The Need for Repentance

Posted: May 28, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 13:1-9, “The Need for Repentance”

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Even granting there is none good but God, we can still ask the question, why do bad things happen at all?  Suffering doesn’t come only to those who obviously deserve it – it’s not always a punishment for the wicked.  So why does it come?  How is it that a terrorist can kill 22 people at a concert in Manchester, England, along with wounding another 60 – all of whom were innocent bystanders?  Was it all just random?  Was God absent?  Was it all meaningless?

These are common questions asked by Christians & non-Christians alike.  Any time tragedy strikes, whether on a broad national level such as Manchester or 9/11, or on an individual level when a loved one suddenly dies – we ask the question: why.  What’s the meaning behind it all?  What was God doing?

The technical term for this area of theology is theodicy.  Formed from the word “theos/God,” (θεος) and “dike/justice,” (δικε) it refers to “divine justice.”  According to one dictionary, it is “the attempt to defend God’s omnipotence and goodness in the face of the problem of evil in the world.” (Lexham)  It was actually the basic issue behind the popular book & movie “The Shack,” in which the main character experiences a terrible evil tragedy, and has to come to grips with how all of this squares with the character of God.  (FYI – I do not endorse “The Shack.”  It is filled with all kinds of theological error, some of which is quite damaging.  That’s another subject for another day.)  Many atheists believe that the existence of evil within the world is proof-positive that an all-powerful, all-good God does not exist.  It isn’t, but how can we know?  What does the Bible have to say about it?  That’s the idea behind theodicy.  God exists, and evil exists, so the two truths must be able to be reconciled.  But how?

Some of these same questions were asked by Job & his three so-called “friends.”  For them, the existence of God was undeniable and obvious (as it ought to be for anyone with eyes to see the evidence of creation all around us).  The real question for them was: why did all of this unspeakable hardship fall upon Job?  In an incredibly short time-span, Job lost his livestock, his servants, his health, and even his own children.  So much did it seem that the full weight of God had come down upon him, that Job’s wife went to far as to tell him to “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9)  He didn’t, and the bulk of the next 36 chapters consist of the various attempts from the characters to justify God.  The three friends (along with their 4th know-it-all youngster) all accuse Job of terrible sin against God, thereby making his suffering the punishment he truly deserved.  Job held to his integrity, but he couldn’t conceive of a reason God would allow him to endure it all.  In the end, he was simply angry, demanding a response from the Lord of the Universe.

Finally, God responded – never truly answering the question of “why,” but redirecting Job to the question of “who.”  There were many things Job was incapable of understanding; he needed to maintain his trust in God.  God had not abandoned him, even if God hadn’t acted in the way Job desired, or in the way that his friends expected.  God was there, God was sovereign, and Job could still worship Him.

The questions that were brought up by Job and his companions were some of the same things brought up to Jesus during His travels.  As might be expected, there was all kind of news during the years of Jesus’ ministry.  Sometimes we get the idea that everything in Judea stopped for three years while Jesus preached in Galilee & Jerusalem, but it didn’t.  There were still other things going on around the country, and occasionally these bits of news would be brought to Jesus for a response.  Just as we might watch a CNN or FOXnews interview with a well-known pastor for some Biblical perspective regarding a noteworthy event, so did people want Jesus’ take on current events.

This is what happens as Chapter 13 opens.  Some people bring some current events to Jesus, and they want His thoughts.  What they get in His answer is ½ theodicy and ½ warning.  Jesus moves them away from the common faulty theology of the day, in which people believed that bad things happened only to bad people.  But with that said, He also gives them a warning: worse things would come to those who don’t repent.  The need for repentance isn’t based on the uncertainty of the world; it’s based on the certainty of the judgment of God.

Luke 13:1–9

  • Who deserves judgment?  Everyone.  (1-5)

