I had been up late struggling to prepare myself to preach the next night. And it was early morning before I finally passed out on the couch. But it wasn’t long before I heard the phone ringing. I ignored it. But moments later, the ringing began again. And, again, I ignored it. But when the ringing began a third time, I rolled over. But I didn’t get up. I just laid there starring at the phone sitting on top of the television. I was thinking, “This had better be good.” And it was. When the phone stopped ringing, my eyes dropped to the TV screen. There was an unfamiliar CNN reporter standing on top of a building. And smoke was rising from a building in the distance behind him. It was the World Trade Center in New York City. I jumped up to grab the phone. And when I got back on the couch, the anchorman was reporting that the Pentagon in Washington D.C. was likewise on fire. I quickly checked the called I.D. It was my mother who had been calling. So I called her back. And we talked and prayed. And after our conversation, I went to the bedroom to wake up Crystal and tell her what was going on. But she just grunted something in an unknown tongue and then rolled over. So I went back to the front room to get more of the report. And by this time, the second tower of the WTC was on fire. And at this point it was clear: America was under attack.
I’m sure that since September 11 you have heard many stories like this one, as we rehearse for one another where we were and what we were doing when we discovered that our nation was under attack. And certainly our national conversation about this shared tragedy helps the healing process. But I submit to you that there is no hope in our personal testimonies, presidential speeches, political commentary, intelligence reports, or military briefings. Church, the only hope for our world today is God. No, not the trivialized God of the televangelists. The sovereign, triune, holy, wise, and good God of the Bible. We need to know where God was and what he was doing when nineteen men high jacked four planes and began to pilot them toward prominent national cites. The only way we will find anything redeemable in the 9/11 tragedy is if we look at if from the perspective of the God who sits high and looks low. And Luke 13 gives us this divine perspective as it records Jesus’ response to an ancient tragedy.
I. The Holy Justice of God
The landowner in this parable is meant to represent God. And the landowner’s order to his vinedresser is meant to represent the holy justice of God. Listen to him again: “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” This frustrated landowner orders the severe, immediate, and total destruction of this fruitless fig tree. And it is a sound business decision. This tree was worse than useless. Not only had it failed to produce fruit, but it also occupied space that could be put to better use. And by means of its strong roots, it was drawing moisture and minerals from the soil that was needed by other plants. “Cut it down!” That’s the landowner’s solution for the problem of fruitless trees. And the holy justice of God requires the same punishment for fruitless human beings: “Cut it down!”
· Rather than asking why those people died in the temple, you should ask why your life was spared.
· Rather than asking why the tower Siloam fell on those eighteen people, you should be asking why a tower hasn’t fallen on your head.
· Rather than asking why those thousands of people died on 9/11, you should be asking why you weren’t cut down with them.
Let me give you a hard word here. Here me out. One of the reasons why we are so shocked, angry, and frightened by the events of 9/11 is because we have low or no reverence for the holiness of God. Think about it. We rightfully mourn the deaths of those who were killed. However, we sinfully use their deaths as sufficient reason to bomb and kill those who we deem responsible. And we view this as acceptable behavior because we have this godless idea that those who died were “innocent.” Now, from a human standpoint, those who were killed did not deserve to die as they did. They were minding their own business. They were just going to work. They were just flying home. However, from a divine standpoint, they were all guilty sinners who got what they deserved. Now I know that’s heard to hear. Believe me, it’s even harder for me to say. But that’s exactly what the Bible says in Romans 6:23a: “For the wages of sin is death…” And the fact that you would be offended by me saying that those who died on 9/11 got what they deserved indicates that you fail to recognize the fact that what they received is also what you deserved. If we are sensitive to the holiness of God, when we think about those who died we’ll ask ourselves, “Why am I still here?” R.C. Sproul, in his book “The Holiness of God,” writes: “In two decades of teaching theology I have had countless students ask me why God doesn’t save everybody. Only once did a student come to me and say, “There is something I just can’t figure out. Why did God redeem me?”
