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God’s Word for You

Luke 13:6-9 Grace, Faith and a Fig Tree

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Parable of the Fig Tree

What is grace? As we consider Jesus’ Parable of the Fig Tree, we are led from the doctrine of repentance in the previous statements to an understanding of the grace of God who gives us time to come to faith in Christ and his forgiveness. There are a few details in the parable that we can look at, but let’s not fail to keep the main point before us: God grants a time of grace for us to be led by the gospel to saving faith.

6 He told them this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He went to look for fruit on it, but he did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘Look, for three years now I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and have found none. Cut it down. Why let it use up the soil?’ 8 But the man said, ‘Sir, leave it alone for one more year. I will dig around it and put fertilizer on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine. But if not, then cut it down.’”

Verse 6:

    “A man.” The man, the owner of the vineyard, is God the Father.

    “a fig tree.” The parable should be taken on two levels. In the immediate context, Jesus has been speaking about Jerusalem, that is, the people of Jerusalem. Some commentators incorrectly apply the parable in the pattern “Vineyard=the world, fig tree=Israel,” but Jesus always uses the term vineyard for his special garden, the church / Israel, and never for the whole world. In the context of readers today, we must apply this parable to ourselves, and therefore the fig tree is both my own congregation and more especially myself.

    “his vineyard.” As we said above, the vineyard is Israel, but for today’s reader, it is the vineyard of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.

    “fruit.” In both contexts (Jesus in the moment, and Jesus speaking to us today), the fruit is the fruit of faith. It is true that fig trees bear fruit more than once per year. An early spring crop called breba (Arabic taqsh) sprouts on the remaining stems of the previous year’s figs. These smaller, inferior fruits are called pag “early fruit” in Hebrew (Song of Solomon 2:13) or bikurah “early figs” (Isaiah 28:4; Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1; Nahum 3:12). These are eaten both by the poor (in some climates, no later figs ripen at all) and by the wealthy as a delicacy. Some readers won’t know about these breba figs, and others will, but the point is that God, the owner of the vineyard, is looking for any fruit at all—any faith at all—and has found none.

Verse 7:

    “For three years.” Some readers recognize this as a reference to the specific context, while others miss it. The gospel of forgiveness through the Savior had been preached by this time for almost exactly three years, first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus. Although numbers in parables sometimes have a figurative meaning (ten minas, five cites, etc.), here we can take the number of years to be literal.

    “Looking for fruit…found none.” The Father had been looking for Jerusalem to come to faith in Christ ever since John began preaching but had found virtually none at all.

    “Cut it down.” That is, bring this one without faith before me to be judged, and he will be sent to hell for his unbelief. We cannot think any less of this command or take it without complete seriousness. God’s judgment of our faith is final. If he finds none, a man has no hope at all.

Verses 8 and 9:

    “The man (who took care of the vineyard)” This man is Jesus. He came to care for the vineyard in particular. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34).

    “One more year.” Another year of ministry lay before Jesus, until the next Passover when he would be crucified. In the broader application of our personal time of grace, this “year” is the patience of God the Father who, by his compassionate grace alone and not because of any worthiness on our part, gives us time to come to faith in Jesus.

    “I will dig around it and put fertilizer on it.” This is the application of Law and Gospel in us. To dig around a plant, whether a fig tree or a flower bed, is to aerate the soil and to rid the soil of weeds and other things than might choke the plant. This is the work of the Law of God, which removes what kills and chokes and prepares the way for the Gospel. In man, the thing that kills and chokes faith is first of all unbelief. The Law points to God the Creator and Judge and condemns us before him, throwing us into despair over our sins. The Law also points to each person and our private opinion of God’s Law (in Latin the opinio legis) which wants to claim that “I’m not such a bad person,” and the Law condemns this utterly. The Gospel is what makes our faith grow, and therefore is the fertilizer that is given and carefully placed in us by Christ. C.F.W. Walther said (on September 12, 1884):

“Law and Gospel differ…by reason of their promises. What the law promises is just as great a boon [benefit] as what the Gospel promises, namely, everlasting life and salvation. But at this point we are confronted with a mighty difference: All promises of the Law are made on certain conditions, namely, on the condition that we fulfil the Law perfectly… The Law offers us food, but does not hand it down to us where we can reach it…. Over and against this note the lovely, sweet and comforting language of the Gospel. It promises us the grace of God and salvation without any condition whatsoever. It is a promise of free grace. It asks nothing of us but this, ‘Take what I give and you have it.’ That is not a condition, but a kind invitation.” (Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, First Evening Lecture, p. 10).

We must also notice that the Father and the Son do not work contrary to one another. They work together. Their discussion in this parable is not an argument or disagreement. When the Father judges, the Son listens. But when the Father threatens the tree, the Son intercedes and shows his divine graciousness. This is all for our benefit, because Christ intercedes on our behalf our whole lives through.

“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:34-35). Trust in your Savior Jesus Christ, and praise God for the fruit that is your faith. Hold it out for God and the world to see.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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