That statement is made quite often any time a major movie is made based upon a book.  From Harry Potter to Twilight to the Bourne Trilogy to The Lord of the Rings, and the list goes on and on.  Movies never seem to live up to the images created by the human imagination as words on a page come to life.

It’s not that I think the Bible mini-series on History Channel (Sunday evenings, 8PM) is not worth watching.  In fact, in many ways, it may be a very worthwhile watch for you, especially if you’ve found yourself wishing for something to get back into the Word.  But whatever you do, remember that these ten hours are Hollywood and not the divinely inspired Word itself.

Maybe that’s the problem with putting the Bible into a movie: with Hollywood, ratings tend to be king and adjustments need to be made in order to “appeal to the masses.”  Assuming the best construction on things (after all, the couple behind this 10-hour mini-series are professed Christians), the reason behind any variances seen is nothing more than poetic license and time constraint rather than an intentional demeaning of our God’s precious Word given to us for our salvation.

That being said, as you watch these ten-hours of religious television, it might be handy to have your Bibles sitting on your laps open to the respective portions of God’s Word; there are bound to be errors, or chapters skimmed over or skipped entirely.  For instance, this past Sunday evening, as the first two hours aired, there were a few things that stuck out to me.

Number one was the portrayal of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It’s a minor thing, but I think kudos should go to the producers for not taking the stereotypical route and making the fruit an apple.  (cf. Genesis 3 for the Fall into Sin)

Next was the portrayal of Noah and his family.  While its entirely possible that people aged differently in Noah’s day, but let’s remember that Noah was 601 years old by the time he exited the ark, not sixty-something.  Likewise his children would have been older than their early twenties.  And the rainbow appeared after the waters had receded and Moses had exited and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving, not when the waters stopped rising.  (cf. Genesis 6-9 for the story of The Flood)

There are other smaller details that are not scripturally accurate – Abraham’s age when first called to leave his homeland (75 – not 45ish), his name (it wasn’t changed from Abram to Abraham till much later – same with Sarai), the age of Isaac when he was sacrificed (most likely about sixteen), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (their sin was sexual – cf. Genesis 19 – and not mainly violence), nor do I think that God’s angels were sword-wielding warriors so much as messengers of God’s coming judgment.  But that’s not as interesting to watch as two swords cutting through Sodomites who would stop Lot and his family from escaping, would it?

Perhaps the most disappointing to me was the fact that Abraham’s story centered around his faithfulness to God instead of God’s promises of grace and blessing to Abraham.  More than once, the narrator could be heard making a statement similar to “God asked Abraham to prove his faith.”  Yet, never was there anything regarding the promise of future blessing through Abraham’s son, Isaac.  The story of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac would have been the perfect time to bring in God’s promise that he would bless all the people’s of the earth by sacrificing his own Son, Jesus.  Or perhaps, even before that, the promise that Abraham would have a son was much more: I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).

This promise is significant because it pointed to the great blessing brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  To me, its disappointing that these Gospel promises are not included early on in the mini-series, especially knowing that the series will end with Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter Sunday evening.  Why not bookend the series with the truth that God blesses all people on earth through his Son’s blood and resurrection?  I think they missed a golden opportunity there.

It bears repeating  that despite some of these shortcomings, it is fairly obvious that the creators of this mini-series hold to the Bible and hold it completely as truth – and that’s more than I can say for other reactions I’ve heard.  I just finished watching “The O’Reilly Factor” after Lenten worship, and had to check my blood pressure after watching Bill interact with a Baptist minister.  It’s disappointing to hear any on TV, especially those who are more economist than theologian, spout off personal beliefs about scriptural events being merely allegorical instead of truth – and all under the guise of stating such belief is a perfectly acceptable Christian viewpoint.  If stories like Creation, the Flood, the Ten Plagues and Exodus from Egypt are allegorical, then where does the slippery slope of Scripture as fiction end?  With the virgin birth, or the promise of forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, or the resurrection, or the certain hope of heaven?

Praise God that he has revealed to us the truth which Jesus spoke the night before he died – Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).

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It’s never an easy question to answer: Why did God allow this to happen?  Maybe you heard the question this past December after the Connecticut elementary school shooting.  Maybe you heard it after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast.  Maybe you heard it after those horrific September 11th attacks.  Who knows – maybe you were even the one who asked the question yourself!

