Thursday, August 7, 2008

The parable of the barren fig-tree

The parable of the barren fig-tree


Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 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?’” ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

Luke 13:6-9


* This parable is only found in Luke.
* The context and setting of this parable being told is when Jesus was approached by some dudes wanting to tell Him about Gallieans who were persecuted and killed, and about some who died in a tower collapse.
* When Jesus responds to the reports he does it with a teaching on repentance, highlighting the notion that we will all die, and that troubles are a part of life not a result of sin. He then launches into a parable to illustrate the necessity of bearing fruit in our lives.
* This parable is intended to enforce the warning immediately going before it, "...But unless you repent, you too will all perish...” in other words unless you become changed you will be ruined like the barren tree that will be cut down unless it bears fruit.
* The man had a fig-tree in his vineyard. Vineyards were used for vines, fig-trees grew in the wild, alongside roads as seen elsewhere in the Bible. This fig-tree had more care and nurturing than most fig-trees.
* The owner of the tree expected fruit and he checked it for fruit and when it had none after a period of time he wanted it cut down because it took up room of fruitful plants.
* The gardener of the vine extended the period of time for the tree beyond that which was reasonable and then decided it would be cut down if it didn't bear fruit after this time.

Some people believe that this parable is about the nation of Israel but I do not so if you want to check that theory out (and I suggest you do) then you should. I won't talk about it much, except to say that a fig-tree in a vineyard is transplanted, just the same as a non-Jew is transplanted and grafted into Gods kingdom. That is a discussion for another day.

This discussion will be easier broken up into chunks of parably-goodness-

"A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard..."
The man owns the fig-tree and has chosen to plant it in a vineyard where it can be look after. What a lucky plant. In the same way God (the Father) owns His Church and has chosen to place Christians in a place where they believe and have the privilege of being cared for and nurtured in His kingdom.

"...and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any..."
the man (who represents God the Father) wants and is looking for fruit in believers, this fruit (as talked about in other places in the Bible) is fruits of the Spirit which are a result of turning away from old ways and turning to God (repentance).

"...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!"

He has been patient with the vine and there has been no fruit. This shows Gods patience. As he was not unreasonable and only wanted fruit, it is a reasonable response to cut it down. This shows Gods justice.

"Why should it use up the soil?"
I'm not sure about this... is there some sort of harm the tree is causing the other plants? is there harm caused to fruit-bearing Church? People will disagree put I think that this is God purifying His Church so that He can return for a bride "without blemish". What do you think?

‘Sir,’ the man (looking after the vineyard) replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’
Is this Jesus interceding for us? After all He does call Himself His Fathers "vine dresser". Notice He doesn't ask to leave it outright, but for a time. Jesus is asking for justice, put prolonged to Judgement day, giving us time to get our asses into gear.

Jesus teaches us that God will not tolerate a lack of productivity forever- that God wants fruit when we turn to Him. Sometimes I think I have been enjoying the grace of God and the love of God without giving anything in return. If you are like me then you need to get your but into gear as well, otherwise we're in danger. Lets begin to produce the fruit that God is calling us to produce.

God thanks for being so patient and I want to apologise sincerely for sometimes mistaking Your patience for something else. I know You are just and I want to ask You to forgive my unfruitfulness. Thank You for pouring out wrath for my sin onto Jesus and not onto me. Now help me to produce fruit in my life.

Questions for comment/discussion
* What do you agree/disagree with?
* What have I missed? I know there is so much more to this parable its amazing!!!!
* What is an appropriate response to a knowledge of Gods justice?
* Do we individually/corporately forget sometimes that we are going to die and stand before God?

Friday, July 25, 2008

The parable of the rich fool

The parable of the rich fool

"And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to my soul, “Soul, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:16-21

* This parable is only found in Luke.
* The context and setting of this parable being told is when Jesus was teaching a pretty damn big crowd ("...many thousands...they were trampling each other"...verse 1). Someone in the crowd shouted out and asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus replied by refusing to involve himself in the brothers tiff, and challenged the crowd to beware of becoming greedy because life was about more than money. The parable is Jesus' was of illustrating his point that life is about more than what we have.
* When Jesus says "a certain... man" he is usually referring to something that actually happened. The parable is based on true events.
* In the parable the rich man actually had a wise plan, to save for the future. Unfortunately it was not all-wise but just world-wise. It wasn't the thinking ahead that was the problem it was the focus of money.
* In the parable God calls the rich guy a fool because everything that he worked for was useless to him.
* After telling the parable Jesus says that this is how it will be with anyone who spends more time/energy/focus on storing up things, without the same "rich" desire for God. It problem isn't about having stuff... its about whether or not we have God.

