The owner came to the garden with expectations. High hopes. “Surely fruits will dangle down the fig tree I planted! It has been three years! I just can’t wait to taste the fruits!” He was smacking his lips in anticipation. What did he get to see? Fruits? Hardly. Instead the tree gave him the boot – it was barren. Now he was biting his lips with frustration. The owner became furious. “Chop this fruitless fig tree down,” he ordered the gardener. “Why waste fertilizer and water on it for ANOTHER YEAR?” The gardener would not give up on the tree he had tended tenacious for over three years. He pleaded, “Just give it one more year, Master – just one more year! That is all. I will tend it. Take good care it. And I am sure it will give us fruit in this year of extension! You bet!”
The above-narrated story is a contemporary form of a parable of Jesus (Luke 13:6-9). A story our Master narrated. A yarn our Master spinned to shake us from our yawning! He told this story to drive home a crucial lesson? This lesson: we have got a New Year to live just because of sheer grace. He has marked out a New Year for us just because of his massive mercy. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is true that when he spoke of that fig tree he was speaking of the nation Israel. The prophets of the old often compared Israel to a fig tree-didn’t they (See Hosea 9:10 for an example)? But it also true we, followers of Christ, are the nation that God hoped would bear fruit. That is the reason, we read that he took the Kingdom of God from national Israel and gave it to a “new” Israel (that is actually us, believers, called as a ‘holy nation’ by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9) (Math. 21:13). But we – the new Israel – haven’t done any better than national Israel. We have been neglectful about our duty to give fruit as national Israel! The “Gentile” Israel – us – has been as giving God the boot (instead of the fruit) like the Geographical Israel so often did!
Israel, the fig tree, was blessed have plenty of water and fertilizer year after year. The Law of Moses they received through Moses in generous doses was the “water” the fig tree of Israel was flooded with (Rom. 9:4). The pack of prophets who faithfully proclaimed this law in a practical and powerful way to the people of Israel year after year – well, they were the “fertilizers” so to speak (2 Kings 17:13ff). But they would not simply grow up and bear fruit. They became “ fat”, oh yes! But “faithful” Nah! Look over your shoulder. At the previous years of your existence. Surely you were watered. Certainly you were fertilized. Think of the Bible Studies you sat in. Think of many sermons you heard. Think of the church services you attended. Think of the camps and conferences you took part in. You too became “fat”. But were you “fruitful”? Well that is another story, correct? !
Listen, Jesus (the Gardener in this parable) did not narrate this story to paint his Father in a poor picture. Hear this good: The Father (the Owner in this story) is not an ultra-strict principal out to hound you and dismiss you from his school for the first failure you had without any mercy. He is not like a class teacher who gives you a “you-will-never-make-it-in-life” lecture after your examination flops. His Father is as loving and as gracious as He is. When we interpret a parable we should just look for one lesson from it-that’s the thumb rule of interpreting parables. The Father God gave a similar extension in the life of King Hezekiah, remember ? (Isa 38:1-5). “Through the Lord’s mercies (the Father’s mercies) we are not consumed,” Jeremiah wrote-don’t forget (Lam 3:22). You see, the Father is as understanding as the Son is. The Son – all of us very well know – lives “forever to intercede” for us we read up (Heb 7:25).
The year you and I have to get to exist in, is a year of grace. Sure we are living in the Space age. But it also true we are living in the grace age – an age graciously given us so that we will for a change give our Maker good fruit instead of giving him the boot!
If this one-year extension given us so that we bear “fruit” what sort of fruit should we bear? The fruit of PENITENCE. That is what John the Baptist preached to the Jewish Religions’ big shots (Luke 3:8). They could not hide behind the fact that Abraham was their ancestor without bearing fruit, he warned. In other words what John was getting at was this: “You can’t swap your religious heritage for personal change!” In the New Year that we have entered, we called to produce “fruits of repentance”. That would mean all the tantrum throwing of the past years should be trashed. That would mean all the porn-watching of the past years should be pushed aside. That would mean all the foul-languages that filled your mouth should be flushed away. And when we do that believe me, slowly but surely the “fruit” of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control-will show up in your Christian walk when you carry an attitude of penitence the whole year out!
Why would the Lord mark “plus 1” for us who live in the OnePlus6 (that talked about ‘flagship’-killer Smartphone released in 2018)? To bear fruit. The fruit of PONDERING. Pondering on his word. Meditating on the Bible, God’s Word in human words. I first picked up this new version of the Bible in the year 2014. I enjoy reading this version. It is called The Voice. Let me quote from Psalm 1:1-3 from that version for you: God’s blessings follow you and await you at every turn: when you don’t follow the advice of those who delight in wicked schemes, when you avoid sin’s highway, when judgment and sarcasm beckon you, but you refuse. For you, the Eternal’s Word is your happiness. It is your focus—from dusk to dawn. You are like a tree, planted by flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry. Your fruit ripens in its time; your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun. No matter what you do, you prosper.” There you have it: when you spend time making God’s Word your focus, dusk to dawn, you are like the tree the fruits of which ripens in its time! The Bible has approximately 1200 chapters. If you read 10 chapters of the Bible every day, you would read the Bible in full in 120 days flat (four months). That is simple math! If that is tough, try reading five chapters a day and you can wrap up reading all the Bible in 8 months. If you read four chapters a day, and five during weekends, you will comfortably complete reading all the Bible in a year. Why not try it out this new year? I found the following challenging lines at satisfactionthroughchrist.com: “Up for a challenge? The Horner system is sort of an osmosis system, the idea being inundation rather than meditation. With it, you’ll read ten chapters per day from ten different books. Over the course of a year, you’ll read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the Old Testament History and Prophetic books about 1 1⁄2 times.”