II. The Undeserved Mercy of God
In this parable, the landowner orders the fruitless fig tree to be cut down. It’s his vineyard. It’s his tree. It’s his right to cut it down. And the tree deserves to be destroyed. So he gives the order. But there’s something standing in the way. The keeper of the vineyard, though just a mere underling, steps in on the behalf of the useless tree. And in response to the landowner’s order, this vinedresser issues his own order. Respectfully yet firmly, he says, “Sir, let it alone this year also.” Notice the audacity of the vinedresser. He requests that the landowner’s judgment be overturned. And he makes this request without denying the guilt of the useless tree. They tree had failed to bear fruit. Yet, the vinedresser seems to expect the landowner to give the tree another chance, just because he asked him to. And just in case that didn’t work, the vinedresser promised his personal involvement and investment in the tree: “Let it alone this year, also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.” And notice how the defiant concern of the vinedresser is expressed in 13:9: “And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” Get that. The vinedresser seems to suggest that if the tree fails to bear fruit in the coming year, he would let the landowner cut the tree down. But he himself wouldn’t do it.
One more thing. The vinedresser is the Christ-figure in this parable. And it is because of his intervention alone that the landowner chooses to be merciful. Think about that. The landowner is not at a conference table where a group of his workers give him agricultural advice.
· Only the vinedresser is in the presence of the landowner.
· Only the word of the vinedresser carries any weight with the landowner.
· Only the intervention of the vinedresser saves the tree.
· Only the ministry of the vinedresser can change the hopeless situation.
John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No once comes to the Father except through Me.”
Acts 4:12 – “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
1 Timothy 2:5 – “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ.”
III. The Sovereign Timing of God
Acts 17 records Paul’s message in the pagan academic setting of Athens. He began by telling them. You are some very religious people. Everywhere I look, you have an altar to every conceivable God. You even have an altar ascribed to “An unknown God,” just in case you missed one.” And he went on to tell them, “I come to tell you about this “unknown God.” He created us all. And it is in him we live, move and have our being.” And Acts 17:29-31 records the climax of the message. Paul says, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Notice how Jesus illustrates the urgency of repentance in this parable. He leaves it open-ended. The vinedresser intercedes on the behalf of the tree with a request for mercy, forbearance, and longsuffering. But immediately after the request is made, the lights come on. The actors disappear from the stage. And the curtain falls. That’s it. Jesus goes no further than that in the parable. And he leaves us hanging in the suspense of our unanswered questions. Did the barren fig tree ever bear fruit? Did the special care of the vinedresser accomplish anything? Was the tree cut down or spared? We are not given the answers to any of these questions. This is not the way you end a story, but that’s exactly what Jesus does. He never tells us what happens to the tree. And here’s why: The story is not about the tree! It’s about you. Only you can fill in the blanks. You must answer for yourself:
· Why am I still here?
· Am I just taking up space?
· Am I bearing fruit to God’s glory?
· Am I right with God?
· Do I need to get right with God?
You’ve probably heard that the legend about Satan plotting with his demons, hosts, and imps on how to take as many people to hell with them as possible. Someone recommended, “Let’s convince them that there is no God.” But they ultimately concluded that wouldn’t work. Only a fool would say in his heart there is no God. Someone else recommended that we should sell them on evolution. Make them believe that they came from monkeys… that there is no creation. But they concluded that wouldn’t work either. They heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament his handiwork. Then someone said, “Let’s convince them that Jesus is a fraud.” But they concluded that wouldn’t work. For in him dwells are the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And believers are complete in him, for he is the head of every principality and power.” And so they debated, argued, and wrestled with the issue for some time. Finally, someone gave the perfect recommendation. “Let’s not deny any biblical truth. In fact, let’s affirm all the truth that is essential to man’s salvation. But, let tell them that they don’t have to be in a hurry to make a decision. Let’s make them think that they have more time than they really have.”
Indeed, the story is make-believe. But the point is absolutely true. And countless souls have died and gone to hell, because they bought the lie that they said, “You don’t have to get repent right now. You can wait until later.” And I plead with you; don’t be one of them. James 4:14 is the truth: “Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” The call to repentance is urgent. You should get right with God now. For Jesus says, “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
· Come to Jesus, right now.
· Only trust him, right now.
· He will save you, right now.
· He is willing, right now.
· He is able, right now.
There was a time I know, when in the book of heaven
An old account was standing, for sins yet unforgiven
My name was at the top, and may things below,
But I went to the Keeper, and settled it long ago.
So now –
When at the judgment bar, I stand before the king
And He the book will open, He cannot find a thing
Then will my heart be glad, while tears of joy will flow;
Because I had it settled, and settled it long ago.
Long ago, I settled it all –
Down on my knees, I settled it all
Yes, the old account was settled long ago
And the record’s clear today, for He washed my sins away
When the old account was settled long ago.