Pastor Christ Tweitmann
We’ve probably all heard the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
This adage is stating what is often an observable fact, that a child usually mirrors the qualities and traits of their parent.
In some cases, those traits are passed down genetically.
For example, my son is, for better or worse, physically the spitting image of me.
However, this saying isn’t so much talking about biology as it is about influence.
If we use the image of an apple dropping from a tree, we can imagine the apple is still going to be close.
The apple is still within reach of the tree. The apple is still under the tree’s shadow.
In other words, this saying speaks more to qualities and traits that children learn from their parents.
As children observe, listen to, and mirror the speech and actions of their parents, the people with whom they focus and spend most of their energy, children become like them in how they think, how they speak, and how they do life.
Jesus makes a similar point as he puts the finishing touch on his longest recorded sermon in the Gospel of Luke, what is known as the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain.
Joining the image of trees and fruit, the heart and the mouth, and two different ways of building a house, Jesus reveals how we can ensure our words and actions – our lives as children of God can emulate those of our Heavenly Father. (TEXT)
A casual hearing of Jesus’ conclusion to his sermon might lead us to perceive Jesus as offering a way of categorizing people as good or bad, as foolish or wise.
However, something we need to remember, the entirety of this whole teaching in Luke, chapter 6 – from start to finish – is directed by Jesus towards his disciples.
“Looking at his disciples, he said…” – Luke 6:20
In other words, having laid out some clear instructions about what living for God, living as people of God’s Kingdom is all about, Jesus ends his sermon with a way for people to tell if they are following his teachings, following his lead.
To his would-be followers, Jesus offers a simple metaphor of a tree and its fruit that leaves no room for ambiguity.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. -Luke 6:43 – 44
A tree is identified by what it produces – from what blossoms and blooms from its branches.
The appearance of the fruit reveals the nature of the tree.
Walking around in Israel, figs are indicative of a fig tree whereas thorns are indicative of a thornbush.
No one would go looking to find grapes from a vine that bore brambles; they would be looking for the visible evidence of grapes to identify a grapevine.
Jesus states this common-sense, self-evident principle from nature as having a parallel in terms of those who follow him.
What we produce – the fruit of our lives – of our character and our values – what we say and do – indicates where – in what or whom we are rooted.
If we profess to be a Christian – to follow Jesus – then our mindset and attitude, our words, and our actions ought to bear a Christlike character.
To be even more specific, given what Jesus has previously outlined in this sermon,the fruit of a follower of Jesus ought to look and taste like-
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” – Luke 6:27 – 28
Loving our enemies, doing good towards – praying for and blessing those who hate, curse, and mistreat us.
“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” -Luke 6:34 – 35
Generously giving away whatever the Lord has resourced us with and not lending what we have been given by God and seeking repayment.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” -Luke 6:37-38
Being merciful and forgiving rather than being judgmental and condemning toward others.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” -Luke 6:42
Honestly facing our own ongoing brokenness and need for grace before we presume to call attention or demand that others deal with their issues and be changed.
All of these characteristics and practices reflect the goodness of God in Christ and therefore constitute the good fruit that will be naturally borne by those who follow Jesus.
Jesus reinforces the significance of rootedness as he joins the picture of a tree and its fruit with the association between the heart and the mouth.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” -Luke 6:45
What he is highlighting is a tree’s fruit is not only due to the nature of the tree but also is an outward expression of its inner being.
One of the things I enjoy doing recreationally is hiking.
Over the course of the many hikes I’ve taken, something I’ve witnessed is that a tree may look good – healthy and strong on the outside – but in fact, the tree doesn’t have much of a core or a heart.
That is, internally, the tree is rotting on the inside due to drought, disease, or infestation by an insect.
The suspect nature of the tree typically ends up being revealed by its splitting apart or complete collapse during a storm – which also relates btw to a point Jesus makes here that we’ll come to shortly!
For now, Jesus’ point in juxtaposing trees and hearts is to underscore that good fruit comes not only from being a fruit tree but also from having good, strong, solids roots.
The outward fruit we bear in our lives, in other words, is the visible, tangible expression of the condition and content of our hearts.
The Bible proclaims this principle repeatedly throughout its pages.
The wisdom books of the Bible – Psalms and Proverbs state over and over again that it matters where and in what we’re planted.
If we’re not rooted in the water of God’s word and guidance, then we will slowly wither and eventually fade away.
Any fruit we bear will be minimal, underdeveloped, and not fulfilling.
John the Baptist arrived on the scene, do we remember, calling everyone to bear fruit in keeping with repentance – meaning, fruit that derived from coming back to our roots with the Lord.
Beyond this teaching, Jesus will emphasize it is out of whatever is in the heart that one produces either good or evil.
