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Well, good evening, Christ Covenant Church. It is my dear privilege and delight to be here with you all once again this Sunday night. I thank God for this opportunity. I thank God for this church. I just thank Him for the sacrifice of His Son and the cross. Let us pray.
Our heavenly Father, we come to You tonight asking for Your guidance. I pray, O Lord, that I may decrease, that You may increase. I pray that Your message may be faithfully transmitted, faithfully given to Your people. I pray that I may not say what I want to say, but I might say what You want me to say, what is in Your truth. In the same way, I pray, Lord, that Your People may hear not what they want to hear but what You want them to hear. Be with us. May the meditation, the words of the mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Will you please open your Bibles in Luke, chapter 13, verses 6 to 9. Luke chapter 13, verses 6 to 9.
I will say at the outset that this is going to have three points, as most Presbyterian sermons do. The first point is going to be substantially longer than the other two. I believe this is the way, that’s what the Mandalorian would way, we are more intellectually sharp at the beginning of the sermon, so our first point is going to be the longest one. Okay. So hear the Word of the Lord. Luke chapter 13, verses 6 to 9.
“And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’””
This is the Word of the Lord.
So tonight this sermon is part of a sermon series called The Parables of the King and His Kingdom, in which we are preaching some of the parables found in the Gospel of Luke. Therefore, the first thing, although this is not the first sermon of the parables, I will not assume that everyone here knows what a parable is, so the first thing that I would like us to see and understand is what a parable is and what is the purpose of a parable, and what are some of the characteristics of a parable.
As many of you are aware in the Gospel, Jesus spoke in different ways. Sometimes he spoke in sermons, sometimes in wisdom sayings, and sometimes He used parables. In fact, perhaps some of Jesus’ most famous words come from His stories found in the parables like the prodigal son or the lost sheep. Those are very well-known. Or even the good Samaritan who our dear pastor, Kevin DeYoung, preached a few weeks ago.
So the first thing that we have to notice to understand is that parables, and this is again just a very overall definition, they are stories that convey truths. Now they are didactic tools through which Jesus would tech some of His messages. This would be our overall definition – they are stories that convey truths.
Now going to the purpose of the parable, we see in Matthew 13 and also in Luke, but I am going to read from Matthew 13, the purpose of the parable. Then the disciples came and said to Him, to Jesus, of course, why do you speak to them in parables? And He answered them, to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
So based on these verses and many others from the Old Testament, many biblical scholars, many theologians, say that parables have a double purpose, to reveal truth and to conceal truth as well.
Lastly, so we know what the definition of a parable in overall terms, they are stories that convey truth, they have some allegories but not all the time, their purpose is to reveal truth to some, their purpose is also to conceal truth to others, and lastly two characteristics I would like to point out from parables is that there are elements in the parables that convey the overall message, but there are also, parables are not meant to be understood in every little detail as conveying truth.
Meaning, for example, we have the parable of the prodigal son. We know the story. A father has two sons and one of them says, “Father, give me my inheritance. I want to leave.” Now the parable is not teaching that, we know that that father represents God, the parable is not teaching that God is a father who responds to our every whim and demand. Of course that is not the purpose of the parable. The purpose of the parable in the prodigal son is to show the mercy and willingness of the father to wait and to receive his repentant son.
So once again, this is just one characteristic that we should not just take every single detail of every parable and say, “Oh, I’m going to build __ truth around it.”
The other characteristic I would like to point out as well is that they usually have three characters, three main characters. Even in the prodigal son you have the father, you have the son who runs away, and you have the other son who stays. Now other parables only have two as well, but that’s just one characteristic that we have to have in mind. Why? Because in our parable this night, we have three main characters. We have the owner of the vineyard, that’s one character, and I’m just going to say it from the outset, he represents God, he represents the Father. We have the fig tree that is planted in the vineyard; that represents the people of God, the covenant people of God. And we have the vinedresser, who represents Christ. So those three main characters of our parable, that’s what they represent. The owner represents God, the Father; the fig tree represents the covenant people of God; and the vinedresser represents Christ.
