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Matthew 21:18-22


“Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.  And presently the fig tree withered away.  And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!  Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.  And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”


New Year’s Resolutions

(excellent Passover Preparation Sermon)


“Good morning, and Happy New Year to you.  Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 21.  We left off a couple weeks ago with verse 17 of Matthew 21, and this morning we’re going to pick up with verse 18.  I like to use the opportunity of the new year to challenge and encourage you to, if you don’t, I think I do this every single New Year, but in our bulletin, if you have never read through the Bible through the year, I challenge you to do it.  We have in the bulletin a Bible reading plan, and you can start today, January 1st, and in a year read through the entire Bible.  If that’s kind of a big piece for you to bite off, there’s also, it’s divided up into Old Testament and New Testament, you can read just through the Old Testament, or just read through the New Testament.  Or even if you want a smaller passage, a smaller portion to read each day, there’s a Psalm for the day, and even smaller, there’s a Proverb for the day.  So basically you’re reading about a verse a day, if you read just through the Book of Proverbs in a year.  So, just to exhort, to challenge you to do that…Well yesterday, New Year’s Eve, Saturday, when holidays fall on Saturdays it’s a little bit of a challenge for me, because I always end up studying, I just can’t seem to get my studies done earlier.  So come Saturday, if it’s a holiday I end up studying [the Bible and commentaries, preparing his sermon], and I usually end up finishing it up on Sunday morning.  So I was thinking about what to do with my family, we’ll usually just stop together and have dinner on Saturdays.  So I thought, well, I’ll grab my journals, prayer journals that I have, and as we sit down, maybe just look through real quick and consider that [past] year together, maybe there’s some memories I can share, we can share together.  And so we did that, just considered the kindness of God towards us in 2005, and the faithfulness of the Lord to us.  We could say 2005 was a good year.  But looking through my journal too, I could see times of despair and times of struggle and times of tribulation, times of trial.  Yet at the same time, it is true, flipping through the pages, God has been faithful to us.  To take us through every corner of every season, to be with us.  You know, the New Year does give us that opportunity, Pete was reflecting on that too.  And of course as we do every year, there’s that opportunity to look back, it gives us the opportunity to look back, to consider the last 12 months, the quality of the life that I’ve lived.  And then also to look ahead, and maybe resolve to take some necessary steps to improve the quality of life, my life for 2006.  Now, you know it’s so common, New Year’s, some of us here statistically probably, there are some that have determined they’re going change their diet or eating habits.  I think that happens as we get older, we realize that something’s got to change, because every time we step on the scale it seems to go a little higher and a little higher and a little higher.  Some of us have resolved to maybe quit smoking, or stop some unhealthy habit or some unwanted habit.  Maybe we’ve resolved to be more disciplined in other areas of our life.  I mean, often it’s ‘OK, I’m going to start exercising.’  You’ve said that in 2004, in January, said that in January 2003, ‘I’m gonna start exercising,’, or maybe veg out a little bit less in front of the TV and start some mental exercises, read a book, sign up for a class that you’ve been wanting to sign up for, or something like that.  Or maybe it’s you’ve been with friends and family, so you’re thinking ‘Boy, I need to maintain those relationships a little bit better, been just hardly seeing some of my family members, some of my friends.  So here you are resolving you’re going to do it a little bit better this year.  Naturally that’s what New Year’s does.  It gives us that sense of evaluating our lives, re-evaluating our lives, and maybe making some challenges to ourselves to improve our lives. [Comment:  For the early Christian church, which observed the Passover/Days of Unleavened Bread, this evaluation usually took place just prior to the Passover season, especially since the Hebrew religious New Year started 14 days before Passover, in the early Spring, April/May.  This habit of spiritual self-evaluating has deep roots in this season for the early Church, but subsequently was Romanized under Constantine, along with the Roman calendar being put in place of the Hebrew calendar and Holy Days which the early Church observed.  The Roman church kind of copied this with their ‘Lent season.’  For  a good history about the early Church, see  Paul himself encouraged self-examination in 2nd Corinthians 13:5.]  But you know from past years, and statistics certainly don’t help either, but people start out with New Year’s resolutions, and it’s only a little bit of time before the business of the year, before the challenges of the year and the trials of the year, before we’re right back to where we were, with so many of the things that we determined to do better on, we find ourselves back to the same routine, back to the same situation.  So then, as we look to 2006, what is the secret for us in order to make solid improvements, so  that when we get to the end of 2006, when we get to the end of another year, that we can look back on that year, and see improvement, and see success, and see victory, feel the sense of accomplishment---what is the secret?  Well I believe the secret is abiding in Christ.  John chapter 15, verses 4-5, Jesus said to the disciples, “Abide in me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.”  So I believe the secret to success for you and I is to abide in Christ.  I can’t do anything apart from the power of God.  But if I abide in him, he promises that I’ll be fruitful, I’ll grow, I’ll improve, there will be that sense of accomplishment and success.  You know a couple weeks ago I was considering, because as we come the New Year’s, it’s one of those times that I have many times stopped our verse by verse studies through the Bible and maybe picked up a topical teaching [which they do very infrequently], because New Year’s is just a time where I think about the new year in my own life, and think about the past year, and maybe there’s a Scripture that will be on my heart for the New Year, and I’ll just use that as a passage on a Sunday morning.  But as I was thinking about where we left off two weeks ago, and thinking about this last two weeks, the verses that are here and the passage, it just seemed to sit well with me, ‘This is a good place just right where we left off to continue, to start with as we look to a new year.’  So I began to study and I began to research, and I was a little surprised, at least for me, to see that, I was thinking about the passage and I was thinking about John 15.  You look at this passage, you see, we’ll talk about John 15, there is certainly a correlation there.  And so I was thinking about John 15, and then researching, and then I was surprised to discover that just a couple years ago, January 5th, 2003, we were going verse by verse through the book of John, the previous year, 2002, and we just happened to be on John 15 come the New Year’s Sunday of 2003.  So I taught through that passage.  [see to read that sermon.]  And then I went to it and I looked through what I taught, and I went, boy, that’s interesting, a lot of the same points that are in my mind right now and things that I have just been thinking about, we went through that just a couple years ago.  And so as I thought about that and thought about other things that we’ll even consider this morning, as well as a parable that Jesus shares in Luke 13.  You know it’s true, Jesus many times, many times, re-established and re-affirmed the importance of you and I, as Christians, that we grow and that we’re fruitful.  Over and over he goes there with the disciples.  We’ll see that this morning too, as we consider it.  But frequently, reemphasizing the importance to his people, whether it be you individually, the church corporately, or even the nation of Israel [Judah] at this time, to continuously be bearing fruit.  And then also the great challenge and the great danger when you and I are not continuously bearing fruit.  So, we want to think about this, this morning as we look back over our last year and as we look out to a new year.  [This sermon is also very appropriate as Messianic Jewish and Sabbatarian Church of God brethren start a new spiritual new year as the Passover season draws near, at the beginning of God’s new year in the Spring.]  And I’d like to say a word of prayer with you as we begin with verse 18.  So let’s stop for a moment and say a word of prayer.  ‘Lord, thank you that we on the first day of this year, it turns out to be Sunday, and we can come together as a body of believers, and think about you corporately together and go to your Word, and study your Word, and seek to hear your voice.  Lord as we each week gather and study the Word, we so much need the Holy Spirit, I thank you that your Word, it’s like that hammer that just chisels away at the rock, it’s like that fire that just burns away.  And I do pray that you would speak to us, Lord, and help us to hear.  I pray that we would indeed, all of us, that have sense that we’ve been touched by God this morning, that we’ve heard the voice of God.  And that we would even have yet a better sense of our lives and what you hope and desire for us in the future.  And where maybe there are things that could change and need to change, that we would go out with a sense and direction and a conviction deep in our hearts this morning that would result in us being successful in those changes, and successful in carrying out those things that you desire for us.  Lord, the simple truth is, we need you in our lives.  And so please place your Holy Spirit upon and within all of us, and even upon myself now as we go through your Word, in Jesus name, amen.’


