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One More Mercy for the Barren Tree

Luke 13:6-9

We’re in Luke 13 this morning, but I’m going to ask you to open your Bibles to Luke 12. So we can work our way into the text that we’re going to cover. A, this morning, we’re going to begin in Luke 12:54 a section that we’ve covered. As Jesus turned from teaching his disciples, he turned from his disciples to address the crowds. And it says in Luke 12:54, “He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, “A shower is coming.” And so it happens. When you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be a scorching heat,” and it happens. 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 word hypocrites, gives Jesus’ assessment about the spiritual condition of these crowds. He knew what they were about. They were a religious people, but they were an unbelieving people. They had a pretense of religion and religious service. They had religious interest, which is why they were there that day.

But they are in fact, hypocrites. Jesus cut through the facade. And he told them plainly and lovingly, “You hypocrites.” He tells him here, verse 57, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate make an effort to settle with him on the way lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison, I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

The warning, encouragement to reconcile but it’s a warning. And as we learned when we covered that section, that is really a call to humility, to acknowledge what they already know, that they’re debtors before God, and then to repent. He’s appealing here to the conscience, a sense that we all know that we’re wrong before a holy God, we’re sinners before him, we’re debtors to him and so he’s calling them to reconcile with God and to do so with great haste, because the time is short.

 But as we see in Luke 13, as we turn the page, these are people who are trained in hypocrisy. These are people who are still under the powerful spell of covetousness. And there are some in the crowd who speak up and they kind of parry the blow, they, they deflect Jesus’ words, less those words pierced their hearts, trouble their consciences.

It says in Luke 13:1, “There were some present at that very time, who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘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.’” He won’t let them wiggle away from his point. The issue is, you’re being dragged before the judge, and you’re gonna have to give an account.

Don’t try to worm your way away from this. It’s not good for you to get away from this. You need to hear what I have to say, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those 18,” verse 4, “Those 18 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.”

The call to repentance here is so strong, so clear. And I want you to understand that Jesus is giving that call to religious people. He’s given that call to people who would consider themselves to be generally moral people. Who would consider themselves to be pretty good neighbors.

It’s a righteous people. Oh, they may not be as righteous as the scribes and the Pharisees after though, after all, those guys are doing that for a living. But pretty righteous, pretty good, pretty good people that would have been their own self assessment. But Jesus says, “No, you’re hypocrites. And unless you repent, you will all perish.”

Folks, if Jesus were to come speak to us today, if he visited our city, if he preached to our community, I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that he would preach this exact same message to us today. To our society, to people who are nursed and raised in our own very familiar evangelical culture.

It’s always dangerous to my soul when I do this, but every now and again, I’ll go online and listen to some of what passes for preaching in some of the largest, best known churches in our area. As I said, it’s dangerous to my soul because I get so, well as we read in Ephesians 4, “Be angry yet don’t sin.” So I have to spend some time repenting after I do this. That’s why I do it very seldom.

Some of the largest best known churches in our area, I gotta tell you, it is appalling to hear what so many professing Christians are hearing every single week from people who I would call hirelings.  They are false shepherds. There are some who sound like they’re trying to hold public therapy sessions, using pop psychology and talking a lot about brokenness and healing. They always use a kind of soft language, when they talk about it.

You won’t hear very much talk of sin, of coming judgment, of specific sins that people need to repent of. You won’t hear any talk about repentance or a demand to repent.

There are others I listened to the sound like they’re at a high school pep rally. They’re trying to pump up the audience. Tell everybody to give each other high fives and fist bumps and all that stuff, give shout outs to those who delight to hear their names spoken in public. They want folks to give it up for this person and give it up for that person, give it up for yourselves and give it up for our lead pastors.

And by the way, the lead pastors, these days more and more, are a husband and wife team. Give it up for this people, give it up for that people, isn’t there to speak into like a large audience of teenagers who need constant motivation and affirmation rather than sinners who need confrontation so that they can find salvation.

These people, these I guess they call them pastors. They move in and out from motivational speaker to life coach, always affirming. And every now and again, trying to nudge people forward to be better and to do better. When you really boil it down, it is a moralistic message of works. One of these pastors told his people recently I’m quoting him, “We make resolutions,” he’s talking about the “We all make resolutions and who’s kept them? Oh none of you.” Hardy har har. So that’s a big joke, you know.

So he says, “We make resolutions because we sense that we need to change, but we fail to keep our resolutions because when it comes down to it change is just not that important to us.” It’s a true statement. And then he says, “Just keeping it real. Some of you are better than me. But for me, that’s how I roll.”

Others sound like they’re coming together publicly to recruit people for humanitarian organizations. They want everybody to be activists. So they’re always motivating, mobilizing, directing energy, directing resources to eradicate hunger and poverty and homelessness and digging wells and planting crops all over the place. It’s the social gospel just in today’s climate conscious language. Addressing social evils, but leaving the soul entirely untouched and that life completely unchanged.

Listen to Paul’s judgment, Titus 1:16. “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.  Then he minces no words he says, “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” You might say in some of those places, well at least people are being kinda touched. It’s a good work, isn’t it? At least some wells are being dug. It’s a good work, isn’t it? At least some people are being encouraged and motivated to do something better with their lives. Isn’t that good? No, Paul says are unfit for any good work.

