IN NOMINE JESU
The message cannot be any clearer: Repent or perish. Repent, or you will all perish. This was the Lord's message to the people. The wrath of God was at present being withheld, for His Son was doing His will, the work of bringing sinners to repentance, that they would not perish but have eternal life. Such atrocities as those mentioned in our text served as warnings that all people are sinners and are deserving of punishment…the wrath of the almighty God. What the Lord was teaching the people was foreign to their pattern of thought. They believed that the individual sinner received the punishment he deserved. Surely those Galileans whom Pontius Pilate slaughtered did something to deserve their being murdered, even though they were on temple property when Pilate's executioners came. The Lord, knowing all things, knew that the people thought this way, and He told them to put that thought out of their minds because, unless they repented, they would also perish. That is to say, unless they confessed their sins and asked God for forgiveness and placed their trust in the Messiah, they would meet an eternal death. The people were no better than the murdered Galileans in the temple and no better than the eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Unless the people would repent, they would all likewise perish. The Lord's message was plain and simple: Repent or perish eternally.
The Lord gives His people opportunity to repent, to turn from their sinful ways and toward Him, as is illustrated in the parable in our text. He bids His people to bear fruit in keeping in repentance. It is one thing to simply mouth a confession of sins. It is another thing to actively shun one's evil ways. The Lord is looking for the fruits of repentance on all of the fig trees, these fruits from all people in all times and in all places…from you and from me.
The Lord's call to repentance should ring loud and clear in our hearing on this, the Third Sunday in Lent. We are approaching the halfway point in this penitential season, and our need to repent today is just as valid and certain as when He first uttered these words almost two thousand years ago. The teaching of the Christ is the same as the preaching of the Church: Repent! The word the blessed evangelist Saint Luke uses is metanoçte. Metanoia is the Greek word for "repentance." The prefix meta indicates a change that is to take place, as in "metamorphosis," in which something changes its form. The second half of this word comes from the Greek word nous, which speaks of the mind, will, opinion, or heart. The human authors of the books of the Bible used the word metanoia under inspiration of the Holy Spirit to suggest that a person change his heart before God, that the heart change from being blackened by sin to being made white in and by the blood of the Lamb. The Lord bids His people to change their hearts and to live as people with clean hearts. This means that the Lord is telling you and me this day to not only confess our sins but to live as those who no longer desire to commit these sins against the Lord. Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy. Repent, change your heart, or you too will perish.
Repent or perish. Imagine if these were the only two choices we have. Well, there is no need to imagine, for these are the only two choices we have. We either live a life of repentance, bearing fruits in keeping with repentance, or we face eternity in hell. Which choice will you make? You will all make the same choice I make: we are facing eternity in hell. We are completely incapable of "deciding" to live a holy life, even as we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. Our sinful nature is not inclined toward God and has no ability whatsoever to turn toward Him. We are curved in on ourselves and can only see the desires of our own sinful flesh. What we want is not what God wills for us. What we will for ourselves is not what God wants from us. God wants—nay, He commands and He demands—that we worship Him and serve Him only, that we worship Him in thought, word, and deed, that we love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength. He desires this so that we, the crown of His creation, may dwell with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. What He commanded the prophet Ezekiel to speak in the hearing of the Israelites He commands His undershepherds to preach in the hearing of His people today. This is what He has ordered me to say to you: "Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and love. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ezek. 33:11). Why should we die? Why should we perish? We should perish in hell because we deserve to be punished into all eternity for our many and great sins against God. We are enemies of God and have been since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, where we lost the image of God. Yes, we are wicked. Yes, we are evil. Yes, we are corrupt. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Yes, we need to repent. We need to turn our hearts toward God and live our lives in accordance with His Word, or we will perish.
The Lord desires repentance and the fruits of repentance from all people, that they would trust in the Lord and lean not on their own understanding. The time is near for the fig tree to be cut down. The day of the Lord is at hand. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time for us to repent of our sins and receive the promise of forgiveness from the Lord. Saint Peter writes, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). Our heavenly Father has not chopped His fig tree down yet, for He, in His great love for and patience with us, has given us His grace, so that we would by the Holy Spirit return to Him and ask for the forgiveness He eagerly desires to give us for His Son's sake. What have we done to merit God's forgiveness and His love? We have done absolutely nothing to deserve His goodness and love. This is exactly what grace is: undeserved love. God gives it; we don't deserve it. God desires that we repent, that we would live—and live eternally with Him in heaven.
To perish is to experience total separation and alienation from God. Our heavenly Father bids us cleanse our hearts, lest we perish—lest we be forever separated from Him. But God, knowing and seeing what is the heart of man, has drawn us to Himself. He has already meted out the ultimate punishment for our state of unrepentance. He did this when He gave His Son, His only-begotten Son, over to be crucified. Jesus Christ paid the full price of our impenitence. Even when we have not repented, He perished for us. Jesus Christ experienced total separation from and abandonment by His heavenly Father while on the cross. He bore the full penalty for our sins as He cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Why did God forsake His own Son? He forsook Him so that He would not forsake us. Yes, Jesus perished. He was forsaken. He experienced hell while dying on the cross. He willingly did this for you! He perished on the cross so that you would not have to. He perished on the cross so that you would live a life of repentance, which means that you live a life of forgiveness.
Repentance involves not only our confessing our sins and shunning these sins, but it also includes God's forgiving us for the sake of Him who died for us. It means that your God restores you and declares you forgiven for Jesus' sake. It means that your heavenly Father remembers your Baptism, at which time He placed His Name, the thrice-holy Name of the Triune God, upon you and marking you with the sign of the cross to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. This means that the life of repentance is a daily living of our Baptism, as, in confession, the Old Adam in us drowns and dies each day in our sins and evil desires and, through absolution, the new man daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Daily living our Baptism means that we get to repent and live! And we live, even as the One who died now lives and reigns to all eternity, for we who are baptized into His death are also in the likeness of His resurrection.
Our God creates in us clean hearts, renews a right spirit within us, restores unto us the joy of His salvation, and upholds us with His Holy Spirit, who strengthens our faith through the Word of God now proclaimed in your hearing. The Holy Spirit is the One who brings you to repentance, convicting you be the Law and forgiving you through the Gospel. He sets us on the way of repentance, as the Psalmist writes, "Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway" (Ps. 85:13). And when we stumble, He is right there for us, for "no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). We "will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints…" (Ps. 85:8a), to you and to me, for living a life of repentance is living a life of God's forgiveness and that peace which the world cannot give. So repent! …and live! In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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