Luke 13:1-9 (Third Sunday in Lent—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 7, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 13:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this 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 . . . but if not, you can cut it down.'”
The purposes of God often develop slowly because His grand designs are never hurried. The great New England preacher Phillips Brooks was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him feverishly pacing the floor like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble, Mr. Brooks?” he asked. “The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t!”
That’s the Good News message that we find in our Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus calls for repentance and reveals God’s merciful patience with people that do not always yield the fruits of repentance. God is thankfully not hurried in bringing His judgment against us because of our sins. He graciously waits with mercy for people to come to repentance and faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Word begins by leveling the playing field, so to speak. Two tragic events are mentioned—the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices, and the 18 who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell. Were these Galileans worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? Jesus answers, “No.” Were those 18 worse offenders than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem? Jesus again answers, “No.” Those who died in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, those who perished in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, those who lost their lives in Haiti and in Chile in 2010—were they worse sinners than anyone else? Jesus would again answer, “No.” For Jesus, any such tragedy should be seen not as a sign of God’s judgment on specific people for specific sins, but as a sign of God’s judgment on all people. “Do you think that these were worse sinners? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” “Do you think that they were worse offenders? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus calls not for speculation about someone else’s sins, but for sorrow over our own sins and for faith. Jesus’ summons here is for “all of you” to repent lest “you” perish. We are to rid ourselves of any notion of “those sinners” and consider only “my” sins. It’s a call for each “me” to know their own sins and to be grieved to the point of sorrow over them. It’s a call for each “me” to repent. We do not care to speculate about the sins of others. What is of prime concern is to confess and acknowledge our own sins and failures to keep God’s Word that leads to our own judgment and destruction. The Christian conclusion is never, “They must have deserved it,” but rather, “I deserved the same,” yet also, “Thank God that Jesus perished on behalf of me and of all, so that I might not perish eternally.” The Christian conclusion is one of repentance and faith.
What is true repentance? We read in our Lutheran Confessions: by God’s Law, “He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints. He declares no one to be right, but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer. . . . It is . . . true sorrow of heart, suffering, and the sensation of death. . . . Here a person needs to hear something like this, ‘You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints (in your own opinions). You have to become different from what you are now. You have to act differently than you are now acting, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as can be. Here no one is godly.’
But to this office of the Law, the New Testament immediately adds the consoling promise of grace through the Gospel. This must be believed. As Christ declares, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ That is, become different, act differently, and believe My promise. . . . The Gospel brings consolation and forgiveness. It does so not just in one way, but through the Word and the Sacraments and the like.” (SA III)
God’s Law reveals sin and drives us to cling to Christ alone. The Gospel, imparted by means of Word and Sacrament, comforts and soothes consciences with the forgiveness of sins. This is what true repentance is. It is a work that God brings about in your life through the working of His Word in Law and Gospel. Bringing you and me to repentance is the special work of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us holy by bringing us to faith in Christ, so that we might have the blessings of redemption and lead a godly life of repentance and faith. But repentance needs time to happen in the lives of people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Jesus illustrates for us God’s patience in allowing us sinners time to come to repentance. Jesus told this 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 . . . but if not, you can cut it down.’”
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have put up with him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
The Psalmist declares, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8) We see the Lord’s mercy and grace in the patience He shows in rendering His judgment against our sin. He “puts up with us,” so to speak. God, who abounds with steadfast love, gives sinners time to repent and believe the Gospel. In Jesus’ parable the vine keeper, our Lord Himself, must act to save the tree (you, me, and all people). All of us now have time to see and hear that God’s judgment against our own sins fell on Jesus at Calvary where He acted to save us from sin and God’s condemning judgment. Jesus died on the cross having faced God’s judgment against our sins. Now is the critical time for us and for all people to receive that message of salvation. “For [God] says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2Cor. 6:2) Now is the time God has allowed for the hearing of the Good News, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
This Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ is for you, for anyone, and for everyone. The forgiveness of sins is always present in the Risen Lord, who remains present with His Church through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is here that the Christian meets the suffering Christ and sees in Christ’s sufferings his own comfort, peace, redemption, and life everlasting. It is this Gospel centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins that offers comfort and hope. It is only this Gospel that has the power to bring forth fruits of repentance in our lives. Jesus said in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In Galatians 5 we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) The fruits of repentance that the Gospel produces in us are nothing less than what the commandments teach: prayer, thanksgiving, the confession of the Gospel, teaching the Gospel, obeying parents and rulers, and being faithful to one’s calling. (Ap. AC XII)
All the while Christ is giving us His Gospel gifts of repentance, faith, and the forgiveness of sins, God waits patiently. Christ digs around us and puts the fertile Gospel on us in order that we might produce fruits in keeping with repentance. And the Father waits, mercifully and graciously, for this Gospel work to be done in our lives and in the lives of so many who have not yet heard the message or have not yet come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. But the time will come when the Lord Jesus Christ will return as Judge and those who remain fruitless will endure the time of God’s judgment. But for this critical time, God waits for us and for all people to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and so be saved eternally.
I am so thankful that God is not in a hurry. Aren’t you? God is patiently giving His life-changing, forgiving Gospel time and more time to do its desired work in bringing people to repentance and faith in Jesus, who gave up His life into death that forgiveness and everlasting life would be yours. Pray that God’s patience would continue so that many more will come to know Jesus by faith and lead lives of repentance. May every saint within the Church pray for those who are without the Church during this time of God’s grace and mercy. Amen.