St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Our New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s Eve Sermon on Luke 13:6-9

Text: Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

It seems as though at New Year’s people tend to make resolutions for the next year. Many of them deal with health. Some make the resolution to exercise more in the new year. Others make the resolution to get more sleep. We might make the resolution to eat more healthy foods in the new year. We resolve to eat more fruits and vegetables. This evening, I am going to talk about a resolution, but it is not to eat more fruit. Rather, we will discuss the new year’s resolution to produce more fruit.

Jesus had just been talking about a number of instances where people died in tragic ways. In the first instance, the soldiers of Pontius Pilate killed a number of people as they were about to make their sacrifices. In the second, eighteen people were killed when a tower collapsed and fell on them. The people were wondering if these were things sent from God because he was angry with the victims. Maybe, they had committed such horrific sins that God was putting them to death. Jesus assured the people that this was not the case, at all. He, then, adds the words, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” In other words, Jesus was telling the people that they should not think so highly of themselves that they believe that they were above sinning. Each one should be concerned about how they were living their lives.

It is on this backdrop that Jesus tells the parable, which is our sermon text for this evening. As you listen to this parable of Jesus, it is hard to find any good news in it. It talks about the landowner, who came and looked for fruit on this tree for three years, but never found any. As a result, he tells the one who took care of the vineyard to cut it down. After an impassioned plea from the caretaker for more time, we hear the ominous words, “If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” Where is the good news in this parable? Where is the gospel, which sounds so sweet to our ears?

One place where it is found is the fact that the fig tree is growing in his vineyard, in the first place. Our text says that the fig tree was “growing in the vineyard.” The original Greek word that is translated here as “growing,” really has the idea that it was planted there. The owner took special care to place this particular tree in his vineyard. He chose this tree and carefully planted it there. This reminds us of the fact that God chose us, before the creation of the world, to be his own. He wanted us to be a part of his kingdom. This would have been impossible, because of our natural state. We are born with sin. We did not deserve to be in God’s kingdom, bearing fruit, but rather to be tossed onto the brush pile and burned with the eternal fires of hell.

However, Jesus, whose birth we celebrated a week ago, came to the earth to purchase us. The purchase price was steep. It started as soon as Jesus was born, indeed, from the time he was conceived. He became a human being, which meant that he was subject to the law. However, since he was also God, he was able to keep that law perfectly in our stead. We see how much Jesus was willing to pay for us, as we follow him to the cross. There we see God the Father punishing his own Son in our place. Every single sin that you and I have ever committed or will commit was all paid for by the innocent suffering and death of Jesus. This is what God was willing to pay for us. Jesus’ resurrection tells us that the purchase price was paid in full.

Then, God reached out and brought us to faith. At that time, we were planted into God’s vineyard, with the purpose of producing fruit. What is the fruit that we are to produce? It is everything that we do to thank God for all that he has done for us. Note that the fruit we produce can never repay God for what he has done for us. There is no way that we could ever repay him. Indeed, it is insulting to God to think that we what we do adds to our salvation. That would be like if someone gave us a priceless jewel, free of charge, and we offered him twenty-five cents in return. The fruits that we do are those things that thank God for all that he has done for us. How do we know what is pleasing to him? He tells us ever so plainly in his Word. He tells us those things that he wants us to do and the things that he wants us to stay away from. Out of love for him, we want to produce these fruits.

The words of our text for this evening also serve as a warning for us, however. Here was this tree that had been so lovingly planted in the vineyard. I am sure that this tree had beautiful leaves on it. It looked good from a distance. However, there was a problem with this tree. It wasn’t producing fruit. The owner continued to look for fruit. The Greek gives us the idea that it was an earnest, continual search for fruit. He was looking for some fruit, any fruit, from this tree. After this continual searching, he came to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to cut down the tree. This was not a knee-jerk reaction. Nor was he being unreasonable in his expectations. Since it was apparent that the tree was not producing fruit, there was nothing left to do but cut it down.

This would refer to a person who says and does all the right things. They look so good on the outside. The problem is that they are not producing any fruits of faith. The things that they do that look so good are not done for the right reasons. They are done for show or to get people off of their backs. The reason that this is so serious is told us by James in his epistle, “Faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26) The lack of fruit shows a lack of faith. Where there is no faith, there can be no salvation. That is why the owner of the vineyard said to cut down the tree.

However, we again see the love of God, as the caretaker pleads for that tree. This fig tree had become an object of special interest for the caretaker. Everything in him rebelled at the thought of cutting it down. He begged for permission to dig around the tree, loosening the soil so that the sun and the rain could perform their tasks more effectively. He would also fertilize the tree. He was going to do everything in his power to have that tree be productive.

The caretaker in this parable is Jesus. He continues to plead for us. John writes in his first epistle, “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1) When we sin, Jesus pleads our case before his Father. He, also, asks for more time so that we can be the type of fruitful tree that we should be. Jesus does everything in his power to make us productive trees. He digs around us, loosening up the hard soil of our hearts with his law. This is not done to destroy us, but to allow us to see where we have failed to live in a way that is pleasing to God. He does this so that the life-giving and life-sustaining gospel might come in and give us life. Through the infusion of the gospel, we are motivated to do these good works. He wants to fertilize us with his Word. This is why it is so important that we are in his Word. Through that word, he strengthens us so that we can be the type of tree that produces a bumper crop of fruit that is pleasing to him.

Please, do not misunderstand me, as if I am saying that none of you is producing any fruit. I am sure that each of us does produce fruit. This section, however, gives each of us an opportunity to do some self-evaluation. Are there things in my life that are causing me to not be as fruitful as I could be? Are there sins in my life that I find so easy to hold on to? Do I find myself pursuing things that really are not that important rather than my relationship with God? These verses help us to take a hard look at ourselves. Our sinful nature needs to hear the words, “If not (if it doesn’t produce fruit), then cut it down.” We pray that our loving caretaker, Jesus, would continue to work with us so that we might be the type of tree that produces fruit that glorifies him.

To that end, I would like to point out a verse that gives us some idea of the fruit that God is looking for. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22,23) These are the types of fruit that we want to produce as we deal with other people. As we exhibit these things, we are glorifying God. We are producing God-pleasing fruit.

The problem with resolutions is that they are often forgotten as the new year progresses. The other day I saw a picture, where a person had posted their resolutions. At the top, it said, “Resolutions for 2013.” However, the 2013 had been crossed out, and 2014, was written above it. 2014 was also crossed out, and 2015 was written nearby. Guess what had happened to 2015? It was crossed out and 2016 was written. It wasn’t that the resolutions were ongoing things. Rather, it was that they hadn’t gotten around to them that year. However, this was going to be the year that they got around to them. They kept putting off following through on their resolutions. May God help us to not follow their example. May God help us to resolve to be fruitful this year, and in all the years to come. May he, also, help us to follow through on our resolution. May our lives overflow with the abundance of fruit, as we thank God for all that he has done and continues to do for us. Amen.