The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13:6-8:

Then he told this parable:
“A man had a fig tree, planted 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 fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.’ ”

One Sabbath afternoon, many years ago, I received a phone call from the head deacon of a neighboring church and he said on the phone — he sounded very desperate — “I can’t find my pastor; we have an emergency.  Could you please come straight away?” So I said, “What’s the problem?”  He said, “Two of our young people from our church were looking for badgers in the Boise River.  One of them went under and we can’t find him.  The frogmen are here.  They are looking; it’s almost four hours.  The parents have just arrived and they need support.  They need help.  So could you please come?”

I rushed there and when I arrived the body had just been found.  It was under water for four hours, so the boy was dead.  The mother was beside herself.  The father was on the shores of the river; she was about 50 yards away.  As I arrived at the scene, there was a member of her church making a statement to her, scolding her, “Why on earth did you allow your boy to swim on the Sabbath?  Don’t you realize he is now lost forever?”  I could have punched him.  But at that time the mother needed help.  So I took her aside, and I put my arm around her shoulder and said, “Look, sister, that is not quite true.”  She turned around to me and I will never forget the words she said.  “My son gave his life to Jesus Christ a year ago.  He was baptized and now He has allowed this to happen, and I’ve lost him forever.  I want nothing to do with God.”  She wasn’t my member, but I felt I had a duty and I spent almost two solid years before I could turn her around.

The reason I have told you this is because this has been one of the major problems that has faced the human race right from the very beginning of the fall.  Jesus told parables for various reasons.  This parable from scripture was used by Jesus Christ as an illustration.  To understand what he’s trying to get across, we need to understand the background.  Turn to Luke 13:1.  Jesus was presenting a series of studies to a multitude and there were among that multitude some who were eye witnesses to a very terrible incident.  Apparently Pilate had sent his soldiers and killed, butchered, a number of Galilaeans who were offering sacrifices at the temple.

This, of course, was well known at that time and these people were telling Jesus, obviously wanting to know, “What is their eternal fate?”  That is in verse 1:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.

I want you to notice how Jesus responded.  Luke 13:2:

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?”

In other words, the report that came to the people from the Pharisees, and this was commonly known at that time, was that the reason God allowed Pilate’s soldiers to murder these men and women was because they were sinners.  They had no right to be offering sacrifices in the temple.  So Jesus is asking the question, “Is this why they died?”  Was God punishing them for what happened?  I want you to look at the answer.  Verse 3:

“I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

These people did not die because they were sinners, but “unless you repent.”

What did He mean by that?  Well, let’s go one step further, because Jesus repeats the whole thing again in another incident.  Verses 4-5:

“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?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

To understand this problem, we need to go back to the first book that was ever written in the scriptures.  Do you know which was the first book that was ever written in the scriptures?  It was Job, not Genesis.  You are all familiar with the book of Job.  Remember that Job had been stricken with some terrible calamities, and three of his friends (so called, I suppose they meant well) came to him to comfort him.  Now we need to read the book of Job and see what the dialogue was all about.  Two of those friends insisted that the reason Job was going through all this was because he had some secret sin that he was not confessing.  In other words, God was punishing him.  Job was trying to defend himself.  Job said, “No, I don’t have any secret sins.”  Then the two men were saying, “No, otherwise this would not happen to you.”  The argument went on and on and the third man joined them and, eventually, God spoke.

God did two things.  He rebukes Job for defending his self-righteousness.  Number two, He rebukes Job’s friends for wrong theology.  “You have no right to say that this man is suffering because he has been doing something wrong.”  This has been a problem all through the history of mankind.  We have people today who feel that God punishes us because we are doing things that we should not be doing.

That young boy died in Christ.  What he was doing was wrong, but he died in Christ.  If I’m lost because I am doing something bad, then I have to teach, to be honest, to be logical, that I am saved because I am doing right.  Salvation is, therefore, no longer a gift to sinners.  But Jesus was correcting them.  What was the problem that led Jesus to give this parable?

God came to the Jews and He planted a fig tree.  The fig tree was the good news of salvation, but the Jews bore no fruit.  Let me give you an example.  The good news that God gave the Jews was the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But before Christ came, God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way.  Read what is said in Luke 3:7:

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?”

John did not mince his words.  Now look at verse 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.”

The Jews were depending on their nationality, they were depending on their performance, they were depending on the various things they did, such as circumcision, for their salvation.  But God said, through John the Baptist, “The fact that you are a child of Abraham does not qualify you for heaven.”

