3 Lent proper C3
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 13:1-9 Sermon
March 7, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
309 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"
252 "O Word Of God Incarnate"
326 "I Love To Tell The Story"
323 "Spread, Oh Spread Thou Mighty Word"
JESUS EXPECTS GOOD FRUIT
TEXT (vs. 6-9): "6And [Jesus] told this parable: A man hada fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And 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?' 8And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
There's a humorous story I heard some years ago; and thanks to an Email I received this week, I was reminded of it again. You might have heard it too.
There was an old painter named Smokey Jones who was very interested in making a penny where he could, so he often thinned down his paint to make it go just a bit further.
As it happened, he got away with this for some time, but eventually the old Parish Church decided to do a big restoration job on the outside of their big building. Smokey put in a bid, and, because his price was so low, he got the job. So he set about erecting the scaffolding and setting up the planks, and buying the paint. And just as he had in the past, he began thinning it down with turpentine.
Well, Smokey was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly completed, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder, the sky opened, and the rain poured down washing the thinned paint off of the church and knocking Smokey off the scaffold. He landed on the lawn among the gravestones, surrounded by telltale puddles of the thinned and useless paint.
Smokey was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he got down on his knees and cried: "Oh God, Oh God, forgive me; what should I do?" And from the thunder, a mighty voice spoke: "Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more.
I've used this humorous little illustration to introduce our text for today, which is our appointed Gospel reading. In our text, Jesus presents two important points. The first point is God's judgment and punishment, and the second point deals with repentance, and how that relates to our Christian life.
One of the things people will often say in the face of hardship or adversity, "Why is God punishing me like this? What did I ever do to deserve this? How could God do this to me or allow this to happen to me?"
This is what was on the people's minds, and so they present the matter to Jesus for an answer. The main question they had in mind was concerning some Galileans who had met with a very brutal death at the hand of none other than Pontius Pilate. He had even mocked them by mixing some of their blood with their sacrifices.
Verses 2 and 3 of our text record Jesus' answer to them: 2"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless yourepent, you will all likewise perish."
Then Jesus adds another similar example as well. He talks about the time when the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people in Jerusalem. At the end he makes the same point. Verses 4-5 of our text records these words of Jesus: "...do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless yourepent, you will all likewise perish."
The people here had fallen into the same trap that ensnare so many today. People will look at adversity or hardship or any of a variety of life's trials and tribulations, and come up with a combination of blaming God and blaming themselves. When something happens, they reckon that God is engaging in some sort of divine recompense for something that they have either said or done to displease him.
In our text, Jesus is saying that the tragedy in these people's lives had absolutely nothing to do with who they were, or with any sort of sin they had committed. The bottom line to this is that nobody is really any better off than anybody else.
The Bible tells us that God does good things for bad people and allows bad things to happen to good people. In Matthew chapter 5 verse 45 Jesus says: "...He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
So let's sort all of this out. First of all, let's consider how God administers punishment and justice. The parable Jesus uses in our text talks about a fig tree that wouldn't produce. If it were to continue, it was to be cut down and removed. When God administers punishment and justice, it is something permanent and everlasting. And like a tree that has been cut down and removed, there's no turning back.
God is not a ruthless judge waiting in heaven for people to do bad things so as to punish them. Life and God's relationship to life is not that simple. The Bible presents God as a loving Father who loves his children. The Bible tell us that if God does love us he will discipline us. Hebrews chapter 12 verses 7-11 read: " 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." This will mean that things will happen to Christians that they don't like. But God does this for their good, not because he is angry and wants to punish them.
The point here is that there is a definite and distinct difference between "discipline" and "punishment." And God will sometimes allow things to happen in our lives to "get us back on track" so-to-speak. The idea is really no different than a parent using discipline with their children, as the writer to the Hebrews has explained.
People have often referred to the raining down of fire and brimstone at Sodom and Gomorrah as God's punishment against immorality. Those people were punished all right, but their punishment wasn't the fire and brimstone raining down. The residents would have perished almost instantaneously; their punishment came after they had died. Now God could have simply swept them from the earth and accomplished the same thing, as far as the destiny those people were concerned. But he had something more in mind.
The grand demonstration God used for the destruction of those two cities served as a warning to those who survived. God indeed takes sin seriously. Sodom and Gomorrah had become like the fig tree that wouldn't produce, and so they were uprooted and removed from the garden, so-to-speak.
