I want you to turn with me to Luke's gospel chapter 13, Luke 13, and beginning to read at verse 1. Perhaps before we read the Scriptures we could just unite our hearts in prayer together. I want to invite you, please, to pray to the Lord now and ask Him that He might speak to you. I hope that you have come this morning to hear from God, and it's important that we attune our hearts, that we turn our hearts toward the Lord. Why not come and say: 'Lord, if You've anything to say to me, please speak to me now'? I believe that that is a prayer that God always answers, when prayed in sincerity.
Let's come and just turn our hearts toward Him now, and let's pray for one another as well: Abba Father, we come to You in that name that is above every name, the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, we just now would invoke His presence by faith, to know that He is here, but to become real to His presence just now. Lord, we pray that we will all have a consciousness that You are here - that we will know, as we depart from this sanctuary, that we have met with the Living God, the Risen Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. So we welcome You into our lives, Lord, to come and take a dealing with us. We invite You, Lord, to come and speak to us. We want to cup our ear, as it were, to listen to what You would have to say to us. In that mighty name of the Lord Jesus, we come against every power, every force of darkness that is against our hearing the Word and receiving it effectually. We rebuke Satan in Jesus' name, and every spirit of doubt and unbelief. Lord, we ask now that our hearts would be totally open to what You have to say. If there are those who are not saved, Lord, we pray that this very morning You will quicken them and save them for Your glory. For those who are cold and backslidden, Lord, that You will stir them up. For those of us that need to be revived - and that's all of us, Lord - we pray that You will come and renew our minds and our hearts in our most holy faith. Come now, we pray, Lord, we wait upon You - in Jesus' name. Amen.
Luke 13 verse 1, then: "There were present at that season some who told Him", told Jesus, "about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; 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 sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish'. He also spoke this parable: 'A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, '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?'. 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'".
Now I want us to focus our attention on this parable from verse 6 through to verse 9, which is filled with basic horticulture - of which, I have to confess to you, I know absolutely nothing about! If I stretch myself to cut the grass, well, my wife rejoices because I'm taking the job off her for a change. Her domain is the garden, I'm not sure where mine is! But nevertheless, this parable - as many of the stories that Jesus told - is so relevant to the basic everyday life of the agricultural people that He was speaking to. But more than there being basic horticulture in this parable, there are basic principles of the spirit that I want to share with you today.
The first is found in verse 6, and it's this: the Lord seeks fruit from you. Look at verse 6: 'A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none'. Of course, the owner of the vineyard here is the Lord. He is coming, and He is seeking fruit from what He has planted. We've already been confronted this morning, through the children's talk, with God our Creator. When we go way back to the very beginning, we see that God has always sought fruit from His creation. In Genesis 1 and 28 He said: 'Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth'. If you know your catechism, you will know that man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever - yet in our fallen state, it seems today that man's chief end has become to glorify self and to enjoy himself forever. That was not God's original intention, and that is not the way that this creation was made, and that is not the way we reflect God's image in our lives. God has always sought fruit to glorify Him from this universe.
But as we come into the new creation, we see that God still seeks fruit from it. In John chapter 15 our Lord Jesus said in verse 8 and verse 16: 'By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples', and then further down in the chapter, 'You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain'. God has always looked for fruit from His creation, and He still seeks fruit from His new creation - and the question I want to ask you today is: is your life filled with fruit that glorifies God?
Many Christians have never realised the essential difference that there is between fruit and works. I hope you haven't confounded the two. A machine can do work, but it is only life that produces fruit. Often when we talk about 'bearing fruit' as Christians, some construe that we mean activity. Now banish that thought from your mind, because that will do you untold harm in your Christian experience. Fruit is not the same as work, fruit is not the same as activity. Now some might say: 'But there is a great deal of work that is involved in cultivating a plant, there is a great deal of work in farming a crop', and that's true - but I ask you: by whom? Who is it that does the work in cultivating a plant? Who is it that does the work in farming a crop? It is the farmer, and in this parable the owner of the vineyard is the Lord. I would go as far as to say that in most of those stories that Jesus told, the farmer or the owner of the farmland was the Lord - we are not the farmer, God is! God is the one who does the work, and anything that happens in us that glorifies God is all of grace. Think about it: what activity does a plant do? What activity does a crop do? Yet it produces fruit when the conditions are right.
