Repent or Perish

 (Luke 13:1-9)

Repent or perish. Really nothing more needs to be said, Jesus words are pretty clear. Our problem is we don't take this warning of Jesus very seriously or we just don't understand what it means.

How many people do we know, perhaps in our own families, that have the attitude I will get my spiritual house in order when I get closer to death.

It's amazing to me how people think they actually control their lives and control when they're going to die. How arrogant and foolish such thinking is.

How many people are living today or have died, and because of this arrogance and foolishness are subject to endless condemnation. (Article XII, BOD) It's a hard thing to think about, isn't it?

My guess is we all know people that insist on going their own way instead of going God's way, and we fear for their life; not only their life here in this world but their eternal life. And sadly, truth be told, we live with some of these people.

Now Jesus' call for repentance isn't an easy one for us to hear, but it's a call we must take seriously. It's a life-changing call. It's a life-saving call.

So what exactly is repentance?

Well strictly defined repentance means the act of expressing remorse and sorrow for our sin. But true repentance is more than words, it begins with faith. Now to have faith is to trust, and this means to trust God instead of ourselves, meaning we are to trust God as we know God in Jesus Christ instead of any person, power, or possession.

Faith requires our recognition of the reality of sin in our lives and our helplessness to free ourselves from it. And when by God's grace we become aware of the sin that separates us from God and from others, we grieve and desire a change in our lives. So this is repentance - sorrow for sin and turning our lives around. Repentance is doing an "about-face"; it's ceasing to go in one direction and turning to go in another.

Repentance is an essential part of the larger experience we often speak of as conversion. Conversion is a process of transformation through which we become the people God intends us to be.

Now we must be careful to not limit repentance and conversion to any one specific occasion in our life. Different people experience conversion in different ways. For some, there's a moment of change so powerful, that they can describe and date the event. For others, conversion is much more gradual, more of a process that over time recognizes God's work in their lives.

As the church we tend to emphasize repentance and conversion during the season of Lent and to some extent during advent, but repentance and conversion are not a one time event or a seasonal event, it's an ongoing process throughout our lives. It's a process of discipleship with emphasis placed on knowing God, loving God, and serving God.

You see as we grow in faith and trust God in Christ more deeply, we develop a greater awareness of more things in our lives that demand repentance. So our process of conversion needs to involve constant and conscious turning away from sin and turning toward God.

Often times we associate repentance, and the need to repent, with those "other folks", you know those people outside the community of faith, those who seem to have no faith, those who have chosen a path counter to God's, those who refuse to go to church, you know those "bad" people.

But Jesus warns us against this arrogance that presumes all those on the inside of the movement, all those who call themselves Christian, are morally and spiritually better than those outside it. Throughout history some of the most prolific sinners have been those who professed to be the most righteous! And I dare say there are many Christians today that sin with the best of sinners.

Let's consider what Jesus was telling the crowd that gathered around him. As we heard read the crowd raised concern about the killing of the Galileans. And Jesus responds to the specific questions about the meaning of this violent incident with a call for repentance.

Now we need to remain aware that the Deuteronomic law's had a tendency to equate suffering with guilt, and it was this understanding that was on the minds of the folks in the crowd. So the crowd was assuming that those who were killed were sinners. Well Jesus reminds his listeners that the Galileans who were killed were no worse sinners than those standing before him were.

In reality the Galileans weren't killed because they were sinners; they were killed, presumably by Pilate, because they may have been rebelling against Rome. Their sin had nothing to do with their death.

Now Jesus, in an action that no doubt shocked the crowd, issues a direct ultimatum to all those present: "Unless you repent, you will perish as they did." (Luke 13:3) Jesus continues to drive home his message of repentance by recalling the tragedy of the tower of Siloam falling and killing 18 people. Again he reminds the crowd that those who were killed were much like them, no worse and no better. And then Jesus intensifies his ultimatum by calling one more time for repentance. Do you think Jesus was trying to make a point here?

I'm sure all of us are familiar with horrifying tragedies, either by experiencing them directly or by experiencing them indirectly through the television or radio. And all of us no doubt question why some people die and why others are spared, is their some rationale behind all of this. The answer is no.

What we need to be reminded of is that Jesus continual command to repent is of great importance to us as individuals and to the church. Jesus warns against presuming that bad things only happen to bad people. All people are in need of repentance, and no one should presume herself or himself to be above needing repentance. This arrogance will lead to an unpleasant time at final judgment.

