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REPENT OR PERISH

Luke 13:1-13:9
Key Verse: 13:5

Through the last study we thought of Jesus’ baptism of death, division and peace, and interpreting the times. In our time, it is so easy to be confused and deceived by the concept of worldly peace and union. May we be clear about this and pursue the peace of Jesus and unity in him and thus serve young people in this generation with the gospel of peace and salvation. Today’s passage is about Jesus’ interpretation of tragic events and his subsequent teaching. It leads to the significance of repentance and its resulting fruit-bearing life.

First, urgency of repentance (1-5). Look at verse 1. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” What a gruesome story! Most probably, these Galileans came to Jerusalem in Judea, where Pontius Pilate was governor (Lk 3:1), to offer their sacrifices in the temple. We don’t know what kind of information Pilate obtained regarding the Galileans. Perhaps he came to know of their secret plan to subvert his government. Whatever the back story, they were killed and their blood was mixed with the blood of the animals they had sacrificed. In so doing, Pilate must have wanted to give a warning to all the Jews: that there would be severe punishment for those who rebelled against Rome. This incident was a demonstration of his cruelty. Why, though, did some people tell Jesus about this event? Presumably, in the grotesqueness of the event and their dread, they expected Jesus to do something against such evil. Or perhaps they were questioning Jesus, “Why did such a thing happen?” or “Where was God while such an event took place?”

How did Jesus respond? Look at verses 2 and 3. “Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Surprisingly, Jesus did not mention at all the evilness of Pilate or the tragedy of the event itself. Jesus’ concern was to help the people present know the meaning of such an event and have a right attitude before God.

Jesus then brought up another story to stress his point. Look at verses 4 and 5. “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” By saying this, Jesus covered two different kinds of tragedy: one caused by man’s cruelty, and the other by accident or natural disaster. He also covered all Galileans and all those living in Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus did not mention at all why such a disaster happened or what was the cause of such tragedies. Again, Jesus’ concern was to help the people around him and those who would hear his words in that generation and in the generations to come. As we observed, Jesus always dealt with the primary issue in life, although the secondary one could not be ignored.

We also often hear about similar kinds of grotesque stories of men or natural disasters. Commonly, people think that bad things happen to those who do bad things. This is based on the idea of cause and effect (or 'karma'). The idea of cause and effect is not completely wrong. For example, the Israelites suffered a lot because of their sins. On one occasion there was no rain in the land for three and a half years, and the Israelites suffered from severe famine (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1-2; James 5:17). Another time there was an invasion of locusts (Joel 1). Lastly, God punished them through Babylonian captivity so that they might turn to God. Individually, it is also true. Asa was one of the good kings of Judah. However, when he was rebuked by a seer for not relying on God as he had done before, he became angry with the seer and put him in prison. Later on, he was afflicted with a disease in his feet, but even then he did seek help from the LORD, and he died two years later (2 Ch 16:10-13). King Uzziah was a powerful king, doing many great works. But in his pride, he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense--which was allowed only for priests to do. Some priests confronted him, saying, “It is not right for you…You have been unfaithful; and you will not be honoured by the LORD God.” Yet, he persisted in doing it. Then leprosy broke out on his forehead, and he had leprosy until the day he died (2 Ch 26:16-20). Yes, God punishes sin through suffering. But that is not all.

When Jesus’ disciples saw a man born blind, they asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” According to Jewish psyche, blindness was God’s curse on account of sin. Jesus’ disciples were also influenced by this idea. But Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn 9:1-3). According to Jesus, all the sufferings in life are not due to man’s sin. In the book of Job, Job’s friend tried to help him on the basis of the general idea that all his suffering was because of his sin (Job 4:7; 8:20; 11:6; 22:5-10). Their way of helping Job was wrong. Job’s suffering was very personal to him, and had God’s purpose of refining him in his faith. So he said in Job 23:10, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Here Jesus said in verse 2, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” Jesus emphatically denied the idea that worse sinners suffer more. And then he said, “Unless you repent, you too will perish.” This is a biblical truth that all are sinners before God and so all are to perish, whether 'worse' or 'better' sinners. With relativistic ideas about sin and sinners, one cannot truly stand as a sinner before God. As long as one thinks that he is better than others, he cannot truly repent. Each of us should overcome relativistic standards to come to God as a sinner and receive his grace and mercy, especially when we hear about or experience something unexpected.

Noticeably, Jesus did not say, “Unless you repent, you too will all die in the same way”, but “…you too will all perish.” The tragic physical death in this passage is an awful thing to be avoided if possible. But we believe that such physical death was not of great importance to Jesus. Jesus had said to his disciples in Luke 12:4-5, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But…Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” Jesus must have been greatly pained, not because some Galileans and those eighteen had died tragically, but because they would have no more chance to repent. As we studied in the gospel key verses, “man is destined to die once, and after that face judgment” (Heb 9:27) and there will be eternal punishment of being thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev 21:8). How a person dies is not so significant. Men and women of God can die in tragic events, even though God’s protection and care for his people are prefect. A great Christian musician, Keith Green (1953-1982), died in a plane accident. A great Christian disciple maker, Dawson Trotman (1906-1956), died in a drowning accident. What is truly significant is whether one dies with repentance or without repentance. For that determines one’s eternal destiny. Jesus saw the tragic events with eternal perspective. This is the reason Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” This heart of Jesus is the same as the heart of God, who does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Repentance is the way of life; unrepentance is the way of destruction. What God wants from sinners is repentance. King David committed the sin of adultery and then added the sin of murder as he tried to cover up his previous sin. When he did not repent, he felt that day and night God’s hand was heavy upon him. But when he acknowledged his sin to God and confessed it before him, God forgave the guilt of his sin. Then, there was true happiness in his soul. He came to realize that man’s true happiness comes from God’s forgiveness of his sin (Ps 32). God is pleased with anyone’s repentance. King Ahab was a terribly wicked king. According to the Bible, there was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols (1 Kings 21:25-26). But when he heard of God’s judgment message upon him, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. This was his expression of repentance. Then God said to Elijah, “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.” (1 Kings 21:27-28). This event shows how much God is pleased with anyone’s repentance.