During this past year, have you been fruitful?


Verses 18 through 19 of Matthew 21, “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.”  Now as we’ve been studying through Matthew, we’ve noted, it’s the final days, those final days before Jesus is crucified.  At this time it’s just a couple of days before he’s crucified.  He’s been in Jerusalem just about two days [so he’s got four to go, see].  Although it’s not very long that a lot of stuff has happened.  We’ve studied already, verse by verse through Matthew, a lot of events have happened.  The traditional calendar, setting up this last week, Jesus seems to be in the city of Jerusalem a total of a week.  The traditional calendar is this, that the Lord shows up initially on Sunday, that’s where the triumphal entry is which we studied.  Then on Monday he cleanses the Temple, and then now we come to what would be traditionally considered as Tuesday, remember he goes to the cross on Friday, so it’s Tuesday morning.  [Comment:  But you cannot go by the traditional calendar, coming to us from the Roman Catholic church.  Jesus was Jewish.  Jesus told everyone he would be in the grave for three days and three nights, literally, that’s the Word of God.  So he would have to have been crucified on a Passover day, 14th Nisan, on a Wednesday, dying as the Gospels show, around 3pm.  Three days and three nights from Wednesday afternoon would bring you to 3pm Saturday afternoon.  Considering it took anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to bury Jesus he went into the tomb right around sundown, 6pm, Wednesday afternoon, so he would be rising from the grave around sundown that Saturday afternoon.  The empty tomb would be spotted by Mary, Peter and John just after sunrise that following Sunday morning.  The only year that fits would be 30AD, when Passover, the 14th Nisan was on a Wednesday.  For an exhaustive study on the Hebrew Calendar, with a chapter that deals with this subject, log onto:  I hate to be shooting this part of the pastor’s sermon down, but accuracy is accuracy, and many Holy Spirit indwelt, well-meaning pastors just do not understand the timing and situation surrounding Hebrew Holy Days, because they are not observing them.  There is something to be said about that.  But otherwise, the spiritual content of this sermon is right on the money.]  And this day as we study through it in the next couple studies, it becomes a real day of controversy with the religious leaders.  Now again, Matthew says it’s morning.  He’s returning from Bethany, we presume he’s been at the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, certainly a place of comfort and encouragement for him.  It says here that Jesus is hungry, and he sees a fig tree by the road.  We learn in Mark, Mark has a parallel passage to this, Mark chapter 11, that he initially spots this fig tree off in a distance.  Notice that the fig tree has leaves.  And so he wonders, as Mark says, he wonders if maybe there’s some fruit on it.  He’s hungry, ‘Maybe I can get something to eat.’  Well he comes closer and he examines it, and as you see there he finds nothing on it but leaves.  And Mark then tells us further, he makes this point, it’s not the season for figs anyway.  The way it would work, maybe you would know this if you have raised figs before, but the main fig crop comes in early fall, late summer, early fall.  This is Passover season, this is springtime, so it’s not the typical season for fruit on a fig tree.  Although, it was possible that certain fig trees, during this time of the year, may in fact have some fruit.  It was called ‘the first ripe fruit’, this early fruit.  And the interesting thing about that fruit that would come on certain trees in the spring, is the fruit would actually begin to form and start to grow before the leaves ever appeared.  And so if you did see a tree with leaves, and it was one of those trees that would have this early fruit, it would certainly have the fruit then.  Because the fruit started before the leaves appeared.  Well upon inspecting the tree, as you see there, he doesn’t find any fruit to partake in, so Jesus then says “Let no fruit grow on you ever again”, and then we read there, amazingly, immediately, it says the fig tree withered away.  Note Matthew has chosen to condense the story.  It would seem reading it here that it’s a one-day, one-occasion kind of event.  But you learn in Mark that this event with the fig tree transpires actually over two different days.  In Mark we learn that on Monday [this whole two-day event took place on Saturday-Sunday, Nisan 10 and 11 being 30AD on God’s Hebrew calendar].  The day that Jesus cleanses the Temple he comes in the morning, and he sees this fig tree, as he does [in Mark] off in the distance.  He comes and examines it, doesn’t find any fruit, his disciples are with him, he says “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again” (see Mark 11:12-14).  And we’re told in Mark that he then says that and the disciples hear him say that, and then they go on, and then he cleanses the Temple [Sabbath, 30 AD], comes to the Temple in the condition that it’s in, and he starts turning over the tables and he just cleans house, because it’s just a mess spiritually speaking.  Well then, the next event that Mark records is on the next day, on Tuesday [actually, Sunday 30AD] morning, that then they’re walking back from Bethany to Jerusalem again, and there the disciples notice this fig tree, and they notice this next day that it’s completely dead, it’s completely dried.  So Peter then says to Jesus, “Rabbi look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered away!”  So Mark, and I think it’s by his design, he’s making a point, he has this fig tree, it occurred over two days, but it’s sort of like ‘book-ends’ on the Temple cleansing.  It happens before, and there’s more to the story of the fig tree after the Temple cleansing, and that’s important.  Matthew keeps it short and sweet, summarizes the whole point of the thing, and this is he sees the tree, it has no fruit, and then he curses it and immediately it dries up.