Now, of course, the conditions must be right. What does that mean for us in the spirit? How do we produce fruit? If it's not work, what are the conditions that are necessary in order that God gets fruit from us that glorifies His Holy Name? Well, the first and most obvious thing is: we must be planted in Christ. I hope that you are rooted and grounded in Christ, that your life is in Christ - the Christ who is in God - and then your life will be planted in the right place to produce fruit. We see that this fig tree was planted in a vineyard, and the vineyard is a place of fertility. The only place that you can do anything for God is not in a church, it's in Jesus Christ the Saviour. Then, once you are rooted and grounded in Him, we produce fruit by drawing upon the life of Christ - just like drawing from the soil, we draw all the spiritual nutrients that God has provided in Him. That is what Jesus said again in John 15:5: 'I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing'.
So how do we bear fruit? If the activity is all of God, in the sense of the work coming from grace, what activity does a plant do? Well, very simply: it just remains in the soil and draws of the life. The Bible word that Jesus has coined for that, that we know so well, is 'abiding'. Jesus said it, did He not? 'I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing'. If you want to bear fruit for Jesus, you've got to abide in Christ.
Now, here's the next question: how do you abide? Well, like everything in the Christian life, whatever God has provided by grace must be received through faith. Abiding is received through faith. This is the work that God requires of us. You remember there were a few came to Jesus and said, in John 6: ''What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?'. Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent''. So we're getting near here what the key of this fruitfulness is: fruitfulness comes when our roots are in Christ, when we are drawing our life out of Him by abiding. That abiding happens by faith, by believing, by accepting, by yielding, by receiving - it means having no confidence in the flesh, what we do or who we are, but an honest confession of our own weakness: that without Christ we can do nothing, and a drawing by faith of that power that is alone in Him.
But maybe you have another question: how does this faith come? Maybe you say: 'I don't have much of that faith, that's why I'm not abiding, that's why I'm not bearing fruit'. Well, the word of God gives us the answer again in Romans 10:17: 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'. How does this faith come? Well, the hearing of the word of God is important for the cultivation of faith. Of course, our Lord's parable of parables told us that - He told a parable so that we might understand all His parables, the parable of the seed and the sower and the soil. It teaches us that how we hear and receive the word of God will directly affect our fruitfulness. You remember there were four types of soil, but only one of them produced fruit - and Jesus said of that fertile soil: 'He who received the seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty'. But of that other three types of soil, Jesus said that our hearts can be hard, unreceptive to the word, and then the birds of the air, the devil, comes and snatches away the seed. Our hearts can be shallow, and so when the seed is sown and hardship comes, we capitulate to the world and we compromise our profession. He said our hearts can be crowded - He actually said that the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he - that person - becomes unfruitful.
Now, I want to ask you today: is your life filled with fruit that glorifies God? If it's not, it's because you're not abiding in Christ. If you're not abiding in Christ, it's because you don't have faith to abide in Christ. If you haven't faith to abide in Him, in all likelihood it is because the seed of the word is not finding good soil in your heart. Have you a hard heart today, and the devil has the victory in your life? Are you shallow, and when difficulties come you capitulate and compromise? Or is your life crowded, as many's are in this 21st-century materialistic society, and the deceitfulness of riches have choked the word and you've become unfruitful? Or just the cares of this world, 24/7 life? I want to ask you today: what is choking fruitfulness in your life?
The book of Hebrews tells us that those who hear the word do not profit from it because it's not mixed with faith. It's faith from start to finish, not works - by grace, through faith. The only fruit that is manufactured is the plastic kind. We were in The Linen Green yesterday in Moygashel, and there was a tremendous big bowl of fruit - and it was the best manufactured fruit I had ever seen. I took an apple and an orange and showed it to my wife, and even the orange, the skin felt like the skin of an orange - but there is no nutrition in it, it will feed no one. The Lord does not want manufactured fruit. You can't work to create fruit. Neither does the Lord want us to be like gaudy Christmas trees, decorated for others to see but with no life and with no nourishment. The fruit that He seeks is life, Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - the fruit of the Spirit. Please note: it is not 'the fruits of the Spirit', plural, it is the 'fruit of the Spirit' - and we read that 'this is the fruit of the Spirit', not 'these are the fruit of the Spirit'. It's one fruit, one fruit that manifests itself in different kinds. There is one word that could sum up that fruit: character. Whose character? The character of Jesus - that's what the fruit of the Spirit is. If you're grafted into the vine that is Christ, and your Father is the farmer, and you're drawing upon the life of Jesus Himself by faith - you will produce the very life of the Son of God, which is the only life that pleases Him, and it is the Spirit's objective to reproduce the life of Jesus in you. Listen: it is utterly impossible to do in the power of the flesh! Many Christians are trying to do this.
