God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 31, 2018
44 In fact, each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorn bushes, and they do not gather grapes from a bramble bush.
Jesus is turning to humor to drive his point home. Many people know varieties of trees just by looking at the bark and branches, and many more can recognize trees by looking at their leaves, or even by smelling their flowers. But anybody can tell an apple tree when the apples are hanging, or a fig tree, or a banana tree. And you might not know what that scrawny twig is until you see it loaded down with a huge cluster of grapes. So a tree or a bush can always be found out by its fruit. If you’re looking for figs, watch out that you don’t go tearing through a thorn bush. And if you want to gather clusters of grapes, don’t go searching out a bramble bush.
It would be pressing Jesus’ example too much to say that the two fruits, figs and grapes, represent two doctrines, or two different interpretations of God’s holy word. Although the Bible can be divided into ‘halves’ in various ways—Law and Gospel, Justification and Sanctification, Old and New Testaments, Prophecy and Fulfilment—none of these are implied by the mere figures of figs and grapes. Both figs and grapes are blessings, and both are useful. Both are fruit. As for interpretation, the Bible does not give us permission to seek out two interpretations of the Scriptures. Where the text is plain—history, poetry, epistle or Gospel—we take the passages at face value, There is a simple, everyday sense to words, and that’s how the Holy Spirit communicates with us. When we are told that Jesus died, it means that Jesus died. When we are told that Jesus rose from the dead and came alive again, that’s what that means. When the text is presented in a figurative sense—a vision, a parable, or certain prophecies given through dreams—then we let the clear passages interpret what is not clear. For example, it would be a mistake to judge whether Jesus means a single grape or a whole cluster of grapes in this passage and then make some kind of application about that, since the word staphyle (σταϕυλή) can mean a single grape (Deuteronomy 32:14) or a whole bunch (Deuteronomy 32:32). What we need to do, always, is read the surrounding verses for the context. Here Jesus is talking about false teachers, so he warns us not to go looking for certain fruit (that is, correct teaching) in the brambles and thorns of false teachers. Their trunks are woody and they have roots and leaves, but they’re not going to give us what we need. That’s not just a great example, it’s funny and memorable, too.
Jesus shows himself to be our Great Teacher at every turn. From his first words in each of the Gospels to the things he said from the cross and after his resurrection, Jesus is always teaching; always the great Prophet Moses described: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15). “God is exalted in his power,” Job’s friend said (Job 36:22). “Who is a teacher like him?” No one comes close to Jesus. He makes us learn. He tosses us lesson after lesson, again and again, until we catch what he’s throwing and until we make it our own. We keep learning from him, and may we never stop. Learning from Jesus is a lifetime’s work.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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