Why Does Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?


So, here’s the question.  Why would Jesus curse this tree?  Why would he curse it for not bearing any fruit?  And especially considering that it wasn’t the usual time of year for it to have fruit.  So why would he do so?  Well as you put all the Scriptures together in the Bible, there’s a picture that forms, and Mark even helps us a little bit more.  But the fig tree represents, indeed there’s a symbolic thing that’s happening here.  It represents the nation of Israel (all 12 tribes, the Jews of which are the representative tribe).  That’s true, frequently in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 5, Psalm 80, so many passages in the Old Testament.  [log onto  and scroll to Jeremiah 24,  and read about the two baskets of figs.]  That vine, the fig tree, it speaks of the nation of Israel [or Judah], and it’s certain that that is the case here too, there’s a symbolic thing going on.  But given just the fact that it’s in Mark, laid out before the Temple, then again after the Temple cleansing, there is also this picture that this tree is representative of the condition of the religious life in the nation of Israel [Judah], of the religious life, their relationship, their walk with God.  And at this particular time, for the nation of Israel, for all intense purposes, their religion, their walk with God is basically fruitless, basically fruitless, very little life.  It’s essentially a dead religion.  The fact that the tree had leaves too is interesting.  Because it’s sort of like that, it’s a temptation if you’re hungry, where you’d be tempted to think, ‘Maybe there’s fruit.’  So it has that sense of show to it, to a degree, but upon further examination, it’s shown to have no fruit at all.  And that’s like the religious life in the nation of Israel, there is the Temple, there is the priesthood, there is the sacrifices, there’s all sorts of the religious festivities.  There is this declaration to the world that something’s going on spiritually in the nation of Israel [Judah].  But if you are somebody who wants to come from outside and seek to come to know God, and you come to the Temple in the land of Israel, fat chance in actually meeting God, you have little chance in discovering God.  If you were hungry and wanted to have a spiritual meal, and you came to the nation of Israel at this time, there’s little chance in you finding a spiritual meal, because of the religious state there, it’s just empty.  It was all vain, very little work of the Spirit, very little power, very little real life, very little relationship.  Well next week, as we continue on in this chapter, you will see that this is the pattern, Matthew is arranging this, you’ll see this is clearly a theme in these passages that follow.  In fact, at the end of the chapter, chapter 21, Jesus shares this Parable of the Vinedressers, these wicked vinedressers, these unfaithful vinedressers.  And there it’s represented as the nation of Israel, that God had given them this life, this opportunity, relationship with him, they have been given the Law, the Temple and the Word, and it was a responsibility with that to be a light to the world.  Yet they have been unfaithful.  And as a result, God was going to judge, and he even says, Jesus says, in verse 43 he says that the kingdom of God is now going to be taken from you and given to another nation.  That other nation ultimately being the Church [but this in no way is promoting Replacement Theology], the beginning of the Church Age is about to start.  So, the fig tree representing that.  Now, Jesus curses the tree because there’s no fruit.  He curses the tree because it represents the nation of Israel [Judah].  Now, the actual tense of the grammar there in the Greek, it’s more of a prediction, when he says “Let no more fruit grow on you ever again”, more of a prediction really than a curse, although it is a curse.  But it is a prediction, the Greek is in the double-negative, so it’s of the strongest kind of negative prediction you could possibly make.  And that is certainly, that’s the way it is in this present life.  In the people of God if there isn’t really any spiritual life, if there’s no true love or worship in the house of God, if God’s house really isn’t a true house of prayer, you can be sure that it’s soon going to die.  He basically gives a very strong prediction, and yet it’s a curse.  There will never be any fruit on it, it’s in such a condition.  And that is true for the nation of Israel and the Temple, and it’s always true for God’s people, be it that way, if it be that way.  You know, Jesus also gave a warning to the Church, the church in Ephesus.  They were busy about good works and good doctrine, but they had left their first love, and lost their passion for God, and so listen to the warning that Jesus gives them in Revelation chapter 2, verse 5.  “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place.”  ‘Unless you repent,’ he says to the church in Ephesus, ‘You’re all busy about religious life, but the passion and love is gone.  I warn you, something needs to change, you need to repent and get back on track, or I will come and take that lampstand, the very light, the very life, that makes you what you are, I’ll remove it.’  So what was true of the nation of Israel, God’s people, is true of the Church today, but it’s also true of the individual believer.  I can be a Christian busy about good works, but if there is no true sincere love, and God is ultimately the One who knows, if there’s not true sincere love, growing intimacy, relationship, walk with him, heartbeat for him.  If there’s a lack of passion for him and just wanting to walk with him and to be near to him, then I’m not a whole lot different than this tree. 


