The Window of Opportunityby Ed de la Cour on September 8, 2014
Luke 13: 1 – 9 September 7, 2014
“THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY”
Last week, Pastor Sheldon Clarkson shared on these verses at The Glory of God on Cape Cod regional prayer meeting. As I read the passage, I found the description of the owner of the vineyard to be more than a little scary. This man is not fooling around. He wants fruit from this fig tree that belongs to him and he is not above cutting down any tree that declines to produce fruit. If this is an accurate picture of God that Jesus is sharing, then our understanding of the nature of God needs to come into alignment with the truth about God as expressed here.
On the other hand, you and I are sentimental about these things. If one of our fruit trees won’t produce fruit, we decide we are happy with shade. Unlike the owner of the vineyard, we will do almost anything to avoid having an experience of urgency. We will even go so far as to question whether we have the right to cut down the tree, or whether fruit trees really need to produce fruit at all. I mean, who is to say such a thing? Who is to judge? The answer to that question is, the owner of the tree is to judge.
God owns the fig tree. God owns the vineyard. In the New Testament, both are pictures of Israel and the people of God. God is the Judge who has authority to make the decision to cut down a fruitless tree. God is Lord over the Church and He is Lord over each and every local expression of His Church. In other words, it behooves the people of God to listen closely and heed the warnings God gives in His Word. The warnings are intended to create a sense of urgency in us. Urgency is the deep and personal awareness of a critical need. Urgency is created when we are made aware that there is a limited amount of time available to us. Eternal life is a limited time offer! The movement of God to bring revival is also limited. Like many areas of life, it has an expiration date. There is a window of opportunity available for people to take advantage of the offer of forgiveness and the offer of a deeper life. Once we die, once the purposes of God are satisfied, the window of opportunity God had opened for us is closed.
It is hard being a realist in today’s world, because most folk see realism as depressing. But Jesus was a realist. He “read the papers.” Jesus knew that sad and tragic stuff happened every day to people. We live in a broken and fallen world. Injustice is rampant everywhere. Jesus knew Pilate had killed a bunch of people from Galilee and had poured out their blood on his own sacrifices to his gods. I am sure those people never thought when they woke up that day would be their last. Jesus knew 18 people died when a tower in Siloam fell on them. Not one of those eighteen woke up thinking this will be the day that I die. No one saw it coming. But Jesus also knew that no one of all those who died were prepared for their lives to end. More than likely, they were not ready when their window of opportunity closed.
It is morbid to dwell constantly on the potential for our own death, wondering if I will make it to bedtime, or if I will survive until breakfast. Nevertheless, this passage does serve as a warning that every one of us must come to terms with repentance and faith. As Jesus spoke about those who died in those examples, He asked, were they especially bad people? Did they deserve to die any more than we deserve to die? His answer was, No. You and I are not qualitatively different from the 3,000 who perished on 9/11. We are no guiltier nor are we any less guilty. People who suffer horrible experiences in life are not being singled out for punishment. Because you are alive today does not mean you are better than they.
Yet you are alive! You have a window of opportunity open for you to enter into a saving and right relationship with God; therefore, repent. A right relationship with God does not mean jumping through hoops or making certain you go through the required motions. There is no entrance exam for heaven. Entrance is by faith in Jesus. Coming to faith means repentance. Repentance is choosing to reverse the direction of your life and to then putting your hope and trust in Jesus.
How much time do you have left? However much there is, that is your window of opportunity. With most criminal behavior, there is a statute of limitations. With every super market coupon and every packaged food item, there is an expiration date. Between right now and that date is your window of opportunity. Between now and the date of your death is your window of opportunity to get right with God. Between now and then is our opportunity to share Jesus with Cape Cod. Now, while God is stirring in the hearts of people; now, while God has left open the window whereby people are interested and seeking after the things of God. How much time remains, do you suppose? The lack of a definitive answer to that question is what God uses to create urgency within you and me.
Then, Jesus shifted gears and told a parable to illustrate the reality of the window of opportunity. He moved from personal urgency to corporate urgency. The question implicit in our hearts about the conversation between the man and the owner of the vineyard is, how much of the one year he requested do we have left? You notice he asked only for one year. Truly, that is what makes this passage so frightening to me. That’s not much time at all. It’s not much time to make the needed changes. There is not much time to produce fruit, and there is not much time even to create urgency. The window of opportunity before us is truly time sensitive. Jesus told the parable because those to whom He spoke needed to understand God is serious about fruitfulness. Realizing that, coming to that understanding creates urgency.
Urgency is created when I am made aware of the true nature of my situation. If there were danger before me, it would be good and important for me if I knew about it in advance. There’s work I need to do. If sickness is looming ahead, I am better off being able to prepare for it, or even to act so as to avoid it altogether. In other words, I will make the life-changing decision no longer to busy myself rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but will work with all my energy to ensure rescue for those who will look to Jesus.
