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A GOOD TREE AND A BAD TREE

Luke 6:43-6:45
Key Verse: 6:43

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s gospel, we heard the series of Jesus’ commands, “Love your enemies, be merciful, do not judge, do not condemn, forgive and give.” Love, mercy, forgiveness and giving show God’s heart and are the very characters of Jesus. May we grow in these characters of Jesus as we strive to obey the commands of Jesus. Today’s passage is very short; its idea is simple yet profound. This is about a tree and its fruit. In short, a good tree bears good fruit; a bad tree bears bad fruit. Let’s think about what this means to us.

First, a tree and its fruit (43-44). Look at verse 43. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” This is a self-evident truth and everyone, even elementary kids can understand. We all enjoy fruits of trees very much and all fruits seem to be good and delicious. But here Jesus talks about good fruits and bad fruits. So this is a metaphor and Jesus' meaning goes beyond natural trees and their fruits. Jesus is most definitely talking about people: a person is likened to a tree, and according to Jesus the fruits in life solely relies on the person-tree. Here Jesus stresses the importance of the tree, the person rather than the fruits in life.

We cannot deny the significance of fruit-bearing in life. After God’s creation of men, God’s first words of blessing for them was, “Be fruitful.” Fruit-bearing as stewards of God’s created world is God’s creation purpose for men. Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:16, “…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” Bearing fruit is Jesus’ calling purpose. He also said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (Jn 15:8). When we bear fruit in life, we can glorify God. We all need to struggle to bear good fruit. Yet, Jesus’ words, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit” causes us to think more seriously about the tree of our being.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Watch out for false prophets…Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…by their fruit you will recognize them” (7:15-18). Jesus wanted his disciples to discern false prophets by their fruit. And he also said to the Pharisees who saw Jesus’ work as Satan’s work, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” (12:33). This was Jesus’ rebuke specifically for them. But in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus said, “No fruit good bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit” this is a general truth for all people.

God is more concerned about a tree than its fruit. In Genesis chapter 4, Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God. The writer says that God looked with favour on Abel and his offering--not just the offering--while on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour (Ge 4:4-5). To God the person was more important than the offering. We can also think about Lot and Abraham, Lot bore shameful fruits in his life. His wife became a pillar of salt as she looked back Sodom which was being destroyed under God’s judgment, his sons-in-law regarded the message of the judgment as a joke, and his daughters committed incest (Ge 19). It is undeniable that the bad tree of the person Lot bore bad fruit. When Lot gradually compromised with the world, ignoring each crucial step in life, he grew up to be a bad tree. On the contrary, Abraham grew up to be a good tree, when he stayed in the promised land and held onto God’s promise at each critical time in life. There were times of despair and distress. Yet, in the end he and his wife Sarah bore the good fruit of faith, Isaac, the son of God’s promise and could also have the joy of a victor of life. Joseph was like a spoiled youngest son, specially loved by his father. But when he accepted with faith all the sufferings in his youth, though he could not understand humanly, he grew up to be a good tree. Then he became the Prime Minster of Egypt and could manage the high position with excellent stewardship, serving Pharaoh. And he could be used for the saving of many lives in the time of worldwide famine and for changing his brothers into patriarchs of Israel. We can also think about Saul and David. God wanted to establish Saul as a good tree, when God anointed him the first king of Israel. However, he disobeyed God in carrying out God’s given mission in his own reasonable thinking and in his fear of people rather than God (1 Sam 15:9, 24). And he did not repent at the time he had to repent, always making excuses. Then he was made a bad tree and died a miserable death. But David obeyed God’s will of raising Israel as a theocratic kingdom and fought for the honour of God. He always felt that his enemies were stronger than he, but he fought by depending on God for God's glory and honour. And he bore all the trainings in the fear of God, and repented when he sinned against God. Then he became a good tree, a man after God’s own heart. He set an example of all the subsequent kings of Israel: in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, good kings were evaluated as the ones who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done (1 Kings15:11; 2 Kings 18:3; 22:2).

In the New Testament, when Jesus called and appointed the Twelve, he wanted each of them to be fully trained and be a good tree. Peter, for example, had his own human weaknesses such as abruptness and a big mouth, and also faced critical times even denying Jesus. However, when he received the words of eternal life and kept a love-relationship with Jesus and had learning mind and repentant heart, he grew up to be a good tree and a good shepherd, who encouraged God’s flock of sheep to rejoice in the time of sufferings and follow Jesus’ example. Matthew was a tax collector, obviously a bad tree, an obnoxious person even to his own people. But when he accepted Jesus’ calling and followed Jesus sincerely, he became such a good tree that through his gospel people of generation after generation could find the kingdom of heaven, rest and hope in Jesus. However, as for Judah, he had no love relationship with Jesus and did not receive any word from Jesus and of him Jesus said it would have been better for him not to have been born.

Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” He also prayed for them, saying, “Father, sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth.” So remaining in Jesus and being sanctified by the truth of God’s word is essential to be a good tree. And it is also a biblical truth that God disciplines everyone he loves so that the person may become a good tree. Hebrews 12:7-11 says, “Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father…Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Through all the disciplines God forms Christ-like characters in the person he loves.

Last Tuesday Sara was rejected from both U of T and McMaster medical schools. This was very painful to our family members, especially to Sara herself. For we were so sure that she could be accepted and study especially at U of T. On last Monday evening, walking at U of T campus she said that she was excited to study again. It was not easy to understand God’s way of leading, although we tried to accept it as God’s divine discipline in love. Then God gave her one word through her testimony writing on the last Sunday passage, Luke 6:37-42, "Give and it will be given to you..." When she was rejected from the schools, she felt that she became very poor. However, Jesus' command was "give", "give in poverty to the poor." She realized that this giving was the giving described in Luke's gospel and Christ's giving and should be the giving of his people in Christ. This was God's enlightenment and encouragement. I believe that when God gave us his Son, he gave us the kingdom of God everything, withholding nothing. So what God give is the best. I thank really God for his deep love for Sara. I believe that through all the disciplines God is moulding her to be a good tree.

There was a man, whose life was full of failures. In the end he became a president of America, the most respected president of America. He is Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). He did not let any one of his failures stop him from fulfilling his calling. When he got on the president position, he had to lead the country through its great crisis: the American Civil War. But he knew what had to be done. The slavery had to end and the Union be preserved. He was able to do so and charted a course for rebuilding the war-torn country. We can say that since he grew up to be a good through all his failures, he was able to lead the country at such a difficult time.

In serving God’s flock of sheep and raising our children, we also should have this direction so that each of them may grow to be a good tree, not just expecting figs from thorn bushes or grapes from thistles. In an article by a professor, Adam Grant, he asked an interesting and important question, “How can parents raise moral children?” 'Moral' children meaning to be kind, compassionate and helpful. According to Grant, approximately 50% of whether or not a child will be a moral person is determined by genetics, by nature, while 50% depends on nurture. The idea is that we are essentially biological creatures, and that our biology determines our thinking and our consciousness as well. Although we cannot ignore the effect of genes, we cannot agree with that. For according to Bible each person is fully responsible, not 50% responsible, for his or her behaviour and living. And anyone has 100% opportunity to be a new person in Christ according to each one's response. Furthermore, Grant separates shame and guilt. Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behaviour. So we need to teach them to feel guilt, he says, rather than shame when they misbehave. And he argues that a child who misbehaves is not a bad person. Bad actions can come out accidently. So from secular psychology viewpoint correcting the misbehaviour is good enough. The basic idea is that we are not really bad, but good inside. However, we know that the biblical viewpoint is quite different. Sin brings shame and guilt. And we sin because we are sinners. Being a good tree is not just changing our bad behaviour. Rather, it is to recognize our sins and our sinfulness and repent and put our faith and hope in Christ Jesus, who shed his blood and died for our sin. In that relationship with Jesus one can be sanctified, godly character formed, and one can be made a good tree.

Second, the storage of heart (45). Look at verse 45. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” According to Jesus our heart is like a storage or reservoir and there is always something stored up there. The storage of heart is connected to the mind, which is like entrance door to the heart. So what we think is extremely important. So Paul said in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, what is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” And Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” Our mind should be controlled by the Spirit. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” And Hebrews 3:1 says, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus…”

One little boy was reading a book attentively, while some people around him were doing other things. The boy seemed to have a good reading habit. But his mother wishes that the boy will read the Bible with such an enthusiasm. In the storage of our heart, at first something little, good or evil, is stored. This can be not- noticeable and seems so insignificant. Yet, as years go by, little things gradually stored will become a great amount. What goes into the heart daily or weekly is of great consideration. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” I newly see the importance of sincere weekly Bible study and sincere weekly testimony writing. It is storing up something wonderful in our hearts. We also should watch out that something bitter or poisonous or corrupted may not go into our hearts. What is stored in our hearts will someday come out, something good or something evil.

Thank God for Jesus' fundamental teaching. May each of us pursue to be a good tree, not just merely expecting a visible quick good fruit, and be conscious what is stored in our hearts.

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