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The season of Lent is like a 40 day annual check-up that everyone should undergo regardless of age. Knowing that annual physicals are exactly the kind of thing that we are prone to postpone and put off, the Church schedules it for us.
Lent is a time for us to come to the Great Physician and have Him examine us according to His Word. And no matter how often we come or how recent our last visit has been, the report is always seems to be the same: ‘the patient is infected with a deadly disease which causes him to put his trust in false gods, indulge in immoral behavior, put the Lord God to the test and grumble about the life that God has given him.’
I. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
This is the particular diagnosis of the spiritual health of the Israelites that Dr. Paul shares with his congregation in Corinth. He shares it with them because it the diagnosis fits them too. And it fits us too.
So, if our diagnosis is the same as the Corinthians and the Israelites, what is the prescription? What then shall we do? “Repent.” Dr. Ezekiel agrees with Dr. Paul. “turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O House of Israel.”
• ‘Turn back’ from your ‘idolatry’ and ‘fear, love and trust in God alone.’
• ‘Turn back’ from your ‘immorality’ and lead a sexually pure and decent life and husband and wife love and honor one another.
• ‘Turn back’ from your ‘testing’ God demanding He might prove His faithfulness to you over and over again.
• ‘Turn back’ from your ‘grumbling’ and ‘complaining’ about the way He provides all that you need for this body and life and be content with all that you have and thankful for all that God has given you.
The Israelites ignored the diagnosis and refused to take the cure prescribed. They said they didn’t need to, they would be just fine, they could take care of themselves. ‘I don’t like to take drugs.’
And sadly, “most of them perished.” They didn’t just die, they perished. Everyone dies. But they ‘perished.’ “Dying” is not the end. It’s just the old wound from the fall of Adam that we all bear the scars of his wound.
“But God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him WOULD NOT PERISH but have everlasting life.”
Jesus has been scared by our wounds. “See my hands. Put your hands into my side.” He has died our death. And on Easter Sunday we will celebrate the fact that our death has been swallowed up in His victory. “Even though you die, yet shall you live.” “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
But for those who “perish” there is no celebration, only weeping and gnashing of teeth and eternal regret that they would not believe the diagnosis of their life and ‘repent.’
This morning we heard Paul warn his beloved congregation not to make the same mistake as the Israelites. “For I want you to know brothers…” Literally it’s, ‘I do not want you to be ignorant brothers.’ ‘Ignorance is not bliss.’ ‘Ignorance can be deadly.’
“Now these things took place as examples FOR us.” Actually, this can be translated just as accurately, “Now these things took place as examples OF us.” We are no different, no better. We have the exact same disease as they had and our diagnosis is identical to theirs.
“Do not be idolaters as some of them were.” “We must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did.” “We must not put Christ to the test as some of them did.” “Nor grumble as some of them did.”
EXAMINE YOUR LIFE WITH GOD’S WORD. AND REPENT!
II. Luke 13:1-5
I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters. We must not think that what happened to them could never happen to us. This kind of foolish and misplaced confidence, that since I am baptized and receive the Lord’s Supper, I am free to continue in my sin that grace may abound, leads to the same end for us as for them. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Listen to the diagnosis. Take the prescription.
St. Luke tells us that “some who were present told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Jesus knew exactly what they were doing. They were ‘testing’ Him just as Israel had ‘tested’ God in the wilderness. They were trying to trap Him into taking sides on this highly emotional political issue. Would He speak out against Pilate and the Romans? Or would He defend the government and their abuse of power, which would certainly effect his popularity in the polls.
Or maybe they were saying that God wasn’t fair and therefore cannot be trusted. Why these Galileans? Why not others? What did they do something to deserve such a violent death? Where was God? Couldn’t He have prevented this? This is what GRUMBLING sounds like whether its in the desert or in Jerusalem or right here.
But Jesus, being the great physician that He is, urges them to examine themselves and honestly assess their motives and see the disease that is eating them up. “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
And then, just to be sure that they hear the diagnosis that they must hear from Him, because after all, God had warned the WATCHMAN, “If you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way that wicked person shall die, but his blood I shall require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
So Jesus turns up the heat. Why stop at acts of terrorism. Why not challenge God with natural disasters. “Or those 18 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?”