To which Jesus later will add, as he speaks to his disciples in the Upper Room, – unless our hearts – our lives – are rooted in him – we can do nothing.
There will be no sustaining and lasting fruit in and through our lives.
And this is counter – contrary to both our identity and the purpose for which we all were created.
From the very beginning, going all the way back to the garden, the story of the Bible tells us we have been created by God for fruitfulness – to experience, reflect, and fill all creation with the goodness and glory of our Creator.
Bearing good fruit is hardwired into our spiritual DNA.
And even though that DNA became corrupted, continues to be hijacked by sin – our compulsion to take the fruit that belongs to God, to try and grow our own fruit apart from the Lord –
even though our spiritual DNA is infected by the disease, the infestation of sin, God came down to us in Christ and through what he taught and modeled for us, through his willingness to take on the burden of all our brokenness and to face and conquer death that results from all our sin,
Jesus redeemed us, reconciled us, restored us so that we can become fruitful – bearing, seeing, tasting, and sharing the good fruit that God always intended for us to cultivate in our lives together.
So then, why are the lives of so many Christians not fruitful?
If life with Jesus, life on the other side of Christ’s resurrection, is supposed to, promised to be – budding and bursting with Kingdom fruit – with what the apostle Paul later will describe as the fruit of the Spirit – with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, why are so many disciples of Christ missing it?
Why are the lives and postures of so many Christians marked by fear, worry, frustration, bitterness, impatience, discontent, unkindness, impulse control, apathy, meanness, and even hatred?
One answer that’s hard for us to hear is our lives are not bearing the promised fruit of the Kingdom, of the Spirit, because we believe we want to be saved by Jesus but we don’t want to be changed by Christ.
We’re fine with Jesus taking us beyond death when we physically die,
we’re quite alright with Christ rescuing us when we declare a state of emergency in our lives – bailing us out when we get sick, get into trouble, or find ourselves stuck.
But apart from these situations, we aren’t willing to have our lives changed by Christ – to have what we value, how we think, how we speak, how we engage others and the world to be turned upside down.
This isn’t my assessment or my opinion, by the way.
This is Jesus’ diagnosis right here in this passage, as before his disciples, Jesus asks out loud, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not what I say?” -Luke 6:46
Jesus is calling out all those who would profess to follow him by reflecting on the disconnect between what we claim and how we functionally and practically live.
In the Church, we tend to use the language of believing and following interchangeably.
Truth be told, in one sense, there is no difference.
If we truly believe in Jesus, we would be following Jesus.
Believing, after all, is more than words.
True belief is absolute trust – leaning into and living out of what we believe.
The disconnect results when we attempt to frame believing in Jesus in degrees rather than as an all-or-nothing proposition.
Hence, some will say, they believe in who Jesus is – that Jesus is God – the Lord of all creation, the King of Kings.They believe in what Jesus did for us – died for the world to forgive all our sins and was raised from the dead so that we might have eternal life.
And yet, while they believe in who Jesus is and while they believe in what Jesus did for us, they do not believe what Jesus taught, the kind of life Jesus modeled, the way of being Jesus called and empowered us to live – they do not believe that is a requirement of being a Christian – a follower of Jesus.
Much of this disconnect derives from an imbalance in how we speak, teach, and share the Gospel.
This imbalance comes from overemphasis in the Church on teaching that we are saved by grace – the faith and work of Christ alone and not by anything we do or don’t do
AND an underemphasis on our responsibility to bear witness to the grace, faith, and work of Christ not just through what we say but in how we live.
While it is true that nothing we do or don’t do saves us, there is no such thing as a disciple who is called to believe in Jesus for salvation but not do anything as a result of that salvation.
What we are called to do in response to the salvation Jesus extends to us is not to pay God back or do our part but rather to become witnesses
– to reflect, to share, to bear the fruit that naturally comes from being rescued, redeemed, reconciled, restored, and resurrected – to bear the fruit that supernaturally comes from the Spirit working both in and through us – and that fruit will look like, will taste to others like, what Jesus taught, what Jesus modeled for us.
Jesus doesn’t offer good advice that we can choose to take or leave.
Jesus commands us to follow his lead – to learn and grow in thinking, speaking, and acting like him – becoming Christlike.
Talking about grace does not negate living graciously.
Speaking of love and mercy must be matched by acting in love and with mercy towards others.
Confessing Christ without obeying Christ is not only fruitless; it will lead to our continual frustration and eventual collapse.
With one final, graphic picture, Jesus extends a caution, a warning to those who profess to believe in him but do not follow his lead.
“As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.” – Luke 6:47
He presents two images. Two houses are being constructed.
