Luke12v54to13v9: REPENT OR PERISH

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke12v54to13v9

The teaching of Jesus in this passage can be applied at different levels. It is probable Jesus was addressing his remarks to the Jewish people and referring to God's imminent judgement. But today we can apply Jesus' words to nations, organisations, churches and individuals.

(B) Seeing correctly. See Luke12v54to57.

In human affairs there are often signs that something significant is happening or about to happen. For example, there are signs for discerning that 2 people are in love or that a marriage is in trouble. Sometimes we observe the signs, interpret them correctly and act accordingly. So a wise Head of Department will notice that a colleague is out of his depth in the classroom. He will take the floundering teacher aside and show him ways to improve or even advise a change of career. One other occasions we may ignore the signs that something is wrong - especially if we don't want to face up to what they imply. A man with the symptoms of prostrate cancer may put off going to his doctor because he cannot face being told the bad news.

(1) Jesus give the Jews credit for reading the weather signs: "You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky." v56. The Jews probably also thought they could predict the future of the Roman Empire. Surely God would judge Rome for its superstition, sexual immorality and cruelty.

(2) Sadly few Jewish pundits read the signs of the times so far as their own future was concerned. Jesus told them: "How is it that you don't know how to interpret the present time?" v56. The experts were blind to:

    (a) The fact that the Messiah had come and the kingdom of God was amongst them. Matthew records what Jesus said on another occasion when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for a sign that he was the Messiah. Once again the Master referred to meteorological phenomena - the red sky at night and the red sky in the morning - which the Jews used to successfully predict the coming weather. He again lamented their inability to interpret the signs of the times. Jesus warned his critics that the only sign they would be given was the sign of Jonah. Mt16v1to4.

    I agree with Professor William Barclay who in his commentary on Matthew's gospel writes: The point is that to the Ninevites Jonah himself was God's sign and Jonah's words were God's message. Jesus is saying, "You are asking for a sign - I am God's sign. The Jews failed to recognise the Messiah in the person, teaching and miracles of Jesus.

    The truth of Christianity is still entirely dependent upon the life and work of Jesus. He, himself, is all the evidence men and women need to believe or disbelieve.

    (b) The inevitable consequences of their fierce, nationalistic pride. It is highly significant that Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah because that strange little book was written to highlight God's extreme disapproval of such nationalism. Jonah was so pro-Jew and anti-Gentile that he didn't want to go to Nineveh to proclaim God's message. The story of the reluctant prophet and the outcome of his uncompromising message to the Ninevites condemn nationalism and shows that God cares for Gentiles as well as Jews.

    Jesus knew that the Jews militant and objectionable pride in being God's elect would end in disaster. The storm clouds were gathering. In the end the Romans would be provoked once too often and would destroy the Temple of Jerusalem - the very heartbeat of Judaism - and displace the Jews from their beloved country.

(3) All of us have a tendency to see only what we want to see and to be blind to signs of imminent disaster. This is true:

    (a) At national level. In the 1930's very few politicians in Britain were prepared to face up to the threat of Nazism in Germany. The signs were all there but Winston Churchill was something of a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Recently governments in the West were caught out by the disastrous banking collapse. There was plenty of evidence that this was inevitable but none of the pundits forecast it!!

    (b) For organisations. It is possible for organisations to lose their way without realising it. Charities lose sight of their goals and become an end in themselves. More and more money is spent on publicity and administration. Jesus had to say of the church at Ephesus: "Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love .... . Repent and do the things you did at first." Rev2v4and5.

    (c) Of individuals. Christians can be like Ephraim of old of whom Hosea wrote: Gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not. Hos6v9. There are plenty of signs that we are growing old; that life is passing us by; that death is approaching. It is foolish to be morbid but it is as well to be prepared to meet our God.

Jesus urges us to take responsability for our decisions. It is foolish just to drift along - putting things off - hoping for the best. Jesus asks: "Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right?" v57. And act appropriately!!

(C) Settle out of court. See Lk12vs58and59.

(1) The picture.

Jesus told his hearers to imagine that they had wronged someone. Perhaps, they owed a business associate money or were being sued for compensation over bad work. In such circumstances said Jesus: "As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way .... ." v58. In other words, if you have a poor case settle out of court. Try and do a deal. Agree to pay off your debt in instalments. Reach a compromise on payment for compensation. If your case is bad you will be sure to lose it in court and the consequences will be severe - imprisonment until you have paid the debt to the last penny.

