The Unfruitful Fig Tree
This week we are looking at the parable of the unfruitful fig tree, which is part of a larger passage beginning at 12:54 and concluding at 13:21. In this section you may wonder what adverse weather and court cases and Pilate’s brutality and fig trees and a doubled-up woman and a pile of bread dough have in common. It all centers on the unbelief and danger of Israel, a people God once described to Isaiah as seeing and yet not seeing (6:9).
Earlier in chapter twelve, Jesus spoke about the coming day of judgment when the Son of Man comes. Now, in vv54-59, Jesus speaks of yet another crisis, one that would affect everyone who lived in Jerusalem and Judea. These words challenged his hearers to think seriously about who he really was. There was only one person who could do the kinds of things that he was doing and who could speak as he spoke. Surely these things were signs from God that his long-promised purposes were coming to fulfilment. Why could they not see that history was at a turning point, a new era was beginning and Jesus was the reason? ‘You are clever enough to predict the weather,’ Jesus was saying, ‘but you do not know how to interpret this present time.’
Jesus’ words about justice seem to have touched a chord with some of his audience. It was sometimes thought then, as it is today, that unusual suffering and death were God’s punishment for unrepented sin. As Jesus spoke about God’s impending judgment, some who were listening asked him about an atrocity committed by Pilate (13:1). Jesus’ answer was clear but his words are tough: ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish…’ (13:2-3).
His implication is that we are all guilty before God and justly deserve death. ‘Be warned,’ Jesus was saying, ‘men and women are out of step with their master – and so too is Planet Earth.’ Certainly, every earthquake and flood, every conflict and war are testimony to that. Life as we know it is unpredictable and temporary. We need to wake up to this and turn back to God while we have time. Yes, one day there will be a world without pain, but it will have to be a world without sin.
To ignore Jesus’ words is to be heading towards a fate even more tragic than that of those Galileans, for we will be exposing ourselves to the second death of which Jesus spoke in 12:4-5. If we wake up to the critical times in which we live, we will turn to God and ask for his grace to live our lives in harmony with him.
Jesus noted that the choice we have is not only difficult and vital: it is also urgent. And that is the point of the parable that he went on to tell of the fig tree (13:6-9). For many of his hearers that day, there were two critical events that would touch their lives – the first, his crucifixion and resurrection; the second, the fall of Jerusalem. And Jesus was saying that there would be a third crisis yet to come which would affect the whole world. In fact, this most cataclysmic of events has yet to take place. For centuries the Jews had been waiting for the dawn of the age of the Messiah. ‘Well,’ said Jesus, ‘it is here; you are standing on the threshold of the new age, the edge of eternity.’
Jesus asks us the same question today: ‘How is it that you do not see the signs of the times in which you live?’ None of us can predict the future, but we can know for sure that one day Jesus will come again – it will be truly ‘the return of the King.’ That second ‘coming’ will be very different from his first, for it will not be a small, silent event, seen by only a few, but will come with great fanfare and be seen by everyone.
To help us learn how to discern the times in which we live, he follows the teaching of this parable with poignant pictures of the times. You don’t want to miss this. So come and join us this Sunday as we look at Jesus’ parable of the unfruitful fig tree.
For Christ’s Glory,
During this long period of what has been called a ‘pandemic,’ it has been our delight to provide a ministry of live streaming so that you were able to join us virtually for the worship of Word and sacrament. Now that we have gone through this period and are able to join together in person for worship, we urge each of you to make every effort to join us in person for Sabbath worship. It is vital for our spiritual health that we come together regularly to hear the Word and rejoice in the means of grace. Therefore, beginning August 1, we will no longer provide live stream for broad public use. However, for those who are providentially hindered from joining us in person, a link for the live stream can be requested and secured. We will also continue recording the service and if you must miss gathering, you can view it within a day or two.