It was pretty obvious that the Jews of Jesus day were asking it.  After all, the current events were horrific – their sacred place of worship, the temple, defiled by murder!  Pontius Pilate himself, murdering Gentiles who had gone up to the temple to offer sacrifices.  How could God allow this to happen at all – let alone the temple grounds as they came to worship him?! 

The question was being asked after another tragic event happened, too.  When a tower built near the Pool of Siloam came crashing down, leaving eighteen dead, the cry went up: How could God allow this to happen?!

Eventually, there’s one of two answers that sinful minds give: either God is to blame for not protecting people, or the people who were most closely affected by such a tragedy were to blame – as if God were punishing them for some wicked sin.  After all, he did it to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Egypt, to Israel, Babylon, Assyria – so that must be the case with the temple, Siloam, New Orleans, New York, Connecticut … right?  God must have been punishing them because they were more wicked than others … right?

Jesus heard the questions – even if they weren’t asked out loud.  He knew the assumptions being made.  Those Galileans – they must have done something to deserve this…those eighteen must have committed some sin that led God to punish them in this way… And what was Jesus’ answer?  I tell you, no! 

Jesus reminded those who were listening that there wasn’t anything different about those eighteen killed in Siloam or those Gentiles in the temple… and the same goes for New York, N’Orleans, Connecticut, etc.  They weren’t being punished because their sin was greater than others…no, these tragedies happened because of sin’s presence.

Let’s face it – tragedies are going to happen in life.  People get sick; friends desert; families disappoint; others commit horrific acts, and all because humanity (ever since that first fall) has been born steeped in sin and God’s once perfect creation has been tainted by sin’s filth.  But as Jesus’ reminds us, the horrific tragedies that happen help remind us that unless [we] repent, [we] too will all perish.  And to drive that point home, Jesus shared a parable with the central message that God looks for fruit from his trees – 1) He has a right to expect it, 2) He warns seriously concerning this fruit, and 3) He does all he can to encourage this fruit.

It’s one of those timeless parables, isn’t it?  One which we can all relate to, even with all the luxuries of life in the 21st century?  A man, his garden, and a gardener.  Now maybe many of us don’t have the means (or desire) to hire gardeners – but growing things…hey, there’s something we can relate to!

How many of us don’t have gardens in our back yards, or grow flowers in our front yards?  How many of us don’t appreciate the work that goes into cultivating acres upon acres of farmland so that we can go to the grocery store and pick it off shelves?

It’s foolish to think that any green-thumb would plant anything without expecting results from their work – whether it be the sweet-smelling spring bloom of tulips or the reddening summer tomatoes.

Certainly, the man in Jesus’ parable had that expectation.  He had a fig tree, and guess what – he wanted figs from that tree.  I know, it’s a crazy expectation…figs from a fig tree (rolls eyes).  The man went out each day, patiently looking for figs…then maybe just a blossom here or there …then just any sign that he was going to get figs from his tree!  But day after day, he was disappointed.  That tree which he had planted so that he would get figs – well, it never produced any figs at all.

You can imagine his frustration, can’t you?  The investment he made in the tree; the blood, sweat, and tears that he poured into it during its early years; the patience he displayed towards this tree as he waited for its harvest?

But now, his patience had run out.  The commitment he had put into the tree was no longer enough to keep his anger at bay.  Cut it down!, he commanded his gardener.  I’ve had it with this tree; for three years I’ve been coming to look for fruit…and haven’t found any.  Why should it use up the soil?  Get rid of it so I can plant something new here, something that will actually do me some good!

But the gardener wasn’t ready to give up on his master’s tree just yet.  Like any green-thumb, there was just one or two other tricks that he wanted to try, hoping that his efforts might bring results.  Let me take care of it for just one more year, sirI’ll dig around it and fertilize itI’ll make it my special project, and if it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.

And that’s where Jesus ends his parable – with the gardener’s promise.  But for the sake of the “story” you might be hard to find a reason why the gardener’s request wouldn’t be granted, right?  What’s one more year in the grand scheme of things…one more year – especially if the hard work pays off?

There are some parables of our Savior that might be a little harder than others to understand; those are usually the parables that have Jesus’ explanations a few verses later such as the parable of the sower and the seed.  But then there are others where no insight as to what the spiritual comparison being made might be…. just like the one before us.

I think every one of us understands that the man who planted the fig tree is God the Father.  You likely aren’t surprised to hear that the gardener is Jesus Christ himself. So that just leaves the fig tree around which this entire parable centers.  Are you shocked to hear that the fig tree is me?…is you?  Probably not.

