Sermon on Luke 13:1-9
Text: 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, planted 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.’”
When we hear the word “repent,” a number of pictures might come to mind. For example, we might think of a figure carrying a sign which says “Repent! The end is near!”. We might think of a pastor we heard on the television or radio, shouting at the top of his lungs, “REPENT!”. They tell you, ever so eloquently, what to repent from. Yet, they often forget to offer the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross. This morning, Jesus also teaches about repentance. LET US HEED CHRIST’S CALL TO REPENTANCE. We shall see that 1. Repentance Is Absolutely Necessary and 2. There Is Still Time To Repent.
While Jesus was preaching and teaching, a group of people came to him. They wanted to know something. They “told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” These Galileans had been killed by Pilate as they were sacrificing to God. We have no record, other than here in Luke, as to why and when this event took place. Apparently, Pilate had ordered the death of these people. The soldiers slaughtered them, yet some survived. The people that brought this report wanted to know why it happened.
Jesus picked up on this, as he replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?”. Jesus asked the people if these Galileans deserved their death. Perhaps, the people thought that God was punishing them for a particular sin that they had committed. God was getting back at them for a particular sin. Was this the reason these people had died?
Jesus answered his own question by saying, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus emphatically tells the crowd that these people were not killed because of one particular sin. None of the Galileans that survived was any better than those who were killed. Indeed, everyone is deserving of death, because, as we learn from the Bible, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” It also says, “There is no one righteous, no, not even one.” So, these people that survived did not deserve God’s protection.
Jesus told the crowd that, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” It is very unlikely that they would perish at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers. However, that is not the perishing that Jesus is talking about. He is speaking of perishing eternally in hell. Where there is no repentance, there can be no forgiveness of sins. Jesus warned the people to not think of themselves more highly than they ought. All are in the same boat, if there is no repentance.
Jesus continued to tell the people about the necessity of repentance, by bringing another example to their attention. “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?” While the incident involving the Galileans was cold-blooded murder, Jesus points to an accident in Jerusalem. A tower collapsed and fell, killing eighteen people. Some might have been tempted to think that God had these people killed, because of a sin that they had committed. They were particularly horrible people that God was putting to death.
Jesus, again, puts an end to that type of thinking. He said, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” By means of repetition, Jesus emphasized the importance of repentance as the only escape from an even worse fate than the people who died under the tower suffered. Jesus wanted the people to realize that they were no better than the people who died in this tragic way. The difference lies in the repentance of the hearts. There is the only escape from eternal death.
So also, you and I need to be reminded of the importance of repentance. When we see others around us, and how they are acting or speaking, we may feel superior to them. When something horrible happens to them, we might be tempted to think that God is getting back at them. God may use horrible things, at times, to draw us back to him, to remind us of what is truly important. Sometimes, we forget what is truly important. There are so many distractions out there. There are obligations at home, school or work. There are financial and social obligations. There are certain things that demand our time and attention. These are all good and fine, in proportion. However, all too often, these things try to crowd God out of our lives. We get so interested in where we are going and what we are doing, than what we are doing for God. At that time, God may allow a tragedy to occur in our lives. He does so to wake us up. May we accept the crosses that come into our lives with a humble spirit.
When we look at those times, may we see ourselves for who and what we are: sinners who deserve nothing but God’s eternal punishment in hell. This is the first part of repentance: a sorrow over sins that we have committed; a coming to God, ashamed of our lives. However, repentance is, also, trusting in God for forgiveness. It is a faith that knows that Jesus died on the cross to pay for all of those sins. It is a Spirit-born faith that reaches out and accepts the gift of forgiveness that is offered to us. Repentance is both a sorrow over sins and a faith that lays hold of the forgiveness that Jesus won for us. Since this is true, it can be said that repentance is absolutely necessary. For where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation. Where there is no salvation, there is no eternal life. Repentance IS absolutely necessary.
