Fruitless Trees

The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree

The Vinedresser and the Fig Tree (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 13:6–9 (ESV)

6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In the previous verses, Jesus taught about the need for repentance. In this parable, he continues with this theme with the example of a fig tree. In the Old Testament, a fruitful tree was often used to speak of one who was living a godly life (cf. Psalm 1:1-3; Jeremiah 17:7-8). A fig tree that was already three years old should have been producing fruit. Since it was not, it was time to cut it down. However, the vinedresser asked to give the tree one more year. The tree would get all it needed to produce. If it still did not, then the tree could be cut down.

The parable’s message is that God is patient towards us as he waits for us to produce the fruit of repentance. However, there is a time when that patience will end and judgment will come. We must produce fruit today while we still have opportunity. John the Baptist taught this lesson earlier in Luke 3:7-9 where he said, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (cf. Matthew 4:17)!” If you have not done so, will you today?

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Settle Your Debt Today

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:57–59 (ESV)

57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Getting entangled in a legal battle can be a costly affair. This is why it is best to settle matters before they go to court. It is of great benefit to work things out between the parties rather than allow a judge to make the decision, who may even sentence an offender to prison.

In the same way, it is better to settle matters with God before standing before him as Judge. Jesus’ message was that sinners can be reconciled to God through repentance and faith in Jesus and his teachings. Those who repent and believe are pardoned of their sins. Those who do not believe will stand before God and be judged. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners and that the punishment for sin is eternal separation from God in a place called hell.

So, we are given two options: We can settle our sin problem now by trusting in Christ. Or, we can stand before God later and be judged for our sin. It is much better to repent and turn to Christ now.

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Who Do You Serve?

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:41–48 (ESV)

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Peter wondered if Jesus’ former words (cf. Luke 12:1-40) regarding coveting and readiness were meant for all people or for “us.” By “us”, Peter is most likely referring to the disciples and their roles as leaders. Jesus’ response tells us what he expects of all of his followers; those is leadership and those who are not.

In his response, Jesus uses an illustration of a master who goes away and leaves a servant in charge. To leave a slave in charge while away was quite common practice. However, while the master was away, the servant left in charge beats the other slaves left in his care because he does not think the master will return very soon and he is not concerned with fulfilling his master’s desires. To the servant’s surprise, the master returns unexpectedly and learns what has been taking place. The result is sever punishment. Jesus says this is what it will be like for those who are entrusted with leadership over his people.

Jesus went on to say what it will be like for the other servants who are not in leadership roles. They too will give an account for their service. Those who knew their responsibility and refused to do it will receive a severe beating, while those who did not know and failed to do what was expected will also be punished, but less severely. What does this mean? Those who have been given much will have greater expectations. Those who have been placed in leadership, those who have greater understanding, and those who have been given greater opportunities and resources, will be judged by what they have done with what they have received. Those who have received less will also be judged, but the expectations will be less.

In the end, we must realize that we will all stand before our Lord and we will give an account of what we have done with all he has given us. What have we done with our time, our money, our possessions, our intellect, etc. Have we made the proclamation of the gospel our top priority? Have we fulfilled our leadership roles as those who are stewards of God’s people? Have we sought to spend our lives in the service of our Master so that he will be pleased when he returns to inspect our work? How are we living our lives? Who are we serving?

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Stay Ready

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:37–40 (ESV)

37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

We must be ready at all times. Our Lord will return one day and we must not be caught unprepared. When he comes, those who have remained awake (i.e. those who are ready) will be rewarded for their service. He may come later than we expect, but we must remain diligent. We must be like a homeowner who is aware of a thief coming to break into his house. The homeowner would be ready when the thief came. So, we too know that the Lord will return and we must be ready.

Being ready is not a call for us to try to figure out the timing of Jesus’ return. It is a call for us to spend our lives in service to our Lord. Jesus began this chapter speaking about possessions and coveting. It is no accident that we are now reading about Jesus’ return. The two topics go hand-in-hand. When we have a proper understanding of the Lord’s return and when we focus our lives on what is truly important, coveting becomes less of an issue for us. Earthly possessions become less important when we consider them in the light of eternity. Our focus must always be on Jesus’ return and our service to him until that day. When our focus is on Christ our hearts turn to what truly matters.

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Ready for Christ’s Return

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:35–36 (ESV)

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus followed his teaching on possessions by telling his disciples that they must “stay dressed for action” and “keep your lamps burning.” Christ’s followers understand that there will be a day when he returns and mankind will be judged. Knowing this should affect how we live our lives today. We must live in such a way that we are ready to stand before the Lord when he returns.

