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The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 25, 2022 12:01 am

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 25, 2022 12:01 am

Genuine faith in Christ manifests itself through genuine repentance and a changed life. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke and calls professing Christians to examine themselves for the fruit of God's saving grace.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind… Dr. R.C. Sproul examines Christ's parable of the barren fig tree to answer this important question. This sermon is from Dr. Sproul's study through the Gospel of Luke, and today we're in Luke chapter 13, beginning with verse 6. Now here's Dr. Sproul from the pulpit of St. Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Florida, where he co-pastored for many years. This morning we're going to continue with our study of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

We're in chapter 13, and I will be reading this morning verses 6 through 9. He also spoke this parable. A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit from it and found none. And then he said to the keeper of the vineyard, look, for three years I have come seeking fruit from this fig tree and find none. Cut it down. Why does it use up the ground? But he answered and said to him, sir, let it alone this year also until I dig around it and fertilize it.

And if it bears fruit, well, but if not, after that you can cut it down. This brief parable is not unconnected from other sayings of our Lord, and it follows immediately upon Jesus' teaching regarding the tragedies that had befallen those in and around Jerusalem with the slaughter of the worshippers by Pilate and by the falling of the tower by Siloam, wherein Jesus said to those making inquiry, unless you repent you shall all likewise perish. And so this text comes immediately after that record and is an amplification of it. Again, this is the teaching from the lips of our Lord Himself. Let us receive it with all of the authority and honor that is due to Him.

Let us pray. Again, our Father and our God, by nature we are dense to sacred things, that in our fallen condition those truths of Thy Spirit remain even in our converted state often beyond our full understanding. And so He asked this morning as we contemplate these words from Jesus, that You will help us, help us to understand them, help us to embrace them, for we ask it in Jesus' name.

Amen. Before the service this morning, when I first arrived in the building, Bus Weibel was sitting there and we talked, and he handed me a little book, and he said, this book changed my life. And he referred to a recent publication from Dr. Steve Lawson, a study of the life and ministry of George Whitefield. And I was pleased to hear that comment about what the ministry of Whitefield meant to one of our own. So obviously, George Whitefield was one of the greatest preachers ever anointed by God and was one of three men whom God used to bring about the spiritual revival in 18th century America called the Great Awakening. And if you study that period of church history and the preaching of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards, you will see a common theme that runs through their preaching. And it was the theme of conversion. We were talking on our staff a few weeks ago about the messages that we give here at St. Andrews, and obviously following the expository method of preaching through various books of the Bible. Our sermons are not dictated to us by the whims of our own drums that we like to beat, but are dictated by the next text that comes. And yet at the same time, even though I follow the text of the book of Luke's Irreatum, nevertheless I find that I have a pattern and an emphasis in my own preaching, and that not by accident, but partially influenced by men such as Edwards and the rest. And that's the theme of conversion, because I'm profoundly concerned that everybody who is in this church and in this congregation, that everybody comes as a visitor, my concern is that they are truly and thoroughly converted to Jesus Christ. Because if you are not converted to Christ, as Whitefield emphasized, as Wesley emphasized and certainly Edwards emphasized, your destiny is the wrath of God forever. And conversion, which requires the presence of saving faith, contains within it the need for authentic repentance. That's why in last week's text, Jesus said to those who were befuddled by the tragedies that had come to Jerusalem, said to them, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Can we pause for just a second?

It may not be the pause that refreshes, but perhaps the pause that terrifies. It was Jesus who said, unless. That little word unless introduces a necessary condition for some consequence to follow. And Jesus said, unless, that is if you don't do this, if you don't repent, you will perish. Now, I can't imagine that there's anyone in this room who wants to perish and certainly doesn't want to perish at the hands of a holy God. We don't want to perish. We want to be spared.

We want to be rescued. We want to be saved from that judgment. Now Edwards in Northampton, when he preached frequently on this theme, understood that in all probability there were people that came to his church and listened to his sermons every Sunday who remained unconverted. And he also was convinced that unless the Holy Spirit changed the inclinations of their hearts through the supernatural work of regeneration, they would never repent, and they would never come to saving faith. And so some of those people who were in the congregation who realized that they were unconverted and who knew that the only way they would ever be converted would be through the merciful sovereign act of God and His saving grace would say to Edwards, what then can we do?

And Edwards developed a doctrine that was called the doctrine of seeking, where he appealed to their enlightened self-interest. He appealed to them to repent as far as they could in their unregenerate state. Now, in theology we distinguish between two kinds of repentance. There is the repentance that we call attrition. That's the repentance that is motivated by a fear of punishment. It's a repentance that is driven by a desire to get a ticket out of hell to be rescued from perishing. It's the repentance of Esau. It's the repentance of your little child when you catch him with his hand in the cookie jar and he says, oh, mama, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.

