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03.24.19 Luke 13.1-9 Repenting of Repentance Sermon Summary

by on March 25, 2019

Jesus’ preaching had taken an edge and was making people uncomfortable. Their responses were rather typical (see Luke 11-12). After one dinner, the religious leaders began to “cross-examine” Jesus, looking for a loophole in the rules. They forgot that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

Later someone in the ever-increasing crowd interrupted Jesus to settle a dispute with a family member. When Jesus’ teaching puts in the spotlight, we shift attention to someone else. But Jesus tries to get his disciples back on track. He tells them to be watchful, as if you knew a burglar was coming tonight to rob your house. Then one of the disciples expressed their discomfort. Peter asked, “Are you saying this to us or to others? Because the rules don’t apply to us insiders, do they?”

We can argue with Jesus like the Pharisees, lawyers, and teachers. We can try to distract him like the guy in the crowd. We can think his teachings don’t apply to us like Peter. But Jesus keeps pushing, keeps making us uncomfortable, keeps calling us to repent.

Do you know anyone who likes being told to repent? It implies there’s something wrong with us, that we’ve been making bad decisions, that we need to change. “Who are you to tell me to repent?!” is the typical response.

So still trying to justify themselves, to get themselves off the hook, some hometown buddies ask Jesus, “Did you hear about our fellow Galileans, and what happened to them in Jerusalem?” Apparently the Roman governor Pilate had slaughtered some Galileans as they worshiped in Jerusalem—not unlike what we saw in Christchurch, NZ last week.

Jesus saw the question for what it was. “Oh, we may have some work to do in our lives,” they were saying, “but those other Galileans must have been really bad!”

“Really . . .” Jesus muses. “Well don’t forget the eighteen who died in that freak accident when the tower fell on them.”

“Yeah, those guys must have done something really bad, too.”

“Well,” Jesus closes, “all those unfortunate people were no worse than any of you. And if you don’t repent, you’ll perish the same way.”

Wait, what is going on here?!  Is Jesus threatening us with an angry God? Is God just waiting to condemn us? We’d better repent before our luck runs out? Just thirty-one verses earlier Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

What is Jesus’ ultimate message? Is it God is a loving parent eager to provide for our needs? Or is it God is a condemning judge barely restraining himself from annihilating us? Can it be both?

In his letter to the 1 Corinthians, Paul also reminds us that the whole clan of ancient Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they were led out by the cloud, they ate heavenly food, they drank spiritual water. All of them were under the grace of deliverance. But their desires turned evil and they committed idolatry. So most of them died in the wilderness.

Paul’s reason for this reminder? “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

Judgment is real. There are consequences to our decisions and actions. Jesus is right to call us to repentance. Paul is right to use the fallen to encourage us to remain standing. But is this the best way to think about repentance? Is Lent really about fearing God for our lives? When Jesus calls us to repent is he calling us to fear God?

“Repentance” comes from the Hebrew word to turn around, and the Greek word to change your thinking. When you think differently, you act differently. Are Jesus and Paul calling us to think about God as an angry judge and then to act accordingly?

Before Jesus and Paul, there were David and Isaiah. It is said David wrote Psalm 63, the first verse of which is, “My soul thirsts for you as in a dry and weary land where there is not water.” And Isaiah replies on behalf of God, “Everyone who thirsts, come the waters. You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

We tend to think that our repentance changes God’s thinking and turns God’s attitude around from one of angry judge to loving father. But repentance is about changing our thinking and turning us around from fleeing a God of wrath to returning to a God of grace.

Jesus speaks of judgment only because he is convinced of grace. Paul speaks of trials only because he is convinced of deliverance. If repentance means to change one’s thinking and then one’s actions, then let me suggest that we need to repent of repentance. We need to think differently about repentance.

We have learned to think that repentance changes God from wrathful to benevolent. In reality it changes you from being fearful to being grateful. When we think about repentance, that “others need it, not me,” Jesus teaches that others need it, but so do you. When we respond that, “there are worse sinners than I who need it more,” Jesus responds that we need it as much as anyone does.

And if we think about repentance that, “I’ll suffer less if I do it,” the Bible teaches that suffering is part of life, but we don’t suffer alone. We’re not in solitary confinement as punishment for our sins. We suffer, just like everyone else, but God suffers with us.

Isaiah assures us, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Jesus ends his warnings with a parable about a man who owns a fig tree. After three years of barrenness he wants to cut it down. But the gardener pleads to work with the tree one more year. Jesus’ point? Return to being a fig tree. Let the gardener come to you. Let him dig around your life. Then see what fruit you can bear.

This Lent, let us repent of repentance. Let us return to God. For the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

Hear in the words of Isaiah an invitation to the Lord’s Table: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Hear David invite us: My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.

So let us delight in God’s gift of real bread and rich food. May our souls be satisfied and let us praise God with joyful lips. Then as beloved children of God, let’s change our thinking about repentance. Let’s repent of repentance. Let’s turn from our ways of sin and fear, and turn towards the God of holiness and love. And by the light that shines through us, may others be drawn to the light of Christ. Amen.

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