Wild Grapes and Empty Fig Trees
We've been considering what it looks like to bear fruit (article 1). We saw how Martha, at first, was full of activity, but with little fruit (article 2). We then saw how Martha began to serve Christ and others with an entirely different perspective that changed everything (article 3). We touched on what that different perspective was (article 4). Here, we will consider what we produce when left to our own devices, and why.
In Isaiah 5v1-7 God sings about Israel being His vineyard.
The vineyard was planted on a very fruitful hill v1
It was dug up and cleared of stones v2
The choicest vines were used v2
A tower was built to protect it v2
A wine press was built in expectancy of good grapes v2
Instead of good grapes the vineyard yielded wild grapes (v2, 4). In verse 7 we learn that the good grapes symbolised justice and righteousness, while the wild grapes are a picture of oppression and violence.
A similar statement is made in Jeremiah 2v21 “I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before Me Into the degenerate plant of a wild vine?”
There are three occasions in the Gospel Accounts where Christ demonstrates that He had come expecting fruit from the nation of Israel only to be disappointed.
Our first occasion is in Matthew 21v18-19. Jesus has entered Jerusalem as the promised Messiah. He clears the temple of the money changers and then leaves for Bethany. The next day, as he comes back to the city, he looks for fruit on a fig tree, finding none, he withers the fig tree.
Our second occasion is in Luke 13v6-9. Christ tells a parable of a man who had planted a fig tree that had failed to bear fruit for 3 years. The gardener asks for another year where he will do all he can to help it bear fruit. If it failed after this final chance, then it would be cut down.
Our third occasion is in Matthew 21v34-43. Christ tells another parable, this time of a vineyard. The owner of the vineyard fenced it, built a wine press and built a tower (sound familiar?). He leased the vineyard to tenants. When the owner of the vineyard sent to receive his portion, the tenants killed those he sent. He sent his son and he was killed too. The audience of the parable state that the owner of the vineyard would destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to those who would give him his portion. The chief priests and the Pharisees realised that he was speaking about them.
Christ was demonstrating, through His parables and actions, that the nation of Israel had not produced righteousness and justice. Either they produced no fruit, or they produced the wild grapes of oppression and violence.
Romans 9v4-5 describes the nation of Israel as a privileged and honoured people. They had been given adoption, the shekinah glory, the covenants, the law, the temple worship, the promises, the patriarchs and the Messiah. They had been given so much, and yet they could not produce fruit.
You and Me
We are no better than the nation of Israel. We are not to read the parables of Christ and hear His teachings and woes and assume that we are better than they. We are supposed to grieve that even in the most privileged and honoured of scenarios, the human heart could not produce fruit that would please God. We are supposed to humbly ask questions of despair such as “if even Israel could not produce fruit, then how could we?”
The human heart is fallen, corrupted and broken. We are the marred image of God. God made us to reflect His character here on earth. We were to be like Him. But we fell and became rebels from the heart.
In Psalm 1 we were the wicked who were like the wind-driven chaff, the empty, worthless husks of sin. In Jeremiah 17v6 we are the shrub, growing in an arid places, stony wastes and salt lands.
Romans 6v21 explains that all we could produce was fruit that would lead to death. Romans 7v5 says it again, our sinful desires led to us bearing fruit to death. Ephesians 5v11 describes our past deeds as the unfruitful deeds of darkness. Jude verse 12 describes false teachers as trees without fruit.
Titus 3v3 explains that we were foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to passion and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating. 1 Corinthians 6v9-11 reminds us that we were full of sin. Ephesians 2v1-3 describes us as dead in our sins, living according to the cravings and desires of our fallen flesh.
Our Wild Grapes
All that we can produce, in and of ourselves, is sin. Galatians 5v19-21 is not describing what the sinful world is like, it is describing what our flesh, even as Christians, wants to do. This is not just describing a sinful world. This is not just describing “those out there”. This is you and I. As Paul declares in Romans 7v18 “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh”.
Here is our flesh still:
Our Fleshly Character - we are still utterly selfish and prideful.
Our Fleshly Works - our inward selfish character leads to outward rebellion.
Our Fleshly Praise -
We can pretend worship to God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him (Matthew 15v8, Jeremiah 3v10). We have turned our heart worship away from the Creator towards the creature. We have turned from the only source of Living Water, the ever flowing fountain and have turned to broken cisterns. We can and often do find ourselves turning elsewhere on the pursuit of identity, fulfilment and satisfaction, only to be left empty and thirsty once again.
Our Fleshly Generosity -
As naturally selfish people we will want to receive and hoard and not give. When we do give we will do it grudgingly or we will do it with wrong motives. We will give to be seen, to earn favour, or out of guilt or shame.
Our Fleshly Conversions -
Christ describes the work of the Pharisees in scathing ways. They travel land and sea to win a proselytise and in doing so, they make him twice as much a child of hell as they themselves are. They and we cannot produce converts to God.
This is the human heart separated from God. No wonder Israel could not be a fruitful vine. You and I cannot produce any God pleasing fruit. Because the source is corrupted, the roots, trunk and branches are all marred. We are corrupted trees and all we can produces is corrupted fruit.
This should leave us in despair. This should leave us grieving and broken. This should leave us feeling helpless. This should lead to us asking the question “how then can we be fruitful to God?”.
Alan Campbell is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He came to Christ as a young adult and trained for ministry at Bethesda Free Church, Sunderland. Alan ministered in Bethesda as the Associate Pastor until 2019 and now ministers at Union Chapel, Bath. From time to time he teaches at North Cotes (NTM/Ethnos 360) College and The Theological College of North Staffordshire. Alan travels across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the States speaking at universities and equipping churches and campus ministries to share the gospel in a post-modern context. He is passionate about helping the believer to root their identity more and more into the person and work of Jesus Christ. Alan is married to Victoria.