Friday, February 15, 2008

A Kingdom of Repentance and Fruit

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (Matthew 21:43)
Jesus is looking for fruit in His kingdom, in the spiritual as well as in the natural. The narrative of the fig tree gives us a natural example that is loaded with spiritual significance.
Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.”

Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. (Matthew 21:18-22)
Jesus was hungry, so He went to the fig tree looking for a little fruit to eat. The fact that there were leaves on the tree indicated that there should also have been figs, even if nothing more than small, unripe but edible ones. Though the leaves offered the promise of fruit, when Jesus came to the tree, He discovered there was actually none at all. So Jesus spoke to the tree and said, “Let no fruit grown on you ever again,” and it immediately began to wither.

The disciples were amazed, and Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach them an important kingdom principle about the operation of faith: When we have faith and do not doubt, whatever we say will be done. A corollary to this is that whatever things we ask in prayer, if we ask in faith, we will receive it. (See also Mark 11:22-24).

That is certainly a powerful lesson but it does not exhaust the significance of this story, for Jesus was looking for fruit in the spiritual realm, as the rest of Matthew 21 demonstrates. The next thing Matthew records is that Jesus went to the temple, where the chief priests and elders came up and asked, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus turned the question around on them:
I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (vv. 24-25).
John the Baptist had come preaching a baptism of repentance, with a call to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8), but the chief priests and elders rejected him. Now they were in a bind. If they said that John’s baptism was authorized by heaven, they knew Jesus’ follow-up would be, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” On the other hand, they were afraid to stand before the crowd and say that John’s baptism was merely a human contrivance because the people recognized John as a prophet of God. They were in a double bind. So they said, “We do not know.” Though they had expected an honest answer from Jesus, they we not willing to tell the truth about themselves.

Just as Jesus had turned their question around on them, now He turned their answer around on them: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Matthew 21:27). They had presented themselves as being concerned about matters of authority, but it turns out that this was merely a front for a different agenda. If they had truly cared about divine authority, they would have listened to John and brought forth the fruits of repentance. Though they tried to hide behind their dishonesty, they were exposed for what they truly were.

But Jesus was not yet finished with them. He set them up again with this parable:
But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? (Matthew 21:28-31)
The chief priest and elders walked right into it and answered, “The first.” Then Jesus drove it home on them.
Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. (Matthew 21:31-32)
There are those who put on a good religious front but are so caught up in their own sense of righteousness that they long ago ceased to hear and obey the Lord. They speak the right words, and commend themselves for it, but they do not follow through. They are like the fig tree that put forth leaves, promising fruit, but then turned out to be barren.

On the other hand, there are those who may be considered the vilest of sinners, who flout the commands of God, but then bring forth the fruits of repentance and faith. They are like the first son. By recognizing that it was the repentant son who actually ended up doing the will of God, the chief priests and elders condemn themselves. They know what the truth is, but they are so disconnected they do not realize that they are the disobedient ones.

But Jesus is still not finished, He has another parable for them. This one is about a landowner who established a vineyard, complete with hedging, a winepress and a watchtower. Then he leased it to vinedressers and went away to a far country. At harvest time, he sent his servants to receive his fruit, but the vinedressers beat one of them, stoned another and killed a third. The patient landowner sent another group of servants, who received the same treatment. Finally, the landowner sent his son, saying, “The will respect my son,” but the vinedressers cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

At this point in the story, Jesus stopped and asked, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” (Matthew 21:40). The chief priests and elders, oblivious to their role in this parable, quickly gave their answer: “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons” (v. 41).

They walked right into it once again, condemning themselves by their own words. Jesus turned it around on them a third time:
Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes”?

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (Matthew 21:42-43)
Jesus is looking for fruit. Not for fig trees that promise fruit by their leaves but then fail to produce. Not for sons who offer lip service but then do not obey. Not for vinedressers who strike a deal but then refuse to yield what rightfully belongs to the landowner. Nor for priests and Pharisees who put on a pious show but then fail to believe those whom God has sent. The kingdom of God is taken away from them.

No, Jesus is looking for those who bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, who, regardless of their former disobedience, turn and obey the truth. The kingdom of God belongs to them, for they turn out to be the ones Jesus spoke of from the beginning: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth belongs to those who bring forth the fruits of repentance, faith and obedience.



The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.