27 Dec 2020


Looking Back, Looking Forward

Speaker:  Eld Elgin Chan
Sermon Title: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Scripture Text: Luke 13:6-9

Introduction:

 

 

 

Key Teaching Points of Parable:

 

 

 

Conclusion/Recap:

 

 

 

Concluding Reflections:

  1. If God has rightful ownership over us and our future, why is it so hard to submit ourselves completely to Him? What are some of the obstacles hindering us from submitting our lives to Christ’s rightful ownership over us?
  2. Do you see yourselves as God’s chosen and redeemed people? Like the Israelites, do you have this “entitlement” mentality as rightful recipients of God’s promise and blessings? How do you seek to break out of this entitlement mentality?
  3. “We will never change the world by going to church. We will only change the world by being the Church.” How far do you agree with this statement? How do you see yourself as being part of the Christian community in Hermon and fulfilling God’s desire for fruitfulness to bring glory to His name in the local community where He has placed us in?
Scripture: Luke 13:6-9 (ESV)

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. 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?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Transcript

Introduction

A Blessed Sunday to one and all on this last Sunday of the year. Another year has almost gone by and we are on the brink of another! What kind of a year has 2020 been for you? Where would you place it on a scale of 1 – 10?

Without a doubt, 2020 has been called the pandemic year. Our Government has called this pandemic as the “crisis of a generation”. The United Nation Chief has called this pandemic as the greatest crisis of our age, as no nations are spared from its devastating effects.

Take a look at this picture. Can you see the sad face and posture of our famous Merlion? Because of the pandemic, travel and tourism are badly hit and tourists are staying away from our famous skyline and other tourist attractions.

Dark clouds of uncertainties loom over our beloved island and the region, as businesses are badly hit and workers are laid off by the thousands.

So, for most of us, on a scale of 1 to 10, the year 2020 would rank on the lower half of our Satisfaction Index, 1 being the least satisfied and 10 the most satisfied.

We are all familiar with the outcome of the pandemic fallouts:

  • Our shattered economy: all sectors were hit, with some worse than others. Recovery remains uncertain or shaky in the short to medium term.
  • Personal & family plans disrupted: with travel plan, wedding plan, birthday & anniversary celebrations either cancelled or postponed.
  • Mental health issues arising from ongoing social restriction & WFH. This is a growing area of concern according to medical and health experts, as mental health issues affect both the young as well as the elderly.
  • Bad news: pandemic is here to stay with us for a long time. It has become endemic!
  • Learning to cope with a new “normal”, with social restriction and safe distancing measures the norm rather than the exception, even as we transition to Phase 3 of Safe Re-Opening.

Looking Back

Looking back, we are reminded that God is using this pandemic to cause us to press the “Pause” button in our busy pre-Covid lifestyle; that we may take time-off to re-visit our life’s goals and priorities, and to see whether they are in line with God’s will for us as His redeemed people. Is there a need to do a mid-course correction in the midst of this pandemic, which is likely to remain with us for a long time, according to medical and health experts?

So, let’s take this time to pause and reflect on what kind of a person we were in 2020. Thinking personally:

  • Are there some regrets?
  • If given a chance to live 2020 again, how would I have lived differently?
  • How about my relationship with God? Am I closer to Him this year? Or am I further away from Him?
  • How much did my life reflect the fact that I am a disciple of Christ?
  • Did I relate to others with the same love and grace that Christ has shown towards me?

What is your honest answer? If your honest answer is less than satisfactory, then you are in good company, as all of us, without exception, have fallen short of God’s expectation and desire for us as His redeemed people. Likewise, the nation of Israel, which is often referred to as the fig tree planted by the Lord in His vineyard, has fallen short of God’s expectation and desire for them as His chosen people. What can we learn from today’s Scripture text regarding the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree?

Before we proceed further, let us pray:

“Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for sustaining us through another year, a year filled with challenges and uncertainties. Even though we may not understand Your will in allowing this pandemic to happen, yet we are comforted by Your Word that You are the Sovereign Lord and nothing escapes You by chance. You are sovereign over the affairs of Man and nations and over all natural and man-made disasters. As we stand at the threshold of a new year, may we take comfort in your Word that You are our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble, and we can cast all our cares and anxieties on You, for You care for us. Thank you for hearing our prayer. In Your precious Name we pray. Amen.”

Let us now look at the Scripture text for today:

Scripture Text: Luke 13:6-9 (Parable of the Barren Fig Tree)

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.’ ”

Take a look at this picture. On the left is a picture of a barren fig tree, full of leaves but with no fruit to show. And on the right, we see another fig tree full of leaves but also full of fruits to delight us.