 I can tell you if Jesus came today to our city, to our county, to our world, he’d speak the words of Luke 13:15 to our people, maybe to some of us. There are some Christians who think that what I’m saying is too harsh of a judgment. I’m being too severe. They think me kind of uncouth for saying such things. They themselves won’t attend a therapeutic church or a pep rally church or a social justice warrior church, but they’re are not prepared to make such strong statements and to deliver such bold pronouncements. I mean, “Judge not,” right? I mean, who am I to say?

Listen, I see that kind of faithfulness, unfaithfulness going on in our culture around us and to say nothing. That is the very height of loveless indifference. And to paper it over with, oh, “Judge not. I’m just being a Christian,” is the height of hypocrisy. That is cold hearted pride, that is not humility, to make no judgment whatsoever. It’s the stuff of polite society and good company. It’s a damning niceness that cares nothing whatsoever for the souls of those who are being gently shepherded into hell by false shepherds.

“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” 

Paul to Titus 1:16

That’s why John the Baptist came in such strong language, saying to those who are stirred up by religious sentiment, to those crowds who came to be baptized by him, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come, bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”

If John preached that sermon today, he’d say those words to us, the residents of our city, the people in our county, our state, our country, same words. Those who think themselves moral, relatively righteous, good evangelicals, conservative voters. He’d speak those words to us. Yeah, he called conservative Christians to repent. Because they look nothing like what Jesus described in the most basic terms in places like the Sermon on the Mount.

 In fact, turn there for a moment to Matthew chapter 5. Just briefly, Matthew, chapter 5, in verse 3, isn’t it interesting that we feel the need in our day to put adjectives in the word, in front of the word Christian? Indicates just how much the word has lost its meaning.

Perhaps we need to do away with the adjectives, conservative, liberal, evangelical, and use some terms that Jesus used to describe his followers. Look at Matthew 5:3-6 and think about this. Who are you? How, what describes you? And I hope you say this for yourself: I am poor in spirit. I know that I possess nothing to make myself acceptable before God. And because of that, I’m a mourner. I see my spiritual bankruptcy, and I sorrow over my sins. I’m in the dust, with tears, drenching my face. Because I sin, and that makes me meek before other people, not proud.

So I boast in nothing. I demand nothing. I expect nothing. When other people offend me, I let it go. Why? Because I’m meek. I have nothing to claim. I’ve died to self. And now all I got left is this hunger, an aching, nagging hunger, I hunger and thirst for righteousness for something I don’t have, but I so desperately long to possess, to see developed in my life. Those are the people and only those by the way. It’s those kinds of people who will inherit the kingdom, be comforted, inherit the earth, be satisfied. Why is that?

 Because they and only they will bear fruits in keeping with repentance. What fruit? Matthew 5:7-12 They are merciful. They show mercy like their father in heaven shows mercy. They’re merciful people. They’re pure in heart. They love and they pursue holiness in their lives. They’re peacemakers doesn’t mean they just never get into conflict. No, they get into conflict over the right things.

What they do in peacemaking is they say hard things to others. They confront others in their sin because seeing people reconciled to a holy God is what they live for, for their life’s work, what reward do they get in this life. They’re persecuted on this earth. Because they’re willing to wait for their reward. What is that reward? They’ll receive mercy, they’ll see God, they’ll be called sons of Go and they’ll given, begin in, given entrance into the kingdom of heaven. And so they rejoice.

Though they’re persecuted. They rejoice. Though they’re excluded, they rejoice. Though they’re marginalized, they rejoice. Though they lose their jobs, they rejoice. Though their families are divided in two and ripped asunder, they rejoice. I guess we could close in prayer and call it good right now. But Jesus wants us to punctuate this message, this demand for repentance with an illustration.

So with that in mind, go back to Luke 13. And let’s consider the parable that he gives us. In verses 6-9. John the Baptist warned Luke 3:9, “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.” And so Jesus wants the crowd to know. He sees it exactly the way that John sees it.

There’s no light between their positions, sees it exactly the same way. So he says in Luke 13:6-9 “Tells this parable. ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, found none. Said to the vinedresser, “Look for three years now I’ve come seeking fruit on this fig tree and I find none. Cut it down. Why should I use up the ground?” And he answered him, “Sir, [It’s the word Lord.] let it alone this year also until I dig around it and put on manure. And then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.'”

Pretty sobering message. “Even now, the axe is laid to the root of the trees. So bear fruit now or you will be cut down where you stand.” That’s the message. That’s the parable. But even in this message, which is a severe warning, notice the rays of light of hope. Notice the offer of mercy coming in this parable.

Listen, the unrepentant in this crowd. And I’ll say the unrepentant here today. They won’t hear the hope in what Jesus is saying. They’re not going to see the light. They’re not going to see the offer of mercy. Their hearts are hard. The die is cast. They’re fixed in their covetous desire, and they’ll move on. But for those who are poor in spirit, for those who are mourning, for those who are meek, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they’re going to hear the offer of hope, which is quiet. They’re going to hear it loud and clear.

