Bear Fruit or Die!
Scripture Text: Luke 13:1-9
What happens if you find that something is not growing well in your garden? What if it is something that time after time you try to tend and nurture, but it just does not bear much fruit? What if that happens to be a person? What happens if one does not live a faithful life to Jesus? We read about the grace of God a lot. We know that it is not what you do that makes you right with God, but who you trust as Savior to declare you right with God. But, what is the need or urgency to live a faithful life in Jesus Christ? To put it another way, in biblical terms, how important is it to “bear fruit” in your life? Well, that is a question before us in today’s parable. As we have seen thus far, Jesus’ parables were stories that He told to explain a spiritual truth. This parable illustrates a common theme in the Bible: the need for repentance and having evidence of faith.
In this story, a fig tree was planted in an owner’s vineyard, but had not yielded fruit. The owner wanted to get rid of this worthless tree and plant something else. A worker of the vineyard, however, interceded to give the barren fig tree one last opportunity to produce fruit. If it did not bear fruit in the coming year after additional care and treatment, then it would be cut down. The parable goes hand in hand with the preceding accounts of two tragic events in Jewish history. Jesus taught the people that they would indeed perish unless they repented and bore fruit. The main idea is this: Everyone will answer to God for their faithfulness and we all must have evidence of our faith in Christ to avoid eternal separation from God. With that, there are at least three truths this passage teaches:
- You Are Not Better Than Any Other Sinner
- Repent While You Still Have Time
- Bear Fruit or Die!
You Are Not Better Than Any Other Sinner
We have seen this truth mentioned in Scripture before. In fact, we just saw it last week with the Pharisee and the tax collector. Oftentimes, we get it in our heads that we are somehow right with God because we are doing the “right things” or at least not doing the “wrong things” that others are doing. People look at others and think, “Well, at least I am not that bad.” The problem with looking at other people to validate your righteousness is that you are looking at the wrong person. You need to look to Jesus Christ. We see something similar in the passage today. Jesus spoke about two events that were apparently current or at least very recent to the people He was teaching.
The first event was about an incident in which Pontius Pilate, the same person who sentenced Jesus to die on the cross, had killed a number of Galileans while they were offering sacrifices in the temple. This would have been horrific to the Jewish people who were required to bring sacrifices to the temple. This would be like the government coming into the church on Sunday morning, desecrating the Lord’s Table and killing everyone here. Other Christians would be shocked. In addition to this event, Jesus recounted another tragedy in which the tower of Siloam collapsed and killed eighteen residents of Jerusalem. This would be like some natural disaster happening today in which many people are killed. Situations like these would be considered tragic.
In Jewish culture, people thought that those who met a tragic end were probably being punished by God for some sin in their life. Remember Job’s friends who concluded that Job must have sinned to have endured such tragedy in his life. That was not the case with Job, though. We know that his troubles were not a result of sin or punishment. It was also not the case with the man Jesus healed who was born blind.
John 9:3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
This kind of thinking exists today. When a terrible tragedy happens, some people may think it is the judgement of God. The truth is it might be…and it might not be. We do not know whether God was judging the Galileans Pilate killed or the people who died as a result of the tower falling on them. God may have judged them and punished them in that way as He has done many times throughout Scripture. Remember Sodom and Gomorra? However, that is not the point. The question Jesus asked His audience was whether those people, the Galileans Pilate murdered and the people killed by the falling tower, were worse sinners than anyone else because they met a horrific end. Were those people more guilty because they suffered in such a way? The answer was No!
The point Jesus was making with these stories is that we are all guilty before God. Everyone has the same condition, the same fate, and the same need for a Savior. We all are sinners who have broken God’s law and who are under a penalty of death. We all have the same need for a Savior to make us right with God and we all need to change or face a terrible fate. We may not be killed by the government coming into a church or have some natural disaster happen to us, but unless we repent, we will all face the judgement of God. We cannot afford to look at others and say to ourselves, “They deserved to get what happened to them because they were so bad,” and not realize that we, too, are just as guilty and may face a similar fate. God gives us all a choice: repent or perish! Turn from your sin and turn to Jesus Christ, or you will be judged.
Repent While You Still Have Time
The lack of punishment on those who did not meet a tragic fate should not be considered a sign that all was well in Israel. It was a sign of God’s mercy, not His approval. The second truth from this passage comes from the parable Jesus told of the barren fig tree. Starting with verse six of the passage, Jesus told a story of a fig tree that had been planted in a vineyard. The owner of the vineyard had waited three years for the fig tree to produce fruit but had not seen any. The owner was frustrated with the lack of “fruit” from the fig tree and ordered it to be cut down. The vinedresser, someone who was probably hired to care for the owner’s crop, pleaded with the owner to give it one more year. The point Jesus was making here is that change needed to happen, and it needed to happen soon.
