I wasn’t aware of this until a few days ago. Maybe that’s a tell-tale sign of the last time I actually ate one? But did you know, I bet most of you do, that Fig Newtons, that kind of cookie thing with fig paste in it, was renamed in 2012 to be just Newtons? I never knew! That’s crazy. I do like Fig Newtons though…Now, if you knew about the Fig Newton to Newtons change, I applaud you. You are a person who keeps up to date with all things cookie related and that deserves acknowledgement. But let’s go back to the original Newton, the “Fig Newton.” It does have fig paste in it and a fig is a type of fruit that comes from a fig tree and, today in our lesson from Luke, Jesus teaches us a lesson using a fig tree.
And since we’ve been talking about things you may or may not know, did you know the fig tree and its fruit has a unique history in the Bible? Fig trees are mentioned in some way over fifty times in the Bible. In fact, fig leaves are mentioned right around the time of creation as they were believed to be used by Adam and Eve to hide their nakedness. Figs were one of the fruits the spies brought back from Canaan to show Moses and the Israelites. Fig trees were used in prophecies of destruction in Jeremiah, but also prosperity in the book of 1 Kings. Jesus cursed a fig tree in Gospels of Matthew and Mark to teach about the worthlessness of works done without faith. And now here before us stands yet another fig tree, not cursed, but used in a parable to give hope.
At the beginning of our lesson we discover why hope is needed as Jesus shared with his disciples an uncomfortable truth and that truth is this: an end is coming. Here is what that end will look like: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Jesus here he is speaking of the signs that will happen immediately before the Day of Judgment. And let’s be honest these signs, whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever, they will be terrifying as the very laws of nature will be disturbed. The heavenly bodies will act in a notably different way and eventually be shaken. The seas will rage. Then Jesus will return to this earth not as a humble servant, but as a king and a judge. And you see the reaction to all this. Nations in anguish. People are terrified. They’re fainting. Here comes Jesus in power and glory and it is not a fantastic sight. This isn’t a day of joy. It’s horrifying.
Why does Jesus paint this picture for his disciples? Why does he want us to hear these same words? The parable of the fig tree explains why. Jesus said, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Jesus gives us the description of these things, these signs, to give each of us hope.
And I think we should be clear. When we talk of hope in the context of the Bible, it, hope, isn’t a wish. It isn’t some sort of optimistic state of mind based on my or your own personal experiences. This hope isn’t the hope of princess Leia from Star Wars episode IV who secretly sent a message to Obi-Wan Kenobi asking him for help because he was her “only hope.” No, the hope that we are talking of today is one of confident expectation in what God has promised to us in his Word, and here is what he promises us today, “redemption.”
This is our hope. This is your hope. That you have been redeemed. That you have been bought back. That Jesus, whose very words are before us in this lesson, did die an actual death on a cross, knowing one day his death and his blood would be what you needed to be wrenched free from the clutches of the devil and an eternal death far removed from him. See what you now have in Christ? Hope, confident trust in Jesus’ words that have not passed away and never will pass away, and those words say to you today that an end is coming but for you, for us, that end is our new life beginning in the kingdom of God.
Maybe thinking about a roller coaster might help us to visualize this. I love roller coasters. For me they are exciting and thrilling but, I won’t lie, at the same time they terrify me. The last roller coaster I rode on was the one at New York, New York in Vegas, me and my friend sat in the font of the coaster and as that coaster took off and made all its loops over the Vegas skyline – I’m not proud of it, but I’ll own it – I screamed. I screamed a lot. Yet, even though I screamed and at times thought I might die, and even shouted as much, I knew that at the end of that ride I, by God’s grace, would stand up and get off of that thing.
As we read and think about the signs of the end that Jesus shares with us we can have that same confidence that “when, as Jesus says, these things – these signs – begin to take place, and they will, you, yes you, will be able to stand up and lift up your head, knowing that on this day, at this time, your redemption is drawing near.” This is notably different from how the rest of the unbelieving world will act as they ride the roller coaster of the end and watch these signs unfold.
As they are filled with anguish and begin to faint from terror, you will stand up. As they become apprehensive and perplexed, you will lift your head and with knowing eyes look. And when that Son of Man, when Jesus comes, in a cloud with power and glory, they with no hope will see only a judge, but you, you and I, with joy, will cry out, “This is our Redemption, this is our Savior!” All because this man who spoke of a fig tree died on a tree to set you free, that you might live with him forever.
That’s the goal, isn’t it? That’s the hope, to live with Jesus, to be in heaven forever. That’s what all this is about. That’s why we are all here today, we want to worship the God who has promised us life in his name. And that’s what Jesus wants for you. He wants you to be with him. That’s why he used the example of a fig tree so that you can have hope amid the signs of his coming, and that’s also why he gave us this warning. Verse 34, “Be careful, he says, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
Think about these words for a moment. What is Jesus saying to you? He is telling you that he doesn’t want to lose you. He doesn’t want you to be taken from him because you got caught up in some temporary pleasures, frivolous drinking, or some other anxiety, some other thing that steals your focus from him and the hope of life that he offers. He knows, Jesus knows how quickly we can forget about him and how easily our time on this earth becomes just that, our time.
But that’s just it, at times we’ve forgotten what time is and what it is for. This life, as a pastor once wrote, “is your time to give him, God, your sin, your shame, your fear, your death – to hear and believe his grace, to draw near and bow down.” Jesus as he warns each of us to be careful in this life wants us to realize that some things you may do with your time matter more than other things, to a degree we can scarcely imagine.
Fifteen minutes of unrushed devotion at the break of each day. An hour of worship at the opening of your week. 55-minutes in a Bible class or Sunday School. 30-seconds talking with a Christian friend. A 17-minute sermon. Sixty-seconds receiving Jesus’ body and blood. These are small snatches of time that have an impact on your eternity. This is you listening to Jesus’ words, this is you being careful. This is your life, a time of grace. Don’t spend this time in vain. Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the time of your salvation.
So, verse 36, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Watch and pray. Watch for the signs each day so that you are ready for Christ’s return, and then pray. Speak to your God, trust he can help you get through each day giving you confidence that your hope in Christ is secure. Then you will be ready when those signs, like fig leaves begin to sprout, and the kingdom of God is near. Then you will surely stand, and you will lift your head and you will see the Son of Man, your redemption, your hope coming to take you home. God grant it. Come soon Lord Jesus. Amen.