Jesus is telling this Parable as a warning to the nation of Israel not to take God’s blessings and favour for granted, just because they are the descendants of Abraham. Let’s look at some of the key teaching points we can take away from this Parable.

First Teaching Point:

1) God has rightful ownership over us

Reading from verses 6 and 7:

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?’

We see 2 persons mentioned here: First, the owner of the vineyard which refers to God the Father. Second, the vineyard keeper or gardener which refers to our Lord Jesus.

Jesus is telling us that it is the prerogative and right of the owner to take drastic action against the fig tree, for He planted it in His vineyard. The tree belongs to him. He has waited long enough for it to bear fruit. This leads us to an important principle (see next slide)

The right of ownership carries the right of determination

And that is the right of ownership carries the right of determination.

Paul reminds us in Romans 9 that God is our Creator and we are His creation:

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to his molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use?” (Romans 9:20-21)

Elsewhere in the OT, the Psalmist reminds us in a more personal and relational way that we belong to God and He is our Shepherd. “Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.”(Ps 100:3)

Paul goes on to remind us in 1 Cor 6 that our body and our spirit belong to God.

 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Question: Are there areas in your lives that you find it hard to submit to Christ’s ownership and authority?

It may be in the area of your thought life where you are struggling with some immoral or dark thoughts, or thoughts of anger, bitterness, guilt, shame or depression? Or it could be in the area of your Study and Career, where you are striving to get ahead of your peers and everyone else, and Christ is left at the back seat of your busy lifestyle.

Or it may be in the area of your relationship with your loved ones, friends, colleagues or that special someone whom you find it difficult to submit to the Lord in prayer. Or it could be in the area of your stewardship of your time, money and talents.

Whatever the areas of your struggles are, may the Holy Spirit help you to identify and submit them to Christ’s ownership and authority, that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, may guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.

2nd Teaching Point:

2) We are His favoured People

Let’s look at verse 6 again. It says that “a man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.”

Here, we see that the fig tree is domesticated (as illustrated by the phrase “in his vineyard”)

Let’s see what are the clear advantages of the owner’s fig tree over the wild fig tree?

  • Intentionally planted in owner’s vineyard (in other words, it’s planted in a safe, secured and protected place).
  • Better soil and nutrients over the wild fig trees (which are exposed to the harshness of the weather outside)
  • Personal attention & care of vineyard keeper or gardener

In the OT, Israel is called to be God’s chosen and favoured people. In what ways can we see this? We can see this in:

  • God’s covenantal promise to Abraham (that he shall be a father of many nations and his descendants shall be as the stars in the heavens and they shall inherit the promised land)
  • God’s personal Protection and Presence over His people (as symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant, and during the time of Moses, by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night)
  • God’s love when He sent His prophets to teach, judge and warn them repeatedly of their rebellious and backsliding ways
  • God’s grace in delivering Israel from their feared enemies (whenever they cried out to Him in repentance)
  • God’s longsuffering in His constant pleading with Israel to return to Him from their rebellious ways. Malachi 3:7 is God’s constant plea to the children of Israel: “Return to Me and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7)

Question: Given God’s favour and love towards Israel, does He have the right to demand gratitude and obedience from them?

Answer: The answer is obviously Yes!

But, the reality is far from this. Israel chose repeatedly to turn their backs upon God and follow their pagan neighbours in worshipping false gods. In fact, they chose to outdo their pagan neighbours by worshipping more false gods and idols and repeatedly provoking the Lord to anger.

So, the outcome is that God has to act to uphold His holiness. He did this by removing Israel’s favored nation status and left them to their own wicked devices, with defeats and exiles a common theme in their sad history as a nation.

But what about us as His redeemed people? Paul tells us that as believers in Christ, we are the recipients of His spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, for God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Read Eph 1:3-4:

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:3,4)

Question: Do we see ourselves as His chosen and favoured people? Do we seek to live out His grace and love in our daily lives? May the Holy Spirit help us in our prayerful response to Christ who has chosen us as His redeemed people.

3rd Teaching Point

3) God desires fruitfulness for His glory

Let’s look at v.6 again:

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.”

Here, Israel is depicted as the fig tree with plenty of leaves but no fruit to show, despite the 3 years of watering and nurturing by the vine keeper or gardener.

Let’s look at what the fig leaves symbolize for the nation of Israel.

