Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent (C)
March 7, 2010
Text: Luke 13:1-9

The Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel (33:7-20) is sobering for a preacher to read, to say the least. For God has a Word that He would have proclaimed, and the preacher, whether he be prophet or apostle or pastor, is called to proclaim it. And woe to him if he does not. A spiritual shepherd must give an account for the souls of his sheep. When God gives a Word, the preacher must warn the people. If the preacher does not warn the wicked, calling upon sinners to repent, then the death of the sinner, his eternal death in hell, is on the preacher’s hands. But if the preacher warns the sinner to turn from his ways, then even if that sinner does not repent, dies in his iniquity, the preacher has fulfilled his responsibility and delivered his soul. The difficulty is, of course, that sinners don’t want to hear the preaching of repentance. No one wants to be told that they are sinning. No one wants to be told that they are wicked. And yet, there is not one of us to whom this message doesn’t apply. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are born altogether corrupt. We daily transgress the Commandments. There is none who does good, not even one. Outside of Christ we are altogether lost. The preaching of repentance is as critical today as it was in Ezekiel’s day, and the preacher is held to the same responsibility, called by God to preach repentance, a turning away from sin, a turning from sin and to God, to Christ, in faith for forgiveness and mercy.

Beloved, our Lord calls you to repent. And this call is, in reality, pure grace. He does not utterly destroy you and consign you to an eternity in hell, as your sins deserve. He is patient, longsuffering, abounding in steadfast love. But His patience does have an end. Now is the time of grace. Now is the time for repentance. There is no repentance after death. There is no repentance on Judgment Day. Repentance is for this earthly life. How our loving God longs for our repentance, as He says in Ezekiel: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (33:11; ESV).

This morning our Lord Jesus, in His grace, calls you to repent. He is the Vinedresser in our text, who pleads with the owner of the vineyard, God the Father, to graciously allow the fruitless fig tree just a little more time to produce fruit (Luke 13:8-9). You, beloved, are the fig tree. God would have you produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). It is not as though He hasn’t given you time. Notice in the parable, the owner of the vineyard came seeking fruit for three years, and had found none. The tree had become useless, a waste of space and time and energy and resources. It is solely on the basis of the vinedresser’s pleas that the owner of the vineyard allows the tree to stand one more year. In that year, the vinedresser will dig around the tree and fertilize it, and if it bears fruit after that year, it will retain its place in the vineyard. If not, it will be cut down, good for nothing but the fire.

In the original context of this parable, the vineyard is Israel, and the tree is Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the crowning city of the Promised Land, the site of the Temple, the civil and religious capital. But because this city, and all that it represents, the whole Jewish religion, did not produce fruits in keeping with repentance, did not turn to Jesus, the Messiah, for forgiveness and salvation, but trusted in her own righteousness and so committed grave injustice (Ez. 33:13), this city was threatened with utter destruction. Nevertheless, in His great love for the Jews and the city of Jerusalem, God gave them a little more time to be fertilized with the preaching of Jesus, and the continued preaching of Jesus in the ministry of the apostles after our Lord’s resurrection and ascension. But the city would not repent. And so, in AD 70, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, the fulfillment of this prophecy that the tree would be cut down, literally dug out of the ground, roots and all, and so be utterly destroyed.

But it is not as though this prophecy is only for Jerusalem without any application for us. This parable is preserved for us in Holy Scripture, that by it our Lord may graciously call us to repentance. Repent, or you will all likewise perish. You will likewise be uprooted and destroyed. Our God does not destroy without warning. He has given us, and continues to give us, ample warning: Repent or perish. The Scriptures call upon us directly to repent. Every preacher of God’s Word is charged to preach repentance, and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. Many examples are given us in Scripture that we might learn of them, to avoid falling into sin, and to repent when we do fall. Thus St. Paul says in our Epistle of the history of Israel in the wilderness: “these things took place as an example for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). So also all the suffering and violence and disaster in the world, in addition to simply being the consequence of living in a fallen creation, is a call from God to repent. Those Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices were not worse sinners than anyone else. They were not worse sinners than we are. “No, I tell you,” says Jesus, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-2). Every man-made disaster, every act of terrorism, every act of senseless violence is, for all of us, a call to repentance. So also accidental disasters and natural disasters: “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” (vv. 4-5). Those who lost homes or died in Hurricane Katrina, or the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, do you think they were worse sinners than all other human beings? False prophets like Pat Robertson certainly think so. But this opinion is not biblical. No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