One house is built on a foundation – on the rock.
“They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” -Luke 6:48
The other house is built without any foundation.
“But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” -Luke 6:49
We may not know much about building construction but intuitively we understand the importance of a solid foundation – that which everything else gets built upon.
In our lives, we’ve witnessed on the news or in our circles of community those who have built their homes on less than ideal foundations – on the sides of steep hills, below sea level on flood plains, on landfills – only later to watch in despair as their house succumbs to fire, earthquake, or a heavy storm.
Jesus taps into our awareness of such preventable tragedies – that building a home without a good foundation is dangerous – in order to warn us of how building our lives without a good foundation is even more dangerous.
While it is bad enough to lose your house; it’s even worse to lose your life – to completely miss out on the full, abundant, and eternal life Jesus extends to us.
Believing in Christ without following Christ leads us to treat Jesus like a good-luck charm, an insurance policy, someone we look to in an emergency but not someone upon whom we build the foundation of our lives.
Believing in Christ without following Christ can tempt us to build over lives on another foundation other than Jesus – to live based upon our own rules, to operate according to our own values, to do things our way rather than the way of Jesus.
And we give in to that temptation, we put ourselves right back to where we started before Jesus came into our lives – positioning ourselves back in opposition to God, choosing to separate ourselves from Christ – despite whatever we may say we believe, and ultimately, embracing and celebrating our sin instead of repenting and living out of the forgiveness we have been given.
When we plant and root our lives elsewhere – apart from Jesus – not only will we lack any meaningful fruit in our lives, but when the inevitable and unavoidable storms – the challenges of this life come, our lives will fall apart.
Something worth noticing here is Jesus says, if we’re not building our life on him, we are building without a foundation.
Now we might push back against this arguing if a foundation doesn’t endure, we could say it was a weak foundation.
But the truth is, if the foundation, when tested, doesn’t serve its purpose, then it is proven not to be a proper foundation to begin with.
Beloved, the kingdoms, the houses, the homes we attempt to build apart from God never go the distance.
Building a house without a foundation is a temporary dwelling. It offers the illusion of stability and permanence; but in the end, their vulnerability and incompleteness are exposed.
So it is for a life built apart from Christ.
Initially, perhaps for a long while, our lives might seem fine – always sunny and blue skies, a little rain here and there, some winds that pick up now and again – but no worries, right?
But when the storms come that don’t pass quickly, when the tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes result that unsettle and maybe even fracture our lives
– the tempests and disasters of a broken creation –
sometimes literal physical downpours but more often than not –
the adversities of illness, aging, loss of a job, financial or material crisis, separation, divorce, the death of a loved one, conflict, war, or some other unforeseen trauma,
we will struggle greatly.
We will lose our bearing. We will become swallowed up by the chaos and our fear. We will not be able to see anything but darkness and death.
And at that moment, just like with the disciples on that boat in the Sea of Galilee, Jesus will be there in the eye of the storm – able and willing to silence the wind, calm the waves, and lead us through to the other side.
But the invitation – not just the challenge – the invitation of Jesus is it doesn’t have to be that way – we don’t have to let it get that far.
Pain, suffering, and losses are part and parcel of living in a world that is not the way it’s supposed to be – a world that is being remade but is still a work in progress.
To be clear, following Jesus – building our lives on Christ is not some magic talisman for completely avoiding the storms of this life – the things that can go wrong, that will go badly, that will hurt and scar us.
Following Jesus is what will get us through those storms – those experiences of pain, suffering, and loss.
Building on lives on the foundation of Christ ensures that failure need not be final, that good can come out of evil, that justice will be done, that death never gets the last word – that our house, our home, our life with God will not fall apart.
Jesus is always with us and for us – offering us the love, the grace, and the hope we need to get through the hardest of times.
Through the Word and the Spirit, Christ extends to us the gift of faith and that seed of faith has to be planted in our lives.
We have to allow that seed of faith to take root in our lives – to become the foundation of our lives that we build upon.
We build upon that foundation, we nurture that seed of faith by not just believing in Jesus but by following Christ – allowing Jesus to change us from the inside out.
I really want to underline that last part because there is another reason why we don’t see the fruit of the Kingdom, the fruit of the Spirit flourishing in our lives.
Sometimes it is because we want to believe in Jesus but don’t want to be changed by Christ.
But sometimes we aren’t experiencing the fruit because we are trying to change ourselves rather than to allow Jesus to change us.
I don’t know your story – your journey with Jesus, but when I first began not just to believe but to follow Christ, I thought that I had to keep up with Jesus.
Hearing that Christ is on the move – working and moving ahead of me in our lives and world, I internalized that I needed to keep pace with Jesus.
