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FIRST-PERSON: The tragedy of uselessness (part 1)

TAYLORS, S.C. (BP)–Our Lord Jesus has often been called the Great Teacher. For one to be a great teacher means one has developed the skills of communication to an extraordinary level.

Many of us struggle in the area of communication. We wish that we had even a portion of Jesus’ skill in communicating. Sometimes we think we are communicating and then later we find that we weren’t. Sitting in a hospital waiting room once, I watched a woman helping her son finish a crossword puzzle. “Mom,” he asked, “what fits here?” “It’s man’s best friend,” she hinted. The boy thought for a second, and then guessed, “Duct tape?”

Obviously, communication occurred. However, it occurred in a way other than that which was originally intended. Our Lord Jesus was the greatest of all communicators. His methodology was somewhat different although it was relevant to that culture and that time.

I invite you to join with me in a two-part study of Luke 13:1-9 — the parable of the fig tree. The story of the barren fig tree has an interesting background.

One day a certain group came to Jesus, telling him of a rather gruesome tragedy. To paraphrase, the group said, “Recently, there were some Galileans who were offering sacrifices and under orders from Pilate were ruthlessly put to the sword. The blood of the worshipers and the blood of the beasts they were offering in sacrifice mingled together in one common stream. It was a horrible affair. What ghastly sinners these Galileans must have been in spite of all their religious pretenses! For wherever there is great suffering there is of necessity great sin.”

Such was the faith of these men who were talking to Jesus. The same was the faith of the disciples themselves. “Who did sin,” they asked one day when they stood face to face with a man who had been born blind, “this man or his parents?” This is the faith of many today.

Many have asked me, “Pastor, why is this happening. What have I done to deserve this?” There is an old belief that all suffering is the direct result of sin. But Jesus held no such views. He accepted no easy readings of things.

Christ knew that there is suffering that is not born directly of sin. He knew that there are those who suffer, not because they are evil, but because they are good. Such was the cause behind His own suffering. Had He been less good He certainly would have suffered less. There is suffering all about us that is not all directly traceable to the sin of the one who suffers. While this is true, it is also true that all sin does eventuate in suffering. This is obviously the case with certain sins. Jesus came into contact with this again. The man who had spent the better half of his life flat on his back by the pool of Bethesda was such a case. He was a victim of his own wrong-doing. Jesus makes this plain by the sharp warning that he gives him after he is cured. “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).

Not only do open and vicious acts of wrongdoing result in suffering, but this is also true of the more decent and respectable sin of neglect. The man who wastes his substance with riotous living is headed toward disaster. But so also is the man who fails in his duty. Such is also the case with him who does nothing at all. It is to illustrate and enforce this truth that Jesus tells the story in our parable.

There are certain facts about this fig tree that demand our attention. It was a planted tree. That means that this tree is not a child of chance. It is not where it is because some passing breeze has happened to drop a seed upon this particular spot. It is here because someone possessed of intelligence had planted it there. This is also the case with us. God has a plan for every life. This is a truth that is enforced over and over again throughout the Bible. Jesus tells us that God gives to every person his work. In speaking to His own disciples He declares, “As the Father hath sent me into the world, even so send I you into the world.” That is, God planned the life of Jesus just as He plans your life and mine.

The purpose of this fig tree was to bear fruit. It is to give an account of itself in terms of figs. It is not in this place of privilege and opportunity just for itself. It is here to serve. That also is the purpose of you and me being here. God never planned that any man should live for himself. He never purposed that any life should be useless or hurtful. We are not here to lean, but to lift; not to hinder, but to help. The fact that God has put every one of us here for a helpful purpose means that helpfulness is within our reach. We can be of genuine service if we will.

This fig tree was planted in a vineyard. That is, it is planted in a place of peculiar privilege. It is in possession of special opportunities. That, too, is the case with so many of us. We may have been born with the moral momentum of a pious ancestry flowing in our veins. We all are part of a nation saturated by some measure by Christian ideals. We all have had the privileges of the open Bible and of the open church. They increase our obligations to be of service to others.

In spite of the fact that this tree was planted in a place of special privilege where fruit was to be rightfully expected, it utterly failed to fulfill the purpose for which it was planted. When the owner came in search of fruit he found none. He came again only to be disappointed. No wonder he ordered it cut down! It refused to fulfill the purpose for which it had been planted, cultivated and protected. And a like failure is possible for you and me. For the fact that God plans our lives does not mean that he will compel us to carry out his plan. He has dreamed great dreams for every one of us, but we may fail, thwart and disappoint him. That is what some of us are doing. Day after day He comes, seeking some worthy fruit at our hands, and finds none. We refuse to enter into His holy and gracious purpose for our lives.

I believe that this parable has tremendous implications for the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that God has purposed a great plan for us. I do not believe that Southern Baptists have been placed in our setting by chance. I believe that He wishes for us to bear fruit. I believe that we have been planted in a place in peculiar privilege. I believe we possess special opportunities. The possibility of failure has been realized. With all the massive resources available, we are seeing fewer victories in seizing the opportunities than ever before! I believe we have failed in so many ways. As I said earlier, day after day He comes, seeking some worthy fruit. I have spoken about our need to repent of our self-sufficiency. We need to repent of our dishonesty. We love to act as if everything is wonderful. Let us be honest! We have failed our Lord.

It’s time for repentance. Please join me next week for the second part of this article. I believe it gives us some hope.
Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. Visit his website at www.sbc.net/PresidentsPage.

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  • Frank S. Page