Over the past 12 months, what do you see?  What does God see in you?


The question is, as we look back over the last 12 months, as you look over your life, as I look over my life, we do at this time of year, what do we see?  Or maybe there’s a better question.  As we look back over the last 12 months, what does God see?  I like as we’re studying on Wednesday nights through the Old Testament, we’re studying the lives of the kings, and it’s like God gives a report card for each one, he starts out and introduces the king, and says, here’s their score.  You know, they’ve walked in the way of Jeroboam or they walked in the way of David, and he gives the score, kind of the report card.  God looking back on your life, looking back over the last 12 months, is he able to come to your life, my life, our lives and partake in living fruit?  Over the last 12 months, have we been bearing fruit, or have we been like the state of this fig tree?  Maybe there are even leaves, you know, this apparent show of life, presentation of supposed life, but upon closer examination there isn’t anything for him to partake in, there’s no life.  Now, it is interesting, this is the first time that Jesus uses his power to judge.  Before this time, in the whole story, he’s in the last days of his life here on this earth, but throughout his ministry he was just, every time his power was used to bless.  Every time his power was used, it was to give life, heal and to deliver.  But this particular time he uses it to curse and to judge.  And that’s because of the condition and the heart of the people of God, and so he judges the tree because they’re at that place.  It’s just a short time, historically speaking, it’s a short time, the nation of Judah has been around for a bit of time up to this point, but in just a short time, they may have the Temple, they may have the religious festivities, but it’s less than 40 years from now when the Romans will come in, and as they do, they just lay waste the place.  You know, Jesus will even say it one time, he’ll tell the disciples, and they find it hard to believe.  But in a short time, with this Temple, there won’t be one stone left upon another.  You can go to Israel today, and there are piles of stones just laying there that we presume were from the time when general Titus came in.  And in order for those soldiers to get at the gold, man, they completely dismantled that Temple, less than 40 years away.  Jeremiah warned the nation of Judah, at the time of Josiah, they were all just so confident in having the Temple of the LORD, and he said to them, God said through Jeremiah, ‘You know, go to Shiloh, you’re so confident in your religious life, it’s a dead religion.  Go to Shiloh, and that’s what you’re going to become.’  And Shiloh was where the Tabernacle used to be, and there wasn’t anything left in Shiloh anymore.  It’s also interesting to note that just a little bit earlier, Jesus shared a parable with those who were around him, and it’s recorded in Luke chapter 13, and he spoke of a certain man who had planted a vineyard and had come seeking fruit in this vineyard, but he had found none.  And he said to the keeper of his vineyard, he said, ‘Look, for three years I’ve come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none.  So cut it down, why does it just use up the ground.  Well the keeper of his vineyard then persuaded him and said, Sir let it alone this year also until I dig around it and fertilize it, and if it bears fruit, then well, but if not, then you can cut it down.’  He says ‘I’ve been coming for three years in a row, and it’s just taking up soil.’  The other guy says, ‘Let’s give it a little bit more time, we’ll work it a little bit more, and if next time there’s no fruit, then just cut it down.’  And it seems that now, with this fig tree the time has passed, and that time has come.  God has been patient, God has waited, he’s tried everything possible to get the nation back on track.  But the time is up and there’s no real fruit, and God despises, absolutely despises a lifeless robotic religion.  He hates the verbal professions stuff where there’s no real heart, there’s no real life to back it up.  So here we see the LORD of the Temple, we saw him come to the Temple and clean house and now we see him just in this sense of judging dead religion. 


