Growing up on a fruit orchard, I witnessed the harvest cycle firsthand. With spring come new leaves, the swelling fruit, harvest in summer, and leaves falling in autumn. Then in winter comes the chance for the farmer to trim back unwanted branches, and take out any trees that are not producing fruit at all. As I read through Matthew 3 again in my inductive study time, the image of bearing fruit jumped out at me.
John the Baptist introduces several themes that Jesus picks up later. “Bearing fruit” is a phrase that Jesus uses in His famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15-18):
“15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
Both cousins called out the “religious” people of the day, showing that their mouths said one thing and their actions said another. So, I wondered, what if you take stock and think that you are one of the bad trees? How do you become a tree worth cultivating?
There’s a parable for that! Luke 13 records the garden parable that illustrated Jesus’ message of repent or perish:
“6 He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” 8 But he answered and said to him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”’”
Or maybe it is like Paul’s analogy in Romans 11 where he says that the Gentiles are grafted onto the root-stock of Israel. This would allow them to gain nourishment from Israel’s roots, or in other words, to inherit the promises that God originally gave Israel. But Paul warns that the branches grafted into the trunk can be taken off again- so do not get cocky!
How healthy are you as a tree in God’s garden? Galatians 5:22-23 are famous verses that show that the Holy Spirit grows fruit within each person who seeks His power to change them from the inside out. Do you find these fruits in your own life?
Every farmer knows that pruning and trimming a tree will help it grow and flourish. So the next time God puts you through a “pruning session” do not miss the importance of the care He is putting into you. He wants you to be able to grow a bumper crop!
God, thank You for images in the Bible that we can understand, even though it was written so long ago. Thank You for the care You put into us, and for not chopping down the bad tree, but growing a new heart through Your Spirit. Please help me to bear fruit of right-living and give credit to You as the Master Gardener. And help me see Your hand in the painful pruning sections. To Your glory, Amen.