Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
1 There were some present at that very time who told him of 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 thus? 3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, No; 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, `Lo, these three years 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, `Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. 9 And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
Meditation: What can a calamity, such as a political blood-bath or a natural disaster, teach us about God's kingdom and the consequences of bad choices and sinful actions? Jesus used two such occasions to address the issue of sin and judgment with his Jewish audience. Pilate, who was the Roman governor of Jerusalem at the time, ordered his troops to slaughter a group of Galileans who had come up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice in the Temple. We do not know what these Galileans did to incite Pilate's wrath, nor why Pilate chose to attack them in the holiest of places for the Jews, in their temple at Jerusalem. For the Jews, this was political barbarity and sacrilige at its worst! The second incident which Jesus addressed was a natural disaster, a tower in Jerusalem which unexpectedly collasped, killing 18 people. The Jews often associated such calamities and disasters as a consequence of sin. Scripture does warn that sin can result in calamity! Though the righteous fall seven times, and rise again; the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Proverbs 24:16).
The time for repentance and forgiveness is right now!
The real danger and calamity which Jesus points out is that an unexpected disaster or a sudden death does not give us time to repent of our sins and to prepare ourselves to meet the Judge of heaven and earth. The Book of Job reminds us that misfortune and calamity can befall both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Jesus gives a clear warning - take responsibility for your actions and moral choices and put sin to death today before it can destroy your heart, mind, soul, and body as well. Unrepentant sin is like a cancer which corrupts us from within. If it is not eliminated through repentance - asking God for forgiveness and for his healing grace, it leads to a spiritual death which is far worse than physical destruction.
The sign of the barren fig tree
Jesus' parable of the barren fig trees illustrated his warning about the consequences of allowing sin and corruption to take root in our hearts and minds. Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the people of Palestine. A fig tree normally matured within three years, producing plentiful fruit. If it failed, it was cut down to make room for more healthy trees. A decaying fig tree and its bad fruit came to symbolize for the Jews the consequence of spiritual corruption caused by evil deeds and unrepentant sin. The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's unresponsiveness to the word of God. The prophets depicted the desolation and calamity of Israel, due to her unfaithfulness to God, as a languishing fig tree (see Joel 1:7,12; Habbakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13). Jeremiah likened good and evil rulers and members of Israel with figs that were good for eating and figs that were rotten and useless (Jeremiah 24:2-8). Jesus' parable depicts the patience of God, but it also contains a warning that we should not presume upon patience and mercy. God's judgment will come - sooner or later - in due course.
Why God judges
Why does God judge his people? He judges to purify and cleanse us of all sin that we might grow in his holiness and righteousness. And he disciplines us for our own good, to inspire a godly fear and reverence for him and his word. God is patient, but for those who persistently and stubbornly rebel against him and refuse to repent, there is the consequence that they will lose their soul to hell. Are God's judgments unjust or unloving? When God's judgments are revealed in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9). To pronounce God's judgment on sin is much less harsh than what will happen if those who sin are not warned to repent.
Don't tolerate sin
God, in his mercy, gives us time to get right with him, but that time is now. We must not assume that there is no hurry. A sudden and unexpected death leaves one no time to prepare to settle one's accounts when he or she must stand before the Lord on the day of judgment. Jesus warns us that we must be ready at all times. Tolerating sinful habits and excusing unrepentant sin will result in bad fruit and eventual destruction. The Lord in his mercy gives us both grace and time to turn away from sin, but that time is right now. If we delay, even for a day, we may discover that grace has passed us by and our time is up. Do you hunger for the Lord's righteousness and holiness?
"Lord Jesus, increase my hunger for you that I may grow in righteousness and holiness. May I not squander the grace of the present moment to say "yes" to you and to your will and plan for my life."
1 The earth is the LORD's and the fulness
thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;
2 for he has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of his salvation.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The Lord's three visits through the Patriarchs, Prophets, and the Gospel, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.
"The Lord also has something very fitting to say about a fruitless tree, 'Look, it is now three years that I have been coming to it. Finding no fruit on it, I will cut it down, to stop it blocking up my field.' The gardener intercedes... This tree is the human race. The Lord visited this tree in the time of the patriarchs, as if for the first year. He visited it in the time of the law and the prophets, as if for the second year. Here we are now; with the gospel the third year has dawned. Now it is as though it should have been cut down, but the merciful one intercedes with the merciful one. He wanted to show how merciful he was, and so he stood up to himself with a plea for mercy. 'Let us leave it,' he says, 'this year too. Let us dig a ditch around it.' Manure is a sign of humility. 'Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.' Since it does bear fruit in one part, and in another part does not bear fruit, its Lord will come and divide it. What does that mean, 'divide it'? There are good people and bad people now in one company, as though constituting one body." (excerpt from Sermon 254.3)
from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard
Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of
Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of
Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
references for quotes from the writings of the early
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