WHAT DOES GOD REALLY WANT FROM ME?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
By Ron Ritchie
Last week I was looking through a photo album Anne Marie and I had
put together of our trip to France in 1989. As I turned one of the pages,
the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle fell out on the
floor. I picked it up, and memories flooded through my mind. "My goodness,
that was an amazing day," I said. The paper was dated October 18, 1989,
and the headlines read in bold letters: "Extra, Extra, Extra: HUNDREDS
DEAD IN HUGE QUAKE. As a stunned Bay Area comes back to life today, millions
of residents will start trying to cope with the aftermath of the area's
worst earthquake since 1906." On October 17, 1989 Anne Marie and I
were sitting in a hotel room in Lourdes watching the local news when the
station switched to Dan Rather, who gave us the report about the San Francisco
earthquake. I wonder if you were "tempted" as I was for just a
moment, to believe that perhaps God was finally judging that wicked and
Shortly after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 a wonderful English Christian
preacher and writer named G. Campbell Morgan said from his London pulpit,
"People said that the earthquake in San Francisco and the fire that
followed was the judgment of God." So it appears that no matter what
generation we live in, we human beings are quick to make judgments on all
kinds of situations, or we are at least tempted to. When we read about the
tragic events in Romania this week, in which a dam broke and killed sixty-six
men, women, and children and forced some ten thousand people to flee for
their lives, did we think that God was judging that nation for the way they
treated their children in the past? And what other human events taking place
around us each day, from a local murder, to the drug wars, to the bombing
of a church or a synagogue, are we tempted to put our stamp of judgment
on and miss the whole point of what God is really trying to get us to understand?
As we turn to Luke 13:1-9, we will find our Lord Jesus challenging his generation
to stop thinking they knew what God was doing behind two current "tragedies:"
(1) a political and religious conflict resulting in the murder of some worshipping
Galileans, and (2) a fallen tower which resulted in the deaths of eighteen
human beings. He followed this with the parable of the unfruitful fig tree,
which was given as a warning to sober them about their own relationship
with God and to get them to ask the question: "Since God has not called
me to be a judge, what does he really want from me?"
I. A repentant heart
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported
to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans
were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this
fate? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and
killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?
I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Over and over again as we watch our Lord moving toward the cross of Calvary
we can hear a quiet theme in the background, a soft but tragic melody: "For
the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke
19:10). Few understood, but we need to keep it in mind because that's what
was in God's heart, and that's what was in his Son's heart. That theme just
kind of wraps itself around this passage. At this moment our Lord was still
standing with his disciples among the multitude (Luke 11:14-12:59), and
he had just confronted them: "You hypocrites! You know how to analyze
the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this
present time?" (Luke 12:56.) He was saying, "This is the time
when your long-promised Messiah has been sent to you, and for the last three
years the rulers of the nation of Israel and a majority of the people have
been rejecting me. If you don't change your minds about me, you will be
dragged before the Judge and found guilty of rejecting me as your Messiah
and placed in prison forever. There is great wisdom in settling your case
before you get to court."
Now, in this particular story that comes up, there is a warning about discerning
the present times, and some people approached our Lord, who was known as
"the Man from Galilee," and asked him what he thought about the
Galileans Jews who had come up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple
only to be murdered indiscriminately by Pilate's soldiers. Pilate was governor
of Judea and Samaria from 26 AD to 36 AD. He had a reputation for being
inflexible, merciless, obstinate, cruel, and unjust, and he lacked common
sense in handling the delicate problem of the strained relationship between
the Jews and their Roman conquerors.
William Barclay, a Scottish pastor and New Testament scholar with great
insight into the history and culture of the New Testament times, tried to
shed some light on this obscure political event when he wrote in his commentary
on the Gospel of Luke:
...Galileans were always liable to get involved in political
trouble because they were a highly inflammable people. Just about this time
Pilate had been involved in serious trouble. He had decided rightly that
Jerusalem needed a new and improved water supply. He proposed to build it,
and to finance it with certain Temple monies....But at the very idea of
spending Temple monies like that, the Jews were up in arms. When the mobs
gathered, Pilate instructed his soldiers to mingle with them, wearing cloaks
over their battle dress for disguise....at a given signal they were to fall
on the mob and disperse them. This was done, but the soldiers dealt with
the mob with a violence far beyond their instructions, and a considerable
number of people lost their lives.
So our Lord answered, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater
sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?"
People have had the false notion at least since the days of Job that the
greater the sin of a man, the greater the calamity. Eliphaz the Temanite
asked the suffering Job, "Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if
you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect? Is it because
of your reverence that He reproves you, that He enters into judgment against
you? Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquities without end?"
