by Roger Alcaraz
Not many of us have gone through a life threatening situation. My closest encounter with death was back in college when I was skateboarding down a hill. I had wanted to get on the left sidewalk but I was going too fast to get on it so I ended up rolling down the outer edge of the street against traffic when, suddenly, a bus was heading my way. I still remember the feeling of that bus passing me at a relative speed of 70mph. I remember the wind from the bus physically slowing me down as it passed just two feet in front of me. It was a vivid realization for me that skateboarding might not be worth the risk, and so I traded in my cool skateboard for an even cooler Razor scooter.
That was a close call, but no matter how many times we can cheat death, eventually it will catch up to us. Death is a reality that we will all face eventually, but it’s a reality we should all consider now. It can take us at any moment. For example, an earthquake can hit and bury you in rubble. Everyone in the world might see it as tragic, but the angels in heaven who see God would simply call it fair.
The Bible says “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Since we all sin, the question we should all ask is, “Why does God allow me to live?” And for that question, Jesus gives the following parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’ ” (Luke 13:6-9).
The story is simple. If you planted a tree for the purpose of bearing fruit, and it failed year after year, you would probably say “Chop it down!” And that is what would have happened to this tree except that the vinedresser asked for one more year. If one more year has passed, and if it still doesn’t produce fruit, then cut it down. The fruit in view here is the fruit of repentance. It’s a picture of God’s great patience toward mankind in giving us more time.
In all this, what I find baffling is that God would even endure so long for people he knows will never repent. I would tell God, “If they’re never going to believe, why are you still forbearing? It’s only bringing you more sorrow.” But what this parable communicates is that it’s worth it to God to give you more time, even if it amounts to nothing, because his greatest desire for you is that you would repent and believe. So the answer to why is anyone still alive is because God is merciful and compassionate and patient toward sinners. What is the greatest gift of God’s common grace to humanity? It’s time–time to repent, time to believe.
As I think about the time I barely scraped by the bus and how I could have easily been killed, I think about how it was my freshman year and how I did not know Jesus. At the time, whenever something bad would happen, I would mock the goodness of God, curse directly at him, and feel no remorse or any fear since I thought of it like speaking to wind. God could have said, “This tree hasn’t produced fruit in 18 years. And the bus could have been God’s way of saying, “It’s time to cut it down.” But I praise God that he said, “I’ll give him more time.” And it was later that year that I surrendered my life to Christ and now God is even still gracious to give me more time.
Sadly, patience is often taken for granted. But his patience is there for a reason. It isn’t so you would grow tired of it or forget about it, but that you would be led to repentance, as Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The point is, there’s a reason you’re still alive–and that is because God is patient. And there is a purpose for his patience–and that is so you might repent from your ways and turn to him in faith. Tomorrow’s not a guarantee. So far, you’ve lived your whole life experiencing God’s patience. But there is a time when his waiting will end.
The parable tells us how God is giving us yet another chance to repent, but there is a definite warning that your opportunity to repent is limited. You don’t know when your end will come and when the wrath of God will fall upon you. And so while you have time, you need to call on Christ and be saved. If you trust in Jesus for salvation and follow him with your life, then the wrath of God that he endured on the cross would be done in your place. But if you don’t have Christ, then the last words of the parable are for you to hear, “Cut it down.” It’s an abrupt and sad ending for the parable, but it will be the ending for many. God’s patience is not something that should be taken for granted. And so while you have opportunity, repent.