Author: Ron Graham
—More parables about obedience
The parables of the Vine and the Branches, the Barren Fig Tree, and the Sower, are collected together in this lesson because they picture garden plants bearing fruit. Fruitfulness is one of the many characteristics of true obedience to God.
The three parables in this lesson teach us about the importance of obedience to God. This is theme 3 of the seven themes of the parables that Jesus told.
We also observe, in the parable of the Barren Fig Tree, theme 1 of the parables, namely the mercy and longsuffering of God. The parable of the Vine and the Branches includes theme 2, the severity of God (John 15:1-6, Luke 8:5-15, Luke 13:6-9).
1 The Vine and the Branches
¶“1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every fruitless branch in me he removes, and every fruitful branch he prunes, so it bears more fruit. 3Already you are clean pruned, because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself. It must abide in the vine. Likewise you cannot be fruitful unless you abide in me”.
¶“5I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them, they bear much fruit. Separated from me, you can do nothing. 6Those who don't abide in me are thrown away like a branch to wither —then to be gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:1-6).
This parable describes a vine with branches. When branches fail to bear fruit, the vinedresser cuts them from the vine and burns them. When branches do bear fruit, the vinedresser allows them to abide in the vine, but he prunes them back so that they will bear even more fruit.
John 15:1 partly interprets the parable before it is told. The vine in the parable represents Christ, and the one tending the vine represents God the Father.
John 15:2-5 show clearly what is represented by the branches. "You are the branches". The "you" refers to the disciples of Christ, not only those to whom Jesus was speaking, but "the one who abides in Me" whoever that may be.
John 15:2,6 show a ruthless and severe side of God’s nature, but not in any sense nasty or sinful. A good husbandman takes away the unfruitful part of the vine and burns it. What is left he prunes back to make it more fruitful. This illustrates that being a disciple involves discipline, and that discipline is strict.
John 15:3-5 are summed up in the words, "Abide in Me" by which Jesus means to continue in obedience to "the word which I have spoken to you". We cannot bear fruit of ourselves. Only by Christ and his word can we bear fruit acceptable to God.
2 The Barren Fig Tree
¶“6Jesus told this parable: A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He came hoping to find fruit on it. He found none. 7So he said to the vinedresser, 'Look here, for three years now I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' 8And the vinedresser answered him, 'Sir, spare it one more year. I'll dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good. If not, you can have it cut it down.'” (Luke 13:6-9).
This parable is about a fig tree in a vineyard. The fig tree failed to bear fruit for three seasons, so the vineyard owner told the vineyard keeper to cut it down and put the ground to better use. But the vineyard keeper interceded for the fig tree and asked that it be given another season and some encouragement, to see whether it might bear fruit the next year. If it still failed, then it would be cut down.
Luke 13:6-7 relate what the vineyard owner (who represents God the Father) said to the vineyard keeper (who represents God the Son). The vineyard owner’s words illustrate the severity of God toward those who are disobedient and fail to bear fruit.
Luke 13:8-9 relate what the vineyard keeper (who represents God the Son) replied to the vineyard owner (who represents God the Father). The vineyard keeper’s words illustrate the goodness and longsuffering of God in giving opportunity and encouragement for the unfruitful and disobedient to repent. The vineyard keeper’s plea on behalf of the condemned fig tree represents the intercession of Jesus Christ for us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25).
Luke 13:9 uses that little but important word "if" to show that our remaining in God’s grace and in the body of Christ is conditional upon us being obedient and fruitful. It is interesting to compare this parable with the fruitless figtree that Jesus made to wither (Matthew 21:18-19).
3 The Sower and the Seed
¶“4A great crowd was gathering and people from many towns came to Jesus. He told this parable: 5"A sower went out to sow his seed. As he spread the seed, some fell along the path. It was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6Some seed fell on the rock. As it grew up, it withered away, because it had [no depth of soil and] no moisture. 7Some seed fell among thorns. The thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8And some seed fell into good soil. This seed grew and yielded a hundredfold." As he said these things, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear"...” (Luke 8:4-8).
¶“...11Now this is what the parable means: The seed is the word of God. 12The plants along the path are those who have heard, but then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so they won't believe and be saved. 13The plants on the rock are those who hear the word, receive it with joy, but have no root. They believe for a while, but in trying times fall away. 14The plants that fell among the thorns are those who hear, but as life goes on they are choked by its cares and riches and pleasures. Their fruit does not mature. 15As for the plants in the good soil, they are those who hear the word and hold it fast in an honest and good heart. They bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15).
This parable is about a sower who distributed seed which fell upon different kinds of ground, some fell on the trodden path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns, and some on good soil. The seed on good soil grew and bore fruit abundantly. The Lord explains the meaning of the parable after telling it.
Luke 8:5,11 show that the seed represents the word of God which Jesus Christ and his preachers spread all over the world.
Luke 8:5,12 describe the soil on the trodden path. The seed was trampled underfoot and eaten by birds. This soil represents the hearts of those who allow the devil to trample upon the word of God and snatch it from them so that they do not believe. These bear no fruit.
Luke 8:6,13 describe the rocky ground. This soil represents the hearts of those who allow temptations to harden their hearts so that they do not remain faithful but fall away. These also bear no fruit
Luke 8:7,14 describe the soil riddled with thorny weeds. This soil represents the hearts of those who allow the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life to choke their faith. These also bear no fruit.
Luke 8:8,15 describe the good soil. This soil represents the "honest and good" hearts of those who do not allow anything to take away the word from their hearts or to stop it from growing within them. Rather, they hold fast to the word and will not let it go or die. These bear fruit one hundred fold.
1. What does the one hundred fold relate to? A hundred fold compared to what? I think probably the other soils even though they produced zero fruit, and when you multiply zero by 100 you can only get zero, not "one hundred fold". However common sense rather than strict mathematics is required here. If my garden yields no pumpkins, and yours yields a hundred pumpkins, then you have a hundred times more pumpkins than I do, the power of zero notwithstanding!
2. The parable of the Sower and the Seed is also recorded in Matthew 13:1-23 and Mark 4:3-20. where there is an enhancement: the fruitfulness is measured as 30, 60, and 100 fold. This carries much the same idea as the parable of the talents. Everyone is expected to bear fruit commensurate with the advantages, blessings, and gifts they are given.