The spiritual fruit God is looking for in our lives


1. The Fruits of the Holy Spirit


You know, I guess as we look back over the last 12 months, evaluating and reevaluating, we should pose this question then too, and that is, ‘What is the fruit that God is looking for?’  What’s it like?  What kind of fruit should we be bearing?  What sort of fruit should be in my life that is indicative of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life?---as I look back over the last 12 months.  Well I’m sure lots of us with lots of Bible and church experience, if we were to take a poll, this would probably be the first answer, you know, ‘Of the top ten, here’s #1.’  And it’s true, this is a definitely, it should be at the top, and that is the fruit of the Spirit.  Right?  The fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5, verses 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law.”  So, love, and I believe love, and I know you believe, love it’s right there at the top.  Love is the ultimate litmus test.  I look back over my life these last 12 months, and is there that love, the love of God, the supernatural Agape’ love of God?  Has my love been growing towards my spouse, has my love been growing towards my children, do the children say so, do they feel so, does my spouse believe so.  How about my family members, my close family, my extended family, how about my friends, how about my co-workers, how about my enemies?  Jesus said “Love your enemies.”  The fruit of the Spirit is love.  And so as I look back over the last 12 months, am I like this fig tree in this state, or what kind of fruit is on the tree?  God comes and he examines his people.  He comes to see and to partake of the fruit.  And so here we are, it’s so important for us as God’s people to stop and consider and let him show us, reveal to us the state of our lives.  Is there the love, is there the joy?  Do I represent Christ in that way, is there joy in my life?  Is there the peace?  Or is my life, as I look back, consumed with anxiety this last year?  Fear?  Is there kindness, am I somebody whose kind, somebody whose faithful, and under the power and self-control of the Holy Spirit?  [see]


2. The fruit of evangelism, winning souls to Christ


Well, we also learn, according to Romans chapter 1, verse 13, that the fruit that God looks for, that should be in my life at times is that of winning souls to Christ.  Paul says to the church in Rome, he says, ‘I desire that fruit, I want to come to Rome so that there’s that fruit’, and he speaks of the fruit of the souls of men and women.  And it is also something that God expects to see in my life.  You know, I’ve been more convicted of that this year, you know, I come on Sunday like you, and on Wednesday, I share the Gospel, and so we see folks come to Christ.  But I look at my life individually, and because I’m a pastor today, I’m in the church-world a lot, I don’t have the ongoing relationships with people who are not in the church [or
Body of Christ, non-believers], I’m around the church all the time.  And that’s what I do.  It’s not like it used to be in the old days where I was working the career or whatever and working with folks who don’t know the Lord.  But yet I know that God, when he looks at my life, he wants there to be fruit, and I want there to be fruit in my life, where souls are coming to Christ, that fruit.  But I struggle, you know, I was even with a group of pastors this last week, it’s the end of the year, beginning of a new year, so we’re praying at our prayer-meeting, and one of the pastors just so passionately prayed for our city.  I have to confess, as he prayed, I felt convicted, because at that moment I didn’t feel that passion for the city.  And yet it’s true, you look back over the last year, maybe you look in your lives, maybe you look in your neighborhood or your workplace, there are people very possibly that were in your life at the beginning of the year that are not in your life anymore, and that’s because they’ve died.  And it will be true the next year too.  There are people around us, all around us, and we have just so much time with them.  And what’s my heart like?  You know, the heart of God is that he waits patiently, he desires that the lost would come to him.  And so if I am growing in his life, that should be my heart too.  I was convicted as he prayed.  He doesn’t know it, but ‘Oh Lord, there’s just a lack of that right now, forgive me Lord.’  I even remember back earlier in the fall being at the conference in San Diego, what we call the huddle, and Mike, my pastor had the president of the American Tract Society there, and he came up and shared a little bit, and he shared, he said, ‘Hey listen, guys, gals, we’ve got this little program, and if you want to sign up for it we’ll send you 30 tracts a month, we’ll give you 30 tracts a month free, just sign up and we’ll send you these tracts and you can give out one tract a day, we challenge you to give out one tract a day.’  And I heard that, thinking, ‘Man, I’m going to try that, because I want to.’  I’ll be honest with you, I’m a chicken, really, when it comes to sharing the Gospel.  So I got some tracts stuffed in my pocket, and it’s a little bit after, and I’m with a pastor locally and he is Mr. Outgoing, you know what I mean, and more of an evangelist type of nature.  And so we’re talking about it, and I mentioned I have these tracts, and he says ‘Oh give me one of these’, they’re still in my pocket, I haven’t used them yet, so he takes one, goes right up to a guy, says, ‘Hey,’ puts his hand out and ‘can you read that?’ just as naturally as can be.  Of course I felt convicted.  I even said to him, ‘You should come with me more often, I want to give out these tracts, I know what I’m going to do, you’re coming with me.’  [laughter]  So, now I’ve given out a few since then.  Been working on it, I’m a little chicken, I don’t know what it is, here I am a pastor, you’d think.  [It is merely a question of where your talents lie. Some people have the gift for evangelism, some have the gift for being teachers and nurturers in the Word.  This guy’s talents most definitely lie in the teacher category.  Interestingly enough, the Great Commission Jesus gave to the Church, the Body of Christ contains both the command to proclaim the Gospel of Salvation to the world, and to spiritually teach and nourish those who respond favorably (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  Not everybody is expected to go out and evangelize, and not everybody is expected to be teachers and nurturers.  We usually have one of the two talents, but not often both.  And those of us who aren’t talented in either, what can we do?  We can support those who do, by our prayers, and by our financial support.  See for some interesting ideas along that line.]  But if I had it to be my way, I’d go throughout the day and I wouldn’t talk to anybody, I’d just kind of hang out.  You know, that’s kind of my personality.  But yet the fruit, the fruit, God comes and he inspects the tree, and the tree is his people, and the fruit includes evangelism.  So, you and I, doing whatever we can, whether it be in prayer, whether it be just as best we can, now and then when the opportunity is there to share Christ, or to give out the tract.  Maybe that’s what you want to try, just give out a tract, you don’t have to say anything, just give out the tract, and God can use a tract.  I remember a pastor friend of mine years ago telling me this story where he wanted to share Christ with somebody he worked with, and this guy was working with him, was an intern engineer, was just there for the summer, never had the opportunity all summer, finally it’s the last day and the guy’s going to return to the university, and my friend Glen, as it works out, he ends up giving the guy a ride home from work.  And he’s got this tract, and he just wants to share Christ, and all he’s got is a tract with him now, and it turns out the intern was sick and as they were driving home Glen had to stop at times and let the guy open the door and throw up, the guy had the flu.  And so he’s looking for this opportunity, last time with him and he’s throwing up the whole way home.  So Glen gets to his house, he gets out of the car, and Glen goes ‘Here!’, just passes him the tract.  Later, he ran into the guy a couple years later, don’t you know, he read that tract and actually came to Christ.  You just never know, you know.  [For a whole section on evangelism, see:]