There is no doubt people think a great deal of the rich and their achievements, and it was no different back then. However, for eternity now the man in the parable is a fool. It isn’t only sin to give material things too high a place in your life - it is also very stupid.

The pattern in the guys language tells us a lot about us as people: " crops... my barns... my goods... my soul". Everything is about him, and nothing is about God. Self-focus is dangerous- in the end, it was proved that nothing was his. He didn’t have any crops, any barns, any goods, and his soul was dead.

If you are really interested in this parable Matthew Henry writes beautifully about it. I can't put things better than him. Here is a link to his study of Luke 12.

The rich fool did the right thing in planning for retirement and for the future, retirement and future are not just on earth- we need to plan for eternal future. It is wise to save and put money away, but is we refuse to help others and do good with the money and possessions we end up going to eternity empty-handed. My grandfather said that "your final shirt has no pockets" meaning you can't take what you "get" on earth to Heaven with you.

We need to decide to use what we have with an eternal perspective. We don't know how long we have on earth left. Lets be people who plan, and even save for the future, but to do it with God and others in mind.

Lets never money or stuff get in the way of us being "rich towards God".

God I don't know how much time I have left on earth. One day I will die or You will return. I don't know when but You do. Help me to always consult you and to live with a perspective that utilises what I have to glorify You and to help people.

I'm sorry for the times I have been greedy or hungry for the wrong things. Help me to want You more than I want money/stuff/comfort.
In Jesus' name, Amen

Questions for comment/discussion
* What is your take on this parable?
* What was it that wrong about the rich man's attitude?
* When you have extra time, money, or stuff, what do you tend to use it for?
* What does it mean to be rich toward God?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The parable of the two debtors

The parable of the two debtors


"...Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said..."

Luke 7:40-43


* This parable is only found in Luke.
* The context and setting of this parable being told is when Jesus is reclining at the table of Simon the Pharisee, and he was approached by a "sinful woman" who wet his feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair and poured perfume on them. Simon was disgusted by this and questioned the legitimacy of Christ as a prophet because he allowed a prostitute to touch Him. The parable is Jesus' response to Simons disgust.
* Jesus has used the reaction and thoughts of someone as an opportunity to teach through illustration. It is interesting to read verse 39 and then 40 because Jesus responds directly to Simons thoughts which demonstrate that He was indeed a prophet.
* In the parable the creditor was within His rights to take the advantage of the law against them. He chose not to.
* The parable is about forgiveness, and the way that us sinners respond to having our sins forgiven.
* As He often does, Jesus uses the illustration of debt to tell about our sinfulness. As with all of Jesus' parables about debt (sin) the person owing is unable to pay back the debt and the debt is cancelled for free.
* In this parable both people had their debts cancelled, but one responded with more love than the other.
* The one with the big debt and the one with the smaller debt both needed the debtor to cancel the debt because they were unable to do it themselves.
* A denarii was about a days wages: the people in the parable owed 50 days wages or 500 days wages. Calculating by average Aussie wages it is $AUD6250 or $AUD62,500. In other words they both owed a crap-load of money.
* The response to forgiveness in the parable and in the context setting is to love the one doing the forgiving.

This parable is a very brief illustration for the benefit of at least two people- the pharisee and the woman. The pharisee learned that love is an appropriate response to forgiveness and that the more someone is forgiven the more they love. The prostitute learned of the amazing and limitless love and forgiveness of sin that she was able to recieve from God through Jesus.

There are sooooo many parables that teach us that sin is a debt, and us sinners owe God big time. For the debt of disobedience to God's ways and law, we become liable to the penalty. The parable seems to teach us that some people are deeper in debt to God, through sin, than others are: The parable says it- "...One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty..."

Whether we are a so-called upright citizen (like the pharisee) or a known slut (like the prostitute), if we sin a little or a lot, we still owe a debt we cannot pay. The parable says it "...Neither of them had the money to pay him back..." Money can't pay our debt, nor will doing rad things from here on in.

" he canceled the debts of both..." God is willing to forgive us sinners, on His terms, no matter how much we have sinned. If we repent, and believe in Christ, our sin will not be held against us anymore.

The more we realise how much God has forgiven us, the more we will love Him.

Not one of us is debt-free, we all owe God a price we can never pay ourselves. If we try to pay the debt ourselves, we will fail and find ourselves still owing God when we stand before Him on Judgement day. If we have our debts cancelled by Him (through trusting in Jesus Christ for our salvation and repenting) we will not only be debt-free on judgement day but we will be creditted with Christs righteousness.

We all are in debt to God, and if we realise how much God has cancelled that debt we will love Him. Love is obedience from here on in.