1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

  • At that season.”  Luke connects this event with the previous context.  Though we don’t know the precise chronological “season” (winter, spring, summer, fall) this was, it was the same general time period as what came before.  Thematically, this is fitting, as Jesus had also been talking about the Judgment and the need to be ready.  In the process of warning people away from the “leaven/sin of the Pharisees,” (12:1) Jesus told people that every hidden action and word would one day be made known & that those who deny Jesus on earth would one day be denied before the angels of God. (12:9)  He told them the parable of the rich fool, who built large barns for a long future, only to find that his soul was required that very night & he would soon face God. (12:20)  Jesus told them the parable of the faithful & evil servants, the faithful ones being those who were ready for their master’s return at any time, saying that the Son of Man would do likewise. (12:39-40)  In light of all of this teaching, Jesus chastised the crowd for their own hypocrisy, being that although they were able to discern weather patterns in the sky, they weren’t able to discern the signs of the time all around them. (12:56)  Their own judgment was at hand, and they had done nothing.  They needed to do whatever was necessary to ensure they were ready to see God, and to be received by Him with joy.
  • So Luke continues the theme with a brief event that took place at some time afterwards.  Among the crowds that followed Jesus, some brought news of some murdered Galileans.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was in Galilee – He had already set His face to go to Jerusalem & the journey ahead had been prepared for Him by the disciples. (9:51-53)  The people probably told the news to Jesus for a couple of reasons: (1) It was tragic news of the day, something which always spreads quickly, (2) Jesus was known as a Galilean.  It would have made perfect sense to ask Jesus His opinion about something that happened to people from His home region.  What exactly happened to these Galileans is unknown.  Apparently some Galileans were offering “their sacrifices” (presumably in Jerusalem) when Pontius Pilate had them killed.  The way it’s described doesn’t sound like a court-ordered execution following due process, but rather a brutal killing done while the Galileans were in the process of worshipping God.  The potential that it took place during an act of worship might be part of the reason for the way Jesus actually answered the news – perhaps the setting made it seem more like an act of Divine retribution, rather than an act of evil performed by an evil Roman prefect.
    • There is no extra-biblical historical record of this, but none is needed.  Pilate was known to be a brutal person.  Josephus records when Pilate used Romans soldiers to beat down Jewish crowds (Antiquities 18:60-62), as well as a time when he had a group of Samaritans killed when they went up Mt. Gerizim in an act of their worship (Antiquities 18:84).  Philo wrote of Pilate being inflexible & merciless (Embassy, 301).  Bottom line: this wasn’t a nice guy!  The violent nature of Pontius Pilate cannot be ignored.  Sometimes, people view him as a sympathetic character in regards to Jesus’ cross, as if Pilate was just caught in a no-win situation.  Not so.  He was prone to brutality; he just didn’t like being pressured into his actions by the Jewish leadership.
  • Because it was Pilate who had the Galileans killed, perhaps the accompanying question might be: did they deserve it?  After all, Pilate may have been violent, but he also had the responsibility of punishing lawbreakers.  Perhaps these Galileans got what was coming to them.  Maybe there was some unknown sin that had finally caught up to them.  Even if it came by the hand of Pilate, perhaps it was the will of God that these men be killed…or at least, so was the thought.  That’s what Jesus addresses in His response…

2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?

