This morning we continue our study through “The Parables of Jesus” with a short story that is called “The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree”. This is the third parable in the category of those relating to God’s Covenant. It is only recorded in the book of Luke.
The parables of the New Patch and the New Wine, which we discussed last week, contrasted the Old Covenant with the New Covenant by illustrating that salvation by works is completely incompatible with salvation by grace. These 2 examples dealt with the basis of God’s Covenant. Jesus taught that salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in Christ, and that obedience to the Law is unable save anyone.
In today’s sermon, we will consider the parties of God’s Covenant. When you consider the Bible as a whole, almost the entire Old Testament details God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. Beginning in Genesis 12, God set apart a specific people to Himself through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These descendants became known as the children of Israel, later called the Jews, and were the recipients of the Old Covenant.
When Jesus the Messiah came preaching salvation, He first delivered His message to the Jews. After all, they were God’s chosen people through whom He sought to reach the entire world. They had been entrusted with the Law of Moses centuries earlier and were now hearing the gospel of grace. Jesus had come declaring a new and better covenant, but would the children of Israel accept and abide by it?
By the time of Christ, Israel had already enjoyed the privilege of being God’s chosen nation for almost 2,000 years. But with the advent of the New Covenant, what would happen with the Jews? Would they retain their special place or was a change imminent?
I. UNLESS YOU REPENT - Luke 13:1-5
The setting of this passage is unclear, however the occasion is not. Apparently, as Jesus was travelling about preaching the gospel some people came to Him with a horrifying report. They told the Lord that the Roman governor Pilate had slaughtered several Galileans while they were in the process of offering their sacrifices. According to the ancient historian Josephus, Pilate had given his soldiers the order to ambush and kill them while they were peacefully worshiping in the temple.
Upon hearing this news, Jesus asked the crowd if these men had suffered such a tragic end because they were worse sinners than other Galileans. It was common for the Jews to believe that bad things happened to bad people, and therefore these Galileans must have been terrible sinners. Without waiting for their answer, the Lord responded “No”. If they weren’t worse than anyone else, yet still met this awful misfortune, then such a catastrophe could happen to anyone…
Jesus then referred to a widely-known incident that had occurred in Jerusalem. Apparently the Tower of Siloam had fallen and 18 people were killed in the collapse. This tower was likely on the wall surrounding the city, somewhere near the Pool of Siloam in southern Jerusalem. It was probably named after the famous pool. The Pool of Siloam was originally built by King Hezekiah in order to provide water to the city, and had been restored by Herod the Great during the time of Jesus.
Jesus reminded the crowd of this recent tragedy and then asked if the people who’d died in this accident were worse sinners than the remaining citizens of Jerusalem. Again, the Lord answered for the people by saying “No”. They were no more sinful than anyone else, yet still were the victims of this shocking disaster. His point once again, it could happen to anyone…
Jesus was trying to get the people to understand that tragedy could strike anyone at any moment. Being a good person does not prevent bad things from happening to you. Therefore, rather than waiting and believing themselves to be safe, these people needed to repent of their sins and turn humbly to the LORD lest they themselves meet a similar fate.
II. CUT IT DOWN - Luke 13:6-7
It is helpful to remind ourselves that Jesus was a Jew and that He was speaking predominantly to Jews. He was urging them to repent, knowing that if they failed to do so there would be dire consequences. With this in mind, Jesus told a brief parable to illustrate His warning.
The parable began by introducing a man who’d planted a fig tree in his vineyard. He approached the tree looking to see if it had produced any fruit, but unfortunately it hadn't. Upset, the man complained to his gardener that he’d been watching the tree for 3 full years and was waiting patiently for it to bear fruit. However, his patience had finally run out, so he ordered his gardener to cut the fruitless fig tree down because it was a waste of resources.
In this story the vineyard owner is God, the gardener is Jesus, and the fig tree is Israel. The imagery of a fig tree representing Israel is used often in Scripture - in both the New and Old Testaments. God had planted Israel, nurtured her, and expected her to produce fruit. Most recently, He had sent John the Baptist followed by Jesus Himself to the Jews both preaching a message of repentance. For 3 full years the people of Israel had heard this proclamation, yet as a whole they had rejected it. God was fed up. It was time to cut Israel down and move on...
III. LET IT ALONE - Luke 13:8-9
Jesus continued with His parable. Having been told to chop the fig tree down, the gardener lovingly interceded. He pleaded with the vineyard owner to wait another year before destroying the fruitless tree. The gardener said he would dig around the tree and fertilize it so that it might produce, but then agreed that if the tree did not bear fruit by next year he’d cut it down.
We’ve already identified the characters in this story. God had determined to suspend His covenant with Israel, but Jesus urged Him to wait a bit longer. Jesus would continue to proclaim the gospel and lovingly serve the Jews for another year, during which perhaps they would accept Him and repent. If so, the New Covenant would continue between God and Israel in place of the Old Covenant. But should Israel continue to reject her Messiah, the fig tree would fall and the parties of the New Covenant would have to change.
Notice that this parable never comes to a conclusion. Jesus does not tell his listeners what happened a year later. The fate of the fig tree is left unspoken. However, by simply reading the rest of the Bible we learn that about a year later the Jews had Jesus arrested, condemned, and crucified. They never accepted Him as their Savior, and sadly never came to the place of genuine repentance. In keeping with the story-line of the parable, the barren fig tree was cut down. Due to their own betrayal, God’s covenant relationship with Israel was suspended.
It should also be mentioned that this parable can be applied to the individual. All of us are called to repentance - regardless of our race, nationality, or background. Should we fail to repent, disaster is imminent. How much longer will God wait before cutting the fruitless sinner down? How much longer will Jesus make an appeal for them? Today is the day of salvation! If you have never turned from your sins and placed your faith in Jesus for salvation don’t wait. Your time may be short!