God I know I unable to pay for the debt that I have accumalated through my sin. Please forgive me my debt, I trust Jesus for my salvation. Help me to always remember how much I have been forgiven and what it cost you to forgive, so that I never lack reverence, obedience, repentance and love.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The parable of the children in the marketplace

The parable of the children in the marketplace

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
‘We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge
and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.””

Matthew 11:16-18 (Luke 7:31-32)


* "To what can I compare this generation?" This question (as pointed out by Matthew Henry in Henry commentary) seems to show Jesus finding it difficult to find an example that fits, which is another way of pointing out the extreme absurdity of the situation.
* In both Matthew and Luke this little parable is found wedged between Jesus talking about John the Baptist and him expressing frustration at the Pharisees fault-finding paradigm and impossible-to-pleasyness.
* This is really tough to understand.
* Jesus' use of the word "generation" seems to be referring to the people within that time period thirty years, particularly the Pharisees (see context in Luke chapter seven verse thirty).
* The parable has a harsh tone... Pharisees would have been insulted to have been compared to children. Jesus is frustrated and actually downright ticked.
* The thing that the children in the parable are chanting is relating to two very diffrent things- dancing and mourning. Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were behaving childishly and would not be pleased not matter what approach John or Jesus took.
* Jesus gives a little bit of an explanation of the parable in verses 18-19. He tells us that "...we sang a dirge and you did not mourn..." refers to Johns harsher style of turn of burn repentence preaching and that "...we played the flute for you and you did not dance..." refers to Jesus' hopeful, celebratory message (eating and drinking and healing... not to mention salvation).
* Critical people always have something to criticize. Some people wouldn’t be pleased with either John or Jesus, and Jesus found this to be frustrating.

This parable is a bit of a tough one for me so I am keen to read other peoples comments and hear what you have to add to it. It is one of those verses where I have often read the passage of Scripture and skipped over it because it was too hard.

At the end of the preceding passage about John the Baptist, Jesus seems to vent a frustration at the way that the Pharisees responded to Himself and John the Baptist. He particularly makes mention in the Luke telling of this parable by observing "All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John."
that is verses 29-30.

The hard-heartedness of religious people frustrated the crap out of Jesus and He often spoke about it. In this parable He kind of says that no matter what form that Heaven delivers the message (whether hard or soft) some people will not submit to God. It seems that today religious people still are hard to please. Christ is using a parable to illustrate the way that some people would rather ignore God's messengers than change the way they live.

We have to be careful to allow ourselves to be open to what God wants to say ("positive" or "negative"). He speaks through His Word, His people and His Spirit to our hearts. We need to avoid being like those the parable calls childish by being open to recieve Gods message of justice and repentance, and His message of love, grace and mercy.

God help me to hear your voice clearly, and to not assume we know all about You. Let us lay our assumptions aside and invade our personal paradigms and preconcieved ideas. Help us to be fertile soil that celebrates when the occasion calls for it and mourns when the occasion calls for it. Soften our hard hearts and help us to hate our own sinfulness. Help us to be in amongst the humble You give grace to, and not the proud that You resist.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The parable of the wise and foolish builders

The parable of the wise and foolish builders

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27 (Also Luke 6:47-49)

* This parable was told as part of a larger sermon, in which Jesus was teaching His followers how to live their lives. It was actually the last thing, the final closing statement for the sermon on the mount. The final statement to a sermon usually summarises everything that is spoken in the sermon. The summary is not a message unto itself but a summary, therefore the parable is hard to understand properly unless it is considered in its context.
* The parable starts with the word "therefore" which means that it is supposed to follow on from the bit directly before it, which in the Matthew account is about judgement day and how God is going to judge the human race (Christians and non-Christians) on the fruits (ie the visible signs of faith).
* The statement "everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice" seems to indicate not just a belief but a response to the words that Jesus has spoken. It is an extremely practical sermon and Christ is saying that we are to put it into practice. This need to put into practice is supported by the fact that the verses just before this parable talk about people who merely profess to be Christians not being allowed into Heaven but only those who do the will of the God (verse 21)
* Weather elements mentioned in this parable probably refer to Gods judgement. I say this because the verses before the parable are about judgement.
* The builders represent people that "hear the word of God". I say this because Christ says it in the telling of the parable.
* The wise builder represents he who hears Christs words and obey and the foolish builder represents he who hears Christs words and does not obey. I say this because Christ says it in the telling of the parable. Christ does not mention in this parable the ones who don't hear Christs words.
* The context looks different in Luke but it is the same. The reason it looks different is that Luke seems to have abridged the sermon on the mount, whilst Matthew has included greater detail.