Now our big idea tonight is simply this – God is giving you and I time to repent and bear fruit. I will say it again. Our big idea, if you leave tonight and you don’t remember anything that I said, at least remember this – God is giving you and I time to repent and bear fruit.
So now we come to our first point, which is that we must consider where we stand before the Lord. We must consider our position where we stand, where we actually stand, before God.
So verse 6: And He told this parable. “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.”
So again, first we have this man who is the owner. We know he is the owner why? Because of course the text says that it was his vineyard. You don’t have to be a seminary student to know that. We have a fig tree, which of course, like I said, the fig tree represents God’s covenant people. Now I want to clarify, you know, I have to prove why that is. Don’t just take my word. This is, the idea of the covenant people of God being represented by plants is not a New Testament invention. It’s definitely not my invention. It’s an Old Testament idea.
In fact, one of our RTS professors from the Orlando campus, Greg Lanier, he tells us that throughout the Old Testament Israel is described as God’s vineyard, or tree, or even planting.
So in the context where Jesus is saying this parable, the Jews would understand the fig tree, or the plant, is addressing them, is representing the people of God. So we have the owner, who is God the Father; we have the fig tree, representing the people of God.
But see what the rest of verse 6 says: “and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.”
So you see, God not only has a people for Himself, the fig tree, but He rightly expects His people to produce fruit. You see, this owner of the vineyard is right in his expectation of expecting the fig tree to produce fruit. He is not demanding or expecting something from the fig tree that fig trees don’t do. The text does not say “and the owner came to the vineyard to see if the fig tree was flying.” You know, fig trees do not fly. He came seeking to see if it bore fruit. So the expectation of this owner is righteous, is just, is fair. He is expecting the fig tree to produce fruit.
Now in the same way, God is expecting His covenant people, He’s expecting us, to bear fruit. Now a very important thing that I need to clarify here, that I need to address, is that the nature of this fruit in this parable is not primarily good works. This may sound a little counter-intuitive because we tend to associate fruit with good works. It’s okay that we do so. But in the context of this parable, that’s not what we primarily mean.
How do we know this? Well, we have to take a closer look to our parable. You see one of the, when I was preparing the sermon, one of the difficulties I found in this parable was not only that it is really short, but also that it just ends abruptly. If you see after verse 9, Luke just goes to another place. Right? “Then if should bear fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.” Then Luke says, “Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues.” I was like, okay, what does this even mean?
There are other parables that the meaning is either given by Christ Himself, for example the parable of the sower, the disciples are like, “Hey, what does this mean?” and Jesus says, “Well, the parable is this. The seed is the Word of God.” Well, my parable does not have that. Then that forces you to take a closer look to the passage, to Scripture, and once you do so is when you come to understand that the fruit in this parable, when the owner comes seeking for fruit, meaning fruit from the people of God, it does not mean primarily he’s looking for good works.
Again, how do I know this? Well, as a good seminary student, and I hope I’m a good seminary student, I have some of my professors here, so don’t let them tell you otherwise, I learned that a basic principle for understanding any text is what? Is context, context, and context. So usually when they say, “Well, prepare a sermon,” they ask us to read at least the previous two chapters and also the next two chapters, the following two chapters, so you can have an understanding of the context and hopefully you can also read the book.
So I did this. I read this verse in context. After doing that, you come to the realization that this parable is illustrating and expanding the previous five verses of Luke 13.
Now you have the Bible there, I’m just going to read them. Luke 13, verses 1 through 5: “There were some present at that very time who told Him,” meaning Jesus, “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them,” Jesus answered these people, ““Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.””
Well, hello. That is the context of our parable. “And then He told them this parable.”
You see, what had just taken place, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Hey, Jesus, you know what happened to these people that Pilate killed in their own blood, in their sacrifices?” But you see underneath that question that people came asking for Jesus about, if He knew about these people that were killed by Pilate, there was an attitude of self-righteousness. It was hidden in that question. “Hey, Jesus, do You know what happened?” There was an attitude of self-righteousness there.