An extension year for what ? To bear fruit. “Fruit – what do you mean?” Ask the writer of Hebrews. “Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name” (Heb.13:15). You have guessed it correct – the fruit of PRAISE. Would you to thank God for at least five blessings you have received from Him each day of the New Year? For the safe ride you had back home. For the food on your table. For the friends and folks you dote over you. If you did that you are bearing “fruit”. And God’s disappointment with you will dry. God’s frustration with you will fizzle out!
Annexure year for what? To produce “fruit”. “What do you mean?” Ask Jesus himself. He told his disciples once remember , ‘Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest?’ Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for the harvest! And he who receives wages, and gathers FRUIT for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:35:36). The point of Christ was making was this: “One look around you will get to see the likes of the Samaritan Woman-seeking, searching! Truckloads of disappointed and dejected people desperately looking for the Living Water. They will drink from Me-believe Me –if only you go and tell them about Me!” The fruit of PROCLAMATION is what I eagerly expected of us in our gracious-given extra year! That’s the reason God chose us: so that we bear “fruit” (win souls) and that our “fruit” remains (and the souls we win make it all the way to Heaven!) (John 15:16). In this supplementary year God’s grace has supplied to you why not become a serious soul winner? Why not gather with a few of your High School/College Christ-following pals to pray and study his word for a few minutes during your lunch break or after class? Why not stand in the most happening youth hangout in town and pass out contemporary gospel tracts? Why not proclaim Christ through life and lip using every opportunity?
Jesus signs off from this parable with a telling warning: “And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down!” (Luke 13:9). Can you really be “cut” down this year if you give Jesus the boot this year instead of fruit? There is a real possibility, buddy. There is an actual chance for that, my friend. What if you die – be cut down – suddenly this year would you be found giving fruit for the Savior or giving him the boot? If you say, “Well, that will not happen to me – ever,” then you must listen to the story of Ahab. Ahab, year after year, was giving Yahweh the finger. Giving His God the boot. Five prophets at least – the famous Elijah, prophet Obadiah, prophet Micaiah and two unnamed prophets – tried to correct him and coax him on to the way of God. But he stayed stubborn. He was solidly stiff-necked. And you know what – his life was cut off crudely when he least expected it or wanted it. He had boasted to prophet Micaiah that he would return safely from a battle God did not want him to fight. He was cocksure of that because he went to a battle in a disguise and He thought he was well protected by an armor. But a randomly shot arrow hit in the joints between the joints of his armor and he shortly died (1 Kings 22:27, 34, 35). Till his sudden death, mind you, he was giving his Maker the boot.
That is what false prophet Hananiah did too. Wanting to impress the people of Judah he prophesied: “Jeremiah is telling you that this captivity in Babylon will last for 70 long years. Forget it! It is gonna last just for two years. That is all! Take it easy, folks! Deep down in his gut, Prophet Hananiah knew he was just conning the people. He knew he had not heard from God on this subject but was simply bluffing in an attempt to become the favorite prophet of the people at the expense of Jeremiah. He was giving the God who called him to be a prophet the boot – not fruit! This was the New Year promise he received from the Lord: “Your life will end THIS VERY YEAR because you have rebelled against the Lord” (Jer. 27:16)! Two months later, he died – still giving God the finger (v 17). A sad end. A sorry finish. Do you know that for any of us this New Year promise may come true: “Your life will end this VERY YEAR!” (Jer. 27:19). The reason? Our life is unpredictable. Biblically speaking it can end at any time – including this very minute or this year – did any one care to tell you? I care. Our life is comparable to a fleeting fog or a fading flower, the Bible tells us (Job 14:1/ Jas. 4:14). It can be short. It can be cut short! If you told me, “Duke, don’t give some Old Testament mumbo-jumbo!” I will show you the sad lives of post-Cross, in-the-New-Testament narrative, Ananias-Sapphira (Acts 5) and King Herod (Acts 12). The lives of these folks were also cut short when they failed to make the “extra year” added to their lives count – it can be seen that way!
I pray that will not be sad story of any of us this extra year God has gracious given us! Instead, let us wisely use this year to bear fruit – instead of giving Christ the boot – in graciously added New Year!
(Rev. Dr. Duke Jeyaraj is the founder of Grabbing the Google Generation from Gehenna Mission, a ministry that reaches out to presentday people via writings, pulpit preaching and counselling. Find out more at www.dukev.org or by WhatsApp to +91-8886040605. He is a fulltime itinerant preacher and writer-in-residence with this ministry).