Now Jesus' message is one of continuous heartfelt repentance, but it's also a message of hope. Death (meaning eternal death) is not inevitable; it can be avoided through sincere repentance. You see Jesus uses the word "unless" in his warning, and this word packs a powerful punch. The phrase spoken by Jesus reads "unless you repent, you too will perish."

This small word, "unless," provides hope in an otherwise bleak pronouncement. You see repentance will lead to a restored relationship with God, a relationship that trusts God in the midst of tragedies in this world, a relationship that trusts God is the loving Father even when tragedy strikes, that God in Jesus suffers with us, and that God is somehow guiding history to its end in the Kingdom of God. Simply stated, repentance, surrounded by a life of faith in Jesus Christ, will, by the grace of God, lead to eternal life.

In our scripture reading this morning Jesus renews the message of John the Baptist, which calls for inward repentance that leads to a change in our outward behavior. (Luke 3:3) Like John, Jesus warns that failure to change one's heart and behavior will lead to destruction, and this destruction is imminent. (Luke 3:9)

Repentance is critical, now more than ever because in Jesus, God's reign is coming ever closer. In a blink of an eye this world could come to an end. Those in right relationship with God will be saved for eternity; those who aren't will be separated from God for eternity. I can't be any clearer than that.

Then to further make his point, Jesus tells the gathered crowd a parable. A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came hoping to find fruit on the tree. But for the third year in a row the tree was without fruit.

The man angrily explains the situation to his gardener, and then he commands the gardener, "look I've had it, just cut down the tree." But rather then cut it down, the gardener asks for one more year.

In that time the gardener promises to cultivate around the tree and fertilize it. He hopes that with all this work the tree might bear fruit. Then after the allotted time, if the tree doesn't bear fruit the gardener promises to cut it down.

Through this parable Jesus explains the urgency of the situation we're confronted with. The harvester has come and has found the people unrepentant and unready. Although the people have had more than enough time to repent and bear fruit for the Kingdom no good has come from them.

But rather than simply cutting people off, the gardener, namely Jesus, has asked for one more chance. Jesus is alerting the people to the urgency of the situation. "Look! The time is drawing near and you're not ready. Repentance is necessary, and there's no room for hesitation, and I'm giving you another chance."

We need to understand that we're living in the "in between times" meaning the time after Jesus' resurrection and his second coming. This "in between time" has a limit, so we shouldn't presume that there's plenty of time left prior to repenting, nor should we presume we know when the actual end of time will come.

The end will not come capriciously (randomly, erratically) so Jesus calls us to repent now and live in a way that will proclaim the kingdom until it comes in all its fullness.

This emphasis on the end of times and final judgment isn't spoken of enough in the church, so as a result we become complacent to the truth that the end will and actually could come at any moment, and that we need to be prepared for it at all times.

But again, Jesus words are very clear, "unless you repent, you will perish as they did." There's an urgency surrounding this proclamation. Jesus isn't messing around; he's laying it all out for us, and he's giving us a second chance. But we need to understand that at some point the second chances will run out.

The truth is all people are indebted to God and are in need of a continual life change. "Once saved always saved" is wrong theology, and hoping for a death bed conversion is wishful thinking at best.

Notice there's an immediacy and urgency in Jesus words that are often neglected. Unfortunately two thousand years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the imminence of Christ's second coming has all but faded away in the minds of many Christians. Folks just don't care, or they don't really understand the importance of repentance to their life. Yet the call for repentance should ring as true today as it did when it was first spoken.

Just as John the Baptist came proclaiming the need for repentance, Jesus renewed this call to those around him and to those of us who have come later. The kingdom of heaven has drawn near in the person of Jesus, and is steadily drawing closer.

One day the harvester will come to check and see if his people have borne good fruit, at which time those who have not will be cut down. Jesus provides the warning, and his people, all of us, would do well to heed it. Bluntly put, those who reject Christ will be cut off from him for eternity.

Now please hear me, repentance through faith is necessary for salvation, and the amount of time left between now and Christ's return is becoming less and less, the Day of Judgment is coming, so repent, turn back to God in Jesus Christ.

Resources, in addition to the Holy Bible, used to inspire or used in part in the preparation of this message: By Water And The Spirit, Gayle Carlton Felton Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit, Paul Chilcote The Pastor's Bible Study, Vol. 3, Abingdon Press

Read other messages by Pastor Wade