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Will You Perish Too?

March 3rd 2013 by Joel Schultz

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Lent 3C – Luke 13:1-9 – “Will You Perish Too?” – 3/3/13

Today’s message is based on the Gospel lesson in which Jesus essentially teaches how God’s Law and Gospel intersect our daily lives. Some of those in the crowd, listening to Jesus, told Him about some Galileans who were murdered by Pilate at the temple, during worship. We do not know why they tell Him this, but it seems from Jesus’ response that they wanted to show Jesus that they understood that God indeed punishes sinners. It was a very popular notion then, as it is now, that God deals harshly with very sinful people. We often like neat little packages in life B good boys and girls get brownies. Bad ones get spanked.

Jesus is compelled to correctly interpret this event for the crowd, which then filters into our experiences as well. Jesus asks the crowd if those who suffered death were worse sinners than the others who were not killed. Jesus rejects this conclusion. He goes on to cite another example of tragic death. Eighteen people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Were these 18 more guilty than others living in Jerusalem at the time? Once again Jesus rejects this conclusion.

Or what about the multitude of examples throughout history? The thousands of people who died in Lisbon in 1755 during the earthquake that leveled two-thirds of the city? Or the thousands killed in the World Trade Towers in New York City in 2001? Or the estimated 316,000 people who died in the Haiti earthquake in 2010? Or your own child, father, or grandmother who suffered and died because of a dread disease or injury? Are any of them worse sinners than you or me?

Jesus’ answer is no! Jesus breaks the connection between these tragic deaths and punishment for sin. We know there are instances in Scripture where there were immediate judgments for sin like we talked about in Bible class 2 Sundays ago, but those are not made known to us today. Rather, we lean heavily on Jesus’ teaching here: whether the disaster is humanly initiated or natural, calamity and death fall on believers and unbelievers alike because we live in a world corrupted by sin and death.

Well, if it is not for punishment, Jesus, then why do such things happen to people? – well, wrong question. Worry about yourselves instead, says Jesus, for you deserve no better. This was no doubt a difficult message for those gathered around Jesus to hear because our natural reaction is to say, “Of course I deserve better.” Jesus seeks to turn the gaze of His questioners back on their own end that is sure to be just as horrible and deserved unless something changes. There is no finger pointing allowed. Instead take a hard look in the mirror, see your sin, and then look for help, for Jesus answers: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v.5) – eternally perish. Ultimately, Jesus is teaching that not only certain very wicked people need to repent, but that repentance is necessary for everyone.

At times, however, I think our attitude can be summarized in the question of a 1st grader. A 1st grade teacher was explaining to her class what holy week was and why we call it holy. She explained Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally Easter. When she thought she had made her point, she asked if there were any questions. A little boy raised his hand and asked, “What happens if you don’t want to be holy all week?”

How do you view your sin? Do you see your sin as a big deal? Or do you live with the attitude that you can simply take care of the problem from time to time? That it is not necessary to seek to be holy all the time and that it is not necessary to repent each Sunday in the Lord’s house, let alone each day? “I am baptized and so my sin isn’t a big deal.”

The problem with this understanding of sin is that it is a misunderstanding of the Law of God. God’s Law says that all sin deserves death. When we think lightly of our sin or ignore it altogether, we work at driving a wedge between us and God.

There is a small town in Northern Canada called Wabush. It is in a remote area and only one road cuts through the wilderness to this town. For those who travel the unpaved road for 6-8 hours to get into Wabush, there is only one way they can leave – by turning around.

Each of us, by birth, arrives in a town called Sin. As in Wabush, there is only one way out – a road built by God Himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there is no way out of sin and death.

The Law proclaimed in God’s Word serves as a mirror to show us the sin we hold in our hearts and lives. And as the Law shows us these sins, it accuses and condemns us before the Righteous Judge. The Law is what drives us to sorrow for our sins. The Law of God shows us that there is nothing within us to save. The Law drives us to repentance and to look somewhere outside ourselves for help.

But here is the incredible Good News – the Gospel – even though we deserve to perish eternally for our sins, God sends someone to perish in our place. God’=s first desire is for us to avoid perishing eternally. So God showed His mercy in sending His Son. Jesus, God in flesh, came into this world and perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the Law for us. And then He went to a cross to suffer and perish for our sins and the sins of the whole world. And to prove that His suffering and death were a sufficient sacrifice for sin, He was raised to life on the third day. Here, in the season of Lent this Gospel is all around us as we again journey to the cross and marvel at God’s free gift of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.

The truth is that the tower should fall on us – the earth should swallow us up – we should die by the sword. For, we are thoroughly sinful. Our sinful nature still clings to us. We are people who promised last week to live better and we went out and sinned that very day. Our thoughts, words, and actions too often turn us from God.

But, for those who turn back to God in repentant faith, to those who cling to the cross of Jesus Christ, their sins are wiped from their account. As we repent of our sins we receive that gift of God He lavishes upon us freely for Christ’s sake. It is through the Gospel that God works faith and delivers the forgiveness earned at the cross.

It is this Gospel which comes to us in Baptism as our sins are washed away and God brings us into His family. It is this Gospel which is eaten and drank for the forgiveness and strengthening of faith in the Lord=s Supper. It is this Gospel which is read and proclaimed in Holy Scripture which assures us daily of God=s abundant mercy and grace for even the chief of sinners – me.

And now as forgiven, redeemed children of God, the Law serves in another way for us. As children of God, called into His family by His free grace, the Law also serves as a guide – a basis for Christian living. As children of God, freely forgiven, we desire to do what God commands in the Law. 1 To place God first. 2 To make proper use of His name. 3 To worship and receive His gifts in Church regularly. 4 To honor those in authority. 5 To love one another. 6 To flee from sexual temptations. 7 To be satisfied with what we have. 8 To speak well of others. 9 And to refrain from coveting. Empowered by the Gospel and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we strive to live God-pleasing lives in what we think, do, and say, knowing that when we fail we have a God who continues to forgive and strengthen us.

God’s message of Law and Gospel are intimately connected. We must not have one without the other. For the Law without the Gospel would only assure us that we would perish eternally. The Gospel without the Law would only tell us of a Jesus for whom we have no need.

The Law and Gospel must be proclaimed together, as it is from this pulpit every week. And, most importantly, the Gospel must predominate. We must never take the attitude that we know all about Jesus and the cross – that we know all this Gospel stuff – and therefore only need to know how to live – through the message of the Law.

Martin Luther points out the folly of such a view. “The Gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough. We preach nothing new; but we are forever and incessantly preaching about the man called Jesus Christ, true God and man, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. But although we are forever preaching and repeating this message, we shall never be able to grasp it sufficiently. In this respect we always remain babes and little children who are just learning to read and are hardly able to form half of a word, nay, scarcely a quarter of a word.”

What a marvelous opportunity we have to hear the message of God’s Law and Gospel each Sunday in this place and each day as we read and study His Word. And what a wonderful opportunity we have to share this message of Law and Gospel with a world still lost in the darkness of sin and death.

The parable Jesus told about the fig tree brings out the Gospel truth that God gives the rest of this sinful world time to repent. The Psalmist writes, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). God is very patient, “not wanting anyone to should perish, but wanting everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Law and Gospel are central to the Christian life still today. The terror of God’s Law and the sweet precious Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ prepare us for heaven by bringing us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It is there, in repentance and faith, that we are assured that we, who are in Christ Jesus, will not perish. Amen.

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