“The Urgency of Repentance”

(Luke 13:1-9 – Lent 3 – March 20, 2022)

Luke 13:1-9 – 1There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  6He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ “

Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:

There are some things we do with a great sense of urgency: “I’ve got to get that letter in the mail today, or else it will get there too late! … I’ve got to get my taxes done on time, or else I’ll be penalized! … I’ve got to fix that broken plumbing soon, or I’ll have a much bigger problem on my hands!” Such day-to-day concerns of life in this world can seem so urgent. How often, we are moved by some level of stress, or even fear, to address an unfinished task or pressing business before a certain deadline or undesirable results.

In our text, Jesus speaks to a matter of greatest urgency. It does not merely affect the outcome of our life in this world; but it has consequences for all eternity. It is not merely a pressing concern for some people; but it affects every human being. Today Jesus speaks to “The Urgency of Repentance.”

As the Scriptures teach, we all have a problem that will not go away by itself, a problem that must be dealt with lest it result in immeasurably devastating consequences. That problem is sin. Sin separates humans from the life of God; sin brings spiritual death already in this world. If not dealt with, sin would bring us down to an unfathomably horrible death and separation from God in hell. Because of the urgency of our problem, God took it on Himself to send His Son into our flesh and blood, to be our Savior from death and judgment. Jesus went to the cross, bearing all our sin, guilt, and punishment on Himself. He shed His own divine, precious blood; He laid down His own innocent life; so that we could be spared the horrible wages of sin.

Now, God sends His Gospel of salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth, calling everyone to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus, and receive His gift of forgiveness and eternal life. But there is a sense of urgency in this call, as we hear in Jesus’ own words in our text. For the time in which each person has to repent is limited; life in this world does not last forever.

1) In view of death and judgment

There is first of all a sense of urgency in view of death and judgment. As Hebrews 9:27 says: It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”

In our text, some people approached Jesus with an interest in matters of death and judgment. They told Him of a tragic death that had happened. Apparently, some Galileans had offended Roman law. Maybe they demonstrated against Roman occupation of Israel or threatened a riot. In any case, the Roman governor Pilate had the Galileans executed as they were in the temple offering sacrifices. Their blood was mingled with their sacrifices at God’s altar.

This occasion of tragic death made the people want to hear what Jesus would say about its meaning. The common way of thinking was that if such a violent death came upon people in the midst of so sacred an act, it must be proof of God’s wrath against them. But in His answer Jesus corrected them: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” And for emphasis, Jesus added another tragic example: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” (vs.2-4)

It reminds us of tragedies we hear about in the news. There are deaths from natural disasters, to accidents, to violence and bloodshed. Suddenly many lives are taken, and people wonder why. Why have such things happened to those people? Could such tragedy hit us? We remember how Jesus foretold some of the signs of the end times, saying: And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. As Jesus pointed out, all these are like birth pains in a pregnant woman, indicating that the end of the world could come at any time; Jesus could come again on the clouds for judgment today (Matthew 24:8-9).

Here, Jesus used examples of tragic death to emphasize how urgent it is for each of us to be living in a state of repentance, prepared at any time to meet God. But He clarified one thing. It was wrong to suppose that those victims of disaster were any guiltier than other people, just because of the violent nature of their death. Rather, as Scripture says of all people: “there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23); and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Those who remained alive were just as guilty of sin as those who died, and every bit in need of repentance, lest they too meet a tragic end and perish.

But what tragedy is Jesus speaking of here? What would be the most tragic end to earthly life? It would not be just a violent or untimely physical death. Rather, it would be perishing as an unrepentant sinner without faith in Jesus, perishing in body and soul forever in hell.

What sorrow must have filled the heart of Jesus as He saw so many going about life, filled with a sense of urgency in regard to the day to day matters of this passing world; yet so many live without a care in regard to their eternal welfare. Many feel secure in their self-chosen path of sin and impenitence, without a care about facing God in judgment. Many feel secure in their self-righteous thoughts, thinking they can stand before God based on their own goodness and merit. But apart from repentance and faith in Jesus alone as the Savior of sinners, a soul is lost.