They’re going to see even the slimmest ray of light to be a blazing shining offer of mercy. They’re going to hear the hope and they’re going to come running. If that’s you, my friend, this is the message for you. Three points on the parable. One point to apply it.

First point number one, the expectation of productivity, the expectation of productivity. The owner came into his vineyard he saw the fig tree, he expects fruit. He has a reasonable expectation that that tree should produce fruit. That’s the point. The fig tree features often in Scripture, nearly 50 times in the Old Testament another 20 times roughly in the New Testament. Fig trees the, the fruit of the fig tree, the early fig, the ripe fig, cakes of figs, all kinds of figs all through Scripture and a, that’s because the fig tree is a highly productive tree, fig tree represents in Israel, represents blessing.

 One source says that in the east the fig tree produces two definite crops of fruits per season. Very productive. So the normal winter figs ripen in May and June and the summer figs in late August and September. Fruit buds are usually seen in February before the leaves appear in April each year. So there’s an expectation, it’s kind of like us looking forward to summer, spring I, especially today we’d like to see the, some, some sun and some blossoms and some green. But as a symbol, the fig tree is a concrete expression of God’s favor to Israel, a symbol of prosperity.

Moses so, to, told Israel in Deuteronomy 8:7, “The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, one that flows with water, abundant fruitfulness. It’s a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees.” So here we got a vineyard, fig tree planted in the vineyard very common. So vines and fig trees all have honey, all the rest. So fig trees were abundant in Israel. Its fruit was a, described as a succulent delight. I mean, if anybody’s had a Fig Newton, you know, it’s a good, good fruit.

All kinds of tasty dishes come from figs both sweet and savory, by the way, made from figs. In addition to the fruit, tree itself had large green leaves, thick foliage, so a cultivated fig tree could grow up, I mean, uncultivated it kind of grew out and spread all over the place, but cultivated it would grow up and even as high as 25 or 30 feet. So that meant cool shade from a hot summer sun. Remember where Jesus said he saw Nathaniel, before even met him? Was under a fig tree. So Jesus told this parable you understand this is probably about wintertime, probably in the time, in the month of December, our December, a time of year that fig trees are leafless and barren.

 So perhaps being near someone’s vineyard, it was very common then still very common in Israel for fig trees to be planted in the corners of vineyards. So perhaps the sight of a barren fig tree in someone’s nearby vineyard, called this parable to mind and like Coloradans, like us, living in single degree temperatures who long for the warmth of spring and summer months. So also people living in Palestine, after many rainy months, cooler temperatures, they also look forward to the fig trees coming into bloom.

You can actually see an expression of this, a poetic expression in the Song of Solomon, a very beautiful passage, as the beloved speaks, saying, “Arise my love. Behold, the winter is past the rain is over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come. The fig tree ripens its figs, the vines are in blossom, and give forth fragrance.” Calls to mind pictures that maybe you’ve had as you wander through an orchard and you can smell those orange blossoms, you can smell the, the leaves. Fruitful fig trees. Very picture of blessedness and joy. Happiness, warmth, comfort, tranquility, peace, fruitful trees, making the perfect picture, right? Biblically, the perfect picture of a healthy spiritual life.

Psalm 1:3, “How blessed is the man the one who delights in the Word of God. He’s like a tree planted by” What? “Planted by streams of water,” right? What does it do? That tree planted by streams of water “yields its fruit in its season. Its leaf does not wither in all that he does, he prospers.” Fruitful trees picturing a fruitful, healthy, spiritual life. Barren fig trees. They picture the very opposite an unfruitful, unproductive spiritual life, not healthy, not vivacious, not joyful and perhaps, not even alive.

So as Jesus considered the spiritual condition of Israel, of these religious, but barren crowds, these barren fig trees everywhere at this time of year, they provided Jesus with a very, just the perfect way to punctuate his message “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He says in verse 6, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.” When Jesus talks about this vineyard owner coming to seek fruit on the tree, finding none, the audience knew enough to say right away, and to say immediately, what’s wrong with the tree? What’s wrong with the tree? They didn’t question the vineyard owner.

They could tell something is wrong with the tree if it’s not producing figs, it ought to be fruitful. Several reasons they would come to this conclusion immediately, not questioning the owner, not questioning anything else, but questioning the tree itself. First, the verb tense that Jesus uses here, it describes this tree as having been planted already. It doesn’t mean the man just planted the tree and then came out looking for figs. It says he, it had been planted for quite some time. According to verse 7. Several seasons have passed by and it’s several seasons after the tree is mature enough to start bearing fruits, but, the so the tree has been there a while.

Three fruit bearing seasons have come and gone, no fruit. That’s inherent in the language there. They also know it’s not for lack of trying. Second, this is not a wild tree, it’s a cultivated tree. One source says a wild fig tree will straggle, uncontrolled over the rocks and stony places. This tree though, is not a wild tree. It’s planted in a vineyard. That means cultivation, it means irrigation, water, fertilization. It means food in the soil means protection. We’re in verse 7, the tree has been on the attentive, regular care of a vine dresser. So it’s not for reason of neglect, that this tree fails to bear any fruit. This tree has every reason to grow strong, tall, fruitful.