Getting back to our parable: the owner of this vineyard looked for fruit from this fig tree, and he found none. Of course, God looked for fruit from Israel, and Israel is often pictured in the Bible by a fig tree or a vineyard - and when He looked to Israel He found no fruit. In Mark chapter 11, you remember that Jesus cursed the fig tree because there was nothing but leaves on it, and the fig tree was a picture of Israel: how they weren't producing fruit to glorify God. Then after that cursing of the fig tree, He entered into the Temple, and He scourged it of the money changers. He then uttered these words: 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves' - in other words, Israel were not fulfilling their chosen plan, what God had willed for them. Like the fig tree, Israel was taking up space but bearing no fruit.
Wow! Could it be that there is someone here taking up space, but bearing no fruit? Let me ask you a diagnostic question: have you signs of life about you? That's all that fruit is: signs of life. The Lord seeks fruit from you, and if there is no fruit, if there are no signs of life, there is a problem! Now I'm not going to tell you what the problem is, that's between you and God - but I need to tell you today, from God's heart: He's looking fruit from you, and if there is nothing but leaves there is a problem.
The first principle of the spirit is: the Lord seeks fruit from you. The second is: the Lord expects progress from you. Look at verse 7: 'Then he said', this is the owner, 'said to the keeper of his vineyard, '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?''. Here's a principal right throughout the whole Bible: to whom much is given, much will be required. We are responsible for the blessings that God has given to us. Here we see that this owner had invested three years of his time, three years of his effort, three years of his money and all his resources, without any return from this fig tree. 'Why does it use up the ground?', the margin in my Bible says, 'Why does it waste the ground?'. Like Israel, it was taking up space but not bearing fruit. We could say, if it's not too cruel, it was a waste of space: why does it waste up the ground?
How true that was of the nation of Israel, when you consider what God had invested in them: the patriarchs, the prophets, the promises, the covenants, the law, and the promised Messiah. Now look at what they were doing: they were rejecting Him! Turn with me quickly to Matthew 21 to give you a sense of the import of the seriousness of Israel's sin, another parable Jesus told. Matthew 21, and we'll begin to read in verse 33: ''Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintagetime drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son'. But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance'. So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?'. They said to Him, 'He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons'. Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing, And it is marvellous in our eyes'? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it''.
Look at what God had invested in Israel, and yet they bore no fruit and so He turns to the Gentiles - that's where you are this morning! The kingdom of God has been taken from the Jews and given to the nation bearing fruit. What has God invested in you? Well, all those things are applicable to you, for you've got a Bible, haven't you? You've got the patriarchs, the promises, the covenants, the law and the prophets. You've heard about Christ, you've heard about His cross, the blood of Jesus that was shed for sinners, shed for rebels, shed for me; the resurrection, how He was crucified according to the Scriptures, was buried, and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. He is alive, and He ascended unto heaven, and He sent forth the promised Holy Spirit - and all the promises of God are 'Yes and Amen' in Jesus Christ. He has been made righteousness, sanctification and redemption to all who repent and believe in Him! What have you done with God's investment in you? What have you done with God's grace? Could it be that God would have to come to you today and say: 'Cut it down! Look at all I have invested in this person!'.
It's not coincidental that this landowner said that he invested three years in this fig tree, when you consider that the Lord Jesus had been witnessing His Messiahship to Israel for three years, and yet it was rejected. If you go to the end of chapter 13, He stands over Jerusalem and weeps: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!''. The day of reckoning was coming! Three years He had ministered to them, now He's into the fourth year.
Are you not converted here? Maybe you're hardening your neck against God and His grace - well, you need to know that there is a day of reckoning coming. Proverbs 29 verse 1 says: 'He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy'. Unfruitful professing Christian - and Ulster is filled with professing Christians, but a lot of them are unfruitful - you need to hear the word of Christ: 'Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away', 'If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned'. Now I know that those are disputed Scriptures, and I'm not going to enter into controversy this morning. I don't believe any Scripture is in the Bible to cause a true believer to doubt their salvation, that is the devil's job as the accuser of the brethren - but there are Scriptures that cause us not to be presumptuous, not to consider that we are safe when our life is taking up space and bearing no fruit. There is a day of reckoning coming, and we cannot presume upon safety if we show no signs of life. You sang it this morning, listen:
'For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall bring His harvest home;
He Himself on that great day,
Worthless things shall take away.
