“Headlines from the Past” (John MacDiarmid)

Sermon preached at Poole Christian Fellowship on 2 March 2013

Reference: Luke 13 v 1-9

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Jesus is asked about a headline from the current news:

“Galilean worshippers butchered by Pilate”

To which he adds another:

“Eighteen killed by falling tower in Jerusalem”

Jesus has just challenged his hearers about being able to interpret the times. Now he is given a challenge to interpret current events himself.

There are three possible interpretations:

1. The Jewish leaders of the day would have told their hearers that these people perished because they were sinners. The self-righteousness that characterised the Pharisees would have loved this: we are OK because we are obeying God – but bad things happened to these people because they were evil. Jesus quickly dismisses this.

2. Today our interpretation would be different. People are tempted to say that because bad things happen to good people, either

a. God is not good or
b. God is not all-powerful or
c. There is no God

These conclusions, though understandable do not stand up. The proper response to it is to recognise that we live in a fallen world, in which the human race has rebelled against God and in which evil things happen. God promises to intervene at the end of time and to set right every wrong that has ever been perpetuated, but in the meantime holds back that judgement in order to give all the opportunity to recognise that they are a part of the problem and to turn to him in repentance. “It is because of the Lords love that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3)

3. So how do we respond to these kind of events? The answer is in seeing disasters, death and suffering as part of the warning of the imminent judgement to come, indicating, as Jesus says, that unless we repent, we too will perish. Bad things happening are God’s megaphone to a dead world saying “wake up…repent. Turn to God and be saved.”

So we have five things to say about repentance:

1. The Call to Repentance

John the Baptist heralded Jesus with the call to repent. Jesus began his ministry with the call to repent, and Peter opened the church era with the call to repent. Conclusion: the call to repent is not an old-fashioned Bible bashing chant – it is a biblical approach to the imminent judgement of God.

2. The Need of Repentance

Christianity is an equal-opportunities religion. The message is that” all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The belief that others are bigger sinners than us will not save us on the day of judgement.

3. The Urgency of repentance

The fact is that we all have two appointments that we will definitely keep. We will not be late or have a choice about it. “It is appointed for man to die once and after that comes judgement” (Hebrews 9:27) we have no idea when that time will come, and we have no idea what circumstances it will happen under. So repentance needs to happen now.

4. The Meaning of Repentance

The word used here is the Greek word METANOEO which literally means to change your perception. And this is what Jesus’ hearers are being challenged to do – to change their perception about themselves (recognising that they are sinners) to change their perception about God (recognising that he is holy and demands perfections) and to change direction about their lives (offering it to God instead of living it for themselves).
An outstanding example of repentance in the New Testament is in the story of the Prodigal Son, who changes his mind, comes to his sense, and then changes the whole direction of his life, returning to God.

5. The Candidates for Repentance

So who is Jesus talking to here. Who needs to repent?
We need to recognise three candidates for repentance here:

a. The Unbeliever

Jesus calls those who have never responded to God’s mercy to do so, to throw themselves on the mercy of God, to recognise their need for a saviour and to repent. The opportunity is open for all who wish to do so to take the free gift of the water of life.

b. The Nominal Believer

In the parable of the fig tree all Jesus’ hearers would have known exactly who he was talking about. The parable is an illustration to the people of God who were not, to quote John the Baptist, producing fruit in keeping with repentance. It is quite possible to be one of the crowd yet never to have repented. Jesus here shows that people will be given every opportunity, but the time will come when the mercy of God gives way to the judgement of God.

c. The Backsliding believer

Repentance is not only for those who have never known Jesus it is for those whose love has grown cold. In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus addresses the churches of the first century, many of whom need to repent or to face the discipline of God. In the extreme case of Laodacea Jesus says that he will spit them out of his mouth. What a terrible thing for a believer to face the judgement of God. Let’s not go there.

S0… repentance is the single word that Jesus is speaking of here. Does it apply to you?

John MacDiarmid
March 2013

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