  • This is where theodicy comes in.  An awful slaughter took place among the Jews while sacrifices were (potentially) performed.  How does God fit into this?  Atheists would claim that it was proof that God wasn’t there, for He did nothing.  Fatalists would claim that it was destined to be, no matter what – that this was God’s predetermined end for these Galileans. Open theists would claim the other extreme: that God didn’t at all know what was going to happen, and He was just as surprised by it as everyone else.  As for the Jews speaking with Jesus, they would have held none of those views.  They would have been far more like the companions of Job.  Job’s friends would have claimed (as they did with Job) that God personally brought the punishment due to sin among the Galileans.
    • None of those answers are sufficient.  The atheist ignores the evidence of God for his convenience, the fatalist ignores the reality of choice & freewill within the world, the open theists ignore the sovereignty of God, and those like Job’s friends ignore the goodness & justice of God.  What’s needed is an explanation that takes all of these things into account.
    • What is it?  Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t provide one…at least, not at this time.  Ultimately He demonstrates the answer: at the cross.  The existence of evil within the world is Biblically explained by the existence of sin.  When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, which brought the sure result of death. (Gen 2:17, Rom 5:12)  Everything else flows from that point.  All sin, all death, all tragedy – all of it finds its ultimate foundation in the fall of mankind.  But this is precisely the issue that Jesus solves at the cross & resurrection!  This is what Jesus came to do: right everything that went wrong in the universe because of sin.  His death pays the punishment due to all sin, and His resurrected life offers eternal life to all who believe – and His return will usher in the physical change that will occur throughout all the universe, eventually taking away all sin for all time.  For the problem of evil, the answer is Jesus.
  • So in regards to this particular group of Galileans, did they deserve it?  Not in comparison with others.  Jesus will specifically say as much in verse 3.  That said, it’s not as if they were totally innocent, either.  Notice Jesus never once says they are anything but “sinners.”  And not only them, but “all Galileans” can be included in that same label!  The murdered Galileans were sinners, sure – they just weren’t worse sinners than all of the other sinners in Galilee.  Thus, they were all sinners.
    • They are, and we are.  No one person is better than the other.  We have all sinned & fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23)  The moment we look around, believing ourselves to be “more deserving” than others of the grace of God is the moment we’ve entered into blind hypocrisy.  If God were to give each of us the eternal fate we deserved, we’d all suffer an eternity in hell.  Whether we’ve sinned a lot or a little (relatively speaking) is irrelevant.  We’ve sinned, and that’s all that matters.  We need the forgiveness and grace of Jesus just as badly as anyone else you can imagine.
  • Sinners.”  We use the label, but do we know the definition?  The word used by Jesus has its root definition in the commonly-quoted “to miss the mark,” as if an arrow is shot at a target, but the target is missed.  This is an accurate definition and etymology…but it can possibly give the wrong idea.  A target can be missed one of two ways: by mistake, or on purpose.  It’s one thing for our aim to be off – that’s something we tend to write off & easily excuse, although it still causes problems.  It’s another thing for us to intentionally aim somewhere else.  When it comes to sin (at least, when it comes to our own sin), we tend to put ourselves in the first category & not the second.  That is, we excuse ourselves, saying “I didn’t mean to do it – it was a mistake.”  But surely that’s not always the case.  Although we might feel guilty after engaging in sin, we can’t always say with honesty that it was a mistake that we sinned.  Probably more often than not, it was something we meant to do; we just feel bad about the results after the fact.  Interestingly, the word Luke quotes Jesus as using here is most often used in the LXX to translate “guilty / wicked person,” rather than “to miss a mark / be wrong.”  Even in the NT, the word for “sin” doesn’t normally refer to a mistake, so much as it does sheer opposition to God.  Thus a “sinner” is someone who is acting in opposition to God – a person prone to sinful behavior – someone who could even be described as being at enmity against God.  (Which Paul specifically says to the Romans – Rom 8:7.)
    • Apart from Jesus, this is who we are.  This is why we need saving.  Our lusts, lies, greed, self-centeredness and more have placed us in opposition to God.  Much of this wasn’t committed by accident; it was chosen.  So call it what it is: sin.  And then trust Jesus for what He does: save.