Third thing these people heard is since the vineyard owner has come looking for fruit, well, we expect that this man, assume that this man knows what he’s doing. He’s got a vineyard after all, he knows something about farming. Whether someone is a farmer or a gardener, or simply a consumer of figs, in this day and age, everybody knew the owner has come with a reasonable expectation of finding fruit on this tree, but he found none.

So everybody in the crowd, they’re ready to find out at this point, what’s wrong with the tree? Is there a disease, there’s something going on inside of it? We keep reading, we find that Jesus doesn’t satisfy that curiosity at all. He’s focused in this first verse on a barren tree. But look what he, look what he says instead, he wants us to see in the rest of the parable, the tree’s condition from the perspective of the owner.

Second point, number two, the decision for recovery, the decision for recovery, not the recovery of the tree, per se, the recovery of the resources, that he’s been wasting on this tree, he has come with an expectation for productivity, number one.

Now he’s made a decision for recovery. Point number two, look at verse 7, he said to the vinedresser. “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” The owner here has decided to just cut his losses. He’s going to get rid of this fruitless fig tree and he’s at the very least, he’s going to recover the ground for another use. Several observations from verses 6-7.

 And it just really strengthens our sense of sympathy for the owner. When we make these observations over and against this fruitless fig tree, we lose any sympathy for the fig tree, we gain all sympathy for the owner. And you need to see as we develop a sympathy for the owner and what he’s put into this.

This is Jesus’ perspective on the matter. It’s also the perspective of his Father. And he’s sharing the perspective of his Father and his own perspective with us, with this crowd so that we will share the same perspective as well. Listen, when we share the Father’s perspective, we come to see things the Father’s way, we come to want to repentance as much as he does. That’s the point here. He’s trying to produce a motivation for repentance here.

Notice first his complaint. “For three years now I’ve come seeking fruit on this fig tree and I find none.” The complaint there is based on provision. The owner has done everything. He’s paid for everything, he’s provided for everything. And the fig tree has failed to bear fruit. He’s been generous, if clearly, he’s been very generous. He planted the fig tree within the walls of his vineyard, not on the pathway. Not out in some field, not on some rocky cleft, he’s planted within the walls of his vineyard. That means protection. He’s planted the, the tree in rich soil. A vineyard itself requires rich soil.

He’s planted a fig tree in that rich soil, plenty of provision, plenty of nutrients and a manner of speaking you could even say that he is the reason for the tree’s existence, it wouldn’t be there without him planning it.

Not only that, but he sustained the life of this fig tree, he’s given it water, given it food. If all that weren’t enough, the owner is speaking. Notice here, he’s speaking in verse 7 to a vine dresser. The vine dresser is a gardener. It’s his job. It’s how he makes his living, to keep on tending to plants in the vineyard, including the fig tree. So he’s, he’s hired a skilled hand, a careful attendant to come and care for, tend to, cultivate this tree. The vineyard owner’s complaint begins with the fact that he’s planted and sustained the tree. It owes him some fruit, doesn’t it? Considering his investment wouldn’t some fruit, even a little fruit, wouldn’t be right.

So that’s his, what his complaint is based on, his provision, generous provision. Second, notice what we learn about the owner, regard his patience. After planting, watering, feeding this tree, bringing it to maturity. The man has given this fig tree plenty of time to start producing fruit, plenty of time for three years now. “Three early seasons and late seasons, I’ve come seeking fruit, and I find none.” I mean, it’s not like he’s been in a hurry. Not like he’s been demanding; he hasn’t been cruel. He’s not overbearing, he has been so patient.

And third, once this owner renders the verdict, when he makes his decision into verse 7 to cut it down, he reveals his reasoning to the vinedresser. He said, “Why should it use up the ground?” Shows not only has he been generous, not only has he been patient, now he’s just being sensible. Cut it down.

He’s a, it’s a prudent decision as men. This is a good stewardship, isn’t it? As he considers the proper use, the proper stewardship of the land, of the nutrients in the soil. I mean, after all, why should this fig tree, which by all measures seems to be very healthy, very strong, there’s every reason it should bear fruit, but it will not do so, why should it continue to steal the resources that belong to other plants in the vineyard?

Why should it continue to take the water, suck up the water, when it produces nothing? Why should it continue to take the, the food, and the fertilizer, and the vine dressers time? Why waste all that on an unproductive fig tree?

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, and particularly the prophet Isaiah, you can hear the strong ties that this has to Isaiah chapter 5. Isaiah wants Judah as well, to learn, to sympathize with God’s concerns that he has for them.

Isaiah writes in Isaiah 5, “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it, he cleared it of its stones, he planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Sour grapes, bitter grapes. Not just fruitless and barren, but, but bad fruit. Like the vineyard owner that Jesus described, so to the Lord God, Yahweh has provided the best of the land. He’s worked hard to prepare that land, cultivate it.