Jesus deals in spiritual realism. In the view of many, realism takes the fun out of living with one’s head in the sand. We may want to believe the owner of the vineyard doesn’t care one way or the other, but God is saying there’s not that much time left for us. In fact, we may say there is a window of opportunity God has provided during which we may act. Once the window closes, once the opportunity expires, there is nothing left we can do. There are no “do overs” and no second chances once life has come to an end.
The owner of the fig tree said he had been looking for fruit from that tree for three years. He told the caretaker to cut it down, to end it. Cutting the tree down would be an act of certain and final judgment upon that fruitless tree. We may wonder how many churches are fruitless from Jesus’ point of view.
This is not the only time Luke would write about something being cut down. In Luke 3: 9, John the Baptist preached, “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in to the fire.” Is your life producing good fruit? What sort of fruit are you bearing? Or, are you like the tree of which Jesus spoke, green and leafy, but fruitless? When the window of opportunity closes, will our lives be shown to be fruitful or empty?
I hope you noticed that the caretaker of the vineyard was willing to work and to work hard to save the fruitless fig tree. Now only was there an expiration date of one year, but the man said exactly what he was willing to do in order to encourage fruitfulness. First, he would dig around the tree in order to loosen the soil. Hosea 10: 12 says we are to “break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord.” There is something spiritually therapeutic about breaking up the hard ground, stirring up and softening the soil of our hearts. When we do that, when we allow the ground of our inner man to be opened up, we allow our hearts to be turned over, and our minds are thoroughly oxygenated by the Holy Spirit. That means we have made room for God to work. We’ve made a way and we’ve opened the door to the ministry of God’s Word and His Spirit.
Second, the man said he would fertilize the soil around the base of the tree. While there are many companies that make fertilizers for lawn, yard and garden, there is only one fertilizer that works to increase growth in the human soul. There is nothing better for your life of faith, nothing better for your walk with God than the personal and liberal application of the Word of God. Scripture will influence the way you think about your life, your family, your job, and your future. Regular intake of Scripture will change the way you live your life. God won’t use His Word like a shock collar, jerking you around so you’ll stay on the sidewalk. God will use His Word to lead you, to show you the way, to give you hope, to help you make godly decisions about life, and help you to understand His purpose for your life.
You will notice the man didn’t promise any more than to loosen the soil and fertilize. God’s ways are not complicated, although we try to make them so. While God’s ways are simple, they are firm. Jesus would encourage you to do whatever it takes to ensure the soil around your life is good soil. If you know the soil of your life is weak, or if it’s rocky, or filled with distractions, only the fertilizer of God’s Word can change the soil of your life and encourage fruitfulness while the window of your opportunity is open. There is no good reason for you to give up and allow the tree of your life to be cut down. Seek to be fertile soil. It’s not impossible, nor is it out of reach, because God wants you to be a fruitful tree. He wants our church to be a fruitful church. He wants the Church on Cape Cod to bear lots of fruit. He wants many lives here to be changed by the presence of the life of Jesus.
There is one more thought about this caretaker I’d like to offer. This man was willing to do whatever work was necessary to encourage the fig tree to bear fruit. He was even eager to do all that work. He was willing to expend a great deal of energy and even his own resources to see that the tree was enabled to bear fruit. The problem is so many people are taken with a false notion of grace that says all we need to do is lay back and watch God perform the changes that are needed in our lives. So many people think all we need is to sit in our Spirit-filled Lazy Boys and watch it happen. But this man worked hard to see that the tree bore the fruit because that would please the Owner of the vineyard. Think about it: what amount of spiritual energy are you willing to expend to see that your life is fruitful? What are you willing to do to respond to the urgency of this window of opportunity?
God is creating a sense of urgency within us. Urgency is created when we feel the pressure. Unless that pressure means something to us, we won’t act. We will sit upon our hands and wait for Jesus to come back. If you are thinking because of the intensity of world events that Jesus may be coming back soon, if you are looking for clues as to His return, here’s the lesson: Time is short. The return of Jesus will mean that the window of opportunity has closed, so time really is of the essence. The truth is that most people don’t care. They are busy with their own lives. To them and to us, Jesus says, repent. Unless we come to agree with Jesus, unless we allow God to change our hearts and our minds about the state of spiritual life in our church and in our area, the status quo will remain in force and the lost will continue to be lost.
Let’s take advantage of the window of opportunity God has left open for us and for the people of Cape Cod. Let’s remember that no window is left open indefinitely. Let’s see first of all that our own lives are responsive to God’s presence.
Let’s decide to show up for the monthly all-Cape Cod prayer meetings. God is has given us a window of opportunity to seek the power and the presence of God to come to Cape Cod. Let’s realize that the lateness of this hour is God’s reality for the Cape and take it seriously. Who knows how long this window of opportunity will last? How many will perish with overdoses before the Church sees the threat as real and starts seeking God for the lost to be delivered?
How long will Jesus wait? God is the righteous Judge who is well within His rights to look for and expect fruit. Are you bearing fruit for Him? Is you church bearing fruit that will last?
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