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Kingdom Parables: The Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree

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God is a God of mercy, but He is also a God of Righteous Judgement. If men do not repent they will perish.

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Text: Luke 13:1-9
Theme: God is a God of mercy, but He is also a God of Righteous Judgement. If men do not repent they will perish.
I’ve spent the last month preaching a series of parables that reveal the loving, searching nature of God’s heart. When it comes to lost sinners, God is like the faithful shepherd, searching for the one lost sheep. He is like the persistent housewife, searching in the dirt until she finds the one lost coin. He is like the loving father, waiting for the lost son to come home.
But I would be remiss in preaching the full revelation of the Scripture if I did not also preach that God is sovereign and wholly righteous. Because of His righteous He is justified in condemning sin and the unrepentant sinner. Billy Graham said that there are three things all mortal men experience: 1) You have to be born: You cannot be ‘unborn’, 2) You have to die: All men will die, 3) You have to stand before God and be judged. The author of the Book of Hebrews writes: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment;” (Heb. 9:27).
Men ignore God at their peril. Rejecting His Word has consequences. The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Rome: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;” (Rom. 1:18).
The Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree is a parable that reveals the flip-side of God’s love and mercy. ILLUS. Most teens (or even young adults for that matter) don’t have a clue as to what flip-side means. Those of us here tonight are “the initiated.” We remember the days when music came on round vinyl disks called “records.” They came in “thirty-three’s” and “forty-fives”— those numbers representing the revolutions per minute. “Thirty-three’s” were usually albums and had several songs. Forty-fives usually had one “hit” tune on one side and a lesser tune—that hardly anyone would listen to—on the other side – the flip-side. And sometimes you missed out on some really good music by not flipping the record over and playing that second tune.
In the same way, we love to listen to God’s greatest hits: Tunes like, Amazing Grace!, He Is Able to Deliver Thee, Grace Greater than All Our Sin, and Love Lifted Me. But, there is a flip-side to God’s grace and love and mercy. That tune is hardly ever played or listened to, but it’s an important song that we need to listen to.
The Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree is a story that reveals God righteous judgment.


1. two calamities are the reason for the parable that Jesus tells
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5, NIV84)
2. the first calamity is brought up by some people in the crowd
a. some Jews from Galilee had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple and offer sacrifices to God
b. during their worship, Roman soldiers attack them and a number were killed
1) we don’t have any secular historical account of the incident mentioned in this passage, but we know Pilate’s rule was marked by insensitivity to the Jews and brutality against them when he thought they were slighting his authority
2) this kind of behavior was simply “par-for-the-course” for Pilate
3. the second calamity is brought up by Jesus, himself
a. he refers to a the structural failure of a tower in Jerusalem that falls and kills eighteen people
4. what conclusion does Jesus draw from these situations?


1. this is a given of life ... you will die
“So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. 3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1–3, NIV84)
2. you do not know when your death will come
“Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:12, NIV84)
a. some people will die a natural death ... peacefully ... in their sleep ... at a ripe old age
b. some people will die an unnatural death ... violently, while wide awake ... at all too young an age
3. but isn’t this encouraging!!


1. the word repent is a key word in this passage
a. it implies being in a right relationship with God the Father ... a relationship that only comes through repentance and faith
2. without repentance and faith, men will die and perish
a. perish in this verse refers to perishing under God’s judgment
b. all Christians know John 3:16—and love it—
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV84)
c. but it must be read in the context of the passage
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:17–19, NIV84)
d. for those who refuse to repent, and come to Christ, and believe on him there is a condemnation that awaits, and the result of that condemnation is an everlasting perishing
3. you don’t have to perish!