So what are we to take away from this parable?  What’s the point is Jesus trying to make with these four verses?  Maybe it’s just enough to simply say what’s already been said.  Just as the owner of the tree was looking for figs from his fig tree, so also God looks for fruits of repentance from each one of us!

I mean, he has a right to expect that…doesn’t he?  We wouldn’t be sitting here this morning if he didn’t give us life, after all!  Add to that all the things he blesses us with daily – a family who loves us, food to fill our bellies, clothes to keep us warm, activities to bring us joy, and the list goes on.  What is God, if not exactly like the man who plants a tree and then cares for it day after day after month after year by giving it water and sun and nutrients and nurture?  Why shouldn’t God look at each one of us and expect to see fruits of repentance?

Now, maybe it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves what exactly repentance is.  Yet again, we just got done covering this in our Bible Class just two weeks ago.  Rather than put anyone on the spot, I’ll just give you the definition for repentance that we came up with: Repentance is sorrow over sin connected to the trust in Jesus for sin’s forgiveness.  And having been reminded of that forgiveness, the forgiven sinner then desires to amend their life, to do as Paul himself was led to write: Christ died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.  Quite simply put: the fruit of repentance is leaving sin behind and living a life which reflects Christ’s.

I don’t think that there’s any one here this morning who would claim that God has no right to expect such a thing from us.  But that doesn’t mean we always follow through.  How many of us haven’t asked for God’s forgiveness for this or that sin, and then slipped back into the very same sins we just repented of?

Oh, that we would all heed our Father’s serious warnings here!  Repentance isn’t just saying, “I’m sorry, God.”  Judas Iscariot did just that – he was so sorry he tossed back his betrayal profits!  Repentance isn’t even saying, “I’m going to try to do better next time, God,” as if we’re leaving the back door cracked open for potential failure.  The repentant heart is the heart that says, “God, what I have done is wrong.  What I have done has earned me an eternity in hell.  Yet, I know that your Son born that punishment for me.  Have mercy on me for his sake, and grant me the strength to stop this sinful way of life.

But where that fruit of repentance is absent, God’s Word is clear.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

My friends, I don’t know about you, but those aren’t easy words to hear.  This parable isn’t an easy one to read.  Because if you’re anything like me, then you already remember all those times when you “repented” over sin but never really wanted to let that sin go.  You can list those times when your repentance wasn’t really followed by fruits of that repentance.  Yes, for those times, God is ready to cut us down! 

But thanks be to God!  Jesus Christ himself intervened and pled for God’s grace and patience with us.  And there’s only one reason that he could do that – because God used the ax of his justice on Jesus himself.  Because where we should have been the ones cut down, God took his ax to Jesus.  Yes, Jesus took our lack of fruit upon himself, all so that God’s grace might be shown to you and you might avoid the sharp blade of the law and the fire of hell!

And it’s not a club; it’s not a “Jesus did this for you, now what are you gonna do for him?” tradeoff.  But doesn’t hearing that our eternal lives have been spared because Jesus laid down his life for us lead us to want to toss our respective sinful desires aside and live as Christ would have us?

So don’t just let God’s Word go in one ear without also taking to heart what it says about your life, because God is serious about what he says in his Word.  He means it when he says that those who hold on to their sin will be punished for eternity.

And he means it when he says that he forgives the repentant sinner for the sake of Jesus Christ, the crucified Savior.  In the spirit of that forgiveness – and out of joyful gratitude – let us then produce the fruits that God looks for, leaving behind those sin that afflict us, even the ones that don’t want to let us go!  Amen.

I never thought I’d be one to blog. I’ve never been a diary writer, never been one to write letters to the editor of the local newspaper. I’ve been a writer – I used to do sports write-ups for my high schools newspaper, but that was more than ten years ago.

What I’m saying is: set your expectations low and I’ll try to set mine high, and hopefully the end product will be somewhere in the middle.

I’m hoping that this blog can find some use for you – whether in your devotional life, or that occasional Sunday when it was just too difficult to get out of bed, or just to feed your curiosity in religious matters. The plan is to post the weekly sermon here, another weekly devotional thought, and maybe other occasional thoughts that might pop into my mind…then again, you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men, right?

Until then, Lord’s blessings as you run your race towards your heavenly prize!