Luke 13:1-9 (ESV)
1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?
3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen 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?
5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’
8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.
9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
In the past years we have been shocked by the massacre at high schools in Colorado and Florida….. shootings in malls and even in church buildings. We also saw stunned people in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama who in a few minutes lost everything they owned when killer tornadoes, hurricanes and floods swept through their neighborhoods.
We hear of earthquakes that kill thousands in other countries. We get nightly reports on the horrors of the war in foreign countries. On a personal level, many of us struggle with private tragedies—loved ones who die untimely deaths, accidents that leave devastating consequences, children who suffer from birth defects or serious diseases.
Jesus used an illustration at the close of chapter 12 of a man who is going to be dragged into court with a losing lawsuit against him. If he is smart, he will quickly settle with his opponent before it’s too late. The point is, we all have a debt of sin toward God. If we are aware of our situation, we will be quick to get right with God before we come into judgment.
Jesus was speaking to men who did not apply spiritual truth to themselves. From His reply, we can also surmise that these men were smugly thinking that those who suffered such tragedies were deserving of God’s judgment, whereas the fact that they had been spared such tragedies meant that they were pleasing to God.
Their theology was like that of Job’s comforters, who thought that Job was suffering because he had sinned. Jesus corrects this mistaken view by showing that we all are sinners worthy of God’s judgment. Twice (13:3, 5) He drives home the application: Were those who suffered greater sinners? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Then Jesus tells a parable (13:6-9) that underscores the point: If you don’t repent, you will soon face God’s judgment.
Jesus often used this technique. He didn’t let people sit back and analyze a subject; instead, he frequently confronted them, pressing them to reevaluate their lives in light of God’s perfect law (see Jesus’ answer to the lawyer in 10:25-37).
Set aside a time to evaluate your speech, thought, and actions, according to God’s standards. Leave enough time to confess your faults to Jesus and to receive the forgiveness you need to start anew.
Thus rather than asking the question “Why?” with regard to suffering, we should ask the question, “What?” What does this tragedy teach me? Our Lord’s answer is, Tragedies should teach us that since death and judgment are imminent, we need to be ready through true repentance.
Let me make a passing comment on our Lord’s method here:
- He could have used this occasion to launch into a critique of Pilate’s cruel ways, but He would have missed the spiritual opportunity.
- He could have plunged into a philosophical discussion of the problem of evil, but His hearers would have gone away unchanged.
- Instead, the Lord took this general topic and homed in on the consciences of those who had raised the subject. He applies it to them twice, and then He further drives it home with the parable.
The lesson for us is to take common subjects that come up, like the tragedies in Colorado and in Oklahoma, and apply them to the person’s need to get right with God before he stands before Him.
Philosophic discussions are fairly safe; but Jesus turned such discussions into the personal need for repentance. He always had in view the need of sinful souls before the holy God.
Suffering has nothing to do with one’s spiritual state. In fact, all people are sinful, and unless people repent, they will all perish as they did.
Jesus explained that all people are sinners who must repent or they too will perish—spiritual death with eternal consequences. People never know when they will die and be called to face their Maker.
Just as believers should be ready for any moment when Christ will return, so they should be ready for any moment when they could be taken in death.
Whether a person is killed in a tragic accident or miraculously survives is not a measure of righteousness. Everyone has to die; that’s part of being human. But not everyone needs to stay dead. Jesus promised that those who repent of their sins and believe in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
13:6-7 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'”NRSV After highlighting the need for repentance, Jesus told this parable to show the people that while God is gracious in giving people time to repent, come to him, and grow in him, that patience will not go on forever.
In the Old Testament, a fruitful tree was often used as a symbol of godly living. Jesus pointed out what would happen to the other kind of tree—the kind that took valuable time and space and still produced nothing for the patient gardener.
A fig tree in the fertile soil of a vineyard should certainly have produced fruit—a tree that did not produce for three years was probably not going to produce at all. The farmer gave the command to cut it down so another, more fruitful tree could be planted in its place.
13:8-9 “The gardener answered, ‘Give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, you can cut it down.'”NLT The gardener intervened and asked the owner to give [the tree] one more chance. He even offered to give it special attention and fertilizer.
Jesus had come to the nation; the time for repentance had come. The extra attention and love had been showered on the nation in the presence of their Messiah. God’s judgment had been graciously held back. But if the people continued to refuse to “bear fruit” for God—if they continued to refuse to live for and obey him—the end would come.
The tree would be cut down. There would be no more chances. God is merciful toward sinners. But for those who reject him, he will not be merciful forever. They will be punished.
The role of the vineyard-keeper, who appeals to the owner to give him time to dig around the tree and fertilize it, in the hopes that it will yet bear fruit the next year. “If not,” he says, “cut it down.” This is a beautiful picture of God’s patience and mercy in Christ. As 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
| God patiently allows more time. Do you suffer from an addiction that has spoiled your life for years? Lots of people have given up on you, but not God. Have you resisted coming to faith, forgiving your family, or admitting a crime—and the festering secret has spoiled friendships and jobs?
Maybe you’ve given up on yourself. But God has not given up on you. Give your problem to him. With the support of mature Christians, seek the help you need. Make the change today
There are two kinds of tragedies in the text: those caused by evil people; and, those caused by accidents or natural disasters. But the worst tragedy, as Jesus shows, will be the final judgment (“perish”), which involves not only physical death, but also spiritual death or eternal separation from God in hell (12:5). If we learn rightly from earthly tragedies, we will avoid the ultimate and final tragedy. So what should we learn from tragedies?
Tragedies show us that life is fragile and that we must get right with God before we die and face judgment. Life is very fragile! Even though you are healthy and young, you could be in your coffin tonight.
Examples of Brother Clevenger (led a prayer on Wednesday night to dismiss our assembly and was buried on Saturday.
Dad (hosted a group in his home on Sunday night and was buried on Wednesday afternoon).
The test of true repentance is fruitfulness. The parable (13:6-9) underscores the message of 13:1-5, that judgment is approaching and that we must bring forth the fruits of repentance before it is too late.