, this is a waste of time, waiting around for this fig tree to bear fruit; it is using up all the soil.”
I remember reading about a guy in Georgia years ago who used to refer to people he thought were lazy and unproductive, he would refer to them as, “Oxygen wasters.” Now we may argue whether that is a nice way to talk about people, but you get his point: there were some people who were just unproductive and up to no good. This owner of the vineyard is wondering what is the point of waiting around any longer on this fig tree? There are three years during which it should have been bearing fruit and it has not produced a single fig. It is a soil waster, cut it down! Not an unusual nor even unreasonable request. But what does the gardener say? What does the one who tends the vineyard say? We hear it in verses 8 to 9, “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”
This parable is an illustration
Of the mercy of God towards
An unrepentant people.
Israel is like a fig tree that has been planted by God. God looks to Israel, expecting her to bear fruit; namely to turn from her sin and turn to her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had said back in chapter 12, verses 54 and following, that the crowds were good at discerning weather patterns, but not so good at discerning the times. They were clueless as to who Jesus was and their need to turn to Christ before it was too late. They should turn to Jesus before arriving at the bar of God’s judgment, like the guy who is on his way to court in Luke 12:57-59.
That theme of repentance continues into chapter 13. The crowds of spiritual fence-straddlers are like a fig tree that does not bear fruit. So, the owner of the fig tree which applied here is God who owns all things, the owner comes and says, “Cut it down!” Then we have this beautiful illustration of God’s mercy: see this in verses 8 and 9, the vineyard keeper, emblematic of the Lord Jesus Christ, the keeper pleads, “No, don’t cut it down just yet! Let me dig around it and fertilize it. Give it a little more time, one more year. Then, if it doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down then.”
Do you see the mercy of God in this parable? The unrepentant crowd is like a fruitless tree. Fig trees are supposed to bear figs. They are supposed to bear fruit. And while the fig tree should be cut down and the owner of the vineyard has every reason to cut it down, here comes the compassionate, merciful keeper of the vineyard who pleads: “Not just yet, a little more time, a little more mercy.”
We will flesh that out a little more fully as we move on to these six things that tragedy may teach us. We dealt only with the first three last week and we’ll review them quickly.
First, we noted . . .
1) Our Lives Are Uncertain.
Death is the common denominator for everyone. It may seem like that which only happens to others, but sooner or later death will happen to us. Our lives are uncertain.
Secondly, we noted . . .
2) We Should Thank God For Our Preservation.
We should not take a single day of our lives for granted. The only reason we continue to live is that God has spared us. This is why, when speaking of the future we say, “Lord willing.”
Thirdly, we noted the obvious implication. Tragedy teaches us that . . .
3) We Must Repent.
This is the application made twice by our Lord Jesus in verses 3 and 5, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Rather than denouncing Pilate for his horrendous actions, Jesus turns the conversation inwardly, pointing out man’s universal need for repentance. It is as though Jesus says, “Why are you fixated on this ‘out-there’ kind of tragedy when there is a far more personal tragedy at hand: your need for personal repentance? Unless you repent, you too will perish at the judgment to come.”
Repentance is a change of the way we think about our sin. We hate our sin. We turn from our sin and turn to Christ. It is something God leads us to do. It is not just “cleaning up our act” or “deciding to live right.” Repentance is a gift from God that comes by His changing our hearts, giving us a supreme hatred for our sin and a love for Jesus Christ.
We noted two aspects of repentance . . .
a) We Repent Initially As We Place Our Faith in Christ.
We believe the Gospel and we repent, turning away from sin as a dominant pattern in our life and we turn in faith to Jesus Christ.
Secondly . . .
b) We Repent Continually As We Live Our Faith In Christ.
Repentance is something true Christians do daily, continually throughout the day, every day for the rest of our lives. As someone said, “I hope to carry my repentance to the very gate of heaven.”
What else may tragedy teach us? Number four . . .
4) We Must Live A Life For God (Fruitfulness).
The fig tree illustrates the need to be fruitful, to bear fruit, and to give visible evidence that we belong to God and that we live for God. Here was Israel, blessed to have the Old Testament Scriptures that foretold the coming of their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. They had the benefit of worship at the temple, they had the privilege of being in the very presence of God, yet they missed the salvation that comes through personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The fig tree is not just a picture of Israel, but a picture of all who are blessed to benefit from the grace of God’s means. We have the blessing of a Bible in nearly every home, the preaching of God’s Word, Christian radio, the freedom of worship in our country, but God may say, “Where is your fruit? I don’t see that you are living a life for Me.”
The distinguishing feature of Christianity is fruitfulness. Our lives must be different from the life of a non-Christian. What does it mean to be fruitful? What exactly is “the fruit of the Spirit?” Think about whether you bear fruit according to Galatians 5:22-23, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Do you bear that kind of fruit in your life?
5) We Should Thank God For His Love And Patience.
God in His great mercy has been so loving and so patient with so many of you. God has every right to call you to His judgment bar in a moment, but He spares your life another day. Some of you have not come to Christ, you have not been saved, and God continues to spare you another week since last Lord’s Day. God allows you to live another day, another week, digging around you and fertilizing you with His Word, waiting to see whether you will bear fruit. The final warning of this parable is that God’s mercy is not to be taken for granted. God’s patience has an end.
This leads us to the final thing tragedy may teach us . . .
6) We Must Prepare For Judgment.
The vine keeper says in verse 9, “If it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” Judgment will come to the fig tree if it doesn’t bear fruit. Many commentators believe that God’s judgment came to Israel in AD 70 when Rome invaded Jerusalem and people were slaughtered and the temple destroyed. But the danger that faced Israel was not unique to Israel. The judgment of Israel is just a picture of the judgment that awaits all people who do not repent.
Jesus says, “Unless you repent you will all perish.” Jesus stresses that the most important thing we can learn from a tragedy is that “Unless you repent you will all perish.” There is nothing more important than preparing for judgment. More important than our jobs, or our marriages, or our success, our health or our happiness is the preparing for judgment. Jesus says, “Unless you repent you will all perish.”
John the Baptist prepared people for the coming of Jesus Christ. Do you remember John’s words back in Luke 3? He said to the crowds in Luke 3, verses 7 through 9, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Every one of us must prepare for judgment. We must repent. If we repent, then we have real hope in this world, not a false hope built on acts of human kindness or an imagined hope of world peace apart from Christ, but a real hope that comes through the power of the Gospel. If we repent, we are blessed with hope and encouragement from the God who guides us through each day. We are reminded every day that God is real and He is working out a perfect plan for our lives.
We have repented and so we will not perish. We have repented and so we live in light of the hope of the Gospel, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).
There is mystery to God’s ways, but He is there and He is at work. He is at work through your brokenness, through your pain, through your suffering. He is at work through your mistakes, through your difficulties. He is there. He is the God who is “working all things together for good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Tragedy teaches us to look up to God and to live for God’s glory.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”