3. The Fruit of Holiness in our lives


Well, according to Romans chapter 6, verse 22, the fruit that God looks for in my life includes the fruit of holiness.  Romans 6:22, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”  Holiness, what is holiness?  Holiness is a life of separation, in a sense that I live differently, that as I grow I think more and more differently, the desires of my heart are more and more different, set apart from the world.  And so therefore my actions and my way of life is just different, less worldly, more godly.  There should be the fruit of holiness.  [And sin is the direct opposite of holiness.]  As you look back over your life for the last 12 months there should be growing holiness in your life, becoming different.  You know, that old question, you’ve heard it I’m sure many times, ‘If Christianity in a year or two or three was suddenly illegal in Massachusetts, could you be convicted of being a Christian?’.  And I remember once being on a jury, on a rape case in San Diego, and I remember the judge say, “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, if you’re going to convict, it has to be beyond a shadow of any reasonable doubt.”  And that’s hard to do, to convict somebody, given the evidence, without any reasonable doubt.  And so therefore if you were to be tried, somebody says ‘Hey, you go to this church on Sunday mornings.’  And so you get turned in, and now you’re in court, could you be convicted?  They might say ‘Well, you go to church, but well you know, hey,’ it could go back and forth, the jury as they deliberate, ‘You now, I know people that aren’t Christians that go to church, so I don’t know, are they?  Maybe.  But without any doubt?’, could they convict you of being a believer?  Could they say, ‘Wow, without a doubt, that person is a believer, man’.  And that’s a statement of a holy life, of the fruit of holiness growing in our lives.  [see]


4. The Fruit of Good Works and Service to the Lord


According to Colossians chapter 1, verse 10 there should be the fruit of genuine good works and service.  Paul says “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…”  So, fruitful in every good work, and in service.  Looking back over the last 12 months, are you one who serves the Lord, do you serve here at the church?  It’s so interesting that, it is true that, and we’re probably statistically better off than many churches, but there’s always this smaller portion that does all the work, does the greater amount of the work, you know, the 20 or 30 percent that does all the work.  And I’m not sure why it’s that way, but do you serve the Lord?  Is that true in your life?  Maybe, you don’t have to serve in a church, you can serve in other capacities in other places, other ministries, other ways.  You can serve in a convalescent home, in the prison, you can serve in the detention center, you can serve wherever, but serve the Lord.  Looking back, is there that fruit in your life?  [this for some is turning into a real seat-squirmer of a sermon.]  Is there that fruit in your life?  Maybe you went to the Gulf [after Katrina] with one of our teams, maybe you didn’t, maybe you will next year, maybe you’re going to Montreal, we went to Mexico, maybe went on a missions trip, or maybe you’ll be with us next year [i.e. short-term missions trips.  See ].  Maybe you’ll start a ministry.  But as we look at our lives and we evaluate them, is there the service, the service, the good works?  That’s something he looks for, it should be there.  I know some of us, in our lives, there are single moms and dads in this room, man, your life is overfull, and some of these things maybe make you feel a little guilty, and you’re like ‘I hardly sleep, I get up early in the morning, I get my kids ready, I go to work, and then I come home, I got kids, and then I take care of them, and then we go to bed…when do I have the time to have ministry?’  It’s true, when do you have time?  But maybe it’s the quality of what you do, there’s less grumbling when you take care of your children, when you go to work there’s less grumbling and complaining, you go with the heart of God, and you do it as unto the Lord.  [i.e. what he’s trying to say is that for moms and dads, especially single ones, your children are your ministry, raising them in the Lord, they most definitely are and should be your first ministry.  If more moms and dads made this a priority, the churches would be bulging with new growth from within.]  And as he comes to your life he sees genuine service and a heart that just wants to please him and glorify him in all that you do.  [For a historic example of real service, log onto] 


5. The Fruit of financial giving


In Romans 15:28 and Philippians 4:17 we see the fruit that God expects also includes that of financial giving.  Romans 15:27, “If pleased indeed, and they are their debtors.  For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.”  [for Biblical principles of giving, see]  Paul multiple times notes that, you know we call it the first-fruits, and maybe it’s the two mites, where the widow with the two mites, that’s all we have.  But there are some whom God has put into the kingdom of God [one of the pastor’s terms for ‘Body of Christ’, i.e the Church], you know there’s the book, it’s called “Kings and Priests”, the priest being somebody more so who preaches and teaches and shepherds the sheep, a king being more the one who provides the structure for the kingdom, and the finances and the resources.  And maybe you’re more of a king in that sense.  And the book isn’t necessarily theologically accurate, but I like the picture, maybe that’s what God has in your life.  And you look back over the last 12 months, he’s abundantly blessed you with resources and business and opportunity, but yet, is there the fruit?  Is there fruit?  Is your life fruitful, does he come and look, or have you used all that he gives you for your own means, your own selfish purposes and desires?  And he comes and there’s no fruit on the tree.  There’s no fruit. 