The phrase “stay dressed for action” is literally “let your loins stay girded.” The imagery is of a man who has his long robe tucked into his belt so he is able to run. We must be ready at a moment’s notice. Jesus compares our readiness to that of servants waiting for their king to return from a wedding feast. The servants must be ready to serve with lamps burning to light the way no matter what time of the day or night the king returns. Servants who prove to be unready and unprepared are of no service to their king.

Scripture tells us that our Lord will one day return. We are not told when, but we are told to be ready. Being ready does not mean we should be trying to figure out when Jesus will return. It means that we live each day for Christ and place his plans and purposes as the priorities of our lives. Would you be found ready if Jesus came today? If not, what needs to change?

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Living Without Fear

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:4–7 (ESV)

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Fear can be paralyzing. I have experienced it myself. When I was young and had the chance to ride a roller coaster for the first time it took me several times waiting in line and backing out before I finally was able to work up the courage. Thankfully, my older sister was patient enough to keep going through the line with me each time. I have also seen it in my children in different circumstances. When they are afraid, it is almost impossible to get them to continue the task at hand.

Jesus knew that fear would be a factor in his disciples’ lives. They would be afraid because of the external pressures and consequences of living for him in a world hostile to Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus tells his disciples that the only proper fear is fear of the Lord. God is the final judge and will decide the eternal fate of every person. The world may pressure, persecute, and even kill us, but that is all it can do. Only God has the authority over eternity. And as we live our lives in fear of the Lord, we need not fear the future. God cares for the sparrows and we are of much more value than the sparrows.

What is keeping you from living all out for the Lord? What keeps you from sharing the gospel with others? Is it fear? We only need to fear the Lord and live in obedience to him. When we do that, there is nothing to be afraid of.

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Religious Hypocrisy

Luke 122 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 12:1–3 (ESV)

1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In the previous verses, Jesus warned the Pharisees about their religious hypocrisy. In today’s passage, he warns his disciples of the same thing. Sin will be brought to light. One may act a certain way in the light (i.e. the presence of others) while revealing sinful thoughts and attitudes in the dark (i.e. in secret and out of public view). Such things do not fool God and will be uncovered.

Religious hypocrisy is a serious offense to God. Do you put on your Sunday best and speak wonderful things in the presence of your church family and pastor and then go home and tell your spouse why you do not like “this person” or “that person” or “this decision” or “that decision”? Do you not know that all of those secret whispers will be made known? Such actions are harmful to the body of Christ, unloving, and sinful. May we repent of our hypocrisy and ask the Lord to change our hearts.

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Are We Also Blind?

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Reading the Word

John 9:35–41 (ESV)

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus had healed the blind man and given him physical sight. Now, he also gives him spiritual sight. When Jesus asked the man if he believed in the Son of Man, he replied, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him.” When Jesus revealed that he was the Son of Man, the blind man proclaimed, “Lord, I believe.” He had passed from blindness to Jesus’ true identity to spiritual sight.

Not everyone responds to Jesus in the way this man did. He recognized Jesus. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did not. They wondered why Jesus would say that he had come to judge those who could see (verse 39). “Are we also blind,” they asked? The Pharisees thought they knew everything, especially the truth about Jesus (cf. John 9:16, 24, 29), but they were truly blind. Their hearts were hardened towards Jesus and they were spiritually blind. They did not recognize him for who he was. As a result, Jesus was not their Savior, but their Judge.

Jesus, the Messiah, came into the world to save us from our sin. When we see our sin and recognize our need of a Savior, we can call out to him to save us and he promises to do so. When we deny our sin and deny him as our Savior, we prove to be blind and we will stand before Christ our Judge. Pray that the Lord might open your eyes to know him and your need of a Savior.

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Responding to Rejection

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Reading the Word

Luke 9:51–56 (ESV)

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus knew that his days on earth were few. He was soon to go to the cross. With this in mind, he set out towards Jerusalem. As Jesus traveled, he had to pass through a Samaritan village. This was a problem because Jews and Samaritans did not care much for each other and their animosity ran back hundreds of years. As Jesus traveled through, because he was set to go to Jerusalem, the Samaritan people did not welcome him.

The lack of a welcome angered James and John. They asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the people. They must have been furious! Yet Jesus rebuked them for this way of thinking. It was not time for judgment. It was time for the gospel to be preached. God will exercise judgment in his timing.

When we are ridiculed or mocked or rejected as Christians, it can be easy to feel the same way as James and John. We may feel like we want to get even or inflict punishment on others for how they treat us or the word of God. However, we must remember that it is our calling to proclaim the gospel to the world. God will take care of judging mankind. Let us show love to all people while we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and then let us leave the rest to God.

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Separating Good from Bad

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Shaped by the Word is a daily- Bible-reading devotional. I do not write supplemental material for Sundays, but I do include a suggested reading from Scripture. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can continue to follow along each day. May God bless you as you read and reflect on his word.

Reading the Word

Matthew 13:47–50 (ESV)

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.