(Job 22:3-5.) We can also see this same idea in the case of the blind man
in Jerusalem when the disciples asked Jesus in John 9:1, "Rabbi, who
sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" indicating
that they thought his blindness was a result of God's divine judgment upon
his parents or the man for some terrible sin in the past. So now these people
have moved this theological logic over to the present atrocity in the temple.
It was obvious to them that God directed the soldiers of Pilate to pick
out the greatest sinners within the group of visiting Galileans and eliminate
them from the face of the earth as a punishment for some personal sin. They
missed the principle of mercy and grace.
The Lord rejected that false concept, for physical disasters like physical
advantages are no indication that those who experience them are either worse
or better than their fellow man. He went on to say, "...but unless
you repent [a present imperative with continued force], you will all likewise
perish." This warning was given earlier by John the Baptist as he addressed
the Pharisees: "Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance,
and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,'
for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children
to Abraham. And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every
tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into
the fire." (Luke 3:8-9.)
Our Lord had preached the good news of the kingdom of God and healed the
sick all over Galilee, and most of the Galileans had rejected his person
and message, so when they came to Jerusalem, they were already in the process
of spiritually perishing. Then a day came when there was no more time to
repent, and they were killed. Jesus was saying, "But you who are standing
in front of me are still alive, so you still have time to repent of your
view of me. The issue is not who is the greater sinner, but the reality
that all of you who have entered into the sin of rejecting me as your Messiah,
Savior, and Lord will perish as the Galileans did because you did not change
your minds about me. The fate of these people is a reminder not of their
sins, for they were neither better nor worse than those of many others,
but of the urgency of the gospel. If you reject me as your Messiah, you
will in time perish." The Lord could see not only the final destruction
of the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel some forty years away
but also the eternal destruction of the lives of the individuals standing
"Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam
fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?"
The Lord and the crowd were aware of a recent accident in the city of Jerusalem.
The Tower of Siloam was built inside the southeast portion of the Jerusalem
wall near the pool of Siloam. Apparently there was some structural failure,
and the tower suddenly came crashing down on the crowd. Once the dust settled
and the bricks were removed, some eighteen bodies were recovered. Again
there was that false notion that the hand of God had judged those eighteen
people because of their personal sin.
Our Lord challenged that foolish notion and questioned the crowd by saying,
"Do you think those folks were killed because their sin was worse than
that of all the men who live in Jerusalem?" And the Lord's second warning:
"I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
These eighteen Jews had no time to repent, but you do have time because
you and I are standing here, alive and breathing-so repent! Repent of your
views of who I am: I performed all those miracles and fulfilled prophecies.
I am not casting out demons in the power of Satan. I am the Messiah of God,
your long-awaited Savior and Lord. Are you just dismissing that? Unless
you come to terms with this reality, all of you from the least of sinners
to the greatest will suffer the same fate as the eighteen Jews in Siloam.
You will experience not only physical death, but also spiritual death resulting
in being eternally separated from God.
I couldn't help but think this morning about the cruise ship off of South
Africa with six hundred people aboard. Those six hundred people are facing
eternity because the ship has sprung a leak and it's in a fierce storm,
and rescuers are having trouble getting the proper rescue equipment there
in time. When they boarded that ship a few days ago, these people did not
think they would soon be faced with eternity. Those of them who are Christians
have nothing to fear, but those who have rejected Jesus as their Savior
are in the process of perishing.
We need to note that God may allow some atrocities and disasters to fall
on certain people or nations as a temporal punishment for their particular
wickedness, as in the case of the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-19:29),
who were utterly destroyed because of their wickedness, or of the nation
of Israel when they forsook the Lord and followed after idols, so that they
were taken into the Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17). But not all atrocities
and disasters are to be viewed as God's visitation because of some special
sins, but rather as what is called the wrath of God, which means that God
allows the natural consequences within a fallen humanity and a fallen world
to come to fruition. The real issue, as the Scriptures point out, is that
"...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans
3:23.) Our Lord was directing their attention to the reality that their
sin was that of rejecting him as their Messiah. Our Lord wanted these people
as well as all of us to come to terms with who he was. And in his love and
mercy he may use some "tragic event" to shock or sober us into
dealing with the spiritual realities. He is the Savior of the world. "And
there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven
that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12.)
I was recently reminded of how the Lord will use apparent "tragedies"
to sober men and women within this community. A few years ago I and several
Christian businessmen in this community were friends with a non-Christian
man who had a wonderful Christian wife and two beautiful children. He had
a lovely home in this community and was a successful businessman himself.
