By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr
(Sermon, 9th June, 2012)
Our God is so overwhelmed with emotion that He bursts into a love song–a song both sentimental and poignant:
"Let Me sing for My beloved My love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
"He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
"And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard.
"What more was there to do for My vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
"And now I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
"I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
"For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; and He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!" (Isa. 5:1-7 ESV).
The love song about His beloved’s vineyard turns out it’s God’s own song about His own vineyard. The ending, though, appears more of a lament than a joyful song of love. The vineyard of the LORD is His people Israel– you and me, with whom He has made a New Covenant (Heb. 8:10-11) ratified with the blood of Christ (Matt. 26:28).
No Excuse to be Unfruitful
God has taken His time to plan for and make a vineyard which will be most productive. First, He staked out a "fruitful hill" for the vineyard. This means the soil of the "fertile hill" has all the right nutrients necessary for the healthy growth and fruiting of the vineyard.
Beloved of God, when the Lord chose you by His grace, He predestined you to a successful spiritual life in Him. He says in John 15:16: "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you".
And this is not an empty declaration. Apart from answered prayer contributing to your spiritual fruitfulness, the Lord has really worked on you to ensure that you are fruitful. He has removed from your heart all the spiritual impediments to your growth just like how He cleared the vineyard of stones. He has given you a new heart which, unlike your former heart of stone, should be receptive to God’s will:
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
"And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them" (Ezek. 36:26-27).
With the removal of your stony heart which was exceedingly deceitful and incurably corrupt (Jer. 17:9), the field is now well prepared for the planting of the "choice vines" in the Spirit-mellowed, new heart. The "choice vines" represent the seed of the Word of God (Luke 8:11) which is pure (Ps 12:6; Prov. 30:5) and incorruptible (1 Pet. 1:23). Furthermore, the Word of God is "living and powerful" (Heb. 4:12) and does not fail to accomplish its objectives:
"For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
"So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:10-11).
Indeed, God watches over His word to perform it (Jer. 1:12). And His Word works effectively in those who sincerely receive it.
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe".
"Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God".
The seed planted in your heart cannot fail to produce the best fruits. Our Assembly is blessed to have powerful, life-transforming teachings and sermons week after week. As surely as they are God’s word, these messages are sure to produce the fruits of righteousness and holiness in the sincere hearer.
But the Lord is not finished with His vineyard yet. He must watch His beloved vineyard with an eagle eye and protect it from vermin and enemy activities now that the vines have budded. So He builds a watchtower in the midst of it.
The watchtower in the middle of the vineyard represents God’s protection for you–you in whom He has planted His Word and thus have become His own. He watches over you from the watchtower Himself:
"Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
"The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
"The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul.
"The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore" (Ps 121:4-8).
His protection is so solid and all-embracing not a strand of your hair will be lost.
"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
"But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
"Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows".
"But not a hair of your head will perish" (ESV).
And He has sternly warned your enemies, "he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye" (Zech. 2:8).
The vineyard of the Lord is well defended and secure. You have no cause to fear.
"The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them". (Read Ps 91).
Like every farmer worth his salt, God expects His vineyard to produce fruits (see Ps 126:5-6). So He makes a winepress or vat where the fruits will be pressed to extract the juice. He expects the specific fruits of grapes. Sadly, the vineyard produces "wild grapes".
For all the spiritual head start and privileges the Lord has given you as His vineyard–divine election to fruitfulness, a new heart, the pure, incorruptible seed of the Word, and fail-proof divine protection–God expects you to produce the desired grape "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23), not the "wild grapes" of "the works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19-21). The comparison is not far-fetched, because the real grapes God desired and the undesirable "wild grapes" which sprung up instead are not of the same nature. Whereas real grapes could be made into sweet vine drink, "wild grapes" were downright poisonous and bitter:
"… their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter;
"their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps" (ESV).
2 Kings 4:39-40
"And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not.
"So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof".
If poisonous vine is the fruit you have produced even though you had all the opportunity to produce good vine, the situation calls for an honest assessment. Who is to blame? You, the vineyard that squandered all your spiritual privileges, or the Lord, who prepared and tended the vineyard with meticulous care?
