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A Second Chance

A Second Chance

Many years ago, Lynna Gene and I lived on Pioneers Boulevard. There are many things that could be said about that property, but one that comes to mind is a rose bush that grew to the right of the garage doors.

When I say, bush, I mean bush. Year after year after we moved there, that is all there was. Just a bush. The branches grew tall. They looked healthy. They had plenty of thorns. But that was it. Just the bush.

After a few years of that, I decided to remove the rose bush. Surely we could find something that would actually produce some flowers.

For whatever reason, I did not get around to the removal plan. Then one day, as I arrived home, something caught my eye. Something so bright it was close to blinding. On the bush was one rose. One brilliantly-bright rose. One that looked to have absorbed all the energy and nutrients of the bush over the years, all of it shining in that one flower.

That was it that year. Just the one rose. It was a long wait for a flower, but it was worth it because of the beauty of what was produced.

For today’s message, another plant that took a lot of time to produce something. A plant told about in a parable of Jesus. A parable recorded in Luke 13:6-9.

Let’s listen to the parable. We will then consider the imagery before thinking about what we can learn and apply from the parable.

 Luke 13:6-9. And Jesus told this parable. "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came seeking fruit on it and found none. He said to the vinedresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' The vinedresser answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig around it and put on manure. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, then you can cut it down.’"

At the center of the parable is a fig tree. Not a volunteer fig tree, but one planted. Planted in a vineyard, meaning it was provided favorable conditions to grow.

Fig trees usually produce figs during the third year of growth. They are allowed to just grow until the third year. However, the one in the parable, during the third year, was without figs. It was producing nothing despite the favorable conditions with which it was surrounded.

The owner of the vineyard was upset. He ordered the one overseeing the vineyard to cut down the tree. The owner’s question was why the tree should be allowed to use the good conditions for free.

The vinedresser knew the common gardening method. The three-year plan for fig trees. But, for whatever reason, he made a suggestion to give that tree one more chance. “Let it live one more year. I will work with it, tilling and fertilizing the soil around it. Maybe the tree will then produce figs.”

Remember a parable is a story told to make a point. Knowing that, what do you suppose each of the parts of this parable represent? Here is my interpretation.

The tree represents the people of God. Specifically for Jesus, the Jewish people. People God had planted in the world centuries earlier, way back in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.

Because God planted the people of God, they had wonderful advantages.

That had been the case from the beginning. For instance, they had experienced God’s direction, at one time to a special land. That happened when Abraham was led to a place for God’s people.

Sometime later they had experienced God’s protection, that coming many years after they had had to leave the land given to them. God protected them by allowing their escape from captivity. The protection was military in nature, along with providing food and water.

God had gone so far as to give His people many laws. Not for the purpose of squelching their spirit, but to point the way to proper living so they could be happy.

God’s advantages were also evident at the time Jesus told the parable. The main one was sending Jesus to them to teach them by word and example how to live. How to put His good Old Testament laws into practice.

Before and at the time of Jesus, the people of God should have been living righteous lives. However, the problem, which the lack of figs represents, was that the people of God had a history of not making use of the advantages given to them. 

Over the centuries, there were so many examples of the people of God disobeying Him and getting in trouble. Then those people repented and were blessed, only to disobey again and again get in trouble. Then again repenting and being blessed, only to disobey again. 

On and on it had gone. A pattern evident even at the time of Jesus. Jesus was God’s Son, come to earth to lead people to spiritual fruitfulness. Yet the people so often refused to listen to Jesus. That was at least true for the religious leaders. It was true for many others as well.

The owner of the vineyard represents God, who was and still must be sad when people He blesses so abundantly do not produce the fruit His good care should bring about. Because of that, His plan, according to the parable, was and is to cut down His people. That sounds cruel, but that is exactly what happened at the time of Jesus to any tree that did not bear fruit.

And get this that I read. The wording of the owner was not an abundance of fruit or only the best figs for which he looked. He was hoping to find anything worthwhile. Anything at all.

For us, how about God looking to find in us an enjoyment of the Gospel? How about at least a willingness to learn what the Bible teaches? How about at least trying to live according to what the Bible teaches? We are not perfect. We might not even be as good as someone else, but there should be some kind of spiritual fruit in our lives.

The owner did not find any fruit. That is what caused him to order the cutting down of the tree.

But the vinedresser stepped in. Spiritually, Jesus steps in and pleads for God’s people to have another chance. To let Him work with God’s people a bit longer, the hope being that they - that we - will make use of the extra chance and soon produce fruit that is pleasing to God.

To put the parable into context, listen to the verse before the passage. Verse 5 of Luke 13. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will perish.” 

That was a reminder to the people of God that they had not lived up to the advantages given to them by God. Again, that included the contemporaries of Jesus not accepting Him as the one who had come to be the Savior.

Examples included the number of times they argued against Jesus, extending at times to threatening physical harm.

Because of their refusal to follow Jesus, the people of God often lived in ways contrary to the teachings of God, such as mistreating widows and persecuting any and all who were following the Lord.

Such behaviors are wrong. The only hope for the people of God was repentance. That is what Jesus, in the parable, called them to do. That is what He still wants His people to do.

But we are not alone. There is someone to help us. Jesus. He, like the vinedresser in the parable, intercedes for us, including giving people time to repent. Jesus is the one who tills the soil around us, breaking up whatever hinders us. The one who fertilizes, giving us the energy through His word to live righteously.

What a wonderful thing it is to receive a second chance, which the parable promises. Each of us who is a Christian needs to remember it is a second chance from God that has given us the opportunity to be Christians. However, concerning being fruitful, there is a warning in the last part of the parable.

