Another Year of Grace (Luke 13:6-9)
2018 is almost gone and we stand about 38 hours from 2019! What will the New Year bring?
But let’s forget 2019 for a minute… and ask what kind of a year has 2018 been for you? How would you rate it on a scale of 1 – 10? Maybe overall you see it as a great year, so it gets an 8 or 9 out of 10… you had success in business, great year of growing in your marriage, advancement at work or good grades in school, enjoyed family, relatively good health, hobbies, travel, and maybe made new friendships? If you give 2018 a high grade, it undoubtedly included exciting things, new challenges, and important tasks completed successfully. Maybe you got married and you’re happy, happy, happy, or perhaps you welcomed a new child or grandchild. Some may rate 2018 high simply because, compared to last year, which was a horrible, it’s been an improvement in most every way.
But maybe you gave it a 5 or 6. Just another year, not good, not bad... middling. Nothing outstanding. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but nothing lost either. A year of just getting up, going to work, coming home, going to bed, then the next day, do it again. Like Ground Hog Day!
Some likely want to give a low grade because it was a dreadful year. Whatever could go wrong did: tragedy, sickness, lost friends, marriage problems, parenting problems, a death in the family. Negative… NO WAY BUT UP!
It’s a great question… rate last year? But let’s twist the question’s focus just a bit and ask about the part YOU played in it being good or middling or bad. Have any regrets over decisions and priorities and behaviors? If you could live it again, would you do anything differently? Did you say every kind word you should have said and do every kind deed you should have done? Did you hold your tongue when speaking would have been harmful? Hold back on the hurtful act? Might you have cared more, been more patient, less critical, more supportive, and helpful to people you love and your “neighbors”?
As I reflect on the year that has past there are certainly things that I wish I would have done differently. There have been years in my life when I arrogantly have said, “I wouldn’t do a thing different.” Those years are long gone for me… and I hope the arrogance is gone, too.
How about your relationship with God? Did it flourish and grow during 2018, hold its place, slide backwards? Did you read God’s Message to us more or less? Pray more or less? Did God even play a part in your life during the year? Maybe you shelved Him for use later. How much did your life reflect the fact that you’re His child? Did you bother to tell anyone at all about Jesus? Were you forgiving like Jesus forgave you when others hurt you? Did you do for the church what God has called us to do for the church? Did the church go through the year with your gifts and talents absent, your financial support spent on you?
With that as background, as we stand on the brink of 2019, I direct our attention to Luke 13:1-9:
Then Jesus told a story. “A man had a fig tree,” he said. “It was growing in his vineyard. When he went to look for fruit on it, he didn’t find any. So he went to the man who took care of the vineyard. He said, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree. But I 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. I’ll dig around it and feed it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”
Who would doubt that Jesus makes perfect sense? Why should a fruitless tree be standing? Taking up space, using up the richness of the soil, but producing nothing? Why keep a tree that takes but gives nothing? What happens to the plants in our gardens that we work on, water, feed but they give us nothing back? The Owner’s order was, "Cut it down.”
Jesus leaves the story hanging and His listeners wondering, but He’s not teaching gardening. He’s talking about disciples, God’s children, not trees. And if we think we’re a disciple, we should be at full attention. We’re His trees in His vineyard. He’s looking for fruit. He’s right to be disappointed and angry if we produce nothing. So the question looms, "Am I giving Him fruit? Or just using up His space?
Jesus’ essential message here is that it’s necessary for everyone to repent (vv. 3, 5). He’s saying life is fragile and unpredictable and time is running short. Things are urgent! The Owner has expectations and a deadline! .
Jesus the “Gardener” loves his trees. Maybe mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, best friend… have joined Him and are praying for you to get going and growing spiritually. They’re in God’s ear begging Him and pleading for more time for you to come to your spiritual senses. Are you still standing only because some righteous soul is praying fervent prayers for you to produce some fruit for God? And they’re asking Him, "Leave _____________ alone for one more year… I’ll dig around _____ and fertilize _____. If _____ bears fruit next year fine! If not, then I will cut _____ down."
There’s grace on every page of the Bible and there’s grace here in this text. God is just and merciful. I want to pull out the word “leave” for you. It’s the Gk. word for forgive. Jesus’ story is about a barren fig tree and it’s a story about God and the way He forgives us even though we take and take His blessings and give nothing in return. It’s not a matter of doing enough to deserve His generosity and kindness… in a 100 life-times, we won’t! It’s a matter of us seeing that God in mercy has saved us and our purpose is to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), to produce other fig trees that will produce other fig trees.
God has planted us in wonderful soil. Paul says we “have your roots in Jesus (Colossians 2:6-7) who said that if we’re planted in Him, we will bear fruit (John 15:1-5). He’s our foundation. Our day-to-day existence, the source of every breath. From the best possible soil, should the Owner not expect fruit? It should be natural and automatic for anyone made new and holy through the blood of Jesus and born again through Him.
Jesus sees our 2018. How would He rate us as we lived it? He knows all we should have done, all we didn’t do. His ears have heard all our words. He knows where our treasure has been. He’s measured our love for Him by looking us over, up and down, for fruit. And, by His grace, our sin of not producing for Him is forgiven and He’s “left” (“forgiven”) us where we are for another opportunity!
By His grace, we’re “1s’ He’s calling “10s”! "Give the tree one more year", He’s saying. And the Owner, His Father, is giving it. We serve a God of Grace!
Look at your watch… now look again. All our time is a gift of God’s pure grace and forbearance. When not fruit comes from us, His great wrath is stirred. Yet in the parable, His all-merciful side prevailed. Paul writes, it’s “the patience, kindness, and forbearance of God that leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4). That thought causes some to think God is indulgent. Yes, for a while, Paul also says His “wrath is stored up to be revealed at the final judgment” (2:5) against trees that give Him no fruit.