Jesus is dealing with the same issue.  What He is trying to say in Luke 13 is, “You have rejected my gift, therefore you are bearing no fruit.”  What is the fruit of repentance?  It is joy; it is peace; it is long-suffering; it is patience.  That is the fruit of the spirit.  But they did not have that because they had rejected the gospel.  How do I know?  Turn to the end of chapter 13.  Notice that as Jesus goes on and on He concludes Luke 13 with these words.  Luke 13:34:

“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 wings, but you were not willing!”

God looked for fruit among Israel and found none.  Luke 13:35:

“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.’ ”

Here is a man who planted a fig tree.  Now we do not grow figs in the northwest.  I don’t know how many of you have lived in California, but at one meeting I was in the south and they had a row of fig trees planted there at the college.  I said to the farmer, “Could I have a seedling because I would love to have a fig tree in my garden?”  He said, “I’m sorry, you are living in the wrong place.  Your fig tree will not make it there.”  So I want to say a few words about a fig tree, because a fig tree was the most valuable tree in Israel in the days of Christ.  The reason is that a fig tree in Israel produced fruit three times a year.  Isn’t that wonderful?  It’s like our avocado trees in Africa.  We had so many avocado pears that we got tired of them.

The Jews would often plant a fig tree in their vineyard, which is what this man did, in case of a drought.  Figs were guaranteed, except for two months of the year, April and May.  So this month they would not have any figs, but the rest of the year, ten months, they had figs.  They had something to eat, so it was the most valuable tree in Israel.  It took about three years for a fig tree to produce fruit and, apparently, this man, after the three years were up, went on another three years waiting.  Every season, every time, month after month for ten months a year, he went there and looked for fruit, and the Bible says, “He found none.”

Remember that God sent prophets, He sent people to find fruit among Israel and to find a positive response and He found none.  Now when we go to the parable it says, “The vineyard owner.”  Look at Luke 13:7:

“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?’

This man said, “I planted this tree in my vineyard in order that it may bear fruit, but instead it’s using the nutrients of the soil, it’s hindering the sun from the vineyards.  It has no value to me.  It’s bearing no fruit.  The only thing to do is to cut it down.”  The dresser said: “Please, Lord, can you give it one more chance?”  Verse 8:

“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.”

Of course, Jesus Christ was God’s ultimate chance for Israel.  God is wonderful.  He allowed the Jews even to crucify His son and still did not cut them down.  He waited for almost three and a half years and when they stoned Stephen to death, they were confessing publicly their rejection of God’s ultimate revelation, Jesus Christ.  It is at that point God said, “I leave your house desolate.”  That doesn’t mean that the individual Jew cannot be saved.  It simply means that the Jewish nation no longer represents the church of God.  He took that privilege and gave it to the Gentiles, the Christian church.

Now, I suppose you will say to me, “This doesn’t apply to us.”  Why?  “Because we haven’t rejected Jesus Christ.”  Whether you accepted or rejected Jesus Christ is not the message of this parable.  The message is that, if you have accepted, you will show fruits.  If you have rejected, you will show no fruits.  That’s the message of this parable.

So if you say, “I have accepted Christ,” God will say to you, “Where is the fruit?”  Matthew 7:16:

“By their fruit you will recognize them....”

Now what does He mean?  What are the fruits of repentance?  Number one, one of the fruits of a person who has accepted Jesus Christ, is that they are never any longer critical of other people, because they have discovered they are sinners saved by grace.  But if you look at Galatians 5, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering.  Galatians 5:22-23a:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

But the greatest fruit that I read in the words of Jesus Christ is, “You shall be my witnesses.”  Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 5, verses 14a and 16:

“You are the light of the world.  ...Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Once we had a Personal Ministry Committee meeting, and the main problem that was discussed was how we can get our people to witness.  I would like to tell you a story because I know people are afraid to witness.  This took place in England.  I do not know how many of you have heard of the famous preacher Alexander White.  He was a very famous preacher.  He has passed away now.  He preached in London at St. George Church.  There was a man who was a traveling salesman, who every Sunday would make sure he was in London to listen to Alexander White.  He was so impressed by the message that it touched him.  He wanted to witness, but he had a problem.  He was afraid to give Bible studies.  He was afraid to open his mouth and tell people what the Bible teaches.

But he got an idea.  He said, “You know, one thing I can do.  I can’t preach, I can’t give Bible studies, but I can do one thing.  As I travel in my business I can invite people to go and listen to Alexander White.”  So he did that.  One day he called one of his customers and said, “Please, could you go and listen?”  This man was a non-believer.  He was not a Christian and this man said, “No, I don’t want to waste my time.”  The salesman insisted, even said to him, “I’ll come and take you to the church.”  To please him he said, “All right, I’ll come, reluctantly.”  He went and heard Alexander White, was so impressed by the message that he gave his heart to Jesus Christ.

