We thank God for blessing us with a meaningful time of worship and personal testimony at our New Year Eve Service last Monday.
My sermon for that evening was entitled “Why cumbereth it the ground?” based on Luke 13: 6-9. This passage highlights the parable of the barren fig tree which was spoken by the Lord. The fig tree is frequently used as a symbol of Israel. As God’s chosen people, Israel holds a special position in His will and purpose (Deut 14: 2 cf. 7: 6-12).
Just like the owner who planted the fig tree in his own vineyard, God, as Israel’s Owner, had favoured her with special spiritual privileges. The owner’s expectations were reasonable and fair. For three years, he had come “seeking fruit on this fig tree” but he “found none” (vv 6b, 7a).
Sadly, despite the fig tree’s strategic location and the owner’s nurturing care, it had failed to bear fruit. Giving the order to “cut it down”, the owner asked a pertinent question: “Why cumbereth it the ground?” (v. 7b). The word “cumber” has the idea of causing barrenness. By drawing upon precious soil moisture and minerals, the useless tree had made the ground sterile and impeded the growth of neighbouring vines. Not only was the fig tree fruitless, it was also standing in the way of the other fruitful trees. Like the barren fig tree, the Jews were not only fruitless and unprofitable to themselves, but had also hindered others from entering the kingdom of God (Matt 23: 13).
Graciously, the owner of the fig tree agreed to the vineyard keeper’s request for one more year to “dig about it, and dung it” (v 8). Verse 9 ends with a note of finality: “And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” We learn here that God is kind and gracious, but there is a limit to His forbearance (Ps 103: 8-9).
This parable – which may be applied to us as God’s children – teaches us that God, as our Owner, expects us to be fruitful. He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings. He has placed us in a goodly place where there is love, care and spiritual nourishment. We have been blessed with solid theological foundations and clear Scriptural teachings. How have we responded to these means of grace? Do we appreciate God’s rich blessings? Do we love the Lord Who has saved us, and put us in His church? Do we love our brethren?
Are we bearing fruit, or are we cumbering the ground? Are we growing in Christlikeness daily? Do we possess the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5: 22-23)? Have we sought to win lost souls to Christ? Are we channels of blessing to others?
Concluding the message, we were reminded that though God is gracious, there is a limit to His patience. Let us therefore not presume upon His love, forbearance and grace. May we not be like the barren fig tree that cumbereth the ground. Get right with God. Resolve to be faithful and fruitful for His glory.
o Thanksgiving Testimonies
The second part of the service was set aside for the sharing of personal testimonies – which is our Berith tradition. We are thankful that everyone, including our young Sunday School students, went up to testify of God’s gracious dealings in 2018. Thank God for touching each soul to share of His wonderful work of grace upon our lives.
While some of our brethren spoke of God’s help and strength to see them through their work and daily lives, those who had been to the Holy Land spoke of their pilgrimage to Israel as the highlight of the year. For them, it was a meaningful and fascinating trip that revived them spiritually and drew them closer to the Lord. The pilgrims shared of how they were able to relate the places they visited to the Word of God, and how “the Bible made the land come alive” (as aptly pointed out by their pilgrimage leader, Rev Dr Jeffrey Khoo).
Another significant feature of the pilgrims’ testimony pertained to the physical hardships endured by Christ during His earthly ministry. Seeing the rough, rugged mountain roads for themselves, the pilgrims realised for the first time, the harsh terrain which our Saviour had traversed on foot in order to minister to the people. His willingness to forsake earthly comforts for the sake of the Gospel reflected His love and compassion for the multitudes of His day. May we follow our Saviour’s example of sacrificial and devoted service in the work of the ministry.
As we start the year 2019, let us seek to live a life that honours the Lord. Resolve to bring forth fruit for the glory of God. Determine to emulate our Saviour in the way He loved and served the people. May the Lord bless all of us with a meaningful and fruitful New Year!