It is our natural, human tendency in times of calamity to speculate as to who was to blame. When some of his hearers reminded him about a tragedy involving a group of Galilean worshippers, intimating that they had received the just reward of their particularly severe wickedness, Jesus instead urged them to use the opportunity to evaluate their own eternal destiny. He brought a second disaster into the picture to make the same point. Then, to reinforce his warning, he added a parable.
In the parable, a particular vineyard owner came across a fig tree that, apparently while flowering, had remained fruitless for three years. When he instructed the keeper of the vineyard to cut down the fruitless tree, the keeper asked for one last chance. He would give the tree particular attention. If it made no difference, it could be cut down the following year.
The meaning of the parable would be clear to any Jew instructed in the Old Testament. God frequently referred to Israel in the Old Testament as his vine or fig tree (Hosea 9:10; Joel 1:7; Isaiah 5:7). He had graciously provided Israel with everything it needed to bear fruit. Israel had the Scriptures, had received covenant privileges, and were given a sacrificial system for atonement. There was no reason for fruitlessness. Sadly, like the flowering fig tree, it had the appearance of health but was, in reality, fruitless.
For three years, Jesus had ministered gospel truth to God’s fig tree, but it remained without fruit. God determined that it should be cut down. But he would give it one last chance—one more opportunity to bear fruit of repentance. Jesus’ death would be that opportunity. Its response to him would determine its fate.
The immediate application is clear: God is patient, but not unendingly. He gives people more than sufficient exposure to the gospel. However, there will come a day of final chances. A time will come when those who persistently reject the preaching of the gospel will be cut down. There will be no more opportunity given after death. The final judgement will not be a final opportunity for repentance but a sentence of eternal destruction.
But there is also surely some application for those of us who have believed the gospel. God has given Christians everything they need to bear fruit—the completed Scriptures, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of the local church—and we have no excuse for fruitlessness.
Since you have the completed Scripture, there is no excuse for fruitlessness in your growing knowledge of God.
Since you have the Holy Spirit, there is no excuse for lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).
Since you have the strengthening ministry of the local church, there is no excuse to stagnate in your ability to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
Believer, God is at work in your life—through his word, through his Spirit, through his people, and, yes, through his providence in your life circumstances—to bring you to repentance and to produce fruit in your life. How are you responding?
Do not presume on God’s grace forever. Fruitless trees serve no purpose and will, in due time, be cut down. But God is patient and, even as you meditate on this parable this morning, offers you another chance to bear the fruit he has enabled you to bear. What will you do with his grace this morning?