3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

  • Again, did they deserve it?  Those Galileans didn’t deserve that brutal death any more than anyone else, but they certainly deserved judgment.  The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), which is why it comes to everyone.  Even the Jews listening to Jesus faced the same fate. They might not die by the hand of Pilate, but they would indeed die.  They would “perish,” be destroyed.
  • Question: Does this mean death can be escaped?  In a manner of speaking, yes.  In fact, Jesus put it in precisely those terms when comforting Martha & Mary after the death of their brother Lazarus.  John 11:25–26, "(25) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (26) And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”"  Were these all nice sentiments from Jesus – just a bunch of comforting (but ultimately) meaningless words?  Absolutely not!  After all, Jesus went on to demonstrate the truth of those words by actually, physically raising Lazarus from the dead!  Even so, we know that Lazarus eventually died again, just like everyone else who has believed in Jesus in the years following.  All of us, including the most devout disciples, die.  So how can Jesus say those who believe in Him will never die?  How can Jesus tell the crowd that they can avoid “perishing” upon their repentance?  Because it’s still the truth.  There are two kinds of deaths: physical & spiritual.  All of us face the physical – not all of us will face the spiritual.  Our current physical bodies are inherently corrupted by sin, and need to be raised in new life in order to live an eternal life. (1 Cor 15:50)  Because of the resurrection of Jesus, our bodies will be remade (glorified), and we will be able to physically live forever, never again facing death.  At least, that’s the promise for believers in Christ.  Those who reject Jesus not only face a physical death, but they face a promise of spiritual death when they are judged for their sin & their body & soul gets cast into hell.  This is what the Bible calls the “second death.” (Rev 21:8)  This is the perishing, of which Jesus speaks here in verse 3.  This is the death no one need face.  As it’s been often said: Christians are born twice & die once; non-Christians are born once & die twice.
  • What makes the difference?  Repentance.  There was a condition that needed to be met by the Jews if they were to avoid total & eternal destruction: they needed to “repent.”  This is another word that gets tossed around a lot, but rarely defined.  We tend to equate repentance with sorrow/contrition (which is actually how dictionary.com defines it), yet that’s not the Biblical definition.  Biblically speaking, godly sorrow produces repentance (2 Cor 7:10), but it is not repentance itself.  The Greek word actually speaks of changing one’s mind or way of thinking.  It was used in the LXX to translate both the idea of regret and the idea of turning around.  One dictionary defines it as “to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness.” (Louw-Nida)  Thus although regret is included in repentance, what makes repentance actual repentance is a change.  If we change the way we think about something, then we change the way we act in regards to it.  Take an example of alcoholism: It’s one thing to be sorry about habitual drunkenness – it’s another to actually throw away the booze and take steps toward recovery.  The same could be said about any habitual sin: pornography, drug use, laziness, gluttony, outbursts of rage, etc.  Anyone can feel sorry in the moment, but still do nothing to change.  That may be regret, but isn’t repentance.  It’s when that sorrow moves us to make change is when it becomes repentance.
    • Remember one of the OT concepts used for repentance was to “turn back.”  When we turn, we always turn away from something while we’re turning to something else.  Biblical repentance is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus.  When we change our way of thinking, we don’t want to change our thoughts from one sin to another sin – we need a different goal / focal point.  That’s Jesus.  Take your mind off the things of the world & put it on the things of God.  Put it upon the Lord Jesus Christ…repent toward Him.
  • Again, what happens if we don’t?  We perish.  That is the certain outcome for unrepentant people.  Those who remain in their sin without turning to Jesus in faith will surely face (deserved) eternal destruction.  But no one has to.  Jesus makes the offer quite clear.  “Unless you repent…”  That “unless” introduces what Greek grammarians call a third-class conditional statement – which basically means that what is said to happen in the future is likely, yet not set in stone.  As sinners, Jesus’ listeners (and everyone else) will perish…but there is one way out of it: through repentance.  A choice lay before them – one upon which their entire eternal future lay.
    • Is this a “turn or burn” sort of statement?  Yes, and without apology.  A cardiologist who sees a patient in need of a triple-bypass ought not to mince words when it comes to his health & diet.  Anything less than the absolute truth means death.  How much more in this case, when eternal death is in view?  Jesus doesn’t mince words, and neither should we.  Life and death is literally on the line: unless we repent & place our faith in Jesus, we will surely perish.
    • Don’t be offended by this statement; respond to it!
  • Just in case the people listening to Jesus didn’t quite understand His point, He made it again – this time, taking it from a different angle.  There were other events happening as national news in Judea, and Jesus used one of the other current headlines to make the same point.  Vs. 4…

4 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? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