Some view this parable as an indictment against the Jewish people and a call to repentance. The parable tells of Israel’s last chance to repent before experiencing God’s judgment. God had given them opportunity after opportunity to turn from their wicked ways, and to turn back to Him. The “three years” meant that Israel had had enough time to repent but God was willing to give them a little more time to change their ways. God was giving them another period of grace, but only for a limited time. If the fig tree, Israel, did not respond, it would be cut down. Jesus may have well been addressing Israel and calling His people back to God. This seems especially true since later in Luke chapter thirteen Jesus lamented over Jerusalem and spoke of gathering His people “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” but they were not willing!
The principal of repenting while there is time applies to us all, though. God is merciful. He desires for none to perish. He even gives people time to turn to Him; however, God’s graciousness and patience should never be presumed. God sent His Son to preach a message of repentance and judgment. There is still time, but the time is short. If people do not repent, then judgment will come; and like the Galileans killed by Pilate and the people upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, they too would perish. This passage ought to be read in context with chapter twelve on being ready for God.
Luke 12:35 Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning. (You do not know when the master of the house will return.)
Luke 12:56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (The signs of the time indicate the coming of The Lord.)
You do not know what tomorrow will bring, so act now! We do not know the fate of the fig tree, whether it produced figs. The vinedresser’s suggestion to wait another year, to give the fig tree more time to change, seemed to win out. In essence, it was up to the fig tree to respond to the vinedresser and avoid being cut down. It is up to you to respond to God, while you have time. Will you turn to Him?
Bear Fruit or Die!
So, in this parable we see that everyone stands guilty before God and ought to turn to Him while they have time. The third truth of this passage is that a person who turns to Jesus Christ must bear fruit. Another way to state this is that believers must have evidence of a life changed by Christ. In this parable the master of the vineyard went looking for fruit on his fig tree. This seems to be completely understandable. If you plant something in your garden or a tree in your yard, you naturally expect to find fruit growing on it. If not, it is probably an indication that something is wrong. For my wife and me, we actually have a fig tree but have rarely found figs on it. The problem for us, however, seems to be that we have predators that get to the figs before we do.
The truth for us is that a person who turns to God in genuine repentance ought to show evidence of a life changed by Jesus Christ. As James mentioned, there ought to be good works that show the faith we have in Jesus Christ. Despite the grace and time God had extended to Israel, they had brought forth no “fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8) John the Baptist mentioned this earlier in Luke:
Luke 3:7-9 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…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.”
If we genuinely turn to Jesus Christ, there must be fruit of it. The consequence of not bearing fruit, when God has extended grace to us, is to be “cut down.” Both John the Baptist and Jesus said the same thing: Repent and bear fruit or die! This is extremely significant. We must show evidence of a changed life or face an eternal consequence.
We should not read into this parable that good works or evidence of our faith is a matter of doing a list of things. Jesus was not saying that we must follow a list of do’s and don’ts to be right with God. What Jesus was saying is that one who genuinely turns from sin and turns to Christ as Lord and Savior will show evidence of that faith. Elsewhere, Jesus said that a good tree does not bear bad fruit and a bad tree does not bear good fruit. Good works are evidence of genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Luke 6:43-45 For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
A person will naturally reveal what is in his or her heart. The question you may ask, What is this fruit Jesus was talking about? For that, I think the Apostle Paul gave us some help. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul compared the “works of the flesh” to the “fruit of the Spirit.” If you were to look at these lists, which do you find in your life?
Works of the Flesh:
- Are you engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior?
- Are you consistently hostile with others?
- Are you jealous about someone or something?
- Do you have fits of angry?
- Do you create divisions or factions among others to get your way?
- Are you envious of what others have or are doing?
These things are evidence of a barren tree that does not show evidence of a changed life. If that is you, then you need to seriously turn to Jesus Christ and repent of this. In contrast, do you have evidence of the fruit of the Spirit?
Fruit of the Spirit:
- Do you genuinely love God and love one another?
- Do you have joy in your heart, for salvation and for life?
- Do you seek peace with one another no matter who is at fault?
- Are you patient with one another as God is patient with you?
- Are you kind to one another?
- Do you trust God and are you faithful to Him?
So, the question you should seriously ask yourself is this: Do I have have evidence of a genuine faith in Jesus Christ? Do you have evidence of a life changed by Jesus Christ and a growing relationship with Him? Do you? If not, then it may be an indication that you are not where you need to be and you ought to turn to Him. The consequence could be deadly. You must bear fruit or face spiritual death.
In closing, We all need to be fruit inspectors, not just for each other, but primarily for ourselves. We need to inspect our own lives to see that we are producing evidence of a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Are you bearing fruit that will please God, the master of the vineyard? Are you in danger of being declared worthless and being cut down? Paul mentioned in Romans chapter eleven about the Gentiles being granted into the vine. When something is grafted into something else, it either takes or does not take. Jesus is the source and support for the vine. If your faith does not produce fruit, it may be an indication that you are not where you need to be in a relationship with Jesus. Maybe you are not relying solely on Him, trusting in Him, and growing closer to Him each day. If that is you, then Jesus pleads with you to turn to Him while there is time. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.