The Lord is outraged: "What more was there to do for My vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?"
Perhaps, you recovered some of the ‘stones’ of impediment which had earlier been removed, and they blocked the seed of the Word from taking root in your heart: "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jam. 1:21).
Or, perhaps you resisted the pruning of the Father designed to make you even more fruitful:
"Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit".
"And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him:
"For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.
"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
"But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
"Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
"For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby".
Or, even perhaps you failed to let the seed settle down deep enough (Luke 8:13) or you allowed the "cares and riches and pleasures of this life" to choke it (Luke 8:14).
Whatever the reason for producing "wild grapes", realize that the spiritual prospects look dim. First, God will not readily grant you His graces and spiritual privileges for possible misuse again. In effect, your "wild grapes" could remain permanently, as the Lord will not set out to work on you again. Notice what Heb 6:4-8 says:
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
"And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
"If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.
"For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:
"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned".
Since it is God who gives repentance to people (Acts 11:18, 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25-26), renewal is impossible for the "once enlightened" who sin on purpose unless God grants them repentance again.
But there’s always God’s mercy to fall back on (He’s plenteous in mercy). If you sincerely show remorse and seek repentance, you can be sure He will give you another opportunity to prove yourself.
"He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
"Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
"And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
"And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down". (See Rev. 2:21).
But what if it yields no fruits next year?
An Unfruitful Vineyard is only Fit for Destruction
A vineyard which had all the advantages to be great and fecund has now become a white elephant. But God has no use for a white elephant, not even for decorative purposes.
So He vows to tear down the vineyard: "And now I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it".
If you are fruitless or produce the wrong kind of spiritual fruits, be sure of one thing: doom is staring you in the face! The Father, the Vine-dresser, cuts off every branch that bears no fruit (John 15:2a). And He does the same to the tree which produces bad fruit: "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matt. 3:10).
But trees don’t produce the kinds of fruits they produce by chance; the kinds of fruits they produce are determined by the nature of the trees themselves.
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
"A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
"Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
"Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven".
As a "good tree" is known by its fruit, so a "good" Christian is known by his character–he does the will of the heavenly Father. But overlook the kinds of fruits the trees produce for once, and the differences in the trees may not even appear. All of them are trees and they even look alike.
Lack of virtue will give the false believer away, differentiating him from the true believer. Trees can’t cheat nature; we can’t deceive God either. If you are a true believer you must bear the fruit of the Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23).
If you are a false believer because you are inwardly corrupt, you will shout yourself hoarse "Lord, Lord", but you will produce the works of the flesh: "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21).
At this point, if after repeated warnings (as I am doing now) you refuse to change, doom will come and come swiftly (Prov. 29:1). But before then, God will make sure He has withdrawn all His favour and blessings from you. He will remove His spiritual protection from you, though He promised to be “a wall of fire” about you (Zech. 2:5), and thus leave you to the mercies of spiritual predators. To cap it all, He will withdraw His tender care, allowing spiritual ‘weeds’ to overrun your moral and spiritual life. Because you have proved to be impervious to godly influences, the loving discipline of the Father administered through His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 4:1-2) will have no place in you. Instead of righteousness, vices run riot in your life. And God will not water weeds. So heaven has shut off its rain of grace on your life. The showers of blessing fall no longer.
All for want of godly character: "For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; and He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!"
Al though you are the Lord’s vineyard, you have lived to please your corrupt nature which increasingly delights in greed (which is idolatry) and self glory: "Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images" (Hos. 10:1).
The divine resources invested in you were for a definite purpose–to see you produce good fruit. God’s grace, goodness and forbearance are meant to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Unless this holy goal is achieved, we are of no use to God and must be cut down and thrown into the fire.
However, if we truly abide in Christ, the "true Vine", through obedience to His Word, we will not fail to produce enduring godly fruit in abundance.
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.
"If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
"If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
"Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples".
So abide in the True Vine and be the kind of fruit the Father is looking for.
"Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures". Amen!