For several years his wife and his friends had sought to share the good
news of Jesus Christ with him, until one night this young man was "accidentally"
killed while working on some equipment in his own shop.
Two days later, as one of the friends of this man and his family, I was
invited to give a message from the word of God at the memorial service.
I remember standing up to share a word of comfort to a mostly stunned community
of family members, business associates, and friends. At the time I was tempted
in my own heart to try to figure out what God was doing behind the curtains
of time and space. "I guess God judges sinful men," I thought.
"He was quite a sinner, and God judged him." Then I thought, "No,
God is doing something else here," and I wondered what it was. I forgot
about that event for many years, and then this year a man in this church
pulled me aside and told me that he was in the audience at that memorial
service as one of the friends of the man who had died. He too was stunned
by what happened. He went home, thought about the message, and about Jesus
and eternity, and invited Jesus Christ into his life. And he sits here today,
growing in the Lord with his wife and family. In the same way, God used
the murder of the Galileans and the tower that fell down on people to shock
those still living into listening so he could say, "All of you have
sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Every man, woman, and child has
to come to a relationship with me in order to be saved. There is redemption
in me-don't neglect it. And don't keep talking about atrocities and disasters.
Be thankful you're still alive to make a decision. There will come a time
when suddenly you will part of a tragedy or disaster. Where are you in light
of a relationship with Christ?"
Our Lord challenged this crowd to stop thinking that the murder of the Galileans
at the temple or the death of the men at the tower was a judgment of God
on sinners. Rather, they were to take their eyes off those two events and
search their own hearts for the sin of rejecting Jesus as their Messiah
in light of all the evidence that he really was who he said he was: the
Son of God. Unless they repented of this sin they would soon perish.
What does God want from me? A repentant heart and...
II. A fruitful life
And He began telling this parable: "A certain man had a
fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for
fruit on it, and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold,
for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding
any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' And he answered and
said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it
and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not,
cut it down.'"
The Lord was about to explain why this generation was worthy of judgment.
He used a common example of a man who owned a vineyard and had a vineyard-keeper
whose task was to make sure that the vines and trees produced fruit. This
is a beautiful picture. Now, the fig tree and the grape vine are both used
in the Old Testament as a metaphor for Israel. Isaiah had written a song
to that effect some 700 years earlier:
"Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
And He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it,
And hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.
"And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.
What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless
So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
And I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress."
The ten tribes of the nation of Israel fell from within and were taken into
the Assyrian captivity in 721 BC.
In Jesus' parable, when the owner came to the tree in its fruit-bearing
season he found no fruit. It was foolish to keep any fruit-bearing tree
if it didn't bear fruit in its season. It would be better to cut it down
and plant a new tree with the hope that it would produce fruit. But the
vineyard-keeper interceded: "Let it alone, sir, for this year too,
until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next
year, fine: but if not, cut it down."
The owner was clearly Jehovah God, the vineyard was the world, and the fig
tree was Israel. "I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw
your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season."
(Hosea 9:10.). In Jesus' parable the fig tree represented the then present
Jewish generation for the past three years. From the beginning of its creation,
God had planted Israel as a fig tree in his vineyard with the hope that
his life would flow through them, produce the fruit of righteousness and
justice, and draw all the nations to Israel so that they could find the
one and only living God (Deuteronomy 4:1-9). And now that God was standing
before them in Jesus, in finding him they would experience salvation. But
at the moment Israel was "using up space" like the fig tree that
bore no fruit, so the vineyard owner wanted to cut it down (see Romans 11:17-26).
The vineyard-keeper was the Lord Jesus and the one who had worked for three
years by word and deed seeking to cause the tree to produce good fruit.
It is interesting that in the beginning of our Lord's ministry, John the
Baptist had preached, as we saw a moment ago: "...when he saw many
of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You
brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore
bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you
can say to yourselves, "We have Abraham for our father;" for I
say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore
that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'"
(Matthew 3:7-10.) Now, three years later, the nation had rejected their
Messiah and sat among the nations fruitless. Then the Lord Jesus interceded
to his heavenly Father with a heart of mercy: "Let me have one more
year, for I will dig around it and put in fertilizer; I will shake up the
ground of the nation by presenting the miracle of the resurrection and fertilize
the nation by sending the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church. Then
if they don't repent of their rejection of me as their Messiah, let the
fig tree be cut down."
However, within a few short months, as Mark tells us, Jesus would enter
the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and be rejected by the Jewish leadership.
