What on Earth have we done with the Teachings of Jesus?
Jesus often spoke in parables. Earthly stories with deep heavenly meanings. There are those in the world who are like lost sheep. Those who need to be restored back to the fold. As Jesus told these few parables, He spoke in the presence of the religious leaders of the day – the Pharisees. They, like many religious leaders today, thought they had the monopoly on the grace of God and believed their place was secure in heaven. But Jesus came to challenge their self-righteous beliefs and call the ones who felt they had been forgotten. The barren fig tree.
Your Garden of Life Think of Me as the Great Gardener With a firm and yet gentle hand Tending and caring for you as a gardener cares For his favourite plot of land. Pruning here, Protecting from frost there, Planting and transplanting With the utmost of care. Sowing the seed of this or that truth Safeguarding it with the richest of earth Sending My rain and sun To encourage the new birth. Ever sensitive Ever aware Watching so tenderly As you respond to My care. Lovingly anxious At the first sign of green Full of joy at the sight of a bud And when the beauty of the flower is seen. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
The Barren Fig Tree
“But unless you repent, you too will all perish”. Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Henry says – This parable is intended to enforce that word of warning immediately going before it, “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. Except you be reformed, you will be ruined. Just like the barren tree, except it bring forth fruit, it will be cut down.”
This parable primarily refers to the nation and people of the Jews. God chose them for His own and made them to be a people near to Him. He gave them the advantages of knowing and serving Him above any other people. In return He expected of them duty and obedience which He would have accounted as fruit. Yet they disappointed His expectations and did not do their duty. Instead they were a reproach.
He gave them further time
As a result He justly determined to cut them off and deprive them of their privileges. But upon Christ’s intercession He graciously gave them further time and further mercy. He tried them, as it were, another year, by sending His apostles among them, to call them to repentance. In Christ’s name He offered them pardon, upon their repentance.
Some of them did repent, and brought forth fruit, and with them all was well. But the body of the nation continued unrepentant and unfruitful. This parable enlarges upon what John Baptist proclaimed, (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, Matt 3:10).
Yet it has, without doubt, a further reference. It is designed for the awakening of all who enjoy the means of grace, and the privileges of the visible church. It is designed to ensure that their temperaments and tenor of their lives be in line with their profession. For that is the fruit that is required.
The fig tree in the parable had the advantage that it was planted in a vineyard. It was in good soil, and had more care taken of it than other fig-trees had, that grew by the way-side. This fig-tree belonged to a certain man who owned it. The church of God is His vineyard, distinguished from all else and is fenced about, Isa. 5:1, 2. We are fig-trees planted in this vineyard by our baptism and have a place and a name in the visible church. This is our privilege and our happiness. It is a distinguishing favour for He has not dealt so with other nations.
He came Himself
The owner came and sought fruit from it, and he had reason to expect it. He did not send, but came himself, intimating his desire to find fruit. Christ came into this world. He came to His own, to the Jews, seeking fruit. The God of heaven requires and expects fruit from those who have a place in His vineyard. He has His eye upon those who enjoy the gospel, to see whether they live up to it. He seeks evidences of their improvement by the means of grace they enjoy. Leaves cannot serve, blossoms cannot serve, beginning well and promising much. There must be fruit. Our thoughts, words and actions must be according to the gospel, light and love.
Yet the owner was disappointed: He found none, none at all, not one fig. It is sad to think how many enjoy the privileges of the gospel, and yet do nothing at all to the honour of God. It is a disappointment to Him and a grief to the Spirit of His grace. He here complains of it to the dresser of the vineyard: I come, seeking fruit, but am disappointed —I find none, in looking for grapes. He is grieved with such a generation.
It is aggravated with two considerations. One that He had waited a long time, and so was disappointed. He only expected a little fruit and came for three years, year after year. This teaches us that the patience of God is long-suffering with many who enjoy the gospel, and do not bring forth the fruits of it. Yet this patience is wretchedly abused, which severely provokes God. How many times has God come to many of us, seeking fruit, but has found none, or next to none?
Those who do not do good, do hurt
This fig-tree not only brought forth no fruit, but took up the room of a full fruitful tree, and was injurious to all about it. Those who do not do good, do hurt by the influence of their bad example. They grieve and discourage those who are good. They harden and encourage those who are bad. And the trouble is the greater, and the ground more burdened if it be a high, large, spreading tree.
The sentence was passed on it: Cut it down. He said this to the dresser of the vineyard, to Christ, to whom all judgment is committed. Nothing else can be expected concerning barren trees than that they should be cut down. As the unfruitful vineyard is dismantled, so the unfruitful trees in the vineyard are cast out of it, and wither, John 15:6. It is cut down by the judgments of God, especially spiritual judgments. It is cut down and cast into the fire and with good reason, for why should it burden the ground? What reason is there why it should have a place in the vineyard to no purpose?
