O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Luke 13:1-9
Preached on March 24, 2019
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This just in! An immense tragedy! A horrific act of violence and oppression! A hate crime on steroids! Governor Pilate took the blood of Galileans and mixed it with their sacrifices.
A parallel in our day would be akin to the Christchurch tragedy, but instead of a mosque, picture a Lutheran congregation, and instead of a single twisted perpetrator, picture the government storming in with authorized weapons in the middle of the Lord’s Supper. They gun down the entire congregation and then pour the chalice of the Lord’s Supper over the dead, bloodied bodies. You’d be outraged! But that’s what Pilate did. He executed Galileans in the temple as they worshipped.
Why do bad things happen to good people? That is precisely what is on the minds of those that came to Jesus to inform Him of what Pilate did to the Galileans. They’re enraged. And they want Jesus to be enraged too.
Jesus turns the tables. He does what no one ever expects. Typical Jesus. He asks a question. “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?”
Did you catch that? Jesus goes after the way we all think. And what’s that? Well, it’s this: sin and suffering go together. Those who sin – SUFFER! Therefore, those who are suffering – MUST HAVE SINNED! That’s how Job’s three friends assessed Job’s life tragedies. He must have sinned. That’s how Jesus’ disciples evaluated a blind man’s situation with this question: “Who sinned? This man or his parents?”
Jesus ignores all that. He goes for the jugular. The heart of the matter. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus goes on. “Forget about the Galileans and Governor Pilate for a minute. What about the tower in Siloam? All of a sudden it just collapsed. No warning. Just BOOM! The wreckage killed eighteen people. 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.”
Do you see what Jesus is doing with all of us today? Do you see the kind of savior-ing care that He’s giving you? The correct response to death – death by political oppression, natural disaster, falling towers, diseases, or anything else you can think of is what? REPENTANCE! Yes, repentance.
Death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Do you know what is? Yes, that’s right, it’s DAMNATION. Death is the sign that things are not right between God and you. “The wages of sin is death.” And unless you repent, you will be worse off than the Galileans in the temple or the eighteen killed by the falling tower in Siloam.
Repentance is the end of all questions, all self-justifications, and all spinning of the self. The issue is not why bad things happen or why they happen to the wrong people. The issue is of God’s justice and God’s mercy. “The wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sins will die.” That is God’s justice. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” That is God’s mercy. God hates sin and so He puts to death the old sinful nature. That is His justice. God forgives sin and justifies the sinner in the death of Good Friday Jesus. That’s His mercy.
So Jesus calls you to repent today. You are to be repented by Jesus. “Unless you repent …,” He says. So it’s time to be changed in your mind. To have a different perspective on things and on yourself. Repentance is a shift from God’s justice to God’s mercy. From the law to the gospel. The people that came to Jesus were dealing with Him in the way of the law. Shaking their fists and questioning God’s justice! “How could God allow these poor Galileans to die?” How could He let His holy temple be desecrated like that?”
Well, under God’s justice people get what they deserve. What does that mean for you? Do you really want God to give you what you deserve? Do you? I sure hope not. Because if you did you’d get damnation. So this is what God does. He has mercy. God’s mercy is His Son Jesus Christ who willing takes what we as sinners deserve. On the cross Jesus was damned in our place. Made to be a curse Galatians 3:13 says.
To repent means that you no longer deal with God according to His justice. You don’t plead how good you are or how deserving you are. You don’t barter. You don’t negotiate. You don’t try to cover yourself with anything you think you’ve done right. Instead, you repent. You change your mind. You deal with God according to His mercy. Confessing that you are no better than the Galileans slaughtered in the temple or those poor people that were crushed by the falling tower or even the Muslims mowed down in Christchurch. No better.
Once you saw God only as judge and yourself as a good person deserving justice. But now that has changed. You repent. Your mind is changed. Your viewpoint has changed. You see God as Savior – Good Friday Jesus – and yourself as a sinner begging for His mercy and forgiveness.
The tension between God’s justice and God’s mercy is illustrated by Jesus in the parable of the fig tree. A man has a fig tree. Planted in his vineyard. For three straight years he came looking for figs but found none! In frustration, the owner, who represents God’s justice, says, “This tree is worthless. It hasn’t produced a thing. It’s a waste of good soil. Cut it down!” That’s how it is with the law of God’s justice: produce or die!
But the gardener, who represents God’s mercy, says, “Wait a minute. I’ve got another idea. Let’s leave it alone. [Literally in the Greek the word is, “Let’s forgive it.”] I’ll dig around its roots. I’ll apply some fertilizer. Let’s see what happens.” That’s how it is with God’s mercy – the gospel. Forgive and feed. Apply bigger doses of grace upon grace!
So, there are two distinct ways of dealing with a fruitless fig tree. Either destroy it or forgive it and feed it. Justice or mercy. Law or gospel.
If you were that fruitless fig tree, which of the two ways would you prefer? Hmm? How do you want God to deal with you? Hmm? Do you want Him to give you what you deserve? Or do you want Him to give you the forgiveness that Jesus won FOR YOU in His bloody death on the cross when He answered for all your sin?
Jesus leaves the parable open ended and vague. We don’t know how it ends with the fig tree. In the Greek it is much clearer. The gardener literally says to the owner: “If it bears fruit in the future, well and good… and if not, you can cut it down.” Jesus never sets a timetable! He’s willing to come back AGAIN AND AGAIN, YEAR AFTER YEAR, digging, fertilizing, watering, tending that fruitless fig tree.
That’s God in His mercy. His mercy says: “You are forgiven. Take eat. Take drink. Be forgiven and fed. Live by my mercy and not by your merit.”
So, when Jesus calls you to repentance today, He’s calling you to be given to by God in His mercy. To be given His forgiveness. When Jesus repents you, He throws you off your high horse and throne and puts you on your knees ready to receive. To be passively given to by the Lord. When Jesus repents you, He breaks your heart wide open to receive His Good Friday mercy.
The fruitless fig tree gets all the attention. The fruitless fig tree is the focus of the gardener’s rich mercy. What is the salvific advantage of being a fruitless fig tree? It is this. You get forgiven. You get fed. Fed by Jesus Himself who died for you – a sinner. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr