Posts Tagged ‘judgments’

Fruitfulness and Fruitlessness

March 21st, 2016

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 10:20-21)

Christ cursed a fruitless fig tree and it withered completely. His action was symbolic to teach us the importance of fruitfulness in our witness

Fruitfulness in the service of Christ is demanded from all the followers of Christ. There is no such disciple as one who is called to believe for salvation and then is not given anything to do for his Master. All are saved only by grace through faith. All are also called to bear witness and serve.

Later, at the close of the apostolic era, the risen and glorified Christ spoke directly to seven churches in Asia – these being symbolic of all churches in the Church Age (Revelation 2-3) – and he warned five of them to repent and return to him. As long as followers of Christ remain on this earth they will be called to truly follow him, in faith, in witness, and in service.

The warning against fruitlessness: The theme of fruitfulness is dominant and often repeated in the teachings of Christ. We are not permitted to say we are his and do nothing about it. Works do not save us – only through faith are we saved – but works are the testimony of faith, the proof that it exists and is genuine. “I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18).

The nature of fruitfulness is simply to express outwardly what the Spirit of God is doing in our hearts and lives. We bear his fruit – not our own. So for the Christian fruitfulness is the natural Christian life, acting out what God is putting in. So fruitlessness shows an obstinate heart, a stubborn will that rejects the rule and reign of Christ over us. If our hearts were soft toward God we would be constantly bearing fruit.

The “Parable of the Talents” (Matt. 25:14-30) depicts God as a strict and merciless venture capitalist, who has invested money with his staff. The association of the merciful Father with a hard-cold-mere-profit-oriented businessman certainly has its limitations. But the point of Christ was not to suggest mercilessness in the Father, but to highlight the consistency in the nature of God to expect fruitfulness among his followers – just as a businessman invests for profit, so God saves us so we may be used to save others.

Just as a businessman would no longer support those unprofitable ventures, so God does not endlessly tolerate fruitlessness in his people. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

The types of judgments against fruitlessness: First, we must emphasize the patience of God. He is kind and patient with us in our failures, our slow starts, and our poor performances. God is, in fact, incredibly more patient with us than we are with one another. We are quick to judge, to criticize, and to give up. Paul and Barnabas were embroiled in a dispute and eventually even split up as a missionary-duo over Paul’s unwillingness to give John Mark (the human author of the gospel of Mark) an opportunity to go with them on their second missionary journey, because he had abandoned them half-way through the first one (Act 15:36-40).

In the historical recounting, we can identify with all three of these characters in some way or another – with Mark who in his youth showed his immaturity when he abandoned the missionary journey, with Paul who no longer felt he was reliable and did not want to work with him ever again, and with Barnabas who wanted to give him a second chance. But even Paul later in his life said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). So forgiveness and giving second chances is in the nature of God and in the nature of the Christian faith.

What are the types of judgments against us when we are fruitless?

The loss of opportunities: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matt. 25:29). If we would be given more opportunities for Christ we should first be found faithful in the ones he has entrusted to us. When we are unfaithful, we find that he cannot use us like he would like to.

Moses lost the opportunity to lead Israel into the Holy Land because of his outburst of anger against them in the wilderness (Numbers 20:1-12). The judgment certainly seems hard from our perspective, for which of us has not had an outburst of anger in the midst of heavy responsibilities. All Moses did, we might object, was to strike a rock in anger with his staff, and he did so in the midst of unrelenting pressure and frustrations in dealing with difficult and rebellious people.

This past week we witnessed the language of German Chancellor Merkel showing uncharacteristic frustration with political problems. Well, which of us could cast the first stone? We have all done as much in one way or another. But still the point is made by God, that outbursts of anger, or to demonstrate the opposite of the life of the Spirit will inevitably result in the loss of opportunities for Christ. When we have lost sight of the work of God, that he must work in us before he works through us, then we will not be as useful to God as he desires us to be.

Being “put on the shelf:” Samson was compromised in his character for several years and gradually drifted away from God. God finally allowed him to be blinded and imprisoned, but God was not finished with him (Judges 16:20-22). Paul said that he had given Hymeneaus and Alexander, two of his associates, over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). We may assume from this that Satan would teach them – though he has no desire to teach us – to be more sincere in their service.