Please don't spank me. That repentance is driven not by a genuine sorrow for having sinned and disobeyed you, but an attempt to escape the consequences of punishment. And Edwards understood clearly that attrition, that kind of repentance would never ever lead to salvation. True repentance is the repentance that we call of contrition, where our hearts are broken from our sin, and we are awakened to the fact that we really have grievously offended God, and our sorrow is real. Men and women of faith who experience the repentance of contrition are people who are reconciled forever to Almighty God. But Edwards said, even though you're not inclined to true sorrow, true contrition, but you're looking for a ticket out of hell and that's all, take advantage of your vested interests, take advantage of your enlightened self-interest, and seek after God and peradventure He will save you.

What he was saying to those people was this, if you're not sure that you're converted or if you're convinced you're not, don't leave the church. Make sure you're here every Sunday. We know that God saves people outside of the church and sometimes in spite of the church and against the teaching of the church.

We know all of that. But the main place where the means of God saving grace are concentrated is in the church. It is here where you get to hear the Word of God. And God uses His Word as His primary means to bring people to faith. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. God Himself has chosen the foolishness of preaching as that method by which He will save His people.

So if you're unconverted, don't take Sunday off and go play golf. Be here and hope that under the preaching of the Word of God, you will be saved. Well, Jesus continues His teaching about the need for repentance and the evidence of true repentance in this little parable that He tells about the fig tree. He told it like this. He spoke the parable saying a certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.

Now let's stop there. Why in the world would you plant a fig tree in a vineyard? A vineyard is a place where you grow grapes, not figs. But to the ancient Jewish farmer, his vineyard was sometimes called his fruit field because the vineyard was the best place not only to grow grapes but also to grow other types of fruit. So it was not unusual for the Jewish farmer to plant fruit trees as well as his vines of grapes in the vineyard because there that section of his land received the best care and contained the best soil. And so if you wanted to grow a productive fig tree, the best place to grow it was in the vineyard.

Just as Edwards said, if you want to grow a repentant sinner, the best place to grow him is in the visible church where the means of grace are concentrated. So in terms of agriculture, God's means of grace for this little fig tree were best found in the middle of the vineyard. But the man came seeking fruit on the fig tree. Figs on fig trees are usually concealed by the leaves and the foliage and are not evident from a distance, and so the owner had to come in close to inspect this fig tree to see if there was any fruit on it. But he found none.

Pause again. Throughout the teaching of Jesus, he was concerned that His people bear fruit, and chiefly the fruit of repentance. Now classical dispensational theology had a doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit that I think was not only seriously defective but fatally so. It taught that in rebirth, the Holy Spirit could bring a person to salvation and to saving faith without that person's ever having been changed, which theologically, as far as I'm concerned, is a manifest impossibility. Any human being who has been regenerated by God the Holy Spirit is by necessity a changed person.

It's impossible to be born of the Spirit and not be changed. But the popularization of this classic dispensational doctrine has been spread across the globe through the ministry, otherwise great ministry of Campus Crusade, with their doctrine of the carnal Christian, which teaches that a person can be saved, reborn, and still be all together in the flesh. Again, a ghastly distortion of biblical truth, and it's not simply ghastly because it's bad theology, but the consequences are severe because it encourages people who have made a profession of faith who don't possess the faith they profess into believing that they are saved, even when there is no evidence of it. Now in Reformed theology we harp on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and with Luther we agree it is the article upon which the church stands or falls. And we affirm the idea that whatever works we ever do in this world add nothing to our justification to be justified by faith alone is to be justified by Christ alone. And yet Luther in the sixteenth century was quick to add, though we are justified by faith alone, it is not by a faith that is alone. True faith always, always manifests itself in the fruits of repentance in good works. The good works don't justify, but if they're not there, that's evidence that there is no real faith.

And if there's no real faith, there's no justification. So the presence of fruit is absolutely essential to be assured of the reality of your conversion. And so I ask you this morning, if you are converted, do you have fruit? Or when the Lord comes and examines you and looks beneath the foliage of your life, will He say, there is none? Jesus speaks then of the man who had planted the fig tree, that He said to the keeper of his vineyard, look for three years, doesn't mean that the tree is only three years old, it could be much older, it takes a while for them to be fruit bearing.

He said, but for the last three years I've come seeking fruit on this fig tree. I can't find any. There isn't any.

There is none. So now what does the owner say? Cut it down. Why does it use up the ground?

Notice that. It's not bearing fruit. It's useless. So you might as well cut it down, but not only is it useless, it's harmful because it's taking the nutrients from the soil. It's taking up space in the vineyard. So not only is it fruitless, but it actually is damaging the rest of the vineyard. I've had a couple of practical experiences and failures trying to grow things from the ground. Agriculture is certainly not my long suit.

But I've had friends who are very good at that sort of thing. When our study center was founded in western Pennsylvania in the mountains in 1971, the woman who provided the land for it was a very wealthy woman noted in Pittsburgh society. She was the one who donated the library at the University of Pittsburgh. And so she was famous for her philanthropy, but at the same time she was indeed eccentric.

She used to ride around in a Jeep wearing combat boots, a straw hat, and blue jeans. She was obsessive about growing trees. And so the land that she donated to us for our study center was constantly visited by her in an effort to grow more and more trees.

