By Pastor Dave Holland
“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So, he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and 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, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9, NIV).
The three trees I planted looked dried out and sucked up. What did I do wrong?
Years ago, I pastored a church that built a new facility. The congregation and I did the landscaping as money had run dry. I bought and donated three healthy pine trees for the project. Each tree stood over four feet tall and showed every sign of health.
I dug holes and plopped the trees in, carefully backfilling with good soil and watered liberally. I planted them with their root balls wrapped in burlap as I assumed the wrapping was biodegradable. Watching those trees over two years was discouraging as their branches drooped and their color lightened. They looked drawn in–as if they were holding their breath.
Leaving the burlap bag around the roots was the critical mistake, and the trees were starving from a lack of nutrients. I had to dig them up, remove the burlap and replant them. Jesus would call this “repentance.” Today they are thriving and are over 20 feet tall.
Christ encounters a similar human situation and gives a stern ultimatum in Luke 13:1-9, “Repent or Perish.” This sounds harsh, but He tells the parable of the barren fig tree to explain.
Jesus likens God to a landowner who expects a harvest from his farm. He describes a tree that is taking up room and soil in the Lord’s vineyard but is not producing fruit. The parable shows that uselessness in the Kingdom of God is unacceptable and invites disaster. The story also shows the patience of God as Christ the Gardner works on the tree to bring it to a condition of fruitfulness.
Jesus is calling attention to our urgent need for true repentance as fertilizer for our soul. If we are not growing and changing, we are dying. Only by turning to God and drawing life from Him can we develop fruitfulness.
William Barclay says in his “Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke,” “There are two kinds of people in this world–those who take out more than they put in, and those who put in more than they take out. In one sense we are all in debt to life.” The fig tree in our story is taking up space and not giving in return.
Christ’s story begs the questions, “Of what use am I in the world? Am I being fruitful for the Lord?”
Jesus will dig around in our lives and fertilize it with His Presence, His Spirit and His word–if we give Him permission through repentance. Christ is the creator, sustainer and Lord of the universe and yet, He bows down to dig in our dirt, remove the burlap of our hard-heartedness to add fertilizer, so we can bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
The great Puritan preacher, John Bunyan, addressing the tree in a sermon says, “Barren fig-tree! See how the Lord Jesus by these very words, suggesteth the cause of thy fruitless soul. The things of this world lie to close too thy heart; the earth with its things has bound up thy roots; thou art an earth-bound soul.”
Feed your soul with the word and the Spirit to produce fruit in your life. Allow Jesus to dig around and fertilize your soul. Repentance is nothing less than a radically changed life that has uprooted worldly habits. Loosed to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control–life becomes an amazing adventure.
Dave Holland pastored churches for thirty-eight years before retiring in Destin, Florida. He recently released his new devotional-Bible study based on the Gospel of Luke titled “Extraordinary Jesus: Ignite Your Season of Miracles.” You can get a copy of this book from his website, DaveHolland.org, or at Amazon.com. Pastor Dave is available to preach and teach in churches and conferences. Contact him at DavidvHolland54@gmail.com.