Now how do I know this? Again, because if you keep reading, you see Jesus’ response: “Do you think that these were worse sinners? No, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
You see, brothers and sisters, the Jews in the context had serious misconceptions about God’s law, about His character, and in consequence they had also if you get God’s law wrong and you get God’s character wrong, you also have very wrong misconceptions about your own moral standing. If you don’t who God is, how could you possibly know who you are? If you don’t know God’s law and God’s holiness and His nature and His character, how does that leave your own self-awareness? Where do you think you are? That had happened to them.
You see the Jews had developed this system in which according to them if something bad had happened to you, it was why? Because you were probably a really bad sinner. They had developed this idea.
Do you remember when some people asked Jesus, “Hey, who sinned? Him or his father?” for this person who was blind. And Jesus says, “No, that’s not how it works.” But the Jews had terrible misconceptions about God and in consequence terrible misconceptions about where they were, who they were, where they stood before God, and they had developed once again this system of retribution. Something that happens to you, maybe you’re really, really bad.
Now the problem with this type of thought is not only that it is wrong, of course, the problem is that if you believe this, you also believe the opposite. You believe that if nothing bad has happened to you, it’s because you’re really good. You see, that’s not how God works. We have to be careful not to think, not to let this type of thought permeate the Church.
Now we heard in the morning, indeed, God punished the sons of Aaron. God definitely, is true, He punishes evil, He punishes wickedness. There are many times that God, indeed, gives us the consequence of our sin. That is true.
But that does not mean that God acts in the same way every single time. That also does not mean that we have warrant to think that way, like the Jews thought. The tower fell on them, really bad; nothing has happened to me, I’m just really good. Well, no.
You see, Jesus, when He answers them, “Unless you all repent, you will all likewise perish,” He’s saying, “Actually, you all stand condemned.” He’s taking the veil off the face of the Jews and saying, “Hey, this is not how My Father works. Unless you repent, let me tell you a little secret, you actually stand in the same place that those people Pilate killed and those people that the tower of Siloam fell on. You’re exactly there. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And He told them this parable.
So you see, the fruit is not a fruit of mere good works, it’s a fruit of repentance.
People loved to put on a show back in the day and ¬¬¬___ to put on a show nowadays. But it was, there was this overall attitude that they had, “Lord, thank you because I am not like these guys or the others.” Do you remember what Jesus said about the sinner who didn’t even dare to lift up his head and said, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “Well, who do you think ___ justified?”
It’s not about how many brownie points you can accumulate. That is not the fruit that the owner is seeking in this parable, that is illustrated in verses 1 to 5. It’s not how many good works you’ve done. It’s have you repented, it’s the fruit of repentance.
Again, we do see this even in Luke 3, where John the Baptist says, “You brood of vipers who want you to flee from the wrath to come. Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” That’s Luke 3, verses 7 to 9. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. “Do not begin to say yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
You see the tragedy of this, the sad part of this, is that they were trusting in the things that they should not have trust. They were trusting we have Abraham as our father. They were trusting if I do X, Y, and Z, I’m good. But they had missed the heart of the matter.
Yes, now, of course, please, I don’t want you to think that what I am saying is that good works are not good. They are actually good works and they do come, always good works from a good heart. That’s 100%. I am not teaching that you can claim to yourself, oh, well, yes, I truly believe and I don’t have any evidence. No. Even Jesus when He says that no good tree bears bad fruit, and there He’s indeed talking about works. Even there He’s going to the root of the tree. Right? Why? Because the tree is not good because he gave good fruit. Contrary, he gives good fruit. Why? Because he is already a good tree. So it’s always, at the end of the day, yes, we love good works, but the point has always been the heart. That’s what Jesus, that’s what God is concerned most with. Your heart. My heart.
So, yes, the point is there.
Now, again, our first point, just let me repeat it, is that we must consider where we stand before God. Why Jesus has given this parable and He’s telling those people, yes, you are the fig tree. You’re in the right place, you have the right pedigree, yes, you may have Abraham as your father, but you actually stand condemned. That’s where you stand, unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
So we see that that speaks to us. Right? It’s easy for us to see the Jews and shake our heads, be like, mmm mmm, they got it really wrong. They thought we have Abraham but they missed the whole thing. They had the law, they were part of the covenant community, they had the prophets, the blessings of the covenant community, and yet they had no fruit.