The salesman felt that he should go and tell Alexander White this wonderful truth that one of his listeners had given his heart to Christ.  So the next day he went to Alexander White’s house, knocked on the door and introduced himself and said, “I would like to let you know that your preaching is not in vain.  This man, who I invited, gave his heart to Christ last Sunday.”

Alexander White looked at him and said, “You know, I’ve been trying to find you.  I’ve been trying to meet you for a long time.”  The salesman said, “Really, do you know me?”  He said, “No, I don’t know you, but I know your name.  Come in.”  He took him to his office, pulled out a file and produced twelve letters from individuals who had given their hearts to Christ because this man, the salesman, had invited them to the church.  Four of those men wrote from seminaries.  They had become ministers.  I’m told that it was Alexander White’s preaching, but it was the salesman who deserves the credit.

All that God wants you do to do is tell people what Christ means to you because Jesus wants us to bear fruit.  The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace without works, but genuine justification by faith is not stagnant.  It bears fruit.  We may not see the result of our fruit.  We human beings look at results to see whether our works are successful or not.  Leave the results to God’s hands.  Our job is to witness Jesus Christ.  It is God’s job to win souls.  That’s not our job, it’s His job.  Our job is to tell the world.  Acts 1:8b:

”...You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Don’t think just because you accepted Christ that this parable does not apply to you or to me.

I want you to be clear that what Christ is saying here is that every tree must bear fruit.  You may not see the fruit, but there has to be fruit.  In Matthew and other parables of Christ, for example, is the parable of the sower.  What happened to the seed, which is the gospel, that fell on good ground?  It germinated, it sprung up, and it began to produce fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty fold, some a hundred fold.  And that is why, in the judgment, God will bring up our works not as the basis of salvation, but as an evidence.  It is my prayer that we will realize that when we accept Christ, we become alive to bear fruits.

I want to give you a couple of examples to see this in its correct perspective.  I think that we need to look at examples that will lead us to a clearer understanding.  A good place to start would be John 14, where a young man, one of the disciples called Philip, comes to Jesus and says in John 14:8:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

What did Jesus reply?  Verse 9b:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Then Jesus in verse 10 and 11, points out that the evidence that he is the Messiah is that the Father who dwells in him is doing the works:

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”

Then in verse 12 He goes on to say:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Notice, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.”

Let’s go to the apostle Paul and see where he puts it into a beautiful perspective.  Ephesians 2:8-9 is the fig tree:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Salvation is by grace; it is a gift that is received by faith.  But now look at verse 10.  Verse 10 is the fruit:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now I can go on and on and give you several examples, but the fig tree was the gospel message first given to the Jews.  God wanted the Jews to lighten this earth with His glory by the message of righteousness in the Messiah.  What did they do?  They pushed that message aside and went into legalism.  Did the Jews do many good works?  Yes.  They did much good works, but it was not the fruits of the gospel.  We must never, ever equate works of the law with works of faith.  Works of the law is man trying to be good so that he may qualify for heaven.  That is why they went wrong.  If you did bad, you were punished; if you did good, He would take you to heaven.

Works of faith are the fruits of the gospel.  Faith without works is dead.  James 2:26:

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Genuine justification by faith produces works, and God is looking in every individual for fruit.  But remember, the fruit doesn’t save you; it is the evidence that you have already been justified in Jesus Christ.  And I’ll tell you, the world needs to see that fruit.  The world needs to see in the church love, joy, peace, long-suffering, because the world doesn’t judge us by our doctrines.  They couldn’t care less about our doctrines.  They want to see men and women who are set free from anxiety, from insecurity, and who have peace, who have joy, who have love.  Then they will know and they will say, “Yes, now we believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”  God gave the Jews 1,500 years to fulfill their mission.  They failed.

It is my prayer that we will not fail.  Of all professing Christians, we must be number one in lifting up Jesus Christ.  If we fail, and this tree is cut down, who is God going to go to?  He has tried the Jews, He has tried the Gentiles, who else does He have to turn to?  The angels to do the work?  No, He wants us human beings who have experienced the joy of salvation to witness the gospel.  It is my prayer that we will be His witnesses, that we will flood our neighborhoods with the good news of Jesus Christ, by our joy, by our peace, by our long suffering, by our kindness, by our sympathy and understanding.  And we can say that, “I am a sinner saved by grace.  I want to share with you what Jesus means to me.”  May God bless us that we will be a fruit bearing church in this coming year and that God may fulfill in this church his purpose.  May we yield to this commission.  God wants us to go and witness Him.  Amen.

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