(2) Time running out for the Jews.

The Jews narrow legalism offended God. Jesus said: "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God." Lk11v42. They needed to repent and sue for peace with God. Their need for reconciliation with God was urgent. If they carried on in their complacent, self-satisfied, stiff-necked and arrogant fashion they would eventually pay to the last penny.

The Jewish leaders were left in no doubt what God's will for them was. Jesus told them: "The work of God is this; to believe in the one he has sent" John6v29. That was the only way the Jews could be reconciled to God and absolved from the debt they owed him.

(3) Jesus' warning is true on many levels.

    (a) Nations need to repent. Prophets called for national repentance throughout the history of Israel and Judah. God threatened to bring judgment upon Judah because of the idolatry of the people. Archaeological digs show that before the exile to Babylon idols were widespread throughout Judah. See 2Chron36v14: Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the LORD, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. After the return of the Jews from exile they never again embraced idolatry.

    Britain needs to repent of its godlessness. There are many signs that we are becoming spiritually bankrupt: the proliferation of rules and regulations, endemic greed - the big bonus culture and profiteering public utilities, lack of commitment in marriage, to parents and neighbours, rampant secularism - the growing antagonism to Christianity and the persecution of individual Christians. In the words of Hosea: They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. Hos8v7.

    Nations can repent! Philip Yancey in an essay on the great leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, writes: Many historians point to one event as the single moment in which the movement attained at last a critical mass of support for the cause of civil rights. ABC television interrupted its Sunday movie, 'Judgment at Nurenberg,' to show mounted Alabama policemen beating unarmed black demonstrators on a bridge outside Selma. A white crowd whooped and cheered as the police shot tear gas into the panic stricken protestors. What the viewers saw bore a horrifying resemblance to the Nazi atrocities they had been watching. Eight days later President Lyndon Johnson submitted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the US Congress.

    One of the great differences between Germany and Japan in their reaction to the Second World War is that Germany has been willing to confront its past and repent of it misdeeds.

    (b) Religious denominations and churches need to repent. It is clear from the letters written to the angels or messengers of the seven churches in Revelation that churches need to repent. The fellowship at Laodicea was lukewarm in its allegiance - neither hot nor cold. The church considered itself rich but Jesus said it was wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Rev3v17. He urges the Laodiceans: So be in earnest, and repent. Rev3v19.

    Paul spent much of his first epistle to the Corinthians warning them to repent of their arrogant attitude and liberal, permissive ways. He accused them of being mere infants in Christ (1Cor3v1) - far removed from the high opinion they had of themselves. (See exposition on 1Corinthians3v1to9.)

    There are churches very similar to the one in Corinth that Paul wrote to. Several Episcopalian churches in the U.S.A are arrogant, liberal and permissive. Their claim to a kind of loving 'super spirituality' is far removed from the truth. Other churches in the States are legalistic or obsessed with their size and wealth. I think my own small association of Grace Baptist Churches here in England should repent of its pride in being doctrinally sound and its exclusiveness. It is sad when a love of doctrine replaces a love for Christ. The Roman Catholic Church should repent of its attitude to laymen - one it shares with the scribes and Pharisees who questioned Jesus' authority to teach. Jesus was a layman!! I am sure that in the Roman Catholic Church there are many laymen with an aptitude for preaching who are denied the opportunity to use their gift of the Spirit. Why is that so many Christian intellectuals forget that Jesus was a carpenter!

    (c) Individuals need to sue for mercy. Men and women need to be reconciled to God before it is too late. Everyone must repent of their attitude to God. We might dislike his interest in us, be ungrateful of his goodness to us, be indifferent to his will, forgetful of his existence and desire to keep him at a distance. These mindsets are symptomatic of a really poor relationship with God. We would find it hurtful if we had a son who wanted nothing to do with us - who scarcely gave us a thought - or, if he did, did so with distaste!

    Sinners need to repent of their coldness towards God and throw themselves on his mercy and grace before it is too late. If we tough it out we shall pay for our non-existent relationship with God - it will remain that way for ever!

(D) Suffer the consequences See Lk13v1to5.

These verses are not easy to interpret and it is likely that they convey a far from comforting message.

