Luke 13:1-9. The Gospel Reading for Sunday 20 March 2022
[This blog has been audio recorded as a podcast on the free platform Spotify and can be found there under “holbeck” No.399]
Throughout history humans have been curious creatures. They longed to know what lay over the next hill or broad river. In Australia this curiosity led many to become explorers setting out to discover more of the country in which they had begun to live. Many made wonderful discoveries of wonderful lands that were later able to be used for grazing animals or for agriculture. For a few, it led to premature death as some of the land was inhospitable or dangerous.
In Jesus’ day, there were also curious people. In this gospel passage we read of some who asked Jesus about two recent incidents and perhaps wanting His thoughts on the meaning behind them. The first dealt with the violent deaths that Pilate had inflicted on some Galileans while they were offering sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem. It was a deliberate act of murder of those who at the time were seeking to worship God. It was both cruel and unnecessary! The second incident concerned what seemed to be an accidental death of eighteen people who were killed when a tower fell on them. In both cases, the people involved had done nothing to deserve the deaths they suffered. Jesus’ questioners may have been raising the question, “Did they suffer because they were more guilty than others?”
Jesus’ answer was both a loving warning and a gracious invitation. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: 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.”
All of a sudden, their questions about the guilt of people “out there” who had suffered, had been turned into a personal challenge to them. Twice Jesus told them, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” They must have been amazed that Jesus saw them as “perishing.” That was the warning they heard from His lips. But at the same time He issued them a gracious invitation, namely that if they repented, they would not perish.
It may have been that they had previously heard that word “repent” from the lips of John the Baptist as he began his ministry “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2, and also from the lips of Jesus Himself at the beginning of His own ministry, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 4:17.
What did it mean to “repent?” It is seen as one of the essential truths in the presentation of the gospel. That was seen in the very first sermon on the day of Pentecost at the beginning of the Christian church as Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. … And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” Acts 2:38, 40. Repentance was needed for salvation to occur, for everyone.
To “repent” is the Greek word [metanoeō; μετανοέω]. It is made up of 2 words [meta] meaning “after” and [noeō; νοέω] meaning to “think.” The idea is that having said or done something we have an “after-thought” about it which changes our minds as to its value. So repentance involves a change of mind accompanied by a change in behaviour. In Christian terms, it means changing our minds about our previous words and deeds and seeing them as God sees them, as being imperfect in His eyes. We also change our attitude towards God and instead of seeing Him as outside or on the periphery of our lives, we change our minds about His claim on our lives and enthrone Him as the Lord and Master of every aspect of our lives. So not only is it a radical change in our thinking but it is also a radical change in our behaviour and way of life.
“Perish” is a strong word. There was an urgency in Jesus’ message to His enquirers. Unless they repented they would perish. The apostle John brought out that truth in John 3:16 where he wrote, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The choice was between perishing or having eternal life. How did one gain eternal life and miss out on perishing? By both repenting of sin and believing in Jesus. That’s exactly what Jesus had preached earlier, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15. The gospel is the good news about Jesus, about Who He is, and about what He has done for a sinful humanity. However, there were many who had rejected Jesus and the salvation He had come to bring as the Christ. Jesus went on to share a parable with His listeners. But it is a story where we are left hanging for an answer to the problem it posed.
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
“And [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9.
The fig tree was often used as a symbol for Israel. There had been little response to Jesus among the Jewish people to this point. Jesus used the parable to show the urgency for His people to repent and believe in Him. God expected fruit from His people but if they failed to produce it, then destruction must follow. We would have loved for Jesus to provide a “nice” finish to the parable where the fig tree did indeed blossom in the fourth season and was saved. But the fate of the fig tree is left “hanging” in the parable. The hearers had to provide their own ending to the story. Salvation or destruction?
We too have to provide the ending to the story of our own lives. Are we headed for salvation or destruction? The answer lies in our hands by the grace and mercy of God! Repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus means we are saved. Failing to respond to the gospel message, indeed to the Person of Jesus, means we forfeit what Christ offers us in Himself, namely forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life. The parable shows us the loving patience of our God in wooing us to respond to Him but it also shows the urgency of the need to decide to “repent and believe.” As Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. Every individual ever born needs to repent and believe.
This passage of scripture in Luke 13 leads us to the decision we must make about Jesus, whether to accept Him as Saviour and Lord or to continue to reject him. But let us not presume on God’s kindness, patience and love, as Paul challenged his readers, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4. Has His kindness had that effect on you?
Blog 399 posted on Wednesday 16 March 2022.