6. The Fruit of our lips in praise to God


According to Hebrews chapter 13, verse 15, the fruit that God expects to see too includes the fruit of our lips.  Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.”  A life giving praise to his name, “therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.”  I mean, as you look back over the year, can you see that, falling more in love with God, you can’t help but just praise him and tell him you’re blown away, and sing a song to him now and then, whether it’s off-key or not, and just you love him and tell him, he knows it, it’s the fruit of your lips.  Or is there hardly ever a word out of your lips directed towards God?  And the fruit of our lips should also be the salt and light, the things we say, should be growing in speech that’s pleasing to God.  You know, this last week, one of our kids got into a conversation with some friends that wasn’t really appropriate.  Fortunately, our kids I think are all this way, but this one especially has got this type of conscience that from when they were little, you could just walk into a room and they’d say ‘I didn’t do it!’.  ‘What do you mean, you didn’t do it?  What did you do?’  Just all guilty, that’s the way they are.  And so we learned about the conversation, because right after, they tell us.  We’re ‘What!?’ are you talking about?’  And you know, children.  So ok, they were ashamed, repentant.  But I felt we should give a little discipline, so we chose to give them some verses to right out, write out this Bible verse a number of times, and that is what they needed to do, and we talked a little bit about it.  But Colossians 4:6, that our speech, our words, the fruit of our lips should always be impacting and building up the lives of those around us in the culture around us.  Our words should not be tearing people down and putting people down and hurting lives.  Our words should, the fruit of our lips should be life.  And so, we look back over 2005, and you know, the fruit of our lips, a life of prayer, that’s the fruit of our lips, life of worship.  So the last 12 months, I guess you can look at your life, I don’t know your life, and I have a hard time remembering my life.  And I’m thankful, looking through my journal, I can see ups and downs, but God, what does he see, where am I, what’s my fig tree like?  I guess you could say, ‘What needs to change for 2006 so that there’s improvement, so that there’s greater victory, so that there’s more life, so that there’s more fruit? 


What Does It Take To Be Fruitful?


Now, I remember when we lived in the town next door, we rented a place there, and the property was really nice around this place, and there were all sorts of little fruit trees and fruit we could pick, there was a peach tree and blueberries.  And our landlord did a pretty good job, like my father-in-law, my father-in-law’s got a little orange tree in his backyard.  Man, he works that tree, that tree just packs out the fruit a couple times a year.  It’s a little dinky tree, but it is loaded with fruit.  So when we lived in this apartment we got used to, you know, you’d go out and get blueberries.  One particular year, we’re going to go out and get our blueberries, and there weren’t any blueberries, there were minimal blueberries if there were any.  Well it turns out, my landlord always prepared, but this particular time he chose not to put the little net, and I’d never really paid attention, but he always covered the bushes with netting.  Well this one year he didn’t, and so the birds just had a field day, so we didn’t get any blueberries.  And there’s the principle in our lives too, that in order to have fruitfulness, success, growth, there has to be that preparation, the right conditions, the right preparatory work in order for there to be that harvest.  And when there’s lacking the right conditions, the right preparatory work, then there’s the meagre harvest.  And so, the question, what constitutes the right conditions for us to bear fruit, and to be fruitful?  And that’s where we go back to my opening point, the right conditions, I believe, is that we abide in Christ, is that we abide in Christ.  The Greek word there for “abiding in Christ” means “to be at home in Christ.”  And there’s no doubt, Christians that are at home in Christ, Christians who are just, that’s where they reside, man, they just like to be with Jesus, they just love him, man.  They walk with him.  The more Christians are like that, the more fruitful they are in their lives.  Their fig tree has lots of fruit on it.  Let’s just read John 15 real quick together.  It’s interesting, you know the nation of Israel, the parable of the vinedressers that we’ll read shortly, in a week or two, and then there’s just this symbolic judging of these vinedressers, and then you read what Jesus says to his people that are now the Church, and it’s the  same thing.  He expects fruit from his people.  And there’s a warning when there’s no fruit.  Chapter 15 of John, verses 1-8, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that bears fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.”  Clearly, God hates dead religion, he hates dead religion, lifeless robotic religion, he has no use for it.  And what he desires is relationships, so he says “abide in me.”  You know when you have a branch that’s tied into the vine, it has connection to the life-source, it has connection to the power, it doesn’t even have to work on bearing fruit, it bears fruit because it’s connected.  And so, Jesus says abide in me and you will bear fruit.  And you want to bear fruit, you want to grow, you want to grow as a Christian, you want to have more people that you’ve led to the Lord, you want to see more holiness, you want to see your thought-life become more in line with what God desires, your speech, your heart, your desires, your passions abide more in Christ.  And to abide in Christ is to connect to him, man, to be at home with him, and to make him your priority and to be near him.  It is interesting, as he talks of pruning, there in verse 2 of John 15, he says when something’s fruitful I’ll prune it, and maybe you’ve had a year like that, where you’ve had a little pruning going on too.  Our seasons go through that, even churches go through that, it’s possible this year.  But prunings always make it more fruitful [if indeed God is doing the pruning].  But he says in verse 3, he equates the pruning to the cleaning, he says “you are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”  And it is true that the Word of God, the more that the Word of God is just becoming rooted into my heart and my mind, the more it’s just becoming part of me, I am growing, I’m being cleaned.  [Comment:  That’s the other definition of the word “pruning” that all grape vinedressers know about, where they wash the vines and grapes, I don’t know how often, but they’re washing them, not necessarily cutting them, although they do that at times too.  Jesus is showing in verse 3 that this is the type of “pruning” he is referring to, a washing by the Word of God type of pruning.]  I am abiding in him, I’m becoming a man of faith, and you know faith comes by the hearing of the Word, and man, the higher quality of life I’m going to live as I do that, as I’m just plugged in and connected to him.  Well, I use the opportunity again, it’s because it’s the beginning of a new year, but boy I challenge you, read through the Bible, make it part of your daily life.  Maybe less of the newspaper if you need to, or the scandal mags, or a little bit less TV, so that you can have the Word of God being implanted, and you will grow.  You don’t want to get to the end of another year and look back, if you’ve looked back, and not see a lot of spiritual fruit.


“Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive”


Well, we’ll look at a couple more verses briefly here, because they connect together, verses 20-22 of chapter 21, “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 this 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.’”  Now, he comes, LORD of the Temple, he judges this dead religion, symbolic there, that’s what’s coming to the nation of Israel.  But then he turns to his disciples, and look at the contrast, he speaks to disciples about something that’s very radical, radical life.  It’s not religion, it’s the  dynamic experience of walking with him.  He actually says to them, you know, they’re like blown away that this thing’s withered up.  It would be pretty wild to see a tree that was like filled with green leaves, and the next day it’s withered up.  Although my wife and I have successfully done that with plants in our house before.  But they’re blown away by it, and he says, ‘Listen,’ he changes the topic, he says, ‘Listen,’ he says ‘If you have faith in God’, that’s what he says in Mark, he says “Have faith in God.”  I tell you, that’s half the challenge for you and I, is having faith in God.  We struggle with things that we struggle with.  Our life can be meagre at times, and in spiritual mediocrity because faith in God is what we lack.  And that comes with the Word of God.  But he says “have faith in God” and then he says ‘if you believe, and you come to me, and you pray and you believe,’ he says ‘you’ll have what you ask for.’  That’s radical.  You know, in our culture we’ve kind of glorified magic.  ‘Lord of the Rings’, you know, Gondolf and these little magic deals you can do, and Star Wars, and there is this ‘Well if I could just think and just make that thing float.’  And we were watching Star Wars my son and I, one of them, and C3-PO, Luke Skywalker makes him float in the air, and if we could just have that power, or cast the spell of whatever, that’s stuff’s glorified in our culture.  But the reality is as a Christian, I can have a relationship with God, where my mind and my heart are being so influenced by him, that the things that I pray for God will do.  The things that I pray for he will do.  And he says ‘you could say to this mountain, Jump into the sea, and it will jump into the sea.’  That’s radical, the Christian life, the contrast between the dead religion to the life of this new era of the Church, the Christian experience.  It’s interesting to me too, in John 15, we just read it, the same pattern is there, because if you remember, we just read, he said “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (verse 7).  Whatever you desire, it will be done for you.  “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” (verse 8).  Now, my wife and I, you know I was flipping through the journal, my kids and my wife, boy that pattern, the Lord is just reminding us, teaching us these lessons, even last year.  And we’re always learning, aren’t we?  But that struggle with faith and trusting God, boy I looked, and the times, there’s seasons where I was struggling with things.  She was struggling with things, we were struggling with things, and not putting God in the equation.  There’s the season, there’s the issue, trying to fix it, trying to work it out.  And I could see in my journal, finally, coming, her and I to the Lord [cf. Matthew 18:19-20], and there are times, there’s one day, one particular day, there were multiple days like this, but one day I never had asked the Lord, I had just kind of written God off, ‘God isn’t going to do that.’  And I don’t know why, I just never included him.  And kind of thinking ‘ah, that won’t happen.’  My wife had said the same, and don’t you know, independently God ministered to both of us.  But there was this one particular day, as I was reading to my wife and kids in the journal, I finally said ‘You know Lord, I don’t know why I never asked you for that, but boy that would be great.’  And I just wrote it in my little journal.  And that very day, that very day, God worked. And in a way that was totally unexpected, he just did it.  You know, that’s a lesson we’re all learning.  But Jesus earlier said in Matthew, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.”  James even reminds us too, he says “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  John says in his first Epistle, John reminds us, “And whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”  “Now this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  I mean, Jesus here is speaking to his disciples, followers of him, people who had forsaken all and, ‘You’re my Lord and Master’, so that’s why he can say these things.  The condition is right there with the disciples.  But that’s the life.  I guess looking back over your life the last 12 months, coming into a new year, what do you see?  What does God see?  You know, there is a warning in these passages, and I’m glad there’s a warning because, man, when we get to the end of our life we’re going to want our life to be fruitful.  We’re going to want it to bring glory to God.  And so he warns us.  He warns us if our life is not very fruitful, then that’s a dangerous state to be in.  Do you see holiness growing in your life?  Are there people as you look back over the last 12 month or so, are you impacting folks for Christ?  Are you leading folks to Christ?  Are your lips, you’re more in love with the Lord and saying more to God, and more worship, and greater service, and just in love with your Lord?  That’s the fruit that he’s looking for.  And I pray that he sees more fruit in our lives, and I pray by the end of 2006 that you and I would learn too, the secret is abiding in him.  You and I, can’t do diddily, but man, when we abide in him, we grow to be fruitful.  Let’s stand together…[transcript of a connective expository sermon on Matthew 21:18-22, given somewhere in New England]     


Related links:


Cross reference sermon to this one in John:


Fruit of giving:


Fruit of service, Short-Term Missions:


Fruit of holiness:


Fruit of winning souls to Christ, whole section on it:

(see for helpful suggestions)


Essential to winning souls to Christ, What is the Gospel?


Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:


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