Luke 13:1-9 (Third Sunday in Lent—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 24, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading from Luke 13:
1Now some were present at the same time who were reporting to [Jesus] concerning the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And he answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they have suffered these things? 3No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you suppose that these were worse offenders than all of the people living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6And he told them this parable, “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and he found none. 7So he said to the vinedresser, ‘Behold, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and I find none. Therefore, cut it down, why does it waste the earth?’ 8And he answered and said to him, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year also until I may dig around it and throw on manure. 9And if it should produce fruit in the coming year . . . but if not, you will cut it down.’”
“Repentance” is a very “churchy” word, don’t you think? In the course of your week, there are not many places where you hear someone talk about repentance or us the word “repent” except here at church. When was the last time you heard at the check-out register, “Oh, I didn’t give you back enough change. I repent. Here’s the correct amount”? Never, that’s when! But at church, we often talk about repentance because God’s Word talks about repentance. “From ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance” (LSB Address for Ash Wednesday). The Collect of the Day for this Third Sunday in Lent reminds us that all people have gone astray from God. Nevertheless, God is merciful and gracious. He brings us back to Himself with penitent, that is, repentant, hearts and steadfast faith to hold tight to His Word.
Our Gospel lesson today is a text about repentance. It is about what God does for us sinners in Jesus in order to bring us to repentance and faith so that we are assured of our salvation from sin and death. But what exactly is repentance?
In the Old Testament, the word used most frequently to describe repentance is the word bWv
(shoov), which means “to turn.” It carries the idea that one is to turn away from evil and to turn to do the good. The people are “to turn” to God in repentance and faith, turning away from their sins and rebellion against God. This “turning” is a God-given power so that the sinner can be redirected by God through His mercy and grace.
The New Testament uses the Greek word metanoe,w (metanoeō) when the text talks about repentance. This word literally means to have a “change of mind.” Again, this is God’s gift. The Lord changes the person from sinner to saint, from being dead in sin to being alive to Christ by faith. By the working of God, the sinner has his or her mind changed about sin in accordance with God’s Word. The person is turned to the Lord in faith to receive the full forgiveness of their sin.
Taking the Biblical truths to heart, Martin Luther explains “repentance” in the Smalcald Articles written in 1537: “This is what true repentance means. 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 you 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’ (Mark 1:15). That is, become different, act differently, and believe My promise.”
“Repentance” is God’s work in us. First, He shows us our sinfulness and our doomed condition as sinners. His Word reveals our sins to us when we see that we don’t stack up against His requirement of perfection. We are not the righteous and holy people that He demands that we should be. It doesn’t matter if you are one of the Galileans whose blood Pontius Pilate mixed with their sacrifices, or if you are one of those upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, or if you are Peter, James, or John. All of us people are by nature sinners. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve missed the mark, the bull’s-eye of holiness and righteousness and perfection. Because of this, we are slated for punishment—eternal death and condemnation in hell. “Cut it down,” the vineyard owner said in Jesus’ parable, “why does it waste the earth?” Or in Jesus’ own words, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
But I can’t do that on my own. Neither can you, nor can anyone. As fallen sinners, we do not have the power or the ability to turn ourselves around or to change our minds about our sins. “In spiritual matters the understanding and reason of mankind are ‹completely› blind and by their own powers understand nothing, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 2:14, ‘The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.’ Likewise, we believe, teach, and confess that the unregenerate will of mankind is not only turned away from God, but also has become God’s enemy. So it only has an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God, as it is written in Genesis 8:21, ‘the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’ Romans 8:7 says, ‘The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.’ Just as a dead body cannot raise itself to bodily, earthly life, so a person who by sin is spiritually dead cannot raise himself to spiritual life.
But God is merciful and gracious to sinners, abounding in steadfast love. Jesus, His One-of-a-Kind Son, took on our human flesh, without sin, so that He might redeem us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. It is Jesus Himself who takes the role of the vinedresser in His parable. He is the One who asks for time for all people to hear the Word of Law and Gospel and to be brought to repentance through the hearing of the Word. Jesus is the One who digs around our hardened, sin-filled hearts and fertilizes us with the promised Holy Spirit who delivers the Gospel gifts of Jesus’ perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection to us in the Means of Grace. Through the Word of Law, the Spirit shows us our sins and our desperate need for a Savior. In the preaching of the Gospel, Jesus offers the merits of His cross and resurrection—the forgiveness of sins—to us whose hearts and minds are turned from sin and changed by the very power of the Gospel through the work of the Spirit. By the Means of Grace in Baptism, Gospel, and Supper, the Spirit brings us, as good as dead in our sins and trespasses, to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. This gift of faith then receives the fruits of the tree of Jesus’ cross—His shed blood for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very power of God unto salvation, that sets us free from sin through the gifts of repentance and faith. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God turns our hearts from sin. He gives us forgiveness so that we will not perish, but have eternal life. The Lord changes our minds, once so focused on serving ourselves, to loving Him and serving our neighbors as we bear the fruits of faith and repentance.
Living under the forgiveness that Jesus purchased and won for us on the cross, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, we are now like trees that bear fruit. Lost and condemned in sin, we were like fruitless trees, worth nothing more than to be cut down. But salvation has come to you and me. Christ, by His death on a tree, has given us “trees” new life. The hymnwriter put it this way, “Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s sowing, May we ripen and increase, Fruit to life eternal growing, Rich in love and joy and peace. Laden branches freely bearing Gifts the Giver loves to bless; Here is fruit that grows by sharing, Patience, kindness, gentleness. Rooted deep in Christ our Master, Christ our pattern and our goal, Teach us, as the years fly faster, Goodness, faith, and self-control” (LSB 691:1-3).
According to God’s grace and mercy, you have been turned from sin to God by the power of the Holy Spirit through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith is given to you by means of the Word and the Sacraments so that you daily receive the forgiveness of sins. Your life is now filled with the assurance of your salvation from sin and death. In the joy of that salvation, you bear the fruits of faith and repentance, the fruits of the Spirit, in faith toward God and in love toward your neighbor, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 272.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 477–478.