So I as learned more about reading and studying the Bible, how to pray, giving from my time, talent, and treasure, practicing the Sabbath, being a part of the Church, serving others in need, and sharing my faith, I viewed these practices as things I needed to do to put into practice what Jesus taught and commanded and to bear the fruit of the Spirit and reflect the Kingdom of God.
Through all these practices, I tried to change myself to be more like Jesus. These were things I needed to do to keep up with Christ.
But here’s the thing, I was so consumed with doing these things as tasks to be accomplished, that I never experienced any fruit.
All I kept experiencing was frustration, guilt, and shame.
My rhythm, my relationship with Jesus had these wild swings from being on fire and going for it all for Jesus to finding myself exhausted, burnt out, and honestly, not wanting to have much to do with Jesus.
Nothing about me was changing even as I tried even harder to change myself for Christ.
It was maddening.
But one day, after yet another bout of equating following Jesus as doing stuff for Christ, as I was completely spent and empty in terms of my own ideas and effort, as I labored to read my Bible yet again – the Holy Spirit enabled me to see something I never had discovered before – on my own.
If we step back and look, many of the biblical passages about fruitfulness – especially the warnings in the gospels – particularly to those who think they are following God – the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the Sadducees, and so on,
these passages caution against the fruit of self-effort – of trying to change ourselves for God.
When we make ourselves the change agent in our relationship with God, we end up fixating on what we’re doing or not doing rather than paying attention to what God is doing.
We end up turning fruitfulness into a competition with others – a source of pride and envy – where we either puff ourselves with a sense of superiority or remain haunted by a perpetual sense of inferiority – of not measuring up.
Trying to change ourselves – to make ourselves fruitful – actually leads us farther from the Lord rather than closer to God.
It results in us going through the motions of religion without experiencing any meaningful relationship with the Lord or with others.
Jesus is the change agent.
We don’t, we can’t change ourselves, through the Word and the Spirit, Christ transforms us.
Jesus is the One who brings about fruitfulness in our lives.
Think of a fruit tree – say, a lime tree.
No matter how hard it may try, the tree cannot push and prod its limes to bud, blossom, and grow any faster than they were meant to grow.
Rightly understood, the fruit of a tree doesn’t come from the tree’s efforts.
The tree’s only job is to stay planted in the ground, draw water and nutrients from the soil, and receive sunshine.
The fruit then comes naturally.
The tree moves and grows – extending its roots and its branches as it continues to rely on the water, the soil, and the sunshine.
A fruit tree doesn’t struggle to produce fruit; producing fruit is its nature.
Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit flows naturally from a transformed heart and mind.
Part of “living in the Kingdom” – following Christ – involves bearing fruit.
Yes, God wants us to bear fruit. Jesus promises as his followers we will bear much fruit – fruit that will last.
However, Christ takes responsibility for providing all we need to be fruitful.
Producing fruit requires action, but it is not the action of frenzied activity – trying to change ourselves for Jesus.
No, Jesus changes us. Jesus cultivates the fruit of our lives – the fruit of the Spirit.
The action required by us – like the action of trees is to abide – to rely on and draw from water, the soil, the oxygen, the light of God’s Word and Spirit – staying rooted, building upon the foundation of the relationship Christ offers to us.
All those things I was trying to do as religious tasks become different when I stop using them to change myself for Jesus.
When Jesus becomes the change agent, reading and studying the Bible, prayer, lifting my voice in song, honoring the Sabbath, seeking to be generous and hospitable, serving others, sharing my faith, become practices instead of tasks – practices that help me to abide in Christ and stay connected to Him.
Rather than the ends, they become the means by which I live in Christ and Christ lives in me.
Following Jesus is not entirely passive, however. In John’s gospel, Jesus assures us as we regularly abide in his way, truth, and life, the harvest of our lives will be abundant.
Like a fruit tree, we move, we extend our branches, we deepen our roots, and from learning and knowing what God desires, we offer fruit – fruit that looks and tastes like the character of Christ – to others.
The close of Jesus’ sermon is not about becoming a Christian; it is about living as a Christian.
The very word “Christian” doesn’t mean being an admirer of Jesus or a recipient of Christ’s blessings.
It doesn’t even mean “one who believes in Christ.” The word “Christian” means “follower of Jesus.”
Believing in Christ is only the beginning of a commitment – a daily response of submission to, abiding Christ – learning from the foundation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, being shaped and changed by the person and the spirit of Christ, and bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God.
True fruitfulness isn’t putting on a show; it isn’t trying to change ourselves.
True fruitfulness is a lifelong expression of the seed of the gift of faith taking root in our hearts and being nurtured and cultivated by a gracious and loving God. Amen.