He would then go into the nearby city of Bethany. "And on the next
day, when they had departed from Bethany, He became hungry. And seeing at
a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything
on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not
the season for figs. And He answered and said to it, 'May no one ever eat
fruit from you again." (Mark 11:12-14.) The Jewish legalism had caused
spiritual famine in the nation of Israel with no hope of any spiritual food
in the near future. They had the leaves of a fig tree, but they were a tree
that produced no figs. Hence Jesus' cursing this fig tree would be symbolic
of God's judgment that was going to fall on Jerusalem and the nation. At
that moment, in effect the Lord would close the door on the purpose, fruit,
and life of Israel for that season. Within 36 years the nation of Israel
would begin its rebellion against Rome, and the owner of the "vineyard"
would allow the Romans to utterly defeat and destroy the city of Jerusalem
in 70 AD and take the inhabitants into captivity. This did not mean the
termination of God's program for Israel, but indicated that Israel would
be set aside (see Romans 11:17-24).
Through a new program God would produce fruit for his glory. Christ revealed
this new program in Matthew 16:15-18. When Jesus asked Peter who he thought
Jesus was he answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living
God." Jesus replied, "And I also say to you that you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall
not overpower it." The nation would not rise again for some 1900 years,
until in 1947 Israel would become a nation among the nations as part of
the fulfillment of the "last days." That generation was living
on borrowed time, and so are any of us who refuse to repent or change our
minds about Jesus as Messiah. We're living on borrowed time if we keep putting
off the great offer of our Lord. These Jews did not owe their reprieve of
judgment to their own good merit, but to the love, mercy, and intercession
of Jesus Christ. Peter would write years later to a rebellious generation
who mocked our Lord's second coming: "The Lord is not slow about His
promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing
for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9.)
That's a most amazing verse. What Peter is saying captures the heart of
God. God does not wish that anyone here would ever perish. That's his heart.
So if you perish, it's because you won't repent and change your mind about
who Jesus is; because there is salvation in no one else.
Last week the Couples Class surprised a young Christian celebrating his
seventy-fifth year on this earth. They presented him with a big cake and
candles and wished him happy birthday. But he's just a year old in Jesus.
He had spent a lifetime serving himself, and yet because of the love and
mercy of "the vinedresser," this man had been surrounded by a
host of Christians young and old who were used by our Lord to fertilize
his heart. Last year he repented of his sin and asked Jesus Christ to become
his Lord and Savior, and because of that simple act of faith he will never
perish but has been given eternal life and now is bearing the fruit of the
character of Christ in this community.
As God called the nation of Israel into existence as a fig tree to offer
the nations the fruit of his character and the hope of salvation, so he
has called his church into existence to express the character of Jesus Christ
and the same hope of salvation to those all around us.
What does God really want from us?
1. He wants a heart of repentance, once for all as well as each
day. Peter, in speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem after the resurrection
our our Lord on the day of Pentecost, said, "Repent, and let each of
you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your
sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38.)
(The Holy Spirit is the power that lives this new life in and through us
to God's honor and glory and to our joy.) Later he said to the crowd in
the temple who had gathered to see the formerly lame man who had been healed,
"Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in
order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
2. He wants a fruitful life. It will be manifested in the character of Christ:
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch
in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears
fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit...I am the vine, you are
the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for
apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:1-5.) The character of
Christ is portrayed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit: "...love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
against such things there is no law....if we live by the Spirit, let us
also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22-24.)
Something happened last week that was a real rebuke to me. My wife at times
just scares me about what she really understands about God, and to live
with her at times is really difficult! We had some French people show up
out of nowhere to stay with a friend across the street, and our friend asked
Anne Marie to help her with a few things while they were there for two weeks,
as she had a bad hip. So my wife just poured her life into these people.
They were here last week, but when we got home she went right to bed, for
she was exhausted because of all that she had been doing for them. So the
next day I went to breakfast with her and said, "Honey, why did you
do all that? You don't even know them." She just looked at me and said,
"Because I'm kind." I was supposed to know that! That's the fruit
of the Spirit, isn't it? (It wasn't that she was kind apart from the Lord;
it was that she was allowing the Holy Spirit to be kind through her.)
The result of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is good works: "For we are
His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10.) Let's go
walk in these good works. The world around us is filled with men, women
and children in the process of perishing. They are starving for spiritual
food, and the Lord wants to meet their spiritual hunger through you and
me. Ask him to give you the faith to "show up" in the midst of
a world that is perishing so that he can be glorified through you today.
Catalog No. 4156
Ron R. Ritchie
August 4, 1991
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