And we did that. And I remember she used to give us our advice, if you want to plant a ten dollar tree, you've got to dig a hundred dollar hole. And she gave us explicit instructions on how to prune and take care of these trees. In fact, everywhere she went, she carried her pruning shears in her purse. She didn't always wear blue jeans and combat boots on the evening when the library at the University of Pittsburgh was dedicated. She was on local television dressed exquisitely and carrying a beautiful purse. And after the dedication, she went out onto the campus of Pitt University and began to trim the trees on the campus with her pruning shears.

Eccentric is what she was. Well, I'll never forget the occasion where she planted one tree near a house that was about 200 feet from the house, and she had her handyman string together several hoses so that this tree could be adequately watered. But the tree was not flourishing.

It was becoming more and more sere, and it looked more and more sick. And I remember the day she pulled up in her jeep with her handyman and looked at the tree, and she said, the tree's not doing well. Ken put some more water in it. And Ken said to her, this tree's dead, boss.

And the lady said, no, it isn't. It just needs more water. Just give it more water, Ken, and it'll thrive. He says, I'll do it, boss, but this tree's dead. So Ken did as he was commanded, and he strung the 200 feet of hose and filled that area of the tree every day for a week. And at the end of the week, he said to the lady, boss, this tree is dead. And you know what? That tree was dead.

And all the water in the world was not going to bring it back. Have you had experiences like that? Now I have another story to tell you. When I was in sixth grade, I had a girlfriend.

I did. Her name was Vesta, but it didn't last. We broke up, so I had another girlfriend, and her name was Joanne. And as things would happen, Joanne's parents decided to move to Florida.

So they moved to Fort Lauderdale to Lauderdale by the sea, and I would get letters regularly from Joanne. And her address was 4528—don't ask me how I still remember it—Bogan Via Drive. Now in the 30 years that we've lived in Florida, Vesta has never allowed us to have bogan via.

She has put a curse upon bogan via. But a year ago, shortly before our 53rd anniversary, she finally relented and allowed our lawn man to plant several bogan via bushes in our backyard, and they all came loaded with flowers. And this man who planted them, whose name will remain anonymous to protect the guilty, since he's an officer of this church, planted these and duly fertilized these bushes, and they consequently lost the blooms that they were originally bearing. And since that day, not one bloom has appeared. He blames it on the deer. He said, the deer come and eat the buds before they bloom. I blame it on the curse of Vesta. But in any case, I just asked them this morning, any buds on the bogan via? He said, no, not yet.

So I understand. I feel the pain of this man with his fig tree. Three years he came looking for figs.

No figs. Until finally he said, cut it down. But the workman said to him, sir, let it alone this year until I dig around it, fertilize it, and if it bears fruit, that's great.

But after that, if not, then go ahead and cut it down. Jesus doesn't tell us what happened to the fig tree. We don't know that in the fourth year when it had more exposure to the things that would cause it to bear figs that it suddenly blossomed and bore fruit. Or if after the fourth year it was still barren, still fruitless, and if so would have passed the limit of the loving kindness, the tender mercy, and the grace of the owner. Now Jesus is using this parable to amplify what He had taught the people on the occasion of the tragedies that befell their city. Unless you repent, you will likewise perish. And in this amplification what our Lord is saying is not if you repent someday, but now is the time. You can't assume three more years of patience, three more years of long suffering, that God commands us to repent of our sins now. And if you have lived this long on this planet without ever having truly repented of your sins and fled to Christ for your forgiveness and your healing, today may be your last chance. You may not have a tomorrow.

You may not have next week. Don't ever presume on the grace of God. So I beg you that before this day passes, when you lay your head on your pillow tonight, you remain unconverted, that you will not sleep until you're on your knees before the living God, taking advantage of the blessed redemption that is given to all who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. May this church be a fruit-bearing church, a church of people who are honestly and genuinely converted.

I think you can tell there that Dr. R.C. Sproul has a passion for the lost, a passion for the lost even within the church. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and to access today's sermon or to find additional resources related to it, simply go to Renewing Your Mind is the radio outreach of Ligonier Ministries. We are committed to pointing people to God's holiness, urging all who listen to apply God's Word to every aspect of life. And with that in mind, let me commend our resource offer to you today. When you contact us today with a donation of any amount, we will provide you with a digital download of R.C. 's commentary on Luke. Every passage is clarified with R.C. 's easy-to-understand style. I think it will be a great help in your study for years to come.

This is an online offer only, so make your request and give your gift at Now here is a preview of what you'll hear on next weekend's program. What's the kingdom of God like? How would you answer that question? Not what's the society like or what's the culture like, but what's God's kingdom like? Dr. R.C.

Sproul will answer that question next weekend. And on behalf of all of my colleagues here at Ligonier Ministries, I'd like to wish you a very merry Christmas. May the gift of Jesus provide light and life to you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-25 03:02:01 / 2022-12-25 03:10:52 / 9

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