Living Repentance

Text: Luke 13:1-9
Date: Lent III + 3/3/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, for He is God’s last-ditch effort to preserve the world, to preserve us from judgment and utter destruction. When He came into our flesh and world He knew, from beginning to end, that the purpose of His coming was to fight the battle with the ancestral sin that has separated the whole world from God and made the punishment of death a reality for everyone and every thing. The King’s victory in that battle, however, could and would be only through taking death into Himself, letting it gorge its appetite on His body and blood, only to discover His holiness and glory too great for death, bursting death’s belly and freeing creation to new, restored life, all sin being taken away.

Jesus knew what lay in store for Him, the climactic battle, suffering and death on a cross. He knew that the problem is sin. Thank God the Third Sunday in Lent has come along with its call to repentance because the world has forgotten, if it ever knew, and we forget that the main problem is sin.

Sin. We either ignore it or try to redefine it. For sin is disobedience, transgression of God’s Law, deserving of His righteous punishment. But what do we see in our day? Actual, serious discussion in the highest levels of government over whether homosexuals should have a so-called “right” to marriage, forget the idea that homosexuality itself is sin and transgression of God’s Law. But what do we see? Forty years of legalized abortion on one end of life and laws establishing the so-called right to die, euthanasia or mercy killing on the other. But what do we see? Shall we recount St. Paul’s list? “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:28-32). Yes, that’s the ticket! The best way to make something that used to be considered a sin to be not sin anymore—bring it out in the open, give approval in public.

We can ignore sin merely by pointing our finger at others as we just did talking about “they were filled,” “they are full,” “they are gossips,” “they know God’s decree.” But what about us?

There is no clear non-Biblical commentary about the incident St. Luke mentions when Pontius Pilate slaughtered some Galileans who were making the Passover sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple. There was no Associated Press and no instant internet bloggers. Yet everyone knew that it happened, that’s not the question. The same with “the twin towers” of Siloam! But why did it happen? Yet when we ask Jesus about it He turns the table on us. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” “Well, maybe,” we say. “Isn’t that how God works—little or not-so-little paybacks for the bad things we have done?” Hey! A lot of people think that’s how God works, if God works at all! But Jesus answers, “No, I tell you.” And then He turns the table, turns the camera to focus on us, saying, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

At those words our defense shields immediately deploy. For we thought we have pretty successfully hidden our sin, from God if not from everyone else.

But the issue is not a little punishment for this or that sin, and especially because you should know you can’t hide any of it from God anyway. No, Jesus’ point is not really about why bad stuff happens to good people.

But you need to know, understand and believe what sin is before you can ever or will ever turn to Christ for forgiveness. “Turn” is the word. That’s what “repent” means. Not just a little turn to the right or left but a complete turn around. The classic definition of repentance is two-fold. First, contrition or sorrow over sin, or, more precisely, over what sin has done to your relationship with God, with His world, with your own life. Then repentance still hasn’t happened until, after contrition, agreeing with God’s condemning Word, faith happens, namely, having despaired of your own work or worthiness, turning in faith to Jesus. His death and resurrection is the only answer, the only hope, for the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. When God looks at the one who, in repentance, has faith in Jesus, God no longer sees the sinner but a son or daughter redeemed by Christ the crucified.

As I said, it is not only the fallen world that denies sin, but even we who have been rescued and planted in God’s vineyard, the Church. That’s what Jesus’ little parable is about. God looks not for good works but for the fruit of repentance, contrition and faith. When He finds none the word of judgment looms again: “Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? take up more room?”

Fortunately, until the Last Day, the vinedresser, our Savior, begs one more chance for us. He still comes to people in His Word in hopes of producing true repentance and saving faith in us again. Nevertheless, there remains the threat. In a wonderfully incomplete sentence in the Greek, the vinedresser says, “Then if it should bear fruit next year….” And that’s where we are. In the silence of an incomplete sentence waiting for us to say, “I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”

Upon that, your confession, and every time you agree out loud with God’s Law, the grace of God finds an opening and you receive again the forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit.