Preached: March 3, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The words with which Jesus speaks to us today are recorded in Luke 13.
Now some came at that time reporting to Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them, “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than all the others, because they suffered this? No! I tell you. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or what about those eighteen whom the Siloam tower fell on and killed? Do you think that they were more guilty than all the people living in Jerusalem? No! I tell you. But unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way.”
Then he began to tell this parable, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to the vineyard worker, ‘See now, it's been three years while I've been coming looking for fruit on this fig tree and have found none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the soil too?’
“The worker answered him, ‘Sir, leave it also for this year, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit. But if not, then soon after you will cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
I think it was the comedian Jeff Foxworthy who told a joke something like this. He and his wife were invited out. As he's about to ask her if she's ready to leave, he hears these words coming from the bathroom: “My hair looks awful!” He knows he better phone ahead and let them know they'll be running a little late.
Patience waits. And to be fair, how much more patient aren't our wives toward us, waiting for us to finish that chore or watch the game or get back from hunting. How patient my wife is when I leave things where I shouldn't leave them! Love is patient.
But patience doesn't wait forever, does it? For example, you may patiently explain to your young child the danger of traffic and the need to look both ways before crossing the street. But if he starts running into the street as traffic whizzes by, you are not going to stand there waiting, no matter how patient you are.
The Apostle Peter writes, “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). And words of Jesus in Luke 13 illustrate that patience as he calls us to repentance. But that patience is not to be trifled with. Listening to his call is not to be postponed until a later date. “Delay not! Delay not!” we sang in the opening hymn. Jesus' words here make this clear as well. His time of patience does come to an end.
But today, dear friends, it is not yet too late for you or me. Hear Christ's patience calling you to repentance. That's the theme today. Take to heart his words as the Holy Spirit moves each of us to confess: How terrifying my own sin is! For only in seeing the terror of our sin do we know the sweetness of Christ's forgiveness, which only his Gospel in word and sacrament can bring to us. And then as we taste Christ's gracious, compassionate forgiveness, the Holy Spirit moves each of us to exclaim: How fruitful Jesus wants my faith to be! That's the second part.
What's this world coming to! Jesus had been telling the crowds to rightly discern the signs of the times. And maybe some figured they could read the signs pretty well. “We know how bad things are getting. Did you hear what happened in the temple courtyard? Jews from Galilee were bringing their sacrifices to the altar and Pilate's soldiers barge through and execute them right there. Those Galileans must have done something pretty bad for God to let that happen. At least we're not that bad.”
What's this world coming to! We too see a world in turmoil as wickedness dominates and is even praised as beneficial. For example, coveting more stuff and accumulating earthly trophies of success is sold as the American dream. Murdering the unborn has been legal now for just over forty years, a full generation. Pornography spreads into living rooms via computers and TVs. Marriage is being redefined by the government, even though God is the one who designed and gave us marriage. We turn on the evening news and hear of wars, fighting in Syria or Africa or another hot spot. When will the next shooting on American soil jump to the headlines again? What's this world coming to!
How tempting to shake our finger at the world and deep down inside think to ourselves, “I'm glad I'm not that bad. I'm not perfect, but I'm not that bad!”
But what does Jesus say? “Do you think that these ... were worse sinners ...? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:2, 3 NIV84).
And this is not only when we hear about the wicked, sinful actions in the world around us. In the same way when we hear of accidents happening, such as Jesus mentioning the Siloam tower falling on those eighteen people, don't imagine that those who suffer misfortune have a greater debt of sin. Or vice versa, don't think that when things are OK for us, we must not be as guilty. Rather, when we hear of a tragic accident, what does Jesus say? “[U]nless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5 NIV84).
The wickedness and the tragedies in this world ought to lead each one of us to examine our own hearts. For as wicked as this world is, that wickedness also lives right here in me and in you. For you and I are made of that same fallen human nature as everyone else in the world is. We share with them that same inherited sinfulness. And even though maybe we can hide our worse from others, the all-seeing judge knows what lurks within you. The only reason we haven't perished already under is death sentence is because he is patient.
And no matter how great the tragedy or the suffering we hear about, you and I deserve far worse. And hell is far, far worse. “[U]nless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5 NIV84).
How terrifying my own sin is! How terrifying your sin is! But Jesus paid for even your deepest, darkest sin. He paid for each and every one of your sins, no matter how great a debt of sin you've rung up against God. For you see, Jesus has paid for all the sins of the entire world, which must include all of yours, dear sinner -- no matter how numerous, even the ones you're unaware of. The debt of every sinner was marked against Jesus instead. He patienty carried that debt in our place. He paid it up in full with his blood, poured out for you. He speaks this promise to you every time you drink his blood in the Lord's Supper. Yes, how terrifying my own sin is, but how much greater is the blood of Christ, how much more valuable his sacrifice, how much sweeter his forgiveness! What patience Jesus has, as he keeps calling you and me to repentance! Hear his call; take it to heart!