The vinedresser said, “After I work with the tree one more year, if it bears fruit, well and good.” The promise is both the vinedresser and the owner - both Jesus and God - will be pleased. Metaphorically, so will the tree be pleased, knowing it is serving its purpose.

But if not - here is the warning - if it does not take advantage of the second chance - “you can cut it down next year.” What a somber reminder that there will one day be a final reckoning. A day when there will be no more second chance opportunities.

How important it is to proclaim the truth that no one knows when next year - when the time of no more second chances - will come.

Two weeks ago I heard of a young man who attended a Christian event in Denver.

It was a wonderful spiritual time. On the way home to Montana, the van the young man was in had engine trouble. The van was on the side of the road when it was hit by another vehicle. The young man was killed in the accident.

The last Instagram the young man had posted indicated he was thankful for a good 2018 and could not wait to see what God had in store for him for 2019.

What God had in store for him was his start to an eternity in Heaven, which is of course a wonderful thing for him. But what a reminder that we do not know what next year or tomorrow or even the next second has in store. The point is to now do what needs to be done to accept Jesus. The point for those of us who are Christians is to now do what needs to be done to bear fruit. 

It is assumed the young man killed in the accident had done what he needed to do, but anything short of that leads to being cut down. That is Jesus saying that, not me. What a warning he has in the parable of the fig tree.

I wonder. Concerning bearing fruit - concerning being found without fruit - do you have any regrets? 

Have there been or are there now times in your life when you were not or are not as strong as you could have been or could be in your witness for Jesus?

Are there times you have not or do not pray as much as you could or should?

Are there times you have not or do not show things like love, joy, and peace? When you have not had or do not have the patience, kindness, and goodness that seem appropriate? When faith was or is difficult? When you were or are less than gentle? When you have lacked or do lack self-control?

On a related topic, a few times I have heard parents share they wish they had been stronger in insisting on church when their children were younger.

I dare say each of us can think of times we have fallen short in bearing spiritual fruit. That is of course sad. But remember Jesus’ point in the parable. He is willing to give you - and me - a second chance. Let’s concentrate on that. Let’s think less about the failures of the past and more about what can, with His help and guidance, happen now and in the future. 

To help us with that, there is an example given in the Bible. It is recorded in Philippians 3:13. 

The author is the apostle Paul, who had a whole history of lacking spiritual fruit. A history that included holding to Jewish teachings rather than recognizing Jesus as the Savior, condoning the persecution of followers of Jesus, one time holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death, and going door to door and ordering others to do the same in search of followers of Jesus so they could be put on trial and, if they did not renounce their faith, have them imprisoned or killed. So intent was Paul that he planned to take his search as far away as Damascus, Syria, 140 miles from Jerusalem.

Paul had a whole history of lacking spiritual fruit. A history that ended when, on his way to Damascus, Jesus met him and challenged him to stop fighting and begin serving the Lord.

Paul answered the challenge to be a follower of Jesus. He became as active in serving the Lord as he had been fighting against Him. 

However, he did have memories of past failures. He mentioned them in some of his writings. But listen to what he wrote in Philippians 3:13. “One thing I do. I forget what lies behind.” 

Remember what it means forget. In this context, it means to not allow the past to negatively affect the present and the future. Again, Paul remembered his past, but he did not allow what had happened to affect what did and would happen.

“I forget what lies behind.” Hard to do? Of course. But you know what? There is nothing that can be done to undo and redo the past. Remembering the past - letting past mistakes or failures or shortfalls interfere with the present and the future - has no benefit. So, with the Lord’s help, forget it. Do not let past mistakes, failures, or shortfalls keep you from doing better now and in the future.

Let me add this. If you or I have trouble with forgetting the bad things of the past, it might be because Satan is at work. How glad the devil is when our attention is on the past. When we allow the past to hinder the future.

Let’s not allow Satan to do that. Forget what lies behind. That is what Paul did. He continued, “I strain forward to what lies ahead.” To opportunities to be fruitful and hear from both the vinedresser and the owner - from both Jesus and God - “well and good.”

Let’s be fruitful. Let’s allow Jesus to work with us so we can be fruitful. Even if there are regrets from the past, let’s be fruitful from this day on.

The closing song for today is Wholehearted Service. We will sing verses. 1, 3, and 4.

I’ve turned from the world and it follies,

Forever forsaken all sin;

I’ve given myself unto Jesus

To ever and only serve Him.

I’ll put my whole heart in His service,

And do all He asketh of me;

I mean to live holy and blameless -

A Christian indeed will I be.

Since Jesus gave all to redeem me,

Since only through mercy I live,

It now is my joy and my purpose

A wholehearted service to give.

I’ll put my whole heart in His service,

And do all He asketh of me;

I mean to live holy and blameless -

A Christian indeed will I be.

O help me, dear Lord, to be ready

The task that Thou givest to do,

Not shrinking from labor or duty,

Devoted and faithful and true.

I’ll put my whole heart in His service,

And do all He asketh of me;

I mean to live holy and blameless -

A Christian indeed will I be.

It was worth the wait to see the absolutely beautiful rose. I hope it was worth the wait for absolutely wonderful figs on the tree in today’s parable. 

Even if we have not been or are not now as fruitful as we could have been or should be, Jesus is willing to give us a second chance so that now and in the future we can do better. Like Paul, let’s take advantage of that second chance. Like him, let’s strive forward to what lies ahead, knowing that when that happens, both Jesus and God will proclaim, “Well and good.” What wonderful words to hear. Amen.

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