1. the people in the crowd assume that those individuals upon whom these calamities fell must have been really bad sinners and that God was “getting even” with them
a. this was standard theology 101 among the Jews ... the simple singular reason bad things happened to people was God’s judgment on sin
b. even the disciples assumed this (John 9:1-3)
c. it has remained a popular theology throughout the ages
ILLUS. When the blind English poet John Milton was old and obscure, he was visited one day by Charles II, son of the king that the Puritans had beheaded. “Your blindness is a judgment from God for the part you took against my father,” said the king. Milton replied, “If I have lost my sight through God’s judgment, what can you say of your father who lost his head?”
c. bottom line is ... we don’t know, and can never say for sure if a violent death or unnatural death or a personal calamity is a reaping of the whirlwind
d. there is the biblical principle of reaping and sowing found in Galatians
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:7–10, NIV84)
1) but there have been some deeply wicked people who have lived long lives, and have not reaped what they have sown
2) and there have been some deeply pious people who have lived short lives, who have reaped what they’ve not sown
2. Jesus went on to show them the logical conclusion of their argument:
a. if God does punish sinners for their sin, then they themselves had better repent because all men are sinners!
vv. 3,5 “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
b. the question is not, “Why did these people die?” but, “All men will die, because all men are sinners. Are you ready to stand before a holy God?”
3. none of us is sinless, so we had all better get prepared
4. he then spoke a parable unto them ...
a. The Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree is found only in Luke 13:6-9


v. 6 " . . . he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any."
1. the owner of an orchard has come to inspect his fig crop
a. fig trees are a fruit tree common in both wild and cultivated forms throughout the Near East since ancient times
b. it is a beautiful shade tree with large palm-shaped leaves
1) Jewish tradition taught that it was the fig-leaf that Adam and Eve used to cover their nakedness of in the Garden of Eden. They are also the branches that the people waved at Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.
2. in this parable, the owner of the orchard discovers that for the third year in a row, one of the trees has not produced figs
a. it had a profession of leaves, but an absence of fruit
3. according to Leviticus 19:23–25, fruit from newly planted trees was not eaten the first three years, and the fourth year the crop belonged to the Lord
“‘When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. 24 In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:23–25, NIV84)
a. a farmer would not get any figs for himself until the fifth year
4. but the prospects of getting fruit from this particular fig tree appears dim, and so the owner of the vineyard commands that it be cut down


1. Israel had been carefully cultivated by the Holy Spirit as a gardener carefully cultivates his plants
a. the Holy Spirit had worked through the Old Testament priests and prophets, and through Moses and the Law
b. the ministries John the Baptist and Jesus were the last great revelation of God to His people
2. but, like the fig tree of the story, Israel lacked the true fruit of inward character—she lacked the fruit of repentance
a. earlier in the gospel of Luke, Jesus had warned the spiritual leaders of Israel that what God really wanted was repentance, not self-righteousness
“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3:7–8, NIV84)
1) this is not seeker-sensitive evangelism!


v. 7 "Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?"
1. the fig tree had not born figs for three years, so the owner tells the gardener to cut it down


1. the owner of the vineyard has an absolute right to expect fruit from the things he plants and nourishes
a. God has the right to expect the fruit of holiness and righteousness from the lives He lavishes His care on
2. the parable reminds us of God’s special goodness to Israel
a. the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 9:1-5 that God had given Israel all good things
1) the covenants
2) the law
3) the promises
4) the Prophets
3. God had shown great patience with Israel
a. he sent them a prophet in John the Baptist
1) John told Israel ...
“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10, NIV84)
b. God waited three years during our Lord’s earthly ministry, but the nation did not produce fruit
1) Jesus told Israel . . .
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”” (Matthew 4:17, NIV84)
c. He then waited about forty years more before He allowed the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem and the temple; and during those years, the church gave to the nation a powerful witness of the Gospel message
1) still, Israel as a whole did not repent
2) Israel rejected their Messiah and his message
3. finally, the tree was cut down
a. in the book of Isaiah, God speaking to Israel through the prophet, laments that He has done all that he can, and yet He sees no fruit in the lives of His chosen people
b. in the passage, He calls them my well beloved
“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:1–7, NIV84)


v. 8 "Sir...leave it alone for one more year . . . "
1. the Gardener pled for the life of the tree
a. but in order to be fair, he added that if it did not bear fruit, then it was to be cut down
b. the gardener’s attitude is let’s do all that we can before we take such drastic action
2. the gardener outlines some things they can do ...
a. first, he will aerate the soil so the roots get more oxygen
b. second, he will dung it—that is fertilize it so that it get the proper nutrients it needs for growth
3. if that doesn’t work then and only then will he cut it down