He’s gotten all the rocks out of it. He’s gotten the soil ready. He’s planted in this vineyard and brought it into existence. He sustained it, he’s protected and he’s watched over it. In the case of the fig tree, no fruit for this vineyard, nothing but bad fruit, wild sour grapes. Look at verse 3, Isaiah 5:3, “Now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there for me to do with my vineyard, that I haven’t done?” Name it? What else could I do? “When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did, why did it yield wild grapes?” Bad bitter grapes?

It’s the same thing here, Luke 13, Jesus says three years seeking fruit, finding none This is not right. Cut it down. Why should he use up the ground? The owner has decided for recovery. Recovery of the land. He’s decided to reclaim the ground, and who can blame him? He’s had a reasonable expectation of productivity but nothing.

“When we share the Father’s perspective, we come to see things the Father’s way, we come to want to repentance as much as he does.”

Travis Allen

So to recover his resources, to exercise a good stewardship, removing the tree is the prudent, sensible thing to do. But the parable, thankfully, has one more point. It’s a bit of a, an unexpected twist here. For us, a third point, number three, The intervention of mercy. The intervention of mercy. In verses 8 and 9, we get to hear the voice of the vine dresser, the gardener, as he steps in and intervenes on behalf of this barren, fruitless fig tree. He answered him, “Sir, or Lord, kyrios, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.” Lord, let it alone this year also, let it alone.

You know what verb that is? Aphiemi. It means to forgive. Release it. Release the expectations. Forgive the offense. It’s as if the vinedresser says, “Lord, forgive the tree. Excuse it’s barrenness.” This is something that nobody in the crowd by the way would expect. they’d be totally with the owner. Yeah, no fruit, cut it down. Jesus could look at them, just like Nathan the prophet looked at David and said, “You’re the man.”

They’re making a judgment, just like God would make a judgment. They’re making a judgment on themselves. Lord, forgive the tree. Just excuse its bareness, just for one more year. Once more.

What is that? In theological terms, biblical terms, we call this the appeal of a mediator, right? This is the mediator. This is the voice of a mediator. This is the appeal of a mediator. And what does that mediator. This is the voice of a mediator. This is the appeal of a mediator. And what does that assume? The mediator assumes that the owner has a heart of mercy, that the owner has a heart that can be appealed to. Notice this mediator when he speaks, he doesn’t expect any more effort on the part of the owner.

He’s willing to put in all the work himself. He’s willing to come in, dig around the roots, loosen the hard dirt, the dry soil, he wants to add some manure, get some nutrients in the soil, moisture, get moisture down into the roots. Sometimes it’s the case in Israel on a hot dry year, and by the way, for many years in Israel, spiritually speaking, it had been hot and dry. It had baked that the soil of those hearts into a hard, calloused stubbornness.

Jesus realized this, as he’s talking to these hard-hearted people. It’s been hot. It’s been seasons of hot and dry for a long, long time. Let me, let me just dig around the roots. Let me loosen the dirt. Let me loosen the soil. Let me put some manure around it, get some nutrients down there, some moisture down there. Young trees need to be mulched and given, just maybe, just a little more time.

I gotta be honest, even as we say that, Jesus has portrayed this vinedresser as a, as a man who is overlooking what he knows to be true. He’s, he’s really the language there, I won’t go into it right now, but he’s bending over backwards, really, to give this barren fig tree more time. He may be hoping for the best, but he clearly expects, more of the same is going to come from this barren fig tree. Let it alone this year until I dig around it, put manure on it. And then if it should bear fruit next year, very well and good. But if not, you can cut it down.

The words in the ESV, ‘well and good’, they’re not in the text. That’s really added for clarity. What Jesus has actually said here, is literally this, “Let it alone this year until I dig around and put manure on it. And then if it should bear fruit next year, dot dot dot. But if not, you can cut it down.” The clear expectation here of the vinedresser, this tree is still not going to bear any good fruit, even with a little extra time.

Even with the extra care, and investment, and attention, I get it, I see it, I know it. But still, in his heart, the vinedresser, like all biblical mediators, like all biblical, truly biblical godly mediation, the vinedresser shares first the perspective of the vineyard owner. They’re of one mind in their judgment. But on the other hand, the vinedresser, he wouldn’t have made this appeal to the owner for more time if he didn’t believe the owner would receive that appeal to the heart, had a heart of mercy to receive it.

So once again, you see the vinedresser and the vineyard owner, they’re of one mind, yes, on the issue of justice, they’re also of one mind on the issue of mercy. And mercy here begets patience. Be patient. I trust you’re seeing this, but in case it’s not apparent, in this parable, Jesus is assigned to the vine dresser, the role of the mediator. The vinedresser acts as mediator between the vineyard owner and the barren fig tree. And he shares the same judgment as the vineyard owner, and the vineyard owner shares the same heart of mercy with him.

So in this parable, where Jesus warns the crowd, bear fruit or be cut down, this parable is far more than a warning. It’s at least a warning, it is certainly a warning, but this parable tells us about the just judgment of God the Father. On every single one of us, let’s be frank.

It also tells us, though, about the tender mercy of God the Father, tells us about his compassion. It tells us that God came to act as, yes, our judgment, also our Savior, if we’ll repent. He sent a tells us that God came to act as, yes, our judgment, also our Savior, if we’ll repent.