The loss of length of years of service: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (! Cor. 11:30). It is false to assume that everyone who dies young has committed some sin and dies because of a judgment of God. Isaiah 57:1-2 tells us that often “the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” Godly men and women have paid with their life for their testimony for Christ. Others have worn themselves out in their service and died younger than they would have otherwise.

Yet it is clear from the 1 Corinthians 11 passage that God does retain the right to remove someone one from this earth when they are bringing shame to the name of Christ. He does not, thereby, send them to hell, nor do they lose their salvation – only that he takes them to heaven sooner than they had planned on going.

Loss of salvation? Does this judgment against the fig tree teach us that we might lose our salvation? I do not think so. In our salvation experience we have entered into a relationship with God where our sins are forgiven for all time – past, present, and future – and that condition will not change (Eph. 1:13-14). The withered tree shows the end of opportunity, not the loss of salvation.

Yet there is a message here for churches and Christian organizations, even Christian families. The church is only one generation away from non-existence on earth. We must bear witness in each generation and seek to win all to Christ. We must teach them how to live in the fullness of the Spirit and to bear spiritual fruit. If we fail, then one day we will see the very churches we slaved to build up and strengthen withered away.

The identity of the fig tree: Without question the teaching and the example of judgment was intended to point to Israel and its failure to recognize the Christ when he came to them. Throughout its history Israel had been a disappointment, and this fact was often a theme in the teachings of Christ. The fig tree was exalted above other trees because of the sweetness of its fruit (Judges 9:11), and Israel was chosen from other nations and exalted above them. But God chose them to bless the world through them – not so that they would become proud and uncaring toward the world.

God said,

I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison… (Isaiah 42:6-7)

But they failed. Has God completely abandoned the nation of Israel? Have all the promises he made toward them been transferred to the church? This is one of the questions in the New Testament doctrines that Bible believing Christians are often in disagreement about.

I am of those who believe that the judgment is not final against Israel. The parable of Christ in Luke 13:6-9 gives the teaching that the nation will be given another chance. In the parable when the fruitless fig tree was ordered to be cut down, it was given another chance, suggesting that God, who is able to raise the dead, might revive the nation of Israel in the later days of the Church Age.

We read also, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Matt 24:32). The unfulfilled prophecies to Israel were not cancelled by Peter, or spiritualized to apply to the church, when he said of Christ, “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). In Romans we read, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25b).

The reemergence of Israel as a nation among the world’s nations in 1947, after it was destroyed in A.D. 70, was the fulfillment of prophecy and unprecedented on the stage of world history. God is capable of unwithering what he has withered, of resurrecting the very nation he consigned to non-existence.

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The Time of Harvest

May 27th, 2015

Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.

Revelation 14:15

Harvest is used often in scripture to describe both moral judgments and salvation, and it was a fitting analogy. In a farming community, the harvest was the end of the season, the reaping of all the hard work that had been invested in the planting and growing seasons. It depicts the final outcome of one’s life, whether it resulted in salvation or judgment.

Christ said, “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38), emphasizing salvation. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Christ likened the world situation to a field of wheat in which an enemy planted tares or unproductive wild vines. Rather than rip out the tares and damage the wheat, the farmer said to let them grow together and at the harvest then they will be separated.

He who sows the good sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear let him hear! (Matt. 13:37-43)

The Reaping of the Righteous: Revelation 14:14-20, has two reapings, the first by one “like the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown” sitting on a “white cloud” (14:14-16). This can be none other than Christ, and is similar to the image of Daniel 7:13, “One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!” It is an angelic voice that tells Him to reap, but this should not be seen as demeaning the status of Christ, placing Him under angelic authority, rather it is the fulfillment of what Christ said of the end times, that only the Father knows when the end will come (Matthew 24:36). The angel here is merely doing what angels do, carry messages, proclaiming the timing of the harvest of souls. To any argument that an angel should not be necessary to communicate between the Father and the Son, I would say that we should give some leeway here for such things in an apocalyptic book like Revelation. The important matter is that all of heaven is now aware of the timing of the end. The angels that announced to the shepherds His birth, now announce then end of all things.

