Sermon – Lent 3 - March 3rd, 2013
Village Lutheran Church, Ladue, MO
“Repent or Perish”
Repent or perish! Well, happy Sunday morning to you, too, pastor. Repent or perish! Look, don't kill the messenger, these are the words of Jesus. Today – some hard words of Jesus regarding our need for repentance. But upon closer examination, some rich gospel promises, and a blessed assurance that in Christ, all is well. In Christ, there is hope. In Christ, we do not perish.
We sinners love to hear about the sins of others. Some of the most popular sermons are when the preacher really socks it to THOSE sinners. One of the comments a preacher dreads hearing is, “boy pastor, THEY really needed to hear that, today!” And why is that? When the law points its guns at someone else, we can rest easy. We can have this false sense of security while the spotlight is on some other, certainly far worse, sinner.
That's what seems to have happened in our text, where in two situations people suffered tradgedies. In one, Pilate apparently killed some Jews while they were sacrificing at the temple. And in another, a tower fell and killed 18 people. Some in Israel would have reasoned that bad things like that only happen to really bad sinners, sinners who deserve it, sinners who must have done something that God would allow such suffering and death to befall them.
But Jesus knocks all that thinking down. First he corrects the misunderstanding – these things didn't happen because of some particular sin. He's not saying the victims weren't sinners at all, just that we can't go trying to connect the dots between sins and punishments. Sometimes bad things happen, out of the blue, for no good reason we can pinpoint. Except this. Our world is fallen. Corrupt, through and through. Adam's sin shattered the bliss, and now we are subject to all this suffering – pain and thorns, towers fall, children are shot by madmen, tyrants murder people of faith, hurricaines wipe out whole cities. It doesn't make sense, but sin never does, nor does this world bathed in sin and death.
And secondly, Jesus shifts the spotlight where it belongs. He says, effectively, “Hey! Stop your pious hypothesizing about the sins of others. Get off your high horse thinking you are without blame. You think just because it didn't happen to you, God must be so pleased with your goodness? Quit fooling yourself. You're just as much of a sinner. Death is breathing down your neck, too. Take a look at yourself. And repent. And unless you repent, you, too, will perish”
It's quite a wake up call. They came seeking a sort of affirmation or attaboy. He smacks them with a call to repentance. And so, for you. May we never seek God's Word, or the services of His house, to confirm our sense of self-righteousness. To reinforce for ourselves that we're the good church people, unlike those sinners over there. Instead, may we, too, hear our Lord's call to repent with open ears to hear. Confessing, same-saying, yes, Lord, I am a sinner – thought, word and deed. I deserve death and far worse. Confessing before God and man the worm that I am. But repentance doesn't stop there.
To repent means turn around. A change of mind or heart. And in as much as we would turn from our sins, we would also turn toward something, or rather, someone. Turn to Christ. Look to him, again, even today. For he brings the opposite of judgment and death. He brings forgiveness, life, salvation. Freely receive the gifts he brings – in word and washing, in bodily bread and wine that is his own blood. Repentance without faith is just despair and sorrow. But repentance with Christ is a movement from death to life. It is the only way to never perish.
You could even say, that in Christ, God repents when it comes to you. Our Psalm for the day, Psalm 85 puts it this way:
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!
Because of Christ, God repents, turns, from his wrath toward you. Because Christ received that wrath, drank that cup, died that death, suffered all for you. The guilt of your sins was mixed with the blood of His sacrifice. The towering load of your sins fell on Him. At the cross, Jesus turned everything around, upside down, inside out. In death bringing life, for you and me and for all.
“Repent!” – means turn from your sin, and believe in Christ, who has done this all for you. And even this repentance is a gift in itself. God works it in us.
Take the parable of the fig tree which follows. God is patient with the tree, as he is patient with us. He plants, waters, fertilizes. Year in and year out, he tends it, looking for fruit. Again and again, he calls to repentance, shows you your sin in His holy law, and shows you your Savior in His blessed Gospel. We are slow learners, a thick-necked stubborn people. But God is patient and merciful, even persistent in his grace.
Sometimes the process is unpleasant – stinking like manure. But the fruit of faith is sweet indeed, when the sinner sees the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And the point is not so much, “get busy making fruit” as it is, “wonder at the patience of the gardener”, whose wrath at your fruitless tree is put away in the tree of the Cross, and the one who was there cut down for you.
Repent or perish! Perhaps a summary of the Christian faith itself. Repent or perish! Words to live by, for we only live in the words of Christ our Lord. Turn from sin, turn to Christ, and live. Amen.