The Third Sunday in Lent March 24, 2019
Text: Luke 13:1-9 ILCW Series C 19:2118
Theme: One More Year of Grace! Thank God for His Mercy!
What do you see when tragedies strike? If a bomb explodes, a plane falls from the sky, storms and floods destroy homes and lives, an accident maims, or cancer claims another life….what do you see in it? Do you see God’s hand of judgment falling, giving bad people what they deserve? Some people see it that way.
I. One More Year of Grace to repent and live in Him.
It had been a horrible year in Jerusalem. Two gruesome catastrophes rocked the city. One was the brutal massacre of some people from Galilee. The Romans had slaughtered them at the temple — while they were worshipping! They had been close to the altar because it is said that their blood was mixed with the blood of the animals that were being sacrificed to God. It would be as if soldiers burst through the doors and killed a number of us in the middle of the service, splattering our blood onto the altar and into the offering plates. What a shocking tragedy! A gruesome atrocity!
The second catastrophe took place when a tower collapsed at the pool of Siloam. It was a pool where people gathered. Jesus once healed a blind man there. The tower gave way, crushing 18 helpless victims below. Another shocking tragedy!
All of Jerusalem knew about these catastrophes that had turned a good year into a horrific one. Some came to Jesus with these stories, wanting to know His take on them. By His answer it seems like they came with a self-righteous conclusion about the people who suffered.
What do some people see when tragedy strikes? What can they say, for example, if a hurricane decimates a city like New Orleans, a shooter wreaks havoc in a mosque full of Moslems, an entire plane full of people perishes, or a serious illness overtakes a person? Sometimes people conclude: “Those people must have done something awful for God to allow that to happen to them!”
Why do people suffer tragedies? Why do bad things happen to some, but not to others? What do you think? Do some people suffer tragedies because they are more wicked than others? The Lord Jesus replied, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all the others because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” “Look to your own self,” He says. “When things like this happen, see where you stand before God.”
On the one hand, it is true that God is in control of all matters, also when bad things happen to people. The prophet Amos (3:6) told Israel, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” Not even the most insignificant things happen in our world without Him. Jesus once said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Mt.10:29). Not even the death of a common sparrow occurs without the nod of God’s head.
“In God we live and move and have our being” (Ac.17:18), Paul wrote. “Our times are in His hands” (Ps.31:15), so that things, yes, even tragedies that occur are properly called “acts of God.” All affairs are under His governance. But to say that such and such a thing happened to this person or to that one because they were bad sinners and God was “getting them for it” goes beyond our capabilities and involves judgment which is not ours to make.
Unless God specifically explains His will, we don’t always know the reason He deals with some people by allowing trying things to happen to them. Furthermore, for people of faith in the Savior, He promises to guide and bless them in the good and the bad. He is faithful. Therefore, we have no right or calling to conclude that the severity of a person’s suffering measures the greatness of his guilt.
But why are we tempted to think that way? Is it a way that people use to excuse themselves, as though to say, “Because I am not suffering that way, I must be okay and therefore have no particular need to be on my guard?” Should that ever occur, Jesus’ warning calls us to change our thinking: “Worse sinners? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” And the Epistle Lesson today adds, “Be careful that you do not fall” (1Co.10:12).
In other words, the Lord says, “Don’t concern yourself with how I deal with others. But for you, repent and live rather than perish.”
You see, dear friends, when it comes to guilt and the need for forgiveness we’re all in the same boat – equally at fault, equally in need. On our own no one is any less guilty than another; and no one is any more righteous than another. Paul writes to the Romans (3:9,12), “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all!….As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one;…All have turned away, they have together become worthless.’” Morally, because of our sin, we are all in the same boat before God – guilty! There’s no in-between verdict.
Imagine being in a courtroom for a sentencing as the judge asks the jury, “How do you find the defendant?” And they respond: “We, the jury, find the defendant mostly innocent but partially guilty.” Can you imagine such a verdict at the end of a trial? A verdict of “partially guilty” but “mostly innocent,” or “almost guilty” but “not quite innocent.” It’s impossible. A person is either guilty or innocent. There is no in-between. And so it is with us all before God. We’re in the same boat in our sin – fully guilty!
Thank God for His mercy that took care of our sin. He sent His Son for all – alike, and that Son’s work counts for all – alike. As Paul confessed, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1Tm.1:15). Thank God He punished His Son for sin in our place, so that we are healed (Is.53) – alike. This is grace, the glorious truth of salvation. In Christ it is always Another Year of Grace in which we can come to Him in repentance and live in Him by faith. To repent means to have a change of heart and mind. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Talk about a different year?! How different the Savior and faith in Him make our lives. It doesn’t matter how bad the suffering is or how great the guilt might be – Christ died for all alike, equally. Thank God. In Christ it’s always One More Year of Grace…
II. One More Year of Grace to grow and produce for Him.
And that year that lies ahead of each of us should be different. There should be a change of heart and mind (repent). Indeed, it will be different as we repent and live in Christ Jesus. It has to be different; it can’t be any other way for the Christian. Jesus makes that clear in the second half of our text when He told the parable of the fig tree planted in the vineyard (Read again vv.6-9).
Do you see the parallel with a life of repentance that leads to saving faith? The man who plants the tree is God. The vineyard? The prophet Isaiah calls it “the house of Israel” (5:7). Let’s think of it as God’s Kingdom among us now. The fig tree? It represents each of us.
The tree is supposed to grow and produce fruit. There’s no reason it shouldn’t; it seems perfectly healthy. But in the parable the tree wasn’t producing. It had no figs.
Are our lives like that? Outwardly there appears to be nothing wrong. We’re decent people, aren’t we? Honest, friendly, no thieves or murderers here, no drug peddlers or terrorists. We don’t cause trouble, start riots, or indulge in gross sins. Besides, we try to be different. Aren’t we like a tree that’s full of leaves – alive? But is there fruit, the kind of fruit that God looks for in people?
Are you producing? If you repent and live in faith in Christ Jesus the answer is yes. Faith is the first fruit, the critical fruit for which God looks. It’s what Jesus didn’t find among His own people. Think about His sadness in last week’s text when He lamented over His own people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (v.34).
If we live faith-less lives, rejecting Him, disobeying Him, like Jerusalem did, He has every right to say, “I’ve been coming here year after year to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it take up the soil?” How I would shudder to hear Him tell me that! But that is what I deserve for the times I am faithless to Him.
Yet, He is not willing that any should perish. And so year after year He keeps coming through Word and Sacrament to work the faith that is necessary. That Word of God “does not return to Him empty but accomplishes the purposes for which He sent it.” As we hear the Word and don’t run from Him like little chicks running from the mother hen, He will help us grow and produce for Him.
Ah, dear friend, it’s One More Year of Grace that He gives. Thank God for His Mercy! There will come a time when the years will be used up. When that will be, no one knows. For that reason, we dare not put off, even for one moment, the hour of repentance and faith, for unless we repent, we also shall perish.
Thank God for His Mercy and for a Savior who forgives us, waters, and nurtures us. In mercy He “digs around” us so that we might prove productive in Him. It’s another year of Grace! God help us grab hold of it and live in Him; for His name’s sake. Amen.