Some have pointed out that it is far easier to say “I’m sorry” than it is to show it. You can make a child say, “I’m sorry” after knocking down their brother or sister, but you can’t make them feel it. That has to come from inside. In other words, we want our actions to match our words.
That is the point of the parable that Jesus tells in our text. A parable, as you recall, is a story using common, everyday things to teach a spiritual lesson. Jesus said, “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?’” The owner had planted the tree in the hope of getting fruit from it. This tree was not living up to his expectations. The owner of the vineyard came to the tree for three years, looking for fruit. The Greek text tells us that he was earnestly looking for fruit from the tree. He searched for any kind of fruit on that tree. Finally, he told the man that was in charge of the vineyard to cut down the tree. This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. It had become clear that the tree was not going to bear fruit. So, why should it use up the nutrition from the ground that the other trees might just as well use. Cut down the tree.
The owner of the vineyard represents God. Just like the owner, God earnestly looks for fruits, fruits of repentance. He doesn’t just look once, but continues to search for them. In his law, he threatens the just punishment for sin. He demands the fruits of repentance. If the fruit does not appear, it will be cut down. In other words, God looks for fruits of repentance from us. We do so by striving to live lives free from sin. We do not do so to earn our forgiveness. That has already been done for us by Jesus. Rather, this is our way of thanking God for all that he has done for us. If, however, we willingly sin, we are not doing the things that God wants us to do. We are not producing those fruits of repentance. Where there is no fruit, we can be cut down and thrown into the fires of hell.
The parable continues, “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.’” The man who took care of the vineyard pleaded for a little more time for the tree. He did not want to see the tree destroyed. He promised to do everything possible to help that tree bear fruit. He cared for that tree. The man who took care of the vineyard represents Jesus. Jesus loves every one of us. He loved us so much that he was willing to come to this earth and shed his blood on the cross so that we would be saved. He is in heaven, right now, pleading for us. God, the Righteous One, would have every right to cast us out as soon as we commit one sin. God does not look the other way when sin is committed. He could declare us “Guilty” and send us to hell.
However, Jesus continues to plead for us. He points to his sacrifice on the cross. He shows that all sins have been forgiven. Because of Jesus, we have had our time of grace extended, a time in which we might begin to produce the fruits of repentance. Jesus does everything to help us be fruitful. He has even given us the motivation. As it says in 1 John, “We love, because he first loved us.” Because of Jesus’ pleading, we have been given more opportunities to produce fruit.
The closing words of the parable have an ominous ring to them. The man who took care of the vineyard said, “If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” He pleaded with the owner to give it one more year. If it did not bear fruit during that time, then it should be cut down. The opportunity for the tree to bear fruit would come to an end then, and the tree should be destroyed.
Here, in these words, we find a warning for us. So many people put off repenting of a particular sin, because they feel they can always do so later. ‘Right now I’m going to have fun and do what I want. Later, I’ll get serious about my religion.’ However, we don’t know if we’ll get a chance later on. We do not know when our lives will end. Just because things have been going along as they always have been, doesn’t mean that God will not step in and change things. God looks for fruits, fruits of repentance. Just because there is a delay in judgment should not cause us to put off repentance. We produce fruits of repentance. Where these are lacking, even the most loving patience will come to an end. Justice will be carried out, as the unfruitful tree is cut down and cast into the fire. The time for repentance does come to an end. May we heed the warning of this parable and produce fruits of repentance, while there is still time. The time is now to be fruitful. May we be healthy trees, bringing forth a bumper crop of fruit for our loving owner. May we, cared by the one who pleads for us, respond to the love that has been shown to us. There is still time to repent. May we make the most of every opportunity.
Repentance is more than just feeling sorry for your sins. It is, also, a new way of life. Repentance is admitting that you are a sinner, but it is, also, trusting that Jesus has forgiven you. This will show itself in the way that we live our lives for him, in response to the love that he has shown us. May we live lives of repentance. Let us heed Christ’s call to repentance. Amen.
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