We must confess that we have much to repent of. When we examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments, we find no righteousness in us. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves. We do not honor father and mother as we should. We are filled with unchaste sexual desires, and have succumbed to our culture’s claim that anything and everything goes, whatever makes us feel good. We know sex outside of marriage and living together without marriage are wrong, but we think it unreasonable and unrealistic to expect ourselves and others to refrain from these sins. Yes, cheating on your taxes is wrong, but everyone does it, right? Sure, it’s wrong to hate my neighbor, but I don’t have to love him. And of course, there are our sins against the First Table of the Law. There are many things that we allow to take God’s place in our lives: Money, job, spouse, hobby… We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We use His Name carelessly, thoughtlessly, in unimportant matters, in exclamations and curses. And we do not honor preaching and God’s Word as we should. We do not gladly spend our time and energy in hearing and learning it. Beloved, repent.

Repent, lest you likewise perish. This is a word of Law, to be sure. The preaching of repentance always is Law of the most stinging variety. But it is also a gracious preaching. Because without the preaching of repentance, we remain lost, secure in our sins, unconcerned with our eternal life and salvation. The Law prepares us for the Gospel. The Law tells us what we should and should not do, but it gives us no power to obey its commandments. It always accuses. And that’s just the point. The Law shows us our sins, so that we come to know our great need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. The Law kills us, slaughters us, makes us good and dead, so that entirely without our help or cooperation, Jesus, the Lord of life, can breathe new life and His Holy Spirit into us by the Gospel. And the Gospel is this: None of the sins that you have committed will be remembered against you (Ez. 33:16). For Christ has taken them all into Himself, and nailed them in His body to the cross. He has borne your punishment. In Christ, you are forgiven, restored, set free. And thus having received the free gift, and grasping that gift by faith in Christ, you begin to produce fruit, works of love that serve your neighbor and bring honor to God.

The Law and the Gospel, the Word of God, are the tender care and fertilizer that the Vinedresser, our Lord Jesus, uses to bring new life to a dead tree. It is not the fruit that saves the tree. The fruit is only the evidence that the tree has been brought to life again, that it is not useless, that the sap flows through the limbs of the tree, that the tree belongs precisely in the vineyard. Repentance does not save. Jesus saves. Repentance and its fruit are the evidence of the new life in Christ that is already yours. The Word of God, dear Christian, is the tender care and fertilizer by which our Lord Jesus brings you new life. He bestows this life in Scripture and preaching, the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and the visible Word of the Sacraments. Now there is certainly a warning of Law here too. When the Lord Jesus tends you and fertilizes you with His Word, if you still do not produce fruit as evidence of your life in Christ, which is to say, if you do not believe in Him, there is a Judgment Day coming. And on that Day, every fruitless tree will be uprooted and cast into the fire. But this is also a great Word of grace and comfot. The Lord Jesus will tend and fertilize you with His Word. And to all who come to new life through that Word, to all who believe, trusting Jesus alone for life and salvation, these will not perish, but have eternal life.

Beloved, the Lord longs for you. Repent and believe the good news. You have sinned, but the Lord also has taken away your sin. He has dealt with it on the cross. I am called to preach nothing else. I am called to speak a Word from God to you. I am called to proclaim to you that you are a sinner. And I am called to proclaim to you, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, that all your sins are forgiven. I may preach nothing more and nothing less. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins is the content of all Christian preaching. Which is to say, Christ is the content of all Christian preaching. We preach Christ crucified. Cling to Him beloved. For as the Vinedresser tends and fertilizes the tree, your Lord tends you and feeds you. And thus He brings you to new life, His life. The time is now. Repent now. Believe now. And so come to rest in the arms of your crucified Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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