The Harvesting of the Unrighteous: Revelation 14:17-20 describes the harvesting of the unrighteous still on earth.The time of the end has now come and the full effect of the evil that had been planted by the devil and his demons and by those humans who followed him, is now ready to be harvested. The imagery in this passage is of a grape harvest for the making of wine, and they are cast into a vat or a winepress to be trampled on. In biblical days these were often hewed out of solid rock (Isaiah 5:2).

  • Another angel emerged from the heavenly temple with a sharp sickle (14:17). The word “sickle” is not limited to a wheat sickle but describes any sharp instrument used to harvest crops, such as the long knife-like sickle used for grapes.
  • Another angel came out “from the altar, who had power over fire” (14:18). The heavenly temple, like the earthly replica, has an altar for burnt offerings in front of it, symbolizing the judgment of God against sin. Fire is symbolic of God’s judgment that purifies and burns away what is wrong. John the Baptist said of Christ, using the imagery of a wheat harvest, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11b-12).
  • “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe” (14:18). What an incredibly descriptive analogy of the final condition of sin. The judgment comes suddenly, like a harvester thrusting and severing grapes. The unrighteous are unprepared for it, and if they had seen it coming they would repent and believe, but they are caught completely unaware and they have sinned as though they will never be held accountable by God. They have denied His existence, rejected His offer of grace through Christ, laughed at the notion of a final judgment, but now they are forced to face all of these things. “The clusters of the vine” – as grapes grow in clusters so sin is intensified in groups of sinners. The unrighteous take false comfort in the fact that they sin among friends, they encourage one another on into more evil. “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33), the Apostle Paul wrote. Often there is no hope for people until they are removed from their evil companions and are able to take listen to God’s message of love. Only then do they repent and believe. And the final image here is that these grapes are “fully ripe,” bursting with evil until they can take no more.

It seems very clearly to be the intention of the devil and his angels the absolute destruction of human life. We live today in an era where almost every decent and godly institution is being attacked, and done so in a manner that defies common sense. Forty percent of children in America and Western Europe are growing up in fatherless homes, and statistically this is not good. Children raised without fathers have a much higher (twice as high generally) percentage of emotional problems, poor school records, worse living conditions, poorer job market and earnings, and likelihood for committing crimes and being imprisoned. Yet we are now seeking to redefine marriage even further, making it no more than a living arrangement between two consenting adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The sheer insanity of this is staggering and the harm this will cause society is impossible to estimate. Yet in some mad momentum the world moves in this direction, and the grapes of immorality are gathering in clusters and growing until they are almost ready to burst.

  • The grapes are gathered and thrown into the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). This is built on the imagery of Isaiah 63:1-6 of the Lord Himself trodding the winepress alone. Twice in Isaiah the Lord looked for help and found none. In Isaiah 59:16 He “wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him,” emphasizing our role in interceding with God for the lost of the world, and interceding with the world through the proclamation of the gospel. In Isaiah 63:5 He also “looked but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me.” This emphasizes the lifestyle change in salvation and describes a world void of Christian witness – either for the grace of God or for the morality of God. Christians must preach morality right along with preaching the grace of God in Christ.
  • “And blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs” (14:20). It is difficult to imagine this being anything other than figurative – blood three to five feet deep for 200 miles – but it does graphically depict the result of mankind’s sin. The misery that has been compounded and deepened and multiplied until the lives impacted are inestimable by us. Some have sought to make this describe the carnage of the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16), but it seems most suited to describe the revealing of God of the impact of human sin. All those so-called “social crusaders” for ungodly causes, all those political activists who have helped to corrupt human society, whether they were wealthy and famous or poor and unknown, they shall all be shown for what they are and what they have done.

The following section of Revelation – the bowl judgments of chapters 15 and 16 – are the more detailed descriptions of this judgment and harvesting of unrighteousness described in Revelation 14.

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