Is the Axe Near Your Roots?

Opening Thoughts: The last few days there has been a lot on my mind, mostly to do with some pictures I’ve seen lately. One of the pictures I saw was of a man who was wearing flattened plastic water bottles on his feet as shoes because he has no money at all and he uses the only thing that he has or is able to find to give him some sort of protection for his vulnerable feet. While I sat there looking down at my feet that were wearing, not the most expensive but nevertheless comfortable and stylish ‘Vans’, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat. Here I am sitting in a nice coffee shop drinking a $4 whatever, working on a $900 lap top, wearing nice jeans, and shoes that cost me about $60, while this other human being created in the image of God has bottles strapped to his feet.

Then the same day I saw another image of two little children, honestly they were just babies in my eyes, one of them five years old maybe and the other one possibly two. They were sitting in a dump surrounded by garbage, the little one was just clinging to the bigger one and they are tired, alone and hungry. On seeing this picture my heart throbbed even more about the injustice that is going on around the world. How is it that my babies are full and safe in their beds and these two babies have been scavenging the dumps for 3 days without finding even a bite of food? This is simply too tragic for words to express. Now more than ever I’m horrified over my grumbling ways.

How many times in the day do I demonstrate an attitude of gratefulness to God for the provisions in my life? How often do I thank Him for this undeserved gift of being born in a very privileged country? I didn’t deserve this type of lifestyle, I didn’t ask to be born here and neither did that man and those little kids ask to be born where they live. We don’t know why God gives greater opportunity to some but we do know that to “whom much is given, much is (definitely) required“. In a few minutes, I will try to unpack from our main text, a parable that Jesus told about a tree that was given the most amazing opportunity yet refused to bear fruit.

As a professing follower of Jesus Christ what should my life look like when it comes to other people’s suffering and what kind of fruit should I be producing? I do, however, want my words to be very clear that I am in no way saying that anyone can be saved by works. That goes against the core message of the Gospel entirely. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, and the faith in which we use to believe the message is in itself a gift undeserved. However, salvation without works is also entirely against the core message of the Gospel .. James says:

James 2:14-20 ESV .. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Works-less Faith is No Faith: So as we can see from James, someone who has been authentically saved will indeed produce the genuine fruit of salvation. Let us not confuse this with legalism either since it’s the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit, and not us. Blood comes from our bodies when we we are injured, why? Because that’s what’s inside of us. Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit comes out of a true believer because the Holy Spirit is inside of them, and we can take no credit for it “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) . One of the first fruits of the Spirit is repentance upon salvation. Repentance is not just a one time blossom though, it’s a fruit that continues to flourish throughout our walk.

As I go through the main text, please join me in asking God to reveal the lack of fruit in our lives and to entrust ourselves to the good Gardner to get us ready to bear much fruit.

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.’”

Planted on Purpose: The text starts off by saying, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard“, what this indicates to us is that the owner of the vineyard at some point purposefully put this tree there; either he had the seed planted or he  planted it as a tree. Vineyards are kept in nice, neat rows, the trees are placed there on purpose and they are expected to produce fruit in their due season.

The Ground of a Vineyard: I would venture to say that anyone who owns a vineyard would take pretty good care of the soil conditions. We especially know that this was the case of this vineyard in which Jesus was referring to because the owner had a full time gardener or vinedresser. The gardener isn’t a typical hired hand either, no, he was keenly interested in the value of the soil and the fruitfulness of the trees. We observe this in his pleading response to the owner when ordered to cut it down … “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.

Israel, The Barren Tree? So, we know from an aerial view that Jesus was speaking of the current time, in which God had been relentless in His patience toward a barren Israel. They had been pulled and uprooted from Egypt and brought to the land of promise, there they continually came up empty. In fact, instead of producing useful fruit, Isaiah speaks of God coming to His vineyard to seek out grapes and only finding bad fruit or wild grapes, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”

We, the Barren Tree: “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” The Bible leaves nothing to our imagination, really, it speaks of false brothers coming into the church unaware. The scary thing is that according to Matthew 7:21-23 they themselves may even be unaware. Peter tells us that we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure so that we do not show up to the feasting table of God without our wedding attire on, only to be asked to leave. The three seasons of barrenness proves that God has a long-suffering type of patience, in that it’s never too late to come to true repentance and genuine faith in Christ, as long as there is still breath in your lungs and the axe has not come down on your root yet.

The Owner’s Axe: The vinedresser is Jesus. He paid an invaluable price for the salvation of your soul. The pleading we see of Him to His Father on our behalf is beyond words. We deserve the Axe of God. We deserve his judgement and wrath for our crimes we have committed against His holy kingdom. And yet we see our Savior throwing Himself in front of the axe pleading for one more year, one more year in which He will chew up our dirt, saturate it even more with the fertilizer of the Gospel, one more year for us to have our blinded eyes opened and to begin producing genuine, usable fruit; not wild grapes (lip service).

Leaves and Blossoms Will Never Do:Do you remember the story of Jesus finding a wild fig tree on the side of the road? This tree wasn’t in a vineyard at all, it was just wildly growing along the trail.

Matthew 21:18-19 ESV .. In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

Jesus was making a severe point with the tree and showing the disciples what true judgement is going to look like, fruitless trees will be destroyed. This tree by the wayside appears to be full and fruitful, yet it was cursed. Think of how much more severe the judgement will be for those who have been placed in good soil where they have continually heard the Gospel week after week. The tree from a distance looks great, leaves are full and there may even be blossoms, but if it yields no fruit it will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

John 15:2 ESV .. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

The Long-Suffering of God: I was that tree just three years ago. I had a great appearance, it looked like I had a ton of fruit, but the Master knows the difference between good grapes and wild grapes. Oh, how thankful I am that God relentlessly pursued me. I was a slave in every way to sin, and in no way could I have freed myself. I tried countless times to be free, but I loved it too much and made comfort in my heart that God understood. I stand here today saying that I am FREE, not that I never sin (what a lie that would be) but I am free from the slavery of sin, thanks be to God.  The word “Long-Suffering” means “enduring pain, unhappiness, etc., without complaint”.

2 Peter 3:13 KJV   “And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation…”

This is the passage of scripture that caused me to look and examine if I was genuinely in the faith. Are you thankful for His long-suffering? Maybe today is YOUR DAY. You may have been in the church (His Vineyard) your entire life, prayed to ask Jesus into your heart when you were young and assumed upon your salvation. But after examining this text you would have to say that your life is a huge tree with a ton of leaves and blossoms, but no real fruit. Today is the day of Salvation. The axe is one day closer to all of our roots, only those who are truly grafted into His VINE and producing fruit will be saved………………….Those who Call on the Name of the Lord will be Saved!

Preparing The Way
~Shane Martin