He sent a mediator to speak for us, to advocate for us, to counsel patience to him, to give us time to repent, time to put our faith in Christ. “Where there’s one God,” 1 Timothy 2:5, “and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” Listen, this testimony is that there is a mediator that we have, yes, in Jesus Christ, but he shares the perspective of God the Father. He shares his judgment, he shares his decision making, he sees the wisdom, he sees everything from the Father’s perspective. And he knows that the Father is in the right, and we are in the wrong.

There is no sense of coming in and saying, Hey, I know both sides are wrong here, let’s just kind of come, compromise, meet in the middle. Like so much mediation today. That is not the perspective here. God is right, we are wrong. The only thing we can do is sue for peace, to appeal to mercy. That’s what’s offered to us in Jesus Christ, the perfect mediator.

 This testimony given at the proper time, now, it ought to encourage us, right? It ought to drive us to come to him, to seek to be reconciled to God, striving with all of our might to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Notice that Jesus has ended the parable with a note of uncertainty here. He really has. He’s leaving it open ended. His punctuation isn’t even there. He just lets the ellipsis play out.

He’s not willing, in his mercy, he’s just not willing here to close the door on repentance. Warns to leave it open a crack. Same time he knows how few there are, who are willing to repent. He shares God’s heart for justice, for righteousness, he sees God’s patience is coming to an end. Yet he makes one more appeal, one more call to repentance. So the parable ends with a stay of execution here, extends one more year of mercy to these barren trees in hopes that some of them at least, will repent.

That said, though, the warning remains as John the Baptist also warned, even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down, thrown into the fire. But that’s a parable. From the gifts that God gives us, God expects productivity as he should. He demonstrates great care, great patience with us. And just when the axe is raised against us, because we have not borne fruit, Jesus intervenes, he steps between the axe and the root of the tree, and he appeals for mercy.

 If Jesus Christ is our mediator, if he extends mercy to us, we would be total fools. If we didn’t take a few minutes right now to consider how to apply this mercy to our own lives, right?

So, let’s consider a fourth point for today. A fourth point, The application of mercy. The application of mercy. Whenever Christ, our perfect mediator, whenever our merciful, faithful high priest, whenever he leaves the door open for repentance, even if it’s open just a crack, listen, that sliver of light becomes to us a shining beacon of hope.

That offer of hope, as small as it may seem, from a distance it calls to us and it gives us encouragement, every encouragement to rush upon that door, and kick it open, and barge our way inside. We may be falling on the floor on our face, but if we’re in the door, John said, The axe is laid to the root of the trees and Jesus is telling us, though the time is short, and the axe to the tree is right, the time is now to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, even if for one more season.

So listen, if repentance is on, is on offer, let’s, let’s talk about how to take him up on that offer. We want to turn to what we read earlier in the service. I want to draw your attention to the fourth chapter of Ephesians, Ephesians chapter 4, we’ll keep it brief. I’m not going to preach a whole ‘nother sermon. But I just want to give you enough to understand so that you can repent effectively, repent biblically.

 Ephesians chapter 4. Last week, when we consider Jesus’ call to repent, we looked at that verb, meant to Noel rip, to repent, to repentance, we said has to do with an internal change of mind and it shows up externally in our life in our behavior, in our speech, and our actions, and our priorities. We said repentance involves the mind, and the emotions, and the will, all three aspects of the heart are at work in true repentance, the intellect, the emotions, and the volitional aspects of the inner life, all three of them involved in repentance.

 So, I gotta tell you, listen, based on what I said earlier, this is not the stuff of today’s evangelicalism. Today’s religious culture, its evangelical culture, is, has become corrupt. It knows nothing of true repentance. As I, as I was, as I was giving you those examples earlier, so much of it is conformed to the world’s patterns.

And all it’s become is another expression of selfism. Self pleasing, worship of the self. These days, we can add the word safeism, I’ve been hearing that one bantered about, and its right. Safeism, that’s in vogue, this concern for health and safety driven by a singular desire to preserve the physical body. That’s it.

Matter, atoms, hold it all together. Why? Because the only thing that matters is serving the self. So if you don’t have the body, and all of its selfish impulses, then you have nothing. Is what, is really what the worldview is. So all that matters is serving the self, the relentless pursuit of pleasing me. Do all the safety things that they recommend so you can live a little longer. Please self a little longer.

That’s what comes out all those false shepherds I mentioned earlier. The therapeutic guy, the male cheerleader, the life coach, the social activist, just all different ways of the same expression, giving power to the autonomous self. No persecution by the way, Matthew 5:12, 10-12, no persecution is going to be coming to these, these guys. None.

Why? Because they speak the world’s language. Because they do the world’s work. They’re saying the same thing as the rest of the world is saying, just in religious terms, so they’re, the world’s good with that. No persecution coming their way. For them, Psalm 1:3, that’s not the epitome of happiness, it’s the very shackles of unwelcome restraints, Psalm 1:3, about the tree, fruitful tree.

