Repent or Perish
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.
7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.
9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
God’s Righteous Judgment
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a]
Did you hear about the Marine who declared he is a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq and went AWOL? He went to a press conference and said he did not believe in “peace through violence” and went on to blame his recruiter because his recruiter knew about his pacifist beliefs but failed to warn him of the violent nature of his training.
I don’t really want to talk with you about that Marine. I do want to talk about the nature of what I’ve just told you.
We like to have discussions like these. We like to talk about the things people do that don’t click with us. When I asked you if you heard about this “conscientious objector,” what was the real meaning of my question? Was I asking you to an open discussion about the validity of this guy’s actions? No. I’ve made up my mind. When you’re standing around the water cooler at work or out in the yard in the neighborhood and someone asks you if you heard about this thing or that on the news, they are most likely expressing their condemnation or bewilderment over what they’ve heard. Most often, it’s not that we’re looking for some honest dialogue to assess the situation. There is another meaning to our questions.
Most of the time, we bring up the outrageous or strange or fascinating or stupid things people do to shed light on them and take the spotlight off of us. We know the foolish things we do. Even more, we know the foolish things we think. So there is a sense, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, in which we are justifying ourselves by keeping before us and others the more outlandish things that other people do.
Why do people like Rush Limbaugh? Because he tends to say things they agree with. Why are Hollywood gossip columns and magazines so popular? Because the stars have everything in the world but still can’t make a relationship work. Doesn’t that make you feel better? The popularity of talk radio and sports radio and shows like Jerry Springer all point to the fact that we like to keep our eyes and divert everyone else’s attention to the people we think are a little more strange or a little more immoral than we are. It is a poor but popular means of self-justification.
I like the fact that the Holy Spirit saw fit to ensure that Luke was inspired to include the account in chapter 13. Someone in the crowd asked him about events that were happening in the world around him. It allows us to hear from Jesus about current events, tragedies, and evil dictators today.
Think about what questions we would ask him today? Is Operation Iraqi Freedom God’s way of judging Saddam Hussein for his tyranny? A militant Muslim would ask God the same about judgment on the United States. Was September 11 a warning of judgment against the United States, the city of New York, or capitalism? Can we look into the eyes of a camera with any kind of confidence and say, as Jerry Falwell did, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen?” Can we say that? Is AIDS a plague from God to punish those who practice homosexuality? If so, what’s up with SARS, the new Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome? Does God want to punish the Asian people now?
Let’s make it more personal: “God, who’s right, me or my wife? Did you hear what she said to me? Did you see what he did to me?” Have you ever had that discussion?
When we ask these questions, are we really trying to submit to God’s will and sovereignty, or are we just trying to justify ourselves? Aren’t we just asking God to take sides or at least to condemn the actions of those whose behavior does not meet with our approval?
This all makes me think of all those times that the kids would come anxious to tell me what their brother or sister has done. “Dad, do you know what so-and-so did?” “Dad, you wouldn’t believe what she said to me!” You parents have any experience with this? Sometimes it happens when you’re a pastor too. “Pastor Jim, have you heard what brother so-and-so has been doing?”
I like to just look at my kids and say, “Really! How ‘bout if I beat ‘em? Would that make you feel better? You wanna watch?”
Sometimes I wonder if people would feel better if we bring back the stocks and put ‘em right up here in front of the church. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is cell leader Bob, and he failed to turn in his cell group report this week.” Then everyone else can sit in the church and feel better about themselves, thinking, “Whooooo, I’ve done some bad things but I’d never do that!”
It seems that someone in the crowd was looking for some self-justification when they caught Jesus’ attention in Luke 13:1. “Did you hear about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices?” Jesus saw right through their question. It may have sounded like they wanted to know if he knew about it and what he thought about it. His answer tells me he knew that they were looking for some condemnation—a little something that would divert his attention from their wickedness and on to the wickedness of others. They figured if Jesus would take a side, he would be on theirs.
But Jesus didn’t take a side. Instead, he answered the real meaning of their question. Notice what Jesus didn’t do. He didn’t condemn one side over another. He also didn’t comment on whether or not the tragedies were part of God’s judgment. Instead, he went straight to the heart of their question.
Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them– do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:2-5, NIV)
Jesus was saying, “I know what you are trying to get me to say. You want me to condemn those Galileans as though the ones that died were picked out for judgment. You want me to tell you that those people crushed by the tower in Siloam were deserving of their fate. I’m not going to comment on them. Let’s talk about you. Unless you repent, all of you will also perish.”
That was not what they wanted to hear. He turned it around and addressed the real meaning of their question. He may very well have said, “whatever they’ve done will not justify you.”
What does Jesus’ answer say about you? First of all, it says that you are likewise sinful and guilty. You and I can point to all the Saddam Husseins in the world, but it would not make the stain of our sin any smaller. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” So, the truth is, we’re all lawbreakers in the eyes of God. Saddam is a lawbreaker. And likewise, so am I a lawbreaker. In that regard, we are no different. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Jesus’ answer also points out that we will likewise perish. The original language Luke used here to describe what Jesus said is “you will similarly perish.” Jesus makes a link between death and unrepentance. But does Jesus mean all death is punishment for not repenting? Is all violent deaths like those Galileans and the victims of the tower tragedy the result of punishment? What does Jesus mean when he says we will likewise perish?
Death sometimes comes slowly. Sometimes it sneaks up on us. Death can be cruel, as it was for the Galileans at the hands of Pilate, or it can be tragic, as in the deaths of those who were crushed under the weight of the tower. When Jesus said we will all similarly perish, he was not talking about the manner of death but the finality of it. It is destined for man to die once, and after that to face judgment.
Consider Paul’s words in Romans 2:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” (Rom 2:1-6, NIV)
Unless we repent, the finality of death will surprise us.
There is also a lesson for triumphant living in Jesus’ answer and in what Paul has written. His answer warns us not to compare ourselves to other people. We can never justify ourselves by comparing. We can only condemn ourselves. If I condemn sin in you, then the sin in me is likewise condemned. Worse yet, when we make ourselves out to be better than others, we show contempt for God’s kindness and love, which was poured out so generously on us in his Son Jesus.
Jesus’ answer seemed to bring condemnation. But like a doctor’s diagnosis opens the door for healing, Jesus turned the question back on them to open the door to his magnificent grace. That is why he immediately told them the parable of the fig tree.
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ’For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “’Sir,’ the man replied, ’leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9, NIV)
I want to quickly summarize for you the lessons of grace we learn from the fig tree.
First of all, you were planted in God’s world to bear fruit for him. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8, NIV) We are here to live purposeful lives, showing ourselves to be followers of Christ.
Second, God has endured our barrenness for quite a while. “For three years now,” said the man who planted the tree, “I have not found any fruit.” We can be thankful that God is slow to anger and abounding in love.
Third, we learn that we deserve to be cut down. If we are not bearing the fruit we were created to bear, why should we use up the soil?
It’s at this point that Jesus wanted all who could hear him understand that he has come to offer another chance. “One more year” says the caregiver. “One more chance” says Jesus. We deserve to be cut off, but Jesus pleads before the Father to give us another chance at life. Jesus shed his blood to serve as a plea before the Father for you to be restored. He gives us another chance. Do we deserve that chance? No, we deserve to be cut off. But in his mercy he spares us and by his grace he secures for us another chance.
Which leads me to the fifth lesson from the fig tree. We must bear fruit or die. “Repent or perish.” Jesus said. Bear fruit or die.
But Jesus also teaches us that he will do what it takes to make us fruitful. There are two conditions on this incredible grace, and Jesus takes responsibility for them both. We cooperate with him by our repentance.
The first condition requires that Jesus dig around the roots of our belief. We cannot let Jesus dig around those roots until we lay them down and give him lordship over them all. Whatever beliefs, whatever prejudices, whatever biases we come to him with must become fair game for him to dig up and pull out so he can replace them with a better root system.
The second condition is that we have to allow Jesus to fertilize our soil. Do you understand what that means? Are you ready for this? First of all, it means that we have to be willing for Jesus to surround us with all sorts of poop. It is often in the fires of adversity that God is able to refine us into fruit-bearing followers. If we are anything other than open to God to work through the ugly circumstances surrounding our life, we will never bear fruit.
But the main purpose of fertilizer is to pass on nutrients. If we do not let God feed us through his word, we will never become fruitful for him.
Repentance means turning to Jesus to lay a new foundation of belief by weeding out the old attitudes and allowing his word to shape his worldview in us.
It is very tempting for us to say that the United States is acting as God’s agent for bringing punishment on Iraq. It may be true. But when we put our trust in Jesus Christ, we gave up our right to be American citizens before being citizens of God’s kingdom. Viewing the conflict in Iraq as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven gives us a different perspective than if we view it as an American. How can we apply what Jesus taught in these times?
1. Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are no more sinners than any of us.
2. If this war is God’s judgment, then we too are under God’s wrath. Likewise, if September 11 is part of God’s judgment on America, then so are all men subject to God’s wrath.
3. If God uses us to exact punishment or discipline, it does not justify us. God often used kingdoms like Assyria or Babylon to topple the nation of Israel, and then later brought justice on those nations through Israel.
4. If justice is good for Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden (and don’t we all want to see justice done?), then it is good for us too.
5. Our only hope is repentance.
6. God’s response to repentance is grace.
Can you believe after all we’ve seen—after coming to the unfortunate conclusion that you and I are no better than Saddam Hussein—Jesus still pleads with the Father for another chance? Another chance to become one of his followers. Another chance to show ourselves faithful. Another chance to be reconciled to the One who created us and planted us in this world with a purpose. Another chance to do and be everything God created us to do and be.
Jesus has pleaded for another year. Jesus wants permission to dig up your roots and fertilize the soil of your heart. Are you willing? Unless you repent, you too will perish. If you repent, you too will live!
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