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Repentant Reality-Check

Luke 13:1-9; Ezekiel 33:7-20

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Lent 3, series C
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Mar 20, 2022 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do good things happen to bad people while good people suffer?  Why are bad things happening to us?  Why now?  Why this?  Why, God?!  Why?!  These are the questions that get asked when we’re trying to make sense of things that just don’t seem to make sense.  As we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson appointed for this morning, we hear how some of the people were sharing some recent tragic news with Jesus.  They told Him about how some of the Galileans (who were considered by the citizens of Jerusalem to be seditious towards Rome, troublemakers, “second-class citizens” and “unrefined country rubes”) had apparently come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice in the temple when Pontius Pilate’s soldiers got hold of them and killed them right there in the temple courtyard, mingling their own blood with the blood of sacrifice.  Why did God permit such barbarity?  As my old Japanese seminary professor used to say: “Is wrong question.”

Here’s a good “why” question that does need to be asked: Why were these folks sharing this tragic news with Jesus?  Was it just a matter of concerned citizens of Jerusalem catching Jesus up on current local events?  No!  Were they just a bunch of gossips?  Perhaps.  There’s never really a shortage of gossips, is there?  Why were they sharing this news with Jesus?  Just put yourselves in their shoes.  It’s really not difficult to understand.  They’re doing the same thing we do when bad things rear their ugly heads in our daily lives.  These folks were trying to make sense of it all, and to their credit they were looking to Jesus in an attempt to make sense of this tragedy.  However… based on our Lord’s response to them… you know… the Lord who knows their hearts and knows what they’re thinking and believing, they were only looking to Jesus to bless and reinforce the conclusions and rationalizations that they had already formed.  They wanted Jesus to validate them; not instruct them.

Why were these particular Galileans struck down in such a barbaric and terroristic way?  “Well, it’s clear to see that God was angry with them.  God disapproved of those wretched reprobates.  That’s why He allowed them to be cut down in His house by pagan Roman soldiers.  Right, Jesus?” That’s Old Adam’s default setting—karma.  We Christians would never call it “karma,” because the [false] doctrine of karma is heretical, right?  But whether we want to call it karma or not, that’s Old Adam’s default setting.  Bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people.  That makes sense to us.  These folks wanted Jesus to validate and confirm their karmic assumptions.

Of course… there is another possibility as to why these folks would share this tragic news with Jesus.  Maybe they wanted to hear that regardless of the abundance of plain-to-see sinful shortcomings in the deceased, those folks who died were still blessed by God and residing in heaven.  It’s certainly not out of the ordinary to want to hear such things.  Funerals are packed with people wanting to hear this very thing.  They desperately want to hear that the deceased, as spiritually unfruitful as they were in this life; as openly unfaithful and impenitent as they were in this life, were still good people who, in the end, get to go to heaven.  On a more selfish note, when you get right down to it, the bereaved desperately want to hear that they’re okay with God… just as they are.  The finality of death—the realization of the finality of death—has a way of doing this to people.  Funerals are often packed with people who aren’t very active in repentant faith.  Notice: I didn’t say people who don’t show up on Sunday mornings.  I said “active in repentant faith.” Deep down, they know their sins.  Maybe they’re sorry for those sins, but maybe they’re not.  They haven’t done anything wrong, so why should they repent?  No matter the case, they want to hear that they’re okay.  They’re not really interested in repentance as much as they want to hear that they don’t need to change a thing.  All is well.  Don’t worry about it.  You’re a good person.  You just keep doing you. 

Here’s the deal: Based on Jesus’ response to these folks, we can see that they were probably sharing this tragic news with Him for a little of both reasons.  They were trying to make sense of the tragedy, AND they were also wanting to hear that they were okay in God’s eyes… just the way they were.  And how does Jesus respond to such foolishness?  “Do you think that this happened to them because they were worse sinners?  NO!  The same goes for those eighteen souls who died in the construction accident in Siloam.  They weren’t worse sinners than anyone else, but I’ll tell you what: If you don’t repent, you will likewise perish!”

Jesus isn’t simply talking here about passing away; dying the physical death that all men do.  The Greek word we read as “perish” (apolumi) is used throughout Scripture to speak of eternal death [think John 3:16].  To perish—to apolumi—is to suffer the eternal pains of hell.  It does not simply mean “legally dead” or “having no pulse or brain activity.” In fact, when Christ speaks of faithful people passing away, He speaks of them “falling asleep” or “entering into rest.” Believers rest in peace until Christ’s second coming.  Unbelievers perish—eternally.  Big difference! 

You need to give this some serious thought!  Jesus is addressing the issue of impenitence.  There is divinity at work here.  Jesus Christ knew those people’s hearts.  And bear in mind that Jesus isn’t speaking here to a bunch of wicked Pharisees and rebellious unbelievers.  He’s speaking to a large group of His own disciples.  He’s not talking about people who weren’t in attendance to hear Him.  He wasn’t gossiping!  He’s speaking to the assembly of people who were in attendance; those who had gathered to hear Him preach and teach.  These were folks who claimed to be on Jesus’ side!  He knew their faith, or lack thereof, to be more specific.  “If you don’t repent; that is, turn back from your sin to the life and forgiveness that is known only through faith in Me—our heavenly Father’s promise of redemption in the flesh—you will also perish—eternally—just like those other people who died in impenitence; who died without the humility of repentant saving faith.”