  • Outward display of religious piety. As a nation and people, Israel is obsessed with the outward display of religious piety. In fact, some Bible scholars have commented that it is hard to find another nation more outwardly religious and pious as the nation of Israel during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry.
  • Meticulous rituals, sacrifices and man-made traditions. As a nation and people, Israel is also obsessed with meticulous rituals, sacrifices and man-made traditions, so much so that they receive a…..
  • Rebuke from Jesus (esp to their religious leaders) that the Sabbath is made for Man and not Man for the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them that obedience to the spirit of the Law is more important than blind obedience to the letters of the Law.

What’s the final outcome? Sadly, Israel showed no fruit of repentance and returning to God as He demanded, so they were cut off from His favour.  

Our Lord Jesus reminds us in John 15 that God the Father is glorified when we live lives that are pleasing to Him.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

A Christian pastor has this to say:

“It is not about going to church once a week, but how we act towards others seven days a week that counts.” (A Christian pastor)

“We will never change the world by going to church. We will only change the world by being the Church.” (A Christian pastor)

Christ’s challenge to us is not to be mere Sunday Christians, but disciples of His, that we may be salt and light to the community, drawing others to the saving knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminds us again that the end point of fruitfulness in our lives is for God’s glory, and never for our own.

Ps Daniel has shared with us in his earlier sermons regarding the need to “Keep strengthening our roots” by growing deep (in God’s Word) and growing wide (in our relational discipleship and intentional fellowship with one another, whether in CG, ministry groups, church camp and other church-related activities). In doing so, we allow the Holy Spirit to bless Hermon with more fruitful members and disciples for God’s glory and this will prepare us well for our next move to the new community that God is leading us to at Henderson area.

4th Teaching Point

4) Christ intercedes on our behalf

Reading from v8 & 9:

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.’ ”

Here we see our Lord Jesus interceding for the Jewish nation to be given another year to show fruit of repentance.

An intercessor is someone who uses his influence to persuade a person in authority to forgive another person, or to give him another chance, or to save him from further punishment:

The phrase “Let it alone” as used by our Lord Jesus in this parable has the same meaning as “To forgive” or “To stay judgment”.

It is a beautiful picture of Christ’s intercessory ministry to the Jewish nation. And we see this most clearly in His dying moments on the Cross when He prays to the Father: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Here, we see that the 3 years of tree planting and nurturing has direct reference to Christ’s 3 years of ministry amongst the Jewish people. Sadly, Israel chose to reject Christ as their Messiah, with sad and tragic consequences. We see this in the complete destruction of Jerusalem and her holy temple by the Roman armies in AD 70.

Paul goes on to remind and encourage us in Romans 8 that Christ continue to intercede for His Church even after His resurrection and ascension.

32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:32-34)

Again, we see this beautiful picture of Christ’s intercessory ministry for the Church before the Father. May we heed His loving call to intercede for our nation and the lost souls around us.  

We are reminded that not all of us are called to be leaders and speakers, or pastors and evangelists. But, all of us are called to be faithful prayer warriors. May we then heed Christ’s loving call to pray for our nations and the lost souls around us.

Conclusion

In conclusion, let’s recap the key teaching points in this Parable:

1) God has rightful ownership over us

2) We are His favoured People

3) God desires fruitfulness for His glory

4) Christ intercedes on our behalf

 

Closing Thought and Prayer

In an interview in November last month in preparation for the launch of his new book entitled “Providence”, to be launched early next year, John Piper has this to say about the dark time that has come upon us. I quote him here:

“Even in the worst of times there are beauties, and in the best of times, there are horrors. And that’s what the Bible is: it is full of beauties and full of horrors, and God has something to say about all of them.” (John Piper)

Read from slide: “Amidst the uncertainties and darkness of this Pandemic Year, our prayer is that the beauty of Christ’s love and grace may shine through our faithful testimony and walk with Him.”

As 2020 draws to a close, and we look forward to 2021, may we submit to Christ’s rightful ownership over us; may we seek to be His favoured people by living lives worthy of the Gospel, bearing fruit of righteousness to His glory. Lastly, may we intercede faithfully for our nation and those around us, as the Holy Spirit enable us to.

Let us close in prayer:

“Dear Lord and heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word to remind us that we belong to You, for You have chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we should be your redeemed people and children of righteousness. We confess that our hearts are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. Forgive us for our sins and backsliding ways, and grant us grace and strength to submit to Christ’s rightful ownership over us. Amidst the uncertainties, pains and sufferings brought about by this pandemic, may we endeavour by Your strength to live lives that are pleasing to You, bearing fruit of righteousness for your glory. And may we heed Christ’s example to intercede for our nation and those around us, that Your Word may bring life and hope to those living in darkness and without hope. Thank You for hearing our prayers, for we pray all these in the precious Name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.”

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