To be like a tree planted by streams of water. Planted, that seems too restrictive, stuck in one place. You kidding me? I don’t want to be rooted down. I need to be free to wander, to find myself while I’m on my own path, my own spiritual journey. Streams of water, I mean, can I get something else to drink? I like a variety of flavors. Plenty of things that I think are going to nourish me just fine. Energy drinks will work, something with a bit alcohol perhaps.

Yield its fruit in its season. Fruit. Really? Fruit inspector? Legalistic much? I like the part about prospering. Health, wealth, prosperity, I’m all about that. And I think we shouldn’t have such a narrow definition of fruit. I mean, who’s to say? I contribute to a lot of good causes. I show my support on social media. I like the right things. I retweet the right, the right things, I wear my mask in public, I signal all my virtue, I am a good citizen.

Jesus says, “Look, unless you repent, you will all perish.” He seeks not external conformity, the law, whatever the law and Vogue is. He seeks change from the inside out. That’s exactly what Paul is talking about in Ephesians chapter 4. He’s referring to aspects of the inner life and it’ll show up on the outside when, he describes, the pattern of repentance in Ephesians 4:22-24.

It starts in verse 22, “To put off your old self.” That pattern that we learned in the beginning that we have put off our old self, that becomes a continual pattern. As we continue to find things in our life we need to put off, put off, put off, put off, patterns of speech, habits of thinking, patterns of behavior, gone. We got to take it off like dirty clothing. We need to, verse 23, “be renewed in the spirit of our minds.” We need to think differently.

We need to get into the Word of God every single day, so we think differently. Our minds need to be saturated with God’s thinking so that we think his thoughts after him. We do the behavior that shows up on the outside. Verse 24, “to put on the new self, the one that’s created after the likeness of God and true righteousness and holiness.”

 We’re to put that on, like clothing. Putting off, putting on, apotithemi and endyo, both of those terms are they’re literal terms, where Paul is, he takes them from the common literal daily act of taking off and putting on clothing. That’s the terms that they use. So put off, put on, those things are happening on the outside where we can all see them. I can see when you change your clothes. But even in the mundane, almost unthinking act of changing clothing, that action, you know, is driven by a prior internal judgment.

These clothes are not suitable and proper for me to go to bed, I need to take these clothes off and put on my bedtime clothes. And when I get up in the morning, I don’t just rush into my day and I say, “Wait a minute, I gotta take off these clothes and put on the daytime clothes.” We make these judgments all the time. Some people I know make them several times a day, changing clothes. But in this mundane routine, act of changing clothing, there is an internal thought process where we think and make judgments on the inside. And it results in action that affects the behavior on the outside.

 There’s a judgment that’s takes place. Sometimes we put something on and our internal judgment is accompanied with emotion. Oh, that’s awful. Why did I put that on? Can’t stand that blouse, that shirt, whatever. I look in the mirror and say, Well, what happened to that hair? Eyebrows are going all over the place. What am I going to do? Verse 23, what needs to effect the change on the outside, the putting off, the putting on? An internal engine of the heart, the control center of the life, be renewed in the spirit of your minds.

 Why is that so important? Because we are what we think. And we do what we think. It’s out of the overflow of the heart, that what? The mouth speaks, right? So it’s in the spirit of our minds, we need to be renewed daily by the word of God. And so with our minds renewed, then what comes out of us, our speech or behavior that will manifest in putting off unrighteousness and putting on righteousness, which is, verse 24, created after the likeness of God and true righteousness and holiness.

Renewed minds means changed behavior, transformed lives. That is exactly what Christ is calling for in Luke 13. So Paul falls with examples in verses 25 to 32. In each case, we see Paul telling us what to put off what to put on. And then he gives us about, he gives us the righteous reason for us for that behavior, which is indicating the judgment of the mind that’s taken place.

Look at a 25 therefore, having put a put away falsehood, let each one of us speak the truth with his neighbor, where we are members of one another. Put off lying, put on truthful speaking, okay. Put off lying is literally put off the lie. It’s kind of the lie of whatever the lie of the world is today. Put that off. Don’t speak to one another as if whatever the world says important is important. Put off that lie. Stop talking that way. Stop thinking that whatever football is important, sports is important. College’s politics, stop thinking that that way is important, and put on speaking truth with one another.

Why? What’s the reason why? Because we’re united together as members of the same body. I care how my speech affects you. You care how your feet your fee, speech affects me and affects other people to concern of love, isn’t it? Because our speech, influences people. Look at the next verse. “Be angry, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Give no opportunity for the devil.”

What’s the put on? We’re to put on righteous anger, righteous anger. That’s right, righteous indignation. We’re to have a zeal and a passion for the things that God is zealous and passionate about. We’re not to be indifferent to the things of, things of unrighteousness. We’re to put off unrighteous, sinful angry, we and why is it? What’s the reason? We don’t want it again; we are concerned about the body of Christ.

We don’t want to give any inroad to the devil. We don’t want him entering into our fellowship, piggybacking on our unrighteous anger, as we vent things to other people. It’s unrighteous ,when is an angry man repented of his anger? When is an angry, bitter woman repented of her anger? When her passions are controlled by God and his concerns, not inflamed by self centered or demonic concerns. When our passions are only impassioned by righteous concerns, when our, when our, when our, when we’re driven by love for other people.

