Tragedies Buy Time for God’s Mercies

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Luke 13:1–9 (CSB)

13 At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’

“But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Dear fellow redeemed:  It was a Thursday.  Mel’s supervisor asked him to drop by his office.  Nothing unusual about that.  Mel had been working for the same company for over twenty years, and felt he knew as much about the company and his place in it as anybody.

He sat down and composed a quick status report in his head for the project he was working on.  It wasn’t hard to do, Mel figured he was doing a good job with it – as good as any he had ever worked on.  He was looking for a “well done,” and maybe even a bonus.

Mel’s supervisor sat down and said, “Mel, we’ve worked pretty closely over the last three months.  I’ve given you all the mentoring I can.   I’ve told you over and over again, but you just completely ignore what I say. The fact is that your work just continues to be so poor that I don’t have any choice but to let you go and to find someone who can get the job done.  You have broken so many policies that you have nearly brought down your whole division.  I can’t tolerate that.”

Obviously, Mel didn’t have a clue about his real relationship to the company, did he?  We would find it hard to believe such a difference between what was real and what was perceived.  HE WAS SELF-DECEIVED.

It sounds a lot like a lot of people and their relationship to God.  They (or is it “we”?) are unaware of their complete spiritual and moral bankruptcy, their spiritual poverty, and the way their lives have alienated them from God. Fortunately, the evil that is in the world, even the more tragic forms, wake us up.

TRAGEDIES BUY TIME FOR GOD’S MERCY

  1. Don’t Point Fingers
  2. Equally Guilty, but Equally Ransomed
  3. God’s Grace Uses the Time

 

  1. Don’t Point Fingers

We all do well to remember the fundamentals of the faith, that God created humanity perfect and holy and in blessed harmony and fellowship with Him in paradise.  Then Adam and Eve sinned and broke that fellowship.  They died spiritually, and every human being since, except Jesus Christ, has been born spiritually dead.

That is the starting point.  Every person is born alienated from God and deserving nothing but His wrath.  If something isn’t done, each person born would be lost to hell eternally.  Again, that is the starting point.

But like poor Mel, many people especially in our times haven’t a clue about their peril.  They think in terms of shades of gray, from really bad (Stalin or Mao) to a confidence in self that “I” am pretty good. Self-Deception! (Ecclesiastes 7:20) There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

Jesus took the occasion presented by a local news story to re-teach the fundamentals:  At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”

These could be headlines from any newspaper, recounting terrible tales of murder and horrible accidents.  As people try to make sense of the world, they think in terms of justice and fairness.  That is because we are moral creatures, however misguided.

So, when the murderer gunned down children Parkland, Florida, or the 737Max crashed in Africa, or the fire tore through Paradise, California, people try to make sense of it in terms of “how could God have …”

The point is that nobody, nobody there, nobody in this room has been so good as to deserve anything different, nor did these things happen because they were worse. “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.

All of us will die.  Some by disease.  Some by accidents.  Some even by crime.  All of us need rescue – NOT from a terrible death, but from death itself.

2. Equally Guilty, but Equally Ransomed

Every one of us falls short of holiness.  The solution is to be given holiness.   When Jesus says but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. He is throwing us a lifeline.  What Jesus calls “repentance” is the way God works our rescue.  By calling people to repentance Christ, who reconciled the world to God, gives to individuals that reconciliation, that righteousness that counts with God.

Repentance is not OUR work, but God’s work in us through the law and the gospel – the law calling us to contrition and the gospel calling us to faith.

“Repentance” means a turning from one thing to another, a change of mind, as Jeremiah said (31:18) turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God   It means a turn from sin to righteousness, from unbelief to faith, as Jesus said, Mark 1:15 … The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Repentance is sorrow over sin turning to faith in Christ and his righteousness.  It is going from the spiritual death into which we were born to the spiritual life that lasts forever.  It is sorrow-over-sin + faith.

The law brings everyone under condemnation, Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. (Romans 3:19, CSB)

The gospel offers full remission of sins to all.

So, through repentance, God seeks to save all people, as Scripture says, [He] … wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, …” (1 Timothy 2:4–6, CSB)

3. God’s Grace Uses the Time

Christ throws us the lifeline of repentance – not that we deserve it.  It is because of His grace, his undeserved love, as he shows here in the parable. And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’

“But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’” God is the man with the fig tree.  He has every right to expect fruit on the tree.  The fruit is the righteous life of the Christian.  It is all that we do out of love for God, as Jesus says in Matthew (3:8) Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Such fruits flow from faith, and from the righteousness and innocence that is ours, that is from God and is by faith.

But the point of this parable is that there is only so much time for repentance, and then death comes, or Christ returns. How much time is left? We know that the Lord could return at any moment; all of the signs of His return have been fulfilled, and more prominently for every generation.

You probably know that Oregon is one of the least Christian states in the union, by any measure. But have you ever thought that their death – the death of your neighbors – is put off for the sake of grace, so that they might repent? Tragedy befalls us all so that they might think of their sin. But if their heart condemns them, will they hear Christ’s invitation, His forgiveness, the gospel, the good news of salvation?

More to the point, if it depends upon YOU to share it with them, will they hear it? As they try to make sense of this broken world, will they hear from us, as from one sinner to another, that our sins have brought this down upon us all? And then will they hear of the mercy of God?   Will they hear only criticism and disapproval from Christ’s people, or will they hear you and rejoice, “There is forgiveness there!”

Our death and the tragedies that afflict our lives as well as the tragedies that are in lives of others say nothing of any particular person’s sin, but they tell us of the sin of us all, and the wrath of God. Nevertheless, in the time that we have left, God’s grace pours out richly in this world, so tell us all that Jesus Christ gave Himself as a ransom for us all to rescue us from our sin, and though not from our death, from death itself.

AMEN.