Well, how about us? How about you and I? Not because you come to Christ Covenant, which is a great thing to do. Not because you not only come in the morning service but also come to night service, which is a great thing you do. That does not mean that you are actually bearing fruits of repentance. Not because I go to seminary, or not because we tithe, or we are the sons and daughters of pastors, or we say the right things, or you may be super involved in many ministries, you may play music, you may serve. All these amazing things are great things. We commend them. But that does not mean that you’re bearing fruits of repentance.
Again, the fig tree could have thought, if trees could think, “You know, I’m in the vineyard of the Lord. Outwardly, I’m good. I’m ready.” No. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
So again we must consider, all of us, where we stand before God. Truly, we must consider where we stand before God.
Now we come to our second point. I said the first one was going to be the longest. The second point is we must not despite the Lord’s patience.
You see, we now come to the owner. All of them are intertwined, but we go to verse 7 and he said, the owner “said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’””
Now there are several things to notice. First, look at the patience of the owner: “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree.” This is not the first time that he came. This is not even the second time that he came. This is the third time that he comes. You see, if the owner would have decided to cut the fig tree on the first year, he was in his right to do so, because his expectation is righteous. Nobody could have told him, “What are you doing?” Not only is it his fig tree, not only his vineyard, not only is his expectation correct, but he could have said after the first year, “No fruit, goodbye. Let me plant another one.”
But he doesn’t. He waits one year, another year, third year. So you see, he’s patient. He comes seeking for what is to be expected and finds no fruit, and yet withholds his judgment.
Now what do those three years represent? Some people say, well, those three years represent the time of the law and then the time of the prophets and then the time of Christ. Some people say, no, they actually refer to the three years of Jesus’ ministry. I would say whatever, whatever way you take them, it’s the same thing, it’s the same point. The point there is emphasizing the patience of the owner.
You see in the first verses we’re only given the whole thing. He comes seeking fruit, finds none, found none. But then in this verse we’re told a little bit more. “Hey, I’ve come three years.” We see His patience towards us. But he found none. He found nothing, nada in Spanish, no fruit, but just a barren fig tree.
Now how do we react to this? How does this apply to us? Are we aware, you and I, of the Lord’s patience towards us? You see, everyone here tonight who is Christian, I’m speaking primarily to people who are Christians, everyone here who is a Christian has received this kind of treatment from the Lord. We all of us have, and I mean everyone, whether you were born again in your 40s or your 60s, whether you were born within the covenant community and praise the Lord you’ve never known a day without trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, even there you have experienced God’s patience towards you.
You see, His forbearance, His patience, is emphasized. Are we aware of that? Are we reminded of that?
Now how also does that inform us in the way we should treat others as well? You see, are we merciful as our Father is merciful? Are we patient just like our Father is patient with us? Or are we quick to anger? Are we quick to react and condemn others? Even when they are truly in the wrong, the fig tree actually was in the wrong, and yet the owner is patient. How does that patience not only come to us and we receive it, but how does that shape the way we treat others when they do things that are actually wrong? Are we quick to anger or are we patient and merciful like our Father is merciful?
Now this does not mean that sin does not have consequence, that would be another sermon. That’s not what it means, it just means, and it’s emphasizing, that God is patient. Consequence will come and we will see in our last point. Actually, right now in the last part of this verse, he pronounces sentence. He says, “Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”
The plant is not only not doing what it’s supposed to be doing, but it’s taking space. Just cut it down.
Now I address believers right now. Now I want to address if you’re here this morning and you’re a nonbeliever and you are a sympathizer and we’re grateful that you’re here, but anyone who is here and is not a believer, are you considering the Lord’s patience towards you? Are you despising the Lord’s patience?
Remember, not because God has not cut you off that means that you actually stand where you should stand before Him. He’s patient. Are you despising His patience?
So both believers and nonbelievers could despise His patience, in different ways, but the call here is we must not despise the Lord’s patience towards us. We all have received it.
Now finally we come to our last point, our last two verses, verses 8 and 9.
“And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also,’ this is the vinedresser, “‘Sir, let it alone this year also until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’””
You see, here the vinedresser speaks for the first time. He is an important figure. He has a respectable position in this parable. As we said, he represents Christ and he asks for more time.