Go back to the previous one, verse 25. When’s a liar no longer a liar? When do we stop speaking that way? When we use our tongue to promote unity and harmony in the body, that’s when we’ve repented because righteous speech is driven by righteous concerns, we love others. Verse 28, “Let the thief no longer steal rather let him labor doing honest work with his own hands so he can have something to share with anyone in need.” What are we to put off? Stealing. What are we to put on? Labor. Doing honest work, working hard, for what reason?

So we can have something that share with anyone in need. So when’s a thief no longer a thief? Not just when he stops stealing, not just when he star, gets a job and earns money. It’s not just when he works hard and still earns money, we can do all those things, can’t we and still be controlled by a covetous heart. That’s what set him on the path to stealing in the first place. So when’s the thief no longer a thief. It’s when that covetous heart is replaced by a heart of generosity. When it’s contented, when it’s grateful, and he wants to now, earn and work hard, so he can have extra so he can be generous and share with everybody else who’s in need.

That means he’s looking out for needs. So what again is happening in his life? Love is taking a hold of him. Verse 29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as good for building up as fits the occasion and may give grace to those who hear.” Put off corrupting talk, what’s corrupting talk? It’s speech that erodes and decays. You can throw complaining in there you can throw words of bitterness in there, anything that erodes, decays, the environment brings everything down, discourages, corrupts, critical speech is thrown in here.

Put on, instead what? Edifying speech, speech that encourages other people in conversation, that builds up, that strengthens. Again, what’s the concern? Because in the interest of love, we want to see our mouths, like every other part of our body, but our mouths used as instruments of righteousness, so we can give grace to whoever is in the space of hearing us.

 When’s a corrupt talker no longer corrupt? When has he or she repented of that verbal toxicity that decays and erodes everything around him or her? It’s when she or he is using that tongue to edify other people building up other people, strengthening other people.  That’s when they get it.  Speech is a gift of God.  It’s by the power of the tongue that we live or die, right, and the tongue is the power of life and death.

Proverbs 18:21, “Death and live are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”  Verses 30-32, for the sake of time, I’m going to leave those verses to you.  You can work through them for yourself.  But knowing the pattern, you can, you can make these judgments on your own.  You can go through the rest of Scripture and you can see in the commands of Scripture that there are things to put off and there are things to put on.  And there is an internal reasoning, renewing of the mind that needs to take place to drive your behavior, your outward behavior because of righteous concern.  Reason why is just as important as the fruit.  And if you just change one behavior for another, that’s just called reform.  Repentance is when it’s drive by internal longings for righteousness. 

Beloved, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a gracious mediator.  And why is that?  It’s because he was sent from a gracious Father.  A Father who loves us and wants to show mercy to us.  And this mediator, Jesus Christ, he has stepped in between the axe and our tree and he’s put his hand on the sharp blade itself to prevent that axe from swinging. 

And he’s said to the woodsman, he’s said to the gardener, who’s ready to chop down that fruitless unrepentant tree. “Sir, let this, let it alone this year as well, until I dig around it, put on manure., if it should bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.”  We need to take heed, don’t we?  Our nation needs to take heed.  Our state needs to take heed.  Our county needs to take heed.  Our city needs to take heed.  There are people in our worksplaces, there are people in our families, there are people who are friends, neighbors, and there are people in this room that need to take heed to this message.

Let the parable with its unresolved ending encourage all of us that seek the Lod and to repent.  Isaiah again put it this way, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts.  Let him return to the Lord that he may have compassion on him and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Father, thank you for you. Thank you for our mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And in his mediation, hi, it wasn’t just with words.  His mediation cost him his very life.  He was willing to put in the hard yards.  He was willing to, for it to cost him not just sweat, but blood.  He’s willing to go to the cross for our sakes.  And for all those who will repent and believe in him, we have eternal life. 

And that repentance is characterize, is, is very clearly biblically defined as putting off and putting on, as, as, as a, chang, just like the changing of clothing.  That there is something different and all of that repentance, the putting off and the putting on is driven by internal concerns of righteousness.  So Father, may we as a church body, every individual in here, may we be those who are poor in spirit, acknowledging that we’re bankrupt before you.  Let us be mourners, that we’re affected by our sin, sorrowing over it.  We’ve not indifferent to it.  We’re not calloused about it. 

Let that make us meek people, that we make no demands, no demands on your grace, no demands on what you ought to do.  When really what you ought to do is send us right to hell.  But let us be meek people that acknowledge that, knowing that we deserve hell.  And so grateful for any, even one more breath.  Let us be meek before you, humble before you and meek and humble before our fellow man.  And let our one constant aim and concern be righteousness.  Let it be to us food and drink, that which we hunger for and thirst after.  And as the deer pants for the water brooks, so our heart longs for you, O God. 

We thank you that you are our reward.  And we thank you that Jesus Christ is our Savior.  We pray that you would grant us grace even through this message of Christ to us today.  It’s in his name that we pray, amen.