For you see, dear friends, repentance is not just something for back when you became a Christian. It's not something that we are over and done with now as we progress to other aspects of Christian living or spiritual experience. Jesus calls us to a continuing, ongoing repentance each and every day of our lives. We daily sin much. We daily pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.” Behold God's patience! Behold his mercy new every morning! Though we are so slow, he hasn't yet taken away from us his word and sacraments. Rather he patiently keeps bringing you the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ that declares: Your sins are forgiven because Jesus paid your debt in full with his holy, precious blood.
“[U]nless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5 NIV84). How terrifying is your sin and mine! How we deserve to perish in hell! But Christ's patience calls us to repentance. And repentance rejoices in Jesus' forgiveness. That's faith, dear friends, faith in God's promise, faith that trusts that Jesus' blood has paid up your debt in full.
And faith, dear Christian friends, produces fruit. How fruitful Jesus wants your faith to be! This brings us to the second part.
As Jesus keeps on speaking to the crowd, he tells a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. A fig tree planted in the good soil of a vineyard isn't producing figs. For three years the owner has been coming and looking for fruit. Finally he says cut it down. Why should it use up the soil too? He's already been patient, waiting three years. But the vineyard worker asks for little more time. What patience! In the next year he would break up the soil around the tree roots, fertilize it, and oh, if it would bear fruit! But if not, then cut it down.
Jerusalem had been planted in the vineyard of God's people. About three years earlier a voice in the wilderness, John the Baptist, had called out to the people of Judea and Jerusalem, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NIV84). A little later Jesus himself continued to proclaim that same message. But Jerusalem refused to believe. They rejected Jesus. He longed to gather them to himself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but they were not willing. There was no fruit.
In the coming year, Jerusalem would soon witness firsthand the heart and soul of the Gospel. They would watch as Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificed himself on the cross for the sins of the world. They would hear the testimony that Jesus had truly risen from the dead, the proof that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the proof that God had justified sinners for Jesus' sake. How generously the vineyard worker, Jesus Christ, lavishes the rich nutrients of the Gospel on Jerusalem! How patiently he works, longing for their repentance so that they produce the fruit of faith!
But if they refused to believe and produce fruit, the ax was at the root of the tree. The time for patience would come to an end. And as you well know, Jerusalem persecuted the Apostles and was destroyed by the Romans.
At your Baptism, dear Christian, God planted you in his vineyard. How fruitful Jesus wants your faith to be! He patiently breaks through the hardness that so easily callouses our hearts, as he crushes our sinful pride with his law so that we see the terror of our sin. He patiently fertilizes you and me with the Good News, his Gospel of peace with God by the forgiveness of our sins. He generously lavishes the Gospel's rich nutrients on us not only through the Scriptures, but through Baptism and through the Lord's Supper as well. Absorb these nutrients, dear friends, as you stay rooted in God's Word, hearing his patience calling you to repentance so that you keep on believing his Gospel and bearing fruit.
Don't imagine that since you were baptized and know about Jesus, it doesn't matter what you do or don't do. Yes, we're saved by faith alone. Our works cannot and do not save us. Jesus alone saves. But real faith, saving faith, is a living, busy, active, mighty thing. Faith that isn't working, that is, it isn't producing fruit, is dead, James tells us. Jesus says every good tree produces good fruit. That's just the way it is. No fruit means there is no faith. And the ax is at the root of the tree. Every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut down.
For you see, dear friend, faith knows the patient love of Jesus Christ that brought him to rescue us rebellious sinners. So faith desires to show patience, love, kindness, and gentleness toward others, even our enemies. That's a fruit of repentance that faith produces. Faith knows the patient forgiveness of Jesus Christ who forgives us our huge debt. So faith forgives others who sin against us. That's a fruit of repentance that faith produces. Faith knows the suffering Jesus patiently endured for us. So faith is repulsed at the thought of sinning and rather wants to serve our Lord by obeying his commands and wants to follow him as we carry our cross. That's a fruit of repentance that faith produces. Faith knows that Jesus patiently bore all the sins of the world. So faith wants to use our god-given gifts to build up the body of Christ and edify his Church as we share his Good News both to bring others in and to encourage one another in the faith. That's a fruit of repentance that faith produces. Faith knows that like that vineyard worker asking the owner for one more year, Jesus intercedes for us before the Father's throne, pointing to his sacrifice in our place. So faith prayers for others, interceding for them. That's a fruit of repentance that faith produces. Yes, faith knows and believes that Jesus gave his life to save us, so faith sings out, “Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord, to thee” (“Take My Life and Let It Be” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 469:1)
How fruitful Jesus wants your faith to be, dear Christian! Through his Law and Gospel he daily works repentance in our hearts so that we believe his promises and produce the fruits of faith. “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). So hear his patience calling you to repentance. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.