Luke’s gospel describes this excellently. In Luke chapter 15, Jesus said the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:7, 10). In chapter 18, two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. A Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like others…even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus commented, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God” (Lk 18:9-14). And while Jesus was hanging on the cross, two other criminals were also there on their crosses. One was unrepentant even in his suffering of crucifixion, but the other was repentant, saying to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus accepted this repentant criminal and invited him to his eternal kingdom (Lk 23:39-43). Repentance makes all the difference. After his resurrection Jesus said in Luke 24:47, “…repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

In the book of Revelation, Jesus gave repentant messages to five churches among the seven. He told the church in Ephesus to repent of forsaking its first love (2:4-5); the church in Pergamum to repent of not holding to the truth by compromising humanistic teachings (2:14-15); the church in Thyatira to repent of losing holiness in immorality influenced by the world (2:20-23); the church in Sardis to repent of spiritual deadness despite having a reputation of being alive (3:1-3); the church in Laodicea to repent of losing wholeheartedness in their lukewarm attitude, being neither hot nor cold (3:5-18). Without repenting, they would be destroyed. Particularly he said to the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (3:19-20).

Repentant people are truly blessed people. Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Lk 6:20,21). But in Revelation, we see that people refuse to repent of what they had done (murders, magic arts, sexual immorality or thefts) even in their extreme suffering, continuing, rather, to worship demons and idols (Rev 9:20-21; 16:9,11). Recently people have been trying to find a way for eternal life even through scientific research. They recognize death as the great enemy of mankind but they want to defy human mortality in their own way, continually rejecting God and his way of salvation. Silicon valley attempts this and billionaires are willing to invest their money. They want to live in sin eternally, but that cannot be possible. God has shown the way, which is through repentance. So Apostle Paul said in Acts 20:21, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Repentance is humbly turning to God. Repentance is to come to Jesus as we are. It is to come to him with our sickness, both physical and spiritual. It is come to him with any life problem. It is to come to him without any excuse, admitting our sins and wrongs. May God help us to repent, particularly at each critical time and live as repentant people from first to last, and be able to lead others to repentance.

Second, fruit-bearing life in repentance (6-9). Look at verses 7 and 8. “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard. “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”’” “Planted in a vineyard” means “planted in fertile soil.” The fig tree planted in the vineyard was supposed to bear fruit during the three years of the given time. But fruit was not found in that fig tree. The fig tree had to cut down, for otherwise it would continue to use up the soil. Here we can infer that life is granted to bear fruit and God’s given talent, time and opportunities should not be used up just for nothing. “Cut it down” is a severe judgment message, much more painful than just losing a job. The point is that there will be a time of judgment in life. This is as we thought of in Luke 12:48, in which Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

When the keeper of the vineyard heard the words, “Cut it down,” it was a potentially fatalistic situation. How did the man respond? Look at verses 8 and 9. “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit the next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” The man was not fatalistic and did not fall into hopeless despair. He believed in the generosity of the owner and asked for an extension of the time given for fruit-bearing. He wanted to challenge the situation, doing his best for the fruit-bearing of the fig tree.

Why, though, did Jesus tell this parable here in Luke’s arrangement, after telling the people present, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish”? We believe that Jesus is teaching more about repentance. Repentance does not make a man just remorseful or fatalistic. Repentance is to seek and find a new hope. Repentance is the change of mind and deed. In Matthew 21:28-31, Jesus told the parable of two sons: “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, Sir,’ but he did not go.” Obviously the first son was the one who repented, doing what his father expected from him, though he could not respond rightly at once. In Genesis, Abraham, after God’s call, went down to Egypt according to his own plan to survive at the time of famine in Canaan. When he followed his own plan, he almost lost his wife to Pharaoh in the palace, and he was in a dilemma with no apparent way out. But through God’s direct intervention, he got back his wife and the matter was well resolved. Afterward though God did not tell him to go back to Canaan, he came back to Canaan up to Bethel where he had first built an altar, and called on the name of the Lord. This was the expression of his sincere repentance, and since then he bore the fruit of repentance in his life (Ge 13:1-4). However, his nephew Lot, though he came back to Canaan with Abraham from Egypt, his mind was not changed. Although he lived in Canaan, the influence of Egyptian civilization and culture remained in him, and his unchanged mind furthered him away from God toward the way of destruction (Ge 13:10-13). In Judges there is a story of Samson. God endowed him with mighty strength. But his life could not bear good fruit because of his lustful desire. He was captured by the Philistines, the enemy country. His eyes were gouged out and he lived miserably as an entertainer for the Philistines. But in that situation he prayed to the LORD, “O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more.” Then God heard his prayer and gave him strength to move two central pillars of the temple of the Philistine god, in the presence of the rulers and many of the Philistine people (Jg 16:28-30). He died with them. In the end his life bore the fruit of repentance. In John chapter 8, Jesus declared the grace of forgiveness of sin to a woman who was caught in the act of adultery, saying, “Neither do I condemn you.” Yet, Jesus did not stop there. He said further, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (Jn 8:11). Repentance includes change of mind and new life direction. God wants us to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Lk 3:8).

May we preserve Jesus’ words, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” and repent and live as repentant people, bearing fruit of repentance in life.

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