  • It’s a similar idea here, except with a tragic accident, rather than a brutal murder.  If we really want to talk about “bad” things happening to “good” people (relatively speaking), then take out the factor of an evil dictator.  What about people who died in a random accident?  Apparently some well-known construction accident took place in Jerusalem, resulting in the death of 18 people.  Like the other incident, there’s no extra-biblical record of this, but these sorts of things were all too common.  Workplace accidents happen all the time today, and few (if any) are going to be remembered in the history books written about us.  It was no different in 33AD.  A tower fell, killing 18 innocents.  But of course the question becomes: were they really innocent?  Perhaps this was God’s retribution upon them, for some unknown sin they committed.  Maybe these 18 people were debtors against God, and this was God’s way of taking out His ultimate payment.
  • Sadly, this assumption is all-too-common among Christians, particularly in terms of natural disasters & other random accidents.  In response to an August 2009 tornado that hit Minneapolis (including damaging the steeple of a Lutheran church), John Piper claimed it to be a warning from God to a Lutheran conference discussing the issue of homosexuality. (http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2009/08/the_god-weather_controversy/ )  In response to the devastation caused to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2004, several Christian leaders (Dwight McKissic, Pat Robertson, Hal Linsdey, others) suggested that it was due in part to the wickedness of the city & America as a whole. (http://ejournals.library.vanderbilt.edu/index.php/vurj/article/viewFile/2750/1163 )  Names are not mentioned in order to condemn (all of us have said things we regret!), but to point out that it’s not always the extremists that fall into this sort of theological error.  Any one of us is susceptible to this line of thinking, that those who experience tragedy somehow deserve it.  In our attempt to make some sense of the suffering, we try to justify God by claiming it was His direct action of His righteous judgment.  When we do, we often go wrong.
    • Keep in mind that God doesn’t need us to defend Him.  He is perfectly capable of handling Himself.  In fact, in the book of Job, when Job finally receives an answer from God, God spends four chapters handling Himself, to which Job repented in dust & ashes.  Interestingly, God never defended what happened to Job, nor ever told him how Satan was the one who attacked him.  What He does do is remind Job of His infinite power, wisdom, and sovereignty over the world.  What Job needed was not a defense of God, but a revelation of God…and that’s often what we need as well.  When answering the tragedies of the world, we don’t need to try to justify God to people; we need to show God to people.  We proclaim Jesus to them.  The combination of the gospel of Christ with practical demonstration of the love of Christ is a powerful witness indeed!
  • Question: Does America deserve judgment?  Absolutely!  Is it possible that God could have been sending some of His judgment during these tragedies?  Certainly…but it is not our place to say, for there is no way to know.  It’s far more likely that these were random tragedies due to a fallen creation brought on by Adam’s sin, than they were specific acts of judgment by God.  After all, for all of the unrepentant sinners in New Orleans during Katrina, how many born-again Christians were also there?  Far be it from God to slay the righteous with the wicked – shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen 18:25)  For all the natural disasters that come upon the unrepentant sinners of the earth, what about the disasters that visit born-again believers?  If a tornado in Minneapolis, MN was the wrath of God, what about the tornado in Canton, TX?  This kind of reasoning takes to some pretty dark places, in which all of a sudden we’re attributing evil to the heart & character of God.  We ought to be very careful in describing God’s wrath!
  • So what do we know about the wrath of God?  We know that all people deserve it – which was Jesus’ point in both examples.  The men killed by Pilate were no worse than any other sinner in Galilee.  The men killed by the tower were no greater debtors to God than anyone else in Jerusalem.  All have sinned – none are righteous, no not one. (Rom 3:10)  Thus, there is still only one hope: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  The moral remains the same & Jesus repeated His words from verse 3 in verse 5.  Unless people repented, they too would perish.  Truly, repentance & faith is our only hope!

So now what?  Like the skilled teacher that He is, Jesus took the opportunity to tell a story to further illustrate His point.  He’s addressed the news from a factual perspective – now He engages the imagination to help bring it home.  Why was repentance so necessary?  (1) Because the people were truly lost, and (2) their judgment was at hand.

  • Parable of the barren tree: one last chance (6-9)

6 He 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. 7 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?’

  • Luke specifically calls this a “parable,” and it is.  But because he does, it is well worth reminding that with a parable, we are to look for the main idea.  We should not try to match up every character or action with a corresponding symbolic interpretation – if we do, we’ll probably end up with poor theology & miss the main point.  That’s not to say there’s no symbolism (there is!) – we just want to be careful to see the right symbols in their proper context.
  • The first thing we see is “a fig tree.”  Granted, our English translations begin with the man, which is necessary for grammatical convention, but the Greek starts with the fig tree.  That by itself would stand out to the Jews, but the fact that it was “planted” in a “vineyard” would stand out even more.  Keep in mind we have to hear the parable through Jewish ears from the perspective of Jesus’ original Jewish audience.  To them, the first thing they would have thought of was their own Jewish nation.  The fig tree was a common picture of Israel throughout OT prophecy (Hab 3:17, Hos 9:10), and Israel was famously described as a vineyard of God, one especially cared for by Him (Isa 5:1-7).  Thus when the people around Jesus heard Him open His parable, the symbolism would have been obvious.  They would have immediately known that He spoke of them & their nation.
  • But there was a problem with the fig tree: it was barren.  The vineyard owner came on his inspection and routinely found the tree without fruit.  For “three years,” the owner expected to find fruit on the tree, but never did.  By this point, he saw it as basically dead and a waste of the ground.  It ought to be uprooted, probably for another tree to take its place.  When the vineyard owner said to “cut it down,” that’s what he meant.  He wanted an axe taken to the tree for it to be destroyed.
    • That’s a pretty sobering wake-up call for the Jews who were listening to Jesus!  Their nation was barren – there was no fruit on it that God desired to see among His people.  There was a lack of righteousness, despite the teaching of legalism among the Pharisees.  There was a lack of faith, evidenced by their rejection of Jesus.  Their nation had been weighed & found wanting, and the time was soon approaching that they would be cut down.
    • What they needed was fruit – and they needed it quick!  Yet how is fruit produced?  A tree needs to draw on a source of life.  To the disciples, Jesus would teach how He is the grapevine & they are the branches – the branches cannot bear fruit apart from the vine. (Jn 15:4-5)  Paul wrote of the fruit of the Spirit, produced in the lives of those who walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-23)  IOW, fruit comes from God. Unless someone has a real relationship with the real God, there isn’t going to be any fruit in his/her life.  Fruit can’t be faked.  You can pick up a plastic table decoration that looks like fruit – and it can look incredibly accurate, even down to how it feels in your hand.  But the minute you try to bite into it, you know the difference.  Real fruit can’t be faked.  Spiritually speaking, it’s no different.  Either God produces the fruit in our lives, or we don’t have it.  Outwardly, the Jews listening to Jesus looked like the people of God, but they lacked fruit & thus faced destruction.  Many church-going people today find themselves in a similar situation.  Outwardly, they look like Christians, even able to quote Bible verses with correct theology.  Newsflash: the devil can quote Bible verses & teach theology with the best of them…but he’s still not saved.  We need fruit, which means we need to be connected to Jesus by faith.  When we’re surrendered to Him, He’s the one who produces fruit in our lives.
  • Just a couple of asides: (1) That a fig tree would be planted in a grape vineyard was not unusual.  Even the ancient Egyptians planted various fruit trees among their grapes, as the grapes apparently took on some of the bouquet of the neighboring plants.  (2) Be careful not to place too much stock in the “three years” of inspection.  Although it’s true that Jesus did minister among the Jews for approximately three years before going to the cross, that’s not really the main point.  Agriculturally, it would not have been unusual for the farmer to expect a tree to bear fruit after a period of a few years – that’s probably all that’s really in view here.
  • So the instruction has been given to the vineyard keeper, but he has a suggestion for his employer: give the tree one more chance.  Vs. 8…