Now a superficial reading of the text may lead some to think that the owner and the vinedresser have divided wills, or even contradictory purposes or ideas. But a closer look to the text reveals that they, in fact, are working together.
Let me just first say what is not taking place. What is not happening in verse 8 and 9, first the vinedresser is not telling the owner, “Hey, what do you mean by cut it down? Whoa, why are you so mean? Why are you so evil? Why do you want to punish this poor innocent fig tree?” That’s not what the vinedresser is saying. What is also not happening is the vinedresser is not saying, “Hey, not only is your judgment and your pronouncement really mean,” he’s not saying that, but also he’s not saying, “Hey, owner, we should not expect fruit from this poor fig tree. Why are you being so unfair? We shouldn’t expect that.”
No, on the contrary, the vinedresser is affirming both the righteous expectation of the owner and he’s also affirming the judgment of the owner. In other words, what he’s saying is, “Yes, owner, you are correct. This fig tree should bear fruit.” Then he also said, “And you know what? If it doesn’t, you’re right. Your judgment is correct, is righteous. Cut it down.”
So the vinedresser and the owner are one in will, are one in purpose. There is no discrepancy here. Jesus is not teaching, “Oh, yeah, God the Father is mean and then Jesus, meaning Me, I am just all love and just gracious.” No, that’s not what is happening here. The owner and the vinedresser are one in purpose and judgment.
You see what that is? That is the clear picture of the Gospel. We have the mercy of God working alongside His justice. We have Jesus interceding for us. That’s the only thing He’s doing. But even the call of the vinedresser saying, “Hey, let’s wait another year.” In essence, He’s not doing anything different than what the owner has done. The owner has already waited three years. So even that “let’s wait another year” is nothing new per se in essence, in nature, it’s not anything that the owner has not even done already.
So you see this is very important for us, for us to understand the Gospel. There are churches out there, there are pastors out there, there are Christians out there, who say, “Yeah, Old Testament bad or mean, New Testament all love.” No. Jesus has come to do the will of the Father. Our God, our triune God, has the same purpose, has the same righteous expectation, has the same judgment. We have to get this right. We definitely have to get this right.
We should not cheapen grace. Yes, we’re not under the law, we are under grace. Well, actually, the author of Hebrews says, he makes a comparison and says, “Look, if they were condemned in the old covenant, how much more are we to fear if we trample the blood of the Son of God?”
It’s always been the same, a righteous expectation and mercy as well.
So just to end, Jesus in this parable, He’s offering to dig around it, to water it, to put manure to feed it. You see, He’s calling at the door. He’s calling at the door to tell you to drink from the fountain of living water so that you may not thirst ever again. He’s offering you and me to be fed by Him. He will put on manure on us. This is what He does for us. He intercedes for us and gives us, equips us, with everything we need so that we may bear fruit, the fruit of repentance.
But He also has a warning. If we don’t bear fruit of repentance, wrath and judgment are coming. They are at the door.
So I plead to you, whether you’ve been attending Christ Covenant for years or this is your first time here, whether you think you’re the last person, you know, you came here tonight and you’re maybe the last person who needs to hear this, consider where you stand before the Judge of all the earth. Do not despise the Lord’s patience towards you and bear true fruit through Christ, the mediator. That fruit that God is seeking for, which is a renewed life, it’s a repentant heart, so that when He looks at you, He doesn’t just see leaves and no fruit. He sees the fruit of repentance.
Consider where you stand before the Judge of all the earth. Do not despise the Lord’s patience. Bear fruit through Christ, the mediator, feeding and depending on Jesus, apart from whom we can do nothing.
So trust in Him, not in your works, not on your pedigree, but only in His blood and His righteousness.
Let us pray. Our Father and our God, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for Your election because You have chosen us before the foundation of the world. Thank You for Your patience. Thank You for Your justice. Lord, we know that You in Your wrath remember mercy. We thank You because You have given us Your Son Jesus Christ and only in Him and through Him, not on anything else that we can do or say, it is only through the blood of Jesus Christ and His righteousness imputed to us, that we have access to You. We pray, giving You thanks for this. In Jesus’ name. Amen.