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the weeds to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In His care for evermore'.
Do you know what the good news of the Gospel is? Someone is pleading for you. I've never noticed this as much in this parable as I have done this week studying it. The keeper of the vineyard here, he's different from the owner of the vineyard. Here's the very man on the coal face who sought for fruit on behalf of the owner for three years - it's Christ! It's Christ who was interposing, who was interceding for Israel - the Advocate for the undeserving chosen people of God. It was this keeper of the vineyard who knew the mind of Father God. The dreaded order had been given, the day of reckoning was coming: 'Cut it down!'. Though we do not know the day or the hour, that day is coming.
The principles are clear: the Lord seeks fruit from you, the Lord expects progress from you - and the final thing: the Lord extends opportunity to you. In verses 8 and 9 you see this keeper of the vineyard pleading for this fig tree. Verse 8: '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''. God is so patient!
Now this farm owner, picturing God, he actually waited seven years for fruit from this fig tree. Now, you might look at the parable and say: 'Where you getting that from?'. Well, in Leviticus chapter 19 we have a law, and it teaches that fruit from newly planted trees was not to be eaten for the first three years, and then on the fourth year of its life the crop was to be taken, harvested, and offered to the Lord. The fourth year's crop belonged to the Lord, so a farmer wouldn't get figs from a newly planted fig tree for himself until the fifth year. This man had already been waiting three years, so it's now the seventh year. He has waited seven years - do you know what this parable is about? It's not about a God who just can't wait to judge sinners, it's about a God who is slow to anger and who is plenteous in mercy and grace, who is not willing that any should perish - and yet is not slack concerning His promise, because judgement day is coming when He will say: 'Cut it down! Cut it down!'.
Even for Jerusalem the Lord waited another 40 years before judgement fell - isn't He gracious? Israel got some more time, even from this very event, and yet what did they do with the time God gave them? They squandered it! What about you here today? Whether you're a professing believer or not, or you're not converted, or you know you're not right with God - how long have you had? How long has God given you to get your act together? And yet you sit here this morning unchanged, unconverted, and it could be said of you, Jeremiah 8:20: 'The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are still not saved'!
Do you realise the position you're in today? Listen to Romans 2, just listen, Romans chapter 2 and verses 4 through to 8: 'Do you despise the riches of God's goodness, His forbearance, and longsuffering, patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who 'will render to each one according to his deeds': eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, and immortality; but to those who are selfseeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath'.
What have you done with the day of opportunity that God has given you? Yet there is One pleading for you - isn't He a wonderful Saviour? He's always looking for a way out for us. This One pleading says to the Owner of the vineyard: 'Another year! Give them another year! Then if there is no fruit after another year, cut it down'. Is the Lord striving by His Spirit with you, and He's saying: 'Another year! I'm going to give you another year!'? He's digging into you - I think that speaks of the need for repentance, a breaking you down to realise the sorrow of your sinfulness and your guilt before God - that's what He talks about at the beginning of this chapter: 'Except you repent, you will all likewise perish'. Is there a person here, and God has been breaking you down, that fallow ground, that arid, barren land of sin and hardness toward God, and God is starting to break it up?
Then He talks about fertilising the ground - could that be the influence of the Holy Spirit upon your life, and the conviction of the Spirit? God is starting to move in on you, and you're starting to feel less pleasure in the sins that you've always desired. Maybe God is drawing you away from the old company, and He's starting to make you miserable. My friend, beware, do not presume upon God's goodness because, perhaps for you, through Jesus' pleading, God has said: 'Another year'.
Are you a professing believer that shows no fruit, and you're backslidden? One day you're going to stand before the Lord on harvest day, judgement day - what will the Lord say? The owner of this vineyard said of this tree: 'Three years have I ploughed my life into that tree'. What will God say to you? '30 years'? '40 years'? '50 years you had opportunity'? Will He say: 'Cut it down'? John the Baptist, when he began to preach, before Jesus had even come on the public scene, said these words: 'Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire'. The axe had already started chopping at the foot of that tree. Has the reckoning even started for some of you here this morning? Maybe the other year is now up for you? Is there someone here today, and God spoke to you last harvest? God spoke to you in the mission? Another year has passed, and now all that is left for God to say is: 'Cut it down!'.
You know, this parable is left open-ended. We know how it all ended for Israel at that time, but how will it end for you when your time comes? The Lord seeks fruit from you, the Lord expects progress from you, and the Lord extends opportunity to you. God bless His word to every heart today.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Dromore Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Another Year" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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