8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ”

  • The keeper suggested one more year for the tree (bringing it to 4 years total, which is another reason not to put too much stock in a 3-year symbolism), and during that year he would give the tree every advantage possible for growth.  He’d break up the hard ground around it, put in manure for fertilizer, and basically take extra-good care of the tree.  If that didn’t do it, nothing would.  The test?  Whether or not it bore fruit.  If so, great – if not, so be it.  The destruction of the tree would be deserved.
  • What was the lesson for the Jews listening to Jesus?  They weren’t bearing fruit, and there wasn’t much time left.  Whether they would face destruction by the hand of Pilate, by a random accident, or simply because their time was up – they would soon be judged by God.  What was their only hope to avoid destruction?  Change.  They needed repent from their sins – they needed to bear fruit.
    • The lesson isn’t just for the ancient Jews of Galilee.  It’s also for us.  What fruit is there from Jesus in your life?  Keep in mind this isn’t a comparison.  We may not be satisfied with the amount of fruit in our lives, but if there’s at least some fruit, that’s a good thing.  The problem comes when there’s no fruit.
    • If there’s no fruit, there’s no Jesus.  If there’s no Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how long you’ve attended church or how many times you raised your hand at an altar call.  What’s necessary for a person to be saved is for Jesus to save them, and that only happens through repentance and faith.  It happens through surrender.  You surrender your sin to the Lord, asking His forgiveness – and you surrender yourself to the Lord, entrusting yourself to Jesus alone.

Conclusion:
What’s the lesson from tragedy?  No one person may deserve it more than another, but we all deserve the same end result.  We all deserve death & judgment.  We have but one hope: the Lord Jesus Christ.  And how do we access that hope?  Repentance.  We must turn away from our sins, turn to Jesus Christ in faith, submitting our lives to Him for Him to produce fruit within us.  Unless we repent, we will surely perish…thankfully, the opportunity for repentance is open to all.

Have you taken it?  If so, are you walking in it?  Again, repentance may start with regret, but it doesn’t end there.  A change takes place, which means there is something that lasts.  Many people feel sorry for the moment, but not sorry enough to truly surrender their lives to Jesus.  Even born-again Christians sometimes hold something back.  We’ll surrender all of our lives to the Lord…all except this one part.  This (whatever it is), we hold back to ourselves, promising that we’ll address it at some point later down the road.  The problem is, later never comes.  Meanwhile our hearts grow calloused & soon we no longer recognize that we have a problem, always making excuses for our actions.

That’s no way for a born-again Christian to act – and if we find ourselves at that point, we probably need to ask ourselves some hard questions.  That sort of realization ought to be a wake-up call to humble ourselves before the Lord, and surrender ourselves anew to Jesus.  We might find that we’re actually surrendering ourselves for the first time.

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