Understand: Jesus is NOT issuing an angry threat here.  He is simply telling it like it is; giving them a “reality-check on repentance.” In fact, if you think about it, it’s Jesus acting—once again—out of unconditional love and compassion.  He’s warning these proud, thick-necked people of the eternal danger that awaits them if they continue in their proud and impenitent ways.  Scripture tells us quite clearly that God desires the death—the apolumi—of no man.  God desires that all men have life and have it abundantly in Christ.  Look and listen to Christ here!  His words and His actions are living out these Scripture truths!  “Repent; turn away from your sin and turn back to Me.  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

This is why Jesus immediately launches into the parable about the fruitless tree.  Many people often see this parable as a separate teaching.  Jesus said what He had to say and now He’s teaching on something else.  That’s not the case here!  He’s teaching these very same proud, ignorant, and impenitent fools about the reality of their sinful, faithless and fruitless condition as seen through their heavenly Father’s eyes.  “This is how God sees you too, you arrogant and impenitent fool!  Looks like an impenitent duck; quacks like an impenitent duck, acts like an impenitent duck….  It doesn’t turn out well for an impenitent duck!”

With this little parable, Jesus is teaching about Himself and His ministry of reconciliation and life and redemption.  These people—God’s people—whom He chose and planted to bear abundant good fruit, were failing.  God looked to this vineyard for the fruits of faith and found none—again and again and again.  Enough already.  God’s a good steward.  If this tree won’t bear fruit, tear it out and make room for another tree that will bear fruit.  This is where the vinedresser—the master’s servant—steps in and intercedes on behalf of the fruitless tree.  “Give me a chance.  Let me work with this tree.  I’ll give it everything it needs to bear fruit.  If after all this it still refuses to bear fruit, then go ahead and chop it down and be rid of it.  It’s obviously already dead.”

What about you?  What fruits are you bearing in your daily life?  Understand: I’m not asking you to judge whether or not you’re saved by looking to your works/fruits.  That would be false assurance.  That would be nothing more than works-righteousness; i.e., looking to your works for salvation.  You want to know you’re saved?  Look to the cross.  You need a reason to repent?  Look to the cross!  This cross—this Tree of Life—is what produces the good fruits of repentant faith.  Examine yourself through the lens of God’s perfect and holy Word—His Ten Commandments.  How does God see things?  Consider all those sins you do and refuse to apologize for—the slander, the gossip, the anger, the murder (as your Lord Himself calls of this), the lust, the coveting, the idolatry, the laziness and despising of His gifts of grace.  God has put His name on you in Holy Baptism.  How often do you profane, disgrace, and bring shame to that Divine name with your proud and unapologetic sinful ways?  Newsflash: If it’s a sin when someone else does it, then it’s a sin when you do it!  The fruit of the Spirit—the good fruit that is borne out of repentant faith—is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Does that sound like you?  All the time?  Would God agree?  If not, repent!  And if you honestly do think this is you, and you have nothing to repent for, then you REALLY need to repent!  Only a fool blinded by sinful arrogance and pride would believe such things!  “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

These are words that our Lord still speaks to us today, and for good reason.  He’s not talking to those who aren’t here or who are “really bad sinners,” you know… unlike us.  We’re not perfect, but at least we’re not like THOSE people, right?  Unless you repent; unless you turn away from your sinfulness, you too will perish no different than any of those other rebellious fools who’ve given God the middle finger.  And do bear in mind: Repentance isn’t mere lip-service or just going through the motions.  You’re known by the fruits you bear.  True repentance is actually turning from the sin and turning back to God; not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. 

But here’s the deal: Harping on repentance won’t make anyone repent in all truth and humility.  Only the Truth of God’s holy Law and Gospel will do this.  And that’s a great place to bring this to conclusion—with all the focus on Christ and His all-atoning sacrifice.  You want to try and make sense of things in your life?  Look to this cross.  Look to that which makes no sense at all (which is why it can only be comprehended in the God-given gift that is faith).  The innocent One died for the guilty—YOU!  This should humble you and make you ashamed!  This alone should drive you to your knees in humble repentance.  Your sin is so great and damnable that it took the death of Almighty God Himself to make atonement for it, and die He did… for you!  He stepped in and interceded for you, all so that you wouldn’t be cast into the fires of hell.  Look to this font.  Look to this altar.  Here is the Master’s truly faithful Servant—Christ Himself—giving to you the life-giving gifts of His own all-redeeming sacrifice, not because you deserve it, but because you need it.  Good fruit trees bear good fruit, right?  Grafted into this Tree of Life, those made alive in the God-given gift of repentant saving faith bear good and God-pleasing fruits that are in keeping with repentant joy and thanksgiving.  That’s just what they do.  Understood in faith, this makes perfect sense.  May the fruits you bear in your daily life—now and always—be fruits that are in keeping with true repentance; fruits that flow forth from and flow back to the cross of Christ; fruits that both redound to His glory and confess the joy of your unmerited and unconditional gift of salvation.  AMEN

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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