Christ is the great Intercessor. He ever lives, interceding. Ministers are also intercessors. They who dress the vineyard should intercede for it. Those we preach to we should pray for, for we must give ourselves to the Word of God and to prayer.
Yet he prays for a reprieve: Lord, leave it alone this year also. He does not pray, “Lord, let it never be cut down,” but, “Lord, not now.” It is desirable to give a barren tree reprieve. Some have not yet received the grace to repent. It is a mercy to them to have space to repent, as it was to the old world to have 120 years allowed them to make their peace with God.
We must stand in the gap
We owe it to Christ as the great Intercessor, that all barren trees are not cut down immediately. Had it not been for His intervention, the whole world would have been cut down. But He said, Lord, leave it alone, and it is He who upholds all things. We are encouraged to pray to God for the merciful reprieve of barren fig-trees: “Lord, leave them alone. Let them continue awhile in their probation, bear with them a little longer, and wait to be gracious.”
Thus we must stand in the gap, to turn away wrath. Reprieves of mercy are but for a time: Leave it alone this year also, a short time, but a sufficient time for a trial. When God has waited long, we may hope He will bear yet a little longer, but we cannot expect He will always wait. Reprieves may be obtained by the prayers of others for us, but not pardons. There must be our own faith, repentance and prayers, or else there can be no pardon.
The gardener promises to improve things: I shall dig around it and fertilise it. In general, our prayers must always be seconded with our endeavours. The dresser seems to say, “Lord, it may be that I have not fulfilled that which is my part, but leave it this year, and I will do more than I have done towards its fruitfulness.” Thus in all our prayers we must request God’s grace, with a humble resolution to do our duty. If not we mock God, and show that we do not rightly value the mercies we pray for.
It shall be purged and bring forth more fruit
When we pray to God for grace for ourselves or others, we must follow it with diligence on our part. The dresser of the vineyard engages to do his part, and so teaches ministers to do theirs. He will dig around the tree and will fertilise it. Unfruitful Christians must be awakened to break up the fallow ground, and then be encouraged by the promises of the gospel. These are warming and fattening, as manure to the tree.
“Let us try it, and try what we can do with it one more year, and if it bears fruit, then all well and good, Luke 13:9. It is possible that it may be fruitful yet.” In this hope the owner will have the patience with it, and the dresser will take pains with it. If it should have the desired success, both will be pleased that it was not cut down. If it bears fruit, there will be cause of rejoicing, we have what we would have.
On repentance, if unfruitful professors of faith bring forth fruit, they shall find that all is well. God will be pleased, for He will be praised. Ministers’ hands will be strengthened, and such penitents will be their joy now and their crown shortly. There will in fact be joy in heaven for the ground will be bettered, the vineyard beautified, and the good trees in it made better. As for the tree itself, all will be well, it shall not be cut down, but shall receive blessing from God (Heb. 6:7). It shall be purged and bring forth more fruit, for the Father is its gardener (John 15:2). It shall at last be transplanted from the vineyard on earth to the paradise above.
Great and marvellous are Your deeds Lord
But he adds, If not then after that you shall cut it down. Although God bear long, He will not always bear with unfruitful professors. His patience will have an end, and if it be abused, will give way to that wrath which will have no end. Barren trees will certainly be cut down at last, and cast into the fire. The longer God has waited, and the more cost He has invested in them, the greater will their destruction be. To be cut down after all the expectations from it, and concern for it, will be sad indeed, and will aggravate matters.
Cutting down is work that needs to be done and is work that God does not take pleasure in. Observe what the owner said to the dresser, “Do cut it down, for it burdens the ground.” The dresser replied, “if it must be done at last, you cut it down, do not let my hand be upon it.”
If the barren trees persist in their unfruitfulness then the dresser will be content to see them cut down. They shall not have one more word to say for them. Their best friends will concur and approve and applaud the righteous judgment of God in the end, (Rev. 15:3, 4 “Great and marvellous are Your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are Your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear You, Lord, and bring glory to Your name? For You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed”).
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Prayer for the Day
Father I come to You. May I be more fully awakened as one who enjoys the means of grace, and the privileges of the visible church. Cause my temperament and tenor of my life be in line with my profession that I produce the fruit that is required. May my thoughts, words and actions be according to the gospel in all light and love.
Cause me to pray to You for the merciful reprieve of all barren fig-trees. Remind me to stand in the gap, to turn away wrath. Of myself may there be faith, repentance and prayers for I know without there can be no pardon.
May all my prayers be supported by my endeavours. In all my prayers may I request Your grace, with a humble resolution to do my duty. May all unfruitful Christians be awakened to break up the fallow ground, and then be encouraged by the promises of the gospel. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.