1. through the Holy Spirit, God lavishes attention upon the children of His creation hoping that they will respond to His tender-loving-care and produce the fruits of repentance that lead to righteousness
a. to that end, God aerates the soil of our soul His blessings and loving-kindness, and nourishes our minds with His truth—the Word of God
2. what will be the result?
a. Jesus doesn’t tell us ... it’s what we cal an open-ended parable
b. the listener has to supply the conclusion
1) did the tree bear fruit?
2) did the special care accomplish anything?
3) was the tree spared or cut down?
3. we have no way to know the answers to these questions, but we can answer as far as our own lives are concerned!
a. the question is not “What happened to the tree?” but “What will happen to me?”
4. Jesus knew that Israel would continue to reject him and not repent
a. at one point, Jesus laments over their rejection of His Messiahship
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”” (Luke 13:34–35, NIV84)


1. the parable is obviously pointed at the people of Israel, but it has an application to individuals as well


1. God is gracious and long-suffering toward people
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV84)
2. through His creation, and through His Word, and through His Son God encourages all men everywhere to repent and bear fruit
a. God claims that His Creation should be enough to us convince us of His reality
“ since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1:19, NIV84)
ILLUS. C. K. Barrett, a British biblical scholar, wrote: “What nature shows is that God is God ... Observation of created life is sufficient to show that creation does not provide the key to its own existence.”
b. God has also specifically revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, NIV84)
3. He has had every right to cut us down, but in His mercy, He spares the lost sinner for a season that He might repent and produce fruit
a. yet we must not presume upon the kindness and long-suffering of the Lord, for the day of judgment will finally come


1. this parable speaks of both the long-suffering of God in delaying judgment, but also the severity of God in His judgment
2. rejection of God’s goodness and His truth as revealed in Jesus, has consequences
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” (Romans 1:18, NIV84)
3. the cross itself, is the ultimate expression of God's love
a. but the cross also argues clearly for the certainty of eternal punishment
1) sin must be atoned for in the sinner’s life
2) to that end the sinner needs a Savior
b. John 316 is very clear, but so is John 3:18
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18, NIV84)
c. Hebrews 10 indicates that those who, in the end, find themselves outside the sacrificial work of Christ have nothing awaiting them but a vengeful God
“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
1) there is no way that God would go to such extravagant lengths, no way He would give His eternally beloved Son, unless something eternal was at stake
4. the cross is where God's love, mercy but justice, and wrath meet
The Parable of the Fig Tree illustrates that people will not always have an opportunity to repent and turn to God. Jesus is telling both individuals and the nation that the clock is ticking. God is watching His orchard. If it does not bear fruit, judgment will come.
In the days of the pioneers, when men saw that a prairie fire was coming, what would they do? Since not even the fastest of horses could outrun it, the pioneers took a match and burned the grass in a designated area around them. Then they would take their stand in the burned area and be safe from the threatening prairie fire. As the roar of the flames approached, they would not be afraid. Even as the ocean of fire surged around them there was no fear, because fire had already passed over the place where they stood.
When the judgment of God comes to sweep men and women into eternity, there is one spot that is safe. Nearly two thousand years ago the wrath of God was poured on Calvary. There the Son of God took the wrath that should have fallen on us. Now, if we take our stand by the cross, we are safe for time and eternity.
Let us invite the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts, and pray with David this prayer from our hearts: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
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