2) In view of God’s time of grace and favor

The God of grace and mercy does not want anyone to perish; so He calls all to repent and be saved through faith in His Son. In view of the urgency of the matter, Jesus now tells a parable to show that there is still time for sinners to repent. For we live in God’s time of grace and favor.

Jesus says: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down'” (vs. 6-9).

This parable shows, first, that the time to repent will not last forever. The owner of the fig tree had planted it for a purpose – that it should bear fruit. He kept looking for fruit with patient, hopeful expectation. But after three years, he still found none. His conclusion was: “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” There was nothing to do but remove this fruitless tree and make room for trees that would bear fruit. Wouldn’t we do the same?

The owner of the fig tree represents God. God has given life to all people for a purpose: that we may bear fruit of holy living to His glory. He is very patient, always looking with hopeful expectation to find the fruit of repentance and faith in people’s lives. But if He finally does not see it, but sees only a heart hardened against His Word in impenitence and unbelief, His just judgment must follow in time. As John the Baptist told the people: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance… even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:8, 10).

If it were not for the keeper of the vineyard, the tree would have been cut down immediately. But keeper interceded. He stepped in and pleaded with the owner to give this fruitless tree another chance to produce fruit. He would tend to it with his own special care.

The keeper of the vineyard represents Jesus, our Go-Between and our Advocate before God. For all the ways sinners fail to produce fruits of repentance, for all the ways people use God’s patience as a license to sin, mocking the day of His coming, they deserve to be cut off at once. But Jesus has spoken to His Father on behalf of sinners. He has stepped in the place of every sinner to save us all. “He was cut off from the land of the living…  He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:8). On the cross, Jesus was cut off from His Father’s mercy. He suffered the punishment for our sin, to spare us. As He sacrificed His life for our sins, He interceded for us: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). For His sake the Father does forgive us. Through repentance and faith, we receive His gift of salvation and eternal life.

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Today, our Savior is cultivating and fertilizing around our hearts, working repentance and faith in our hearts. How? Through the preaching of His Word.

First, By His holy Law, He uncovers our nature as sinners. He digs and penetrates our sin-hardened hearts to root out harmful sins we would otherwise keep hidden below the surface. He brings us rightly to sorrow over our sin, and to despair of saving ourselves by any merit or strength of our own. He leads us to confess with David in Psalm 51:2-4: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.”

When His Law has done its preparatory work in our heart, Jesus speaks tenderly by His Gospel. He says: “Take heart, your sins are forgiven. I have taken away your sin and punishment on the cross. I have cleansed you by My own precious blood. I have presented you holy and without blemish before My Father.” For we have his promise in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We have come here today confessing our sins, trusting nothing but the blood of God’s Son to cleanse us from sin, death, and judgment; trusting nothing but the holy life of God’s Son to cover and clothe us as a white robe of purity, making us fit for his heavenly courts. How truly blessed we are in this; for God in His grace has sent His Holy Spirit to plant this saving faith in our heart through His Word.

And as the Keeper of our soul, Jesus continues to cultivate and fertilize the faith He has begun in us, as He ministers to us through Word and Sacrament. Day by day, He leads us to repent of our sins with heartfelt sorrow, drowning the sinful nature in the waters of Baptism; and, He lifts us up in His cleansing forgiveness, empowering us to go forth in newness of life as redeemed children of God. Jesus feeds our soul with His Body and Blood at His Altar, forgiving our sins, strengthening our faith unto eternal life, sending us forth in His peace.

What a relief it is when an urgent matter has been dealt with, when there is no more stress of a deadline or fear of undesirable results. Thanks to God, He has dealt with our most urgent need. He has worked out our salvation by giving His Son for us. Our risen Savior has united us with Himself in the life of faith by His Holy Spirit. And we have His promise in John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” Thanks to God, we live each day in His grace and favor. And when our time in this world is complete, Jesus will faithfully take us to be with Himself in the perfect joys of heaven.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.