“Now these things took place as examples FOR us.” Do not wait for a convenient time to ‘turn back.’ Who knows what tomorrow will bring. “No but I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
But I repeat, “God so loved the world that He sent His Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Watchman has warned the wicked and the wicked would not repent. But God has required our blood at His hand, and He has died in our iniquity. Pilate has shed the blood of an innocent Galilean and His blood is mingled with the wine that we drink and He has delivered our soul from perishing.
EXAMINE YOUR LIFE WITH GOD’S WORD. AND REPENT!
III. Luke 13:6-9
Listen to the good physician who comes not for the healthy but for the sick. “And He 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.’ ”
So, here’s the thing. When the man says, “cut it down, why should it us up the ground,” what is the tone of His voice when He says this? What is the look in His eye? With what emotion are these words spoken to the vinedresser? Is He angry or is He sad? Is this just business or is this personal to Him? How do you hear this man say, “cut it down, why should it use up the ground”?
Do you hear the man in this parable, who is God the Father, give orders to the vinedresser who is His own dear Son, like a big boss who demands a certain quota be met or else? Is the man angry with this disappointing investment of his, and in his anger, does he demand that it be uprooted and burned in order to free up some capital for another, more productive investment?
But if that is the way that you hear this, how are we to understand the response of the vinedresser, who is Jesus, the Father’s Son, who says, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure”? Is the Son disagreeing with the Father? Is this the loving Son protecting us from the grouchy, demanding Father whom we must constantly work to please so that He won’t be angry with us and cut us down and throw us into the fire? Is this the “Trinity in unity and the Unity in Trinity,” that we confess in the Athanasian Creed?
Or have we misread this? Could it be that when the man says, “cut it down, why should it use up the ground,” there are tears in His eyes and He speaks the words so slowly that they’re painful to hear. And there is a sorrow in His voice so deep that the angels in heaven weep at the sound of it.
And now, hear the reply of the vinedresser, who in perfect sympathy and agreement with the man, and for His sake, for He knows that the man “takes no pleasure” in cutting this tree down, says, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.”
Oh, doesn’t that change everything about this story when we hear it this way? Doesn’t that sound much more like the Jesus we heard last Sunday who, with tears in His eyes and in perfect sympathy with the Father cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood. But you would not.”
Here is the real damage that the fall of Adam has done to us. All of our sinful deeds are nothing compared to this disease that we all suffer from. Our whole attitude about God and toward God has been soured. We believe that God is against us; that He is our enemy; that He ‘takes pleasure” in judging against us. The first words out of Adam’s mouth after his fall into sin were these, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid…”
All that Adam could see in God was His terrible demands weighing heavy on him. Because we have been born in Adam’s image, we do not, by nature, see a loving and merciful God. That is the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Apart from Him, we only see a demanding, impossible to please God.
But here, in this simple little parable, Jesus shows us a God that is foreign and strange to us. Jesus portrays a loving Father who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and who relents over disaster.” Who gladly and willingly gives more time and provides more attention for this tree so that it may “not perish.”
Isn’t this the ‘repentance’ that Jesus is calling us to when He says, “unless you repent you will perish?” Not simply a change in behavior so that we may be more productive, but a complete and total change of heart and mind about the God whom we call ‘our God’ and who calls us, ‘my people.’ For if He is indeed the loving, patient, faithful Father whom Jesus portrays here, then every life is precious in His sight. Even the wicked.
And now I see that am not just a wooden tree, whose purpose in life is to produce a certain quota of fruit or else. Or an investment, which must produce an adequate return or else. Or a nameless worker in a company who must do his share for the ‘almighty employer’ or else.
No, if this is the way Jesus told the story and meant us to hear it, then I, fruitless and barren tree that I am, am His beloved. And my loving Father has given me time, time for His Son to work in me, to transform me.
The fruit that the Father is looking for is the fruit of faith in His Son, for it is only Jesus with whom the Father is well pleased. We are no more capable of producing this kind of fruit in our lives than a fig tree is. It is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.
So, in the perfect unity of the Trinity, the Father tells His Son to tend to us. And the Son uses the Holy Spirit to dig around us with His Word. And when He loosens the unrepentant, hard-packed soil around our heart, He fertilizes it with the holy manure of Christ’s body and blood the forgiveness of our sins, for the healing of our disease, for the salvation of our souls.
LET US EXAMINE OURSELVES WITH GOD’S WORD. AND LET US REPENT.
Let us repent, not simply so that we may not perish. That is nothing more than self-serving common sense. Let us repent in full sympathy with the Father, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, that He may have great pleasure in us.