God also demonstrated the seriousness of breaking a direct command when Lot's wife disobeyed God and looked back as they were fleeing the city. She was turned into a pillar of salt. God was not to be trifled with.
All that being said however, we always need to remember just how patient God is with us. We can't look at God and visualize him like we would a policeman with a radar gun just waiting for somebody to mess up. Rather, God acts according to his mercy and grace. He is patient with us, because he wants us to grow strong and healthy in our spiritual life. And whatever method he uses to teach us, the end result is that we are to place our total and complete trust in him.
The real truth to remember is that what God wants for Christians is for them to place their trust in Jesus. Which means when things are going well, they will give thanks to him. And when Christians have tough times, that they will trust him and trust that he has their best interests at heart, no matter how tough life gets. Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2 reminds us, "2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is comparing us to the fig tree. As we contemplate this analogy, we need to bear several things in mind. First, a fig tree (or you can think of whatever fruit tree you like) cannot grow and bear fruit all on its own. That's impossible. A tree has to be firmly planted in the ground where it can take root and be stable and sturdy. A tree out of the ground is of no value at all.
Second, a fruit tree needs more than just dirt to grow. It needs moisture, and sunshine, and nutrients. Nothing can grow in soil that is devoid of nutrients and bone dry. There's nothing there it can use.
Thirdly, a good fruit tree needs to be cultivated and nurtured. It has to be pruned and watered and tended. And of course, it cannot bear fruit on its own. It needs another tree of the same species so cross-pollination can take place, and fruit will set.
I'm sure Jesus knew full well all of the implications of what it takes to have a good fruit tree when he made this analogy. The needs of a fruit tree aren't that much different than the needs of a Christian in this world.
Let's start with being planted in a solid foundation. That foundation is the Holy Scripture, the very Word of God. God's Word in the Bible is stable and sure. When a person is firmly grounded in God's Word, they will be immovable when Satan tries to attack and destroy.
God's Word is also living and active. It provides all of the nutrients we need for spiritual growth. It makes us wise for salvation, and equips us for every good work. God has given us his Word for our benefit.
But still more is needed. We need to keep feeding in that Word, drinking in all of the goodness and life God has in store for us. We need to seek out opportunities for study and growth. We need to be active in worship and prayer. And we also need each other's fellowship so we can strengthen each other and help each other grow. And when adversity strikes, when things happen in our lives that we just don't like, we can continue to encourage each other with God's love, and keep our hope alive with what God has promised. This is one reason why it is so important to get Bibles into the hands of as many people as possible.
But the most important thing the Bible does is work faith in our hearts so we can accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Everything in the Bible is Christ centered and focused. And that's where the center and focus of our lives needs to be.
When we get bogged down and depressed about bad things happening to good people, just think about our Saviour. Nothing demonstrates this more than Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus is the sinless Son of God, the perfectly good person who had the ultimate evil done to him. The evil was that a totally perfect man was unjustly executed on a cross. Even the thief hanging on the cross next to him knew this. In Luke chapter 23 verse 41 he says, "41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." God allowed this evil thing to happen so as to bring about a greater good. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21: "21God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Because of his great love for us, Jesus suffered humiliation and was crucified on the cross to completely pay for our sins and receive the punishment we deserve. But because he did this God raised him up from the dead and placed his name above every name, as Paul writes in Philippians 2 verses 10-11: "10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." As Christians, we need to have the same attitude of Jesus, and continue to place our trust in him because he promises us that he will be with us, all the time, while we live in this world. And when our last hour has come, he promises to take us to heaven to live with him forever.
Meanwhile, God wants us to produce fruit for him here on earth. At the beginning of my sermon, I told that humorous story about the painter, Smokey Jones. It's a bit dramatic perhaps, but there is a point. During our lives, God can use various ways and means to put us on the right track. Those ways might not always be the most pleasant; but if by them we are kept closer to God, then they have served their purpose. The real truth to remember is that what God wants for Christians like you and me is for us to place our complete trust in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. This is the truth we carry to the world; and the Holy Scriptures are the main vehicle God the Holy Spirit uses to convert hearts, one at a time. And also through those Holy Scriptures, God continues to fertilize us, water us, and keep us spiritually healthy.
Therefore, always keep the words of Psalm 1 in mind: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."
May God continue to use us in whatever way he can to bring his precious Gospel to the world; and may we continue to bear fruit in our lives that reflects our firm foundation in the Holy Scriptures, and the love of Jesus we have in our hearts.