Is God angry? Yesterday at Faith Church, we looked at Luke 13:1-9, a story where people in the crowd following Jesus mentioned a current event. Much like we’ve had mass shootings lately, there were actually two awful tragedies that had recently happened in Jesus’ day. The crowd referred to the Roman leader Pilate who killed a bunch of people, and then Jesus talked about a tower that fell on 18 people killing them.
Jesus knows the question on people’s minds that day. He knows why these questions came up. Is God angry? Were these two horrors the result of God punishing the people for their sins? Jesus’ answer is a clear NO. Jesus says these disasters did not happen because the Lord was punishing people for their sin. Their sins were no worse than others.
Why did Pilate mix the Galileans’ blood with their sacrifices? Most likely because he was a maniac, psychopath who went overboard to put down any rebellion or discord. It was his sick way of keeping the peace.
Why did the tower fall? Maybe it was old. Maybe it wasn’t well-built. Maybe there was a wind storm.
We don’t why either of these situations happened. But we do know from Jesus’ mouth that these situations didn’t happen because these people were worse sinners. We live in a fallen world where tragedy and disease and violence is part and parcel of the world.
Jesus goes on to say that there is a larger issue. God wasn’t punishing people in these two headline stories of the day. Their sins weren’t worse and somehow deserving of diving judgment. Instead Jesus twice says that what we should be concerned about when we hear of tragedy is that we are all sinners who could perish.
He’s not grim and fatalistic though. He says there is hope, we can repent!
So we need to talk about repentance. But before we do that, Jesus tells a parable to explain things even further. He talks about a fig tree that bears no fruit for three years. The normal response for a tree like that is: Cut it down. It is taking up precious space. Get rid of it, plant a new one.
But the gardener in the story intervenes. “Leave it alone for one more year,” he says. This is mercy! It is for us the image of God as a long-suffering God. And this was after three years of no fruit. But he is still willing to give MORE time.
We so often hear about God’s judgment, but this parable reminds us that God is a merciful God! I hear people concerned that God is so violent, especially in the Old Testament. In my personal reading this week, though, I came across Psalm 78.
In this short retelling of the history of Israel we see his anger for sure, but only after numerous affronts from his people. For centuries all he did over and over was help them, save them, rescue them and provide for them. And yet they respond by worshiping other gods, complaining, and disobeying him. It’s all a bit too personal really. When I put myself in God’s shoes, and I read the words the psalmist uses to describe God’s emotion and reactions, I think about the task of parenting. It can be so frustrating! And what I need to do is turn my gaze on me and see that that is how God can feel about me. I can be so fickle, so quick to lose interest in him. So quick to allow my thoughts and heart to wander. But Psalm 78 reminds me that he is amazingly loving, gracious and merciful.
Back in Luke 13 the gracious merciful gardener says to the owner, “Please let me have one more year with this tree. I will fertilize it. I’ll work with it. I’ll give it go.”
You know what this is a picture of? Discipleship. It’s a person who gets involved. Gets their hands dirty. It’s messy. But people can grow, they can bear fruit.
What will it take to become a fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus?
Fertilization. You work with a plant to bring it to health. That’s the heart of God. He isn’t angry, giving up on us. He is merciful and gracious and love us. He wants to see us get healthy and grow and produce fruit for him. He gives us another chance. He forgives.
That’s why Jesus was born, that’s the message of the Christmas story: he came to rescue us, so we could flourish. He entered into the pain of our world with us. We are not alone. He knows our pain. He’s not angry. Instead we should respond, Jesus says, first by repenting. Repentance is when we admit our sins, we confess them, we get them out in the open, and we say “I’m going to make a change.” And then we work on making that change. That’s where the fertilizer comes in. We work to get healthy so we can grow and produce fruit for his kingdom.
I think it is really important to ask what kind of fruit we are talking about.
Maybe the Fruit of the Spirit? Probably not, because Paul will only refer to that about 30 years later. But it is absolutely appropriate for us to think that disciples of Jesus will grow the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Those character qualities should be coming out of our lives. Because of that I think it is important to talk about opposites of fruits. Do you struggle with negativity, complaining, bitterness, impatience, anger? What will it take to change those wrong attitudes and actions into the fruit of the Spirit?
So while Jesus was probably not talking about the Fruit of the Spirit, what fruit was he talking about? The fruit of a fig tree was more fig trees. Fig trees produce figs which have seeds that can produce more. That is the fruit. For a follower of Jesus, then, the fruit we should be producing is more disciples of Jesus.
What is a disciple of Jesus? Not just a believer. Not just a church-goer or worshiper. But one who is being transformed into the image the Christ. One who is becoming like Christ in heart, attitude, and action. One of Jesus’ main actions was making more disciples.
Take a look at how this works in the parable. The farmer does not expect a fig tree which has been barren for three years to magically start bearing fruit in year 4. Same for us. We have the Spirit, but we can choose to not allow him to work through us.
Why do people choose not to make disciples?
- They were never discipled themselves and don’t know what it looks like.
- They are scared.
- They think they can’t do it.
- They think that it is just for the professionals (pastors, worship leaders, missionaries).
- They have been taught that that they just need to believe, and go to church and be good.
No matter the reason, the reality is that many Christians are like a fig tree that bears no fruit. But there is hope, Jesus says. If you are not producing fruit, you can repent and change.
To bear fruit we have to choose to bear fruit! If we are not bearing fruit, and we don’t know how, we need a gardener in our lives to fertilize us. In other words, if we are not bearing fruit, we might need to be taught how. We need to be discipled. We need people to invest in our lives to guide us, lead us.
We can choose to totally avoid discipleship and disciplemaking. As Jesus’ brother James would later say, “Faith without works is dead.” That is a serious charge, and should give us pause. If we cannot see fruit in our lives, we should want there to be fruit. We need to repent, just as Jesus said in the first part. We need to repent of our lack of following him, we need to repent of our failure to make disciples.
Remember that God is not just a God of judgment, he is a God of mercy. He gives more time!
We should all want to be fruit-bearing trees. And the first step is to have a humble, honest admission of the true state of our discipleship to Jesus. If we are not bearing fruit, then we should say “I am not bearing fruit. I admit it. But I want to do what it takes to bear fruit.”
Remember that there is mercy! Today there is mercy from God. If you are not bearing fruit, there is mercy! God wants to give you time, God wants to see you be fertilized, to flourish for his Kingdom and mission.
There’s no rule here. God is not saying “You have one year to become fruit bearing! And if you don’t disciple someone this year, I will cut you off!”
No, the parable is a story to guide us. So what if we make it a goal? What if in 2016 we say “Lord, I want to become a fruitful disciple in 2016. Give me one person.”
Parents, your first priority is your kids. If you are not discipling them, make them a focus.
But you can all think about discipling the people in your church, or maybe a coworker, a neighbor, friends in school or someone on your club or sports team. It starts with being a real friend, building a real relationship with them, no matter if they want to be a disciple or not. Then care for them, pray for them, encourage them and love them.
Remember that the process of fertilizing is messy, dirty hands work. If you know you are not bearing fruit and you need to repent and be fertilized, seek that out.
If you know of someone else in your life who needs to repent and be fertilized, start by praying for them. Would you make a commitment to pray for that person as often as possible, maybe every day, in 2016? Ask God to give you the opportunity to be the kind and merciful gardener in their lives. Then watch for the opportunity to materialize, and go for it. Disciple them. Want to learn more about how to disciple others? I’d be glad to talk with you.
God’s not angry. He wants us to flourish!