This is often taught in Sunday school as a cute story about how the one who trusts in Christ is wise and will survive the "bad-weather-of-life". I'm afraid that I have even taught the cute watered down version before (it was only now that I have thought about it as a parable that follows a teaching on judgement). It is a shame that it is not taught in its proper context because it is a much more important and drastic lesson. It is about the judgement of God and the weather is not talking about "weather-of-life-type-stuff" but rather "heaven-and-Hell-type-stuff". The parable backs up the statement that Christ makes about believing He exists is not good enough, but rather obeying what He taught- practicing obedience becomes solid foundation on the day of Judgement.

The whole picture of what Christ is asking us to obey is found in the context- the sermon is about Christian life (ie life that follows after someone has first trusted in His sacrifice on the cross as a necessary payment for their own sins, and decided to follow Him). Throughout the sermon Jesus talks about many of Gods commandments, and is saying in this final closing statement that it is necessary to do what He says. Jesus laid it out clearly that there was a storm of judgement coming. I think it is a tragedy that in the parable the foolish man is likened to the person that hears and does not do anything with what he has heard. Judgement destroys the fool.

A shocking lesson on judgement or a cute story about a comfortable peaceful shelter in the storms of life? What do you think? The fact that the storms come later tells me that Christ is warning the hearers of something that will come later as well. It seems to be judgement to me. This makes a more literary sense as the parable follows on from verses 21-23.

The greatest response to a statement about Gods coming judgement on sin would be acknowledgement, reverence and holy fear and then repentance. I say that because when we read the sermon on the mount we see a lot of things that God has commanded us not to do that we have done (lust, anger, lying, idolising money, worrying and critcising others). We also see things that God has told us to do that we haven't done (loving, peacemaking, humility, obedience, prayer, generosity). If these are the things that God is going to judge us by on Judgement day then we need to acknowledge we are truelly stuffed. We also need to have a fear and reverence of what the outcome of Gods judgement will be for us (Heaven or Hell), and we need to start building our house on the rock through obedience to God.

I recommend reading back over the sermon on the mount with the closing statements of Jesus about Gods judgment in mind (Matt 7:21-27). It has rocked me to the core.

God help me to keep in mind Your judgement and to live with eternity in mind. Teach me to obey Your commands. If there are times when I am tempted to break Your commandments remind me of this parable and help me to have the desire and the conviction to obey Your Word.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The speck and the log (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:41-42)

The parable of the speck and the log

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Matthew 7:1-5 (Also Luke 6:41-42)

* This parable was told as part of a larger sermon, in which Jesus was teaching His followers how to live their lives.
* The parable starts with a statement about what the parable is about. A lot of Jesus' parables end with the meaning, or sometimes go without Him giving the meaning. Here he gives the command, and embelishes with the parable to explain His point.
* The command "do not judge" is followed by a warning "or you will be judged".
* According to the Strongs interpretation the word for "judge" means to to "...separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose..."
* Jesus explains what type of judging he is talking about through the parable "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" He is talking about the hypocritical type of judging that points out wrong in others lives and ignores the wrongs in own life.
* The parable ends with the person who has removed the "plank" in their own eye able to help their "brother".

A lot of people use this passage of scripture to try and argue that it is wrong to make a moral judgement about the way that other people live. This is a wrong view of this parable. Other places in the Bible (and even a few verses later in Matthew 7:15-20) we are taught that we need to be able to evaluate and consider what God approves of. How can people recognise their sin in order to be saved from their sin, if they aren't told that what it is they do that is sinful. Critical and reflective thinking are important in order to help other people. Jesus is talking about a different type of judging in this parable.

This parable speaks against the type of judgemental attitudes that try to make others look like less than we are by pointing out their flaws without acknowledging our own. It tells us not to be hypocrites and to judge ourselves first, lest we deserve the same criticism we have for others. This is a section of God's church which ignores this commandment to not be hypocritical. When we judge ourselves, we recognise we are sinful and our approach to others sin is with love and humility because we identify with them. If we deal the "plank in our eye" (the sin in our lives), we are then able to help others with the "speck in their eyes" (their sin) by pointing them to the solution that is needed by both parties.

It is important to note the "then you will" in verse five. This shows that it is appropriate and permissable to judge with love, but only after we have acknowledged and fixed our own mess.


Basically the parable teaches us not to be a mean prick, or an arrogant bastard in the way we relate to other people about their sin! Lets acknowledge our own imperfections and sin and not be hypocrites. If we acknowledge these things then we will be humbling ourselves before God and able to recieve His love and grace. This will then give us authority to judge but we will do it with humility and love towards that person.


God help me to see myself and my condition as you see me. Don't let me take for granted that I have sinned, but help me to see my sin for what it is. It is only by your grace that I am able to stand, without You I am no different to anybody else in the sin department. I relate to sinners because I know what it is like to be one. Now help me to help other people remove the speck from their eye by showing them the way to Jesus with love, passion and humility.