(1) It is probable that some in the crowd implied that a group of Galileans got what they deserved when they were cut to pieces by Pilate's troops in the Temple. We can only guess at the circumstances. Perhaps the Galileans in question were a fanatical band of freedom fighters who met in the Temple to offer sacrifices by way of securing God's blessing on their intention to kill as many Roman legionnaires as possible. On being informed by his intelligence network Pilate sent in an assassination squad to deal with yet another Jewish terrorist threat.

Jesus stated that the butchered Galileans were no more deserving of death than the vast majority of their countrymen who would turn on the Romans if they thought there was half a chance of driving them out of Palestine.

Jesus draws our attention to the imperfection of the justice system. Only a few get punished for their misdemeanours. Lots and lots of people get away with breaking the law. It is manifestly unfair that a few get caught speeding and are fined, or lose their licence, whereas the majority go undetected and unpunished.

(2) Jesus then referred to another tragedy that occurred in Jerusalem when a tower collapsed and killed eighteen. This is what insurance companies today would call 'an act of God'. Jesus made it clear that the people who died no more deserved this fate than anyone else who lived in the city.

This is something we need to remember when people are killed by natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, lightning, avalanches, tidal waves and disease.

(3) Jesus concluded by saying something very frightening: "I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." Lk13v5.

Jesus infers that there is behaviour that results in calamity for ALL. Once again this is true for:

    (a) Nations and organisations. There have been times that a whole people suffer the judgment of God. This was true when God flooded Noah's world, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, sent the Angel of Death through the land of Egypt and allowed the Israelites in the time of Joshua to put the Canaanites to the sword. When Israel, corrupted by years and years of idolatry, was conquered by the Assyrians the ten tribes were lost. They never returned to the Promised Land. In AD 70 the Jews rebelled against Rome once too often and they lost their Temple and their country.

    Christian causes can perish if they depart too drastically from the truth revealed in Christ. The Ebionites were a Jewish offshoot of Christianity. They accepted that Jesus was the Messiah but not the Son of God. They did not believe that Jesus set them free from the Law of Moses. The Ebionites followed in the tradition of the legalistic Judaisers sent from James from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch in the time of Paul. (See my exposition on Acts15v1to5) By the end of the 4th Century this Jewish Christian sect disappeared. Through the centuries many deviant 'Christian' groups have come and gone.

    (b) Individuals. Jesus words are probably only literally true of individuals who reject him. The inevitable consequence of rejecting Jesus is spelt out plainly in John's gospel: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. John3v35.

(E) Second Chance.

(1) A familiar scene.

A landowner planted a fig tree in a corner of his vineyard. No fruit was expected of the tree for the first three or four years. However, there were no figs forthcoming in years 5, 6 and 7 either. The owner was understandably annoyed. He had planted the fig tree to bear fruit. He was perfectly justified in saying: "Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?" v7. But at the instigation of the manager of the vineyard the fig was given another chance. The barren tree would be given a liberal dose of fertiliser in the hope of stimulating fruit production. If this failed then the fig would be cut down.

(2) A picture of God's dealing with the Jews.

God looked to his privileged people to bear fruit - justice, mercy and faithfulness. Mt23v23. But in the opinion of Jesus there was not much of this in evidence among the Jewish elite. The Jews were given every chance to repent and please God. In quick succession they were blessed with the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus himself. But it made no significant difference to them and so God finally destroyed the Jewish State and it remained destroyed for nearly 2000 years.

(3) A picture of God's dealing with individual churches.

God expects churches to fulfil his purpose to:

    (a) Teach the truth about Jesus.
    (b) Do good works.
    (c) Build believers up in the faith - helping them to grow in knowledge and in grace.
    (d) Be united in love for Jesus and one another.
    (e) Bear with the weak.
    (f) Glorify and praise his name.
    (g) Reach out to the lost.
    (h) Support mission.
    (i) Pray without ceasing.

If churches fail to accomplish God's purpose they may receive a second chance. They may be renewed during revival, receive an influx of new dynamic believers or have a change of leadership. Nonetheless a church that is unfruitful over a long period will finally perish. For the last 50 years all over my beloved county of Suffolk one church after another has closed.

(4) A picture of God's dealing with individuals.

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Mt25v31to46 highlights a Christian's responsibility to feed the hungry, show hospitality to the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. If we don't God will say: "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Mt25v41. See a more imaginative exposition on the Barren Fig Tree.