Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sermon on Luke 12:49-13:9

Scripture—Luke 12:49-13:9

49 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! 51 Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. 52 For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. 53 Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
54 Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55 And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56 Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?
57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? 58 When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.”

1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” 6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that[
a] you can cut it down.’”


Ever heard one of those old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone sermons? Those kinds of sermons where the preacher would pound the pulpit and get red in the face about the judgment of God that is soon to come? The preacher would focus in on those passages that had to do with the wrath of God coming quickly upon those who have not chosen to believe. Hell would be described vividly. Stubborn men would grab the pews in front of them, their hands brown from working in the sun, and their knuckles pale white from gripping the pew in front of them.

Some of us hated those sermons. Others of us loved those sermons. Those of us that hated them hated them because they seemed so self-righteous and angry. Those of that loved them loved them for several reasons. For many of us, we walked that sawdust trail at a revival meeting and accepted Jesus after hearing one of those sermons. For others of us, we find comfort knowing that we are on the right side of God as he comes to judge the living and the dead. For nearly all of us that have enjoyed those hellfire and brimstone sermons, and pine away for them now, I think we liked one thing about them more than anything else. We liked those old-fashioned sermons because they were delivered with passion and gusto. With a sense of urgency even. When you heard those old fashioned hellfire and brimstone sermons you may love it, or you may hate it, but one thing that did happen was that you HEARD IT and YOU FELT IT.

Perhaps the most famous sermon in the English language about the judgment of God is a sermon written soon after the American Revolution by a man named Jonathan Edwards. The sermon was called “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” Edwards preached this sermon in the heat of summer, without air-conditioning, in a town named Enfield, Conneticut. As he preached it is said that people began to have a sinking sensation, as if in that moment they felt themselves sinking into the flames of hell itself. It is said that as the sermon was preached, in many ways like a college lecture, that men and women grabbed hold of the pillars of the church and cried out for mercy. “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” was an memorable, effective sermon in the middle of a revival called the Great Awakening.

The thing I remember about the sermon, for some strange reason, is the spider web. Edwards describes us as like insects held over a great abyss by the strand of a spider’s web. And all that is holding us from falling into the fires of hell and judgment. We are dangling in a precarious position, and if we do not repent our “feet will slide in due time” and we will fall under the wrath of God. It is a very well written sermon. I think you should all find a way to read it at some point.

When I became a sophomore in college, I decided to go on a search for churches. The first church I went to in town was an independent Baptist church, much like Pitkin Avenue Baptist Church. The Sunday School class the first Sunday was on the judgment in the book of Revelation, and the sermon was on God’s wrath. The next week the Sunday School class was studying the book of Revelation, and the sermon was again on the wrath of God. The third Sunday, the Sunday school lesson was on God’s judgment, and the wrath of God was the topic of the sermon. The fourth Sunday…well…the fourth Sunday I found a new church to visit.

You see, I believe that Christ is returning as Judge. I believe that there is a heaven, and I believe that there is a hell. I believe that God does posses that characteristic that very few people mention today….wrath. I believe this because the Bible teaches it. But I believe all of this is a function of God’s justice. And that justice is a function of God’s love. I believe much of God’s wrath is honoring our choice to push his love and grace away.

What I don’t agree with in regard to this preacher Jonathan Edwards, or in relationship to the “hellfire and brimstone” preachers of days past, is that God is best described as an angry God. God can be angry. But his justified anger is a function of his love as well. God’s grace and God’s love is what defines him. Not his wrath and anger

Friends, we are in the hands of a loving God. We are in the hands of a God who withholds his anger from us, and when we were sinners he died for us. While we rejected him, he loved and continues to love us. He waits for us like the father of a rebellious child waits for that son to come home. He reaches out to us even now, if we will only grab his rescuing hand.

But God’s patience with us will not last forever. It may only last for another day. Another year. Another month. We don’t have endless chances to do the right thing. We have one more chance to repent. One more chance to love him. One more chance to do the right thing.

This is what the passage on the judgment of God that we read today teaches us. We have one more chance, and we better seize the opportunity to trust God while we still can. We have one more chance as a church to be fruitful. We have one more chance as people to accept the opportunity as believer’s to be fruitful. We have one more opportunity to accept the new life that Christ offers. We are not promised anything more than TODAY.

Following Christ is never the easy thing to do. It is always the right thing to do. So we choose to go to the cross with Christ, and he warns us the way will not be easy. It will not be easy, just true.
Jesus speaks of God’s judgment, and then warns people to get their lives right. He tells them that their time is limited and they need to repent. He puts it in economic terms. Jesus says in chapter 12, starting in verse 57:

57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? 58 When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.”

This is another way of saying that the longer you marinate in your sin, your running from God, the longer you sit and soak up all that self-centeredness and lovelessness and unforgiveness into your heart, the harder it will be for you to escape the consequences of those attitudes in the long-run.

Then we get to chapter 13. And what do the people start talking about? Those other folks. Those Galileeans who got killed. This, they figured, must be a sign of God’s judgment that he is talking about. Jesus got frustrated with them when they said this. They just were not getting it.

You know how we all are. We hear “thou shalt not steal” and quote it at the druggie that stole some of our tools from the shed. We justify ourselves when we steal by cheating on our taxes.

We quote thou shalt not judge to the person who tries to hold us accountable, but then we get among our friends and talk about every reason we don’t approve of this person or that one and laugh. Or we run around judging people harshly who we perceive to be judgmental.

God confronts us. In his love he warns us that there are consequences for our choices, and our loyalties, our sins and our me first attitudes. And we say, “Yes there are consequences, and those awful people down the road are going to burn in hell for what they did.”

Jesus says, “Do you suppose these Galileeans are worse sinners than all the other Galilleans…..but unless you repent you will likewise perish”. In other words, Jesus says, “God’s people…I am not talking about them out there….I am talking to you. “

Have you been pointing fingers at others, Christian, or have you been looking into your own heart? Are you right with God, churchgoer, or do you think your moralism and faithful church attendance will save you? I have to warn you as a friend and as a brother, not one of us saved by being good enough. All of us are saved by grace through faith when we come to Jesus and say I have made a mess of my life and I realize that I can’t do it on my own, and I need you Jesus. None of us are good enough. That is why Jesus said if “you do not repent you will ALL likewise perish”

After this Jesus tells a parable. He tells a parable of an owner of a vineyard, a gardener, and a tree. The tree is a fig tree, and the fig tree is in the middle of a vineyard because the people of that time believed it helped the grapes to grow better. But, the fig tree is producing no fruit. So the owner wants to chop it down. But the gardener pleads for one more year to make it fruitful. He says he is going to take manure and mix it in with the soil and see if he can make it grow. Just give me a little more time the gardner says. And he gets that extra year.

The Bible does not make clear who the owner is. But it is clear we as human beings are the tree, and Jesus is the gardener. And we are being given a second chance. We must repent. We must have new life. And our time is limited.

Judgment is coming. We can be sure of that. But Jesus has not left us alone to our own devices. God has not stood at a distance, lightning bolts in hand, ready to cast them on us at any moment. Oh no.

God sent Jesus because he loves us. And Jesus loves us enough that he is going to get knee deep in all that fertilizer (as the NKJV puts it) or more literally that pile of manure around us. He is willing to enter into all of our mess in all its stinkiness with us in order to help us come alive. As a matter of fact, it is only through letting him get in the smelly dirty mess that our life is with us and heal us that we are going to be made whole.

God is not waiting to show us how much he hates those people who are not like us. No….he looks at each one of us, and asks for a little more time for us, and then he gets in the middle of the steaming filthy manure pile of our world and works to save us from our own devices.

But if you are going to do God’s will you must respond today. If you are going to repent now is the time. You are not promised tomorrow. No sister, no brother, you are promised this very moment. God’s Holy Spirit is working in you this very moment. You have no promises for later. You just have now.

Church, you have this day to repent. You have this day to start bearing fruit. You have this day to care as much about the folks outside these four walls of this church that are lonely, hurting, alone and lost as you do about the color of the carpet or the decorations in the sanctuary or what song we do or done sing. Church, you are not promised forever on this corner of Main and Eugene. I can drive you a few blocks and show you a church building that is now no church at all, and just a funeral parlor. You have this day to allow you to make this church a hospital for sinners needing triage instead of a mosoleum for the saints. You have this day to care more about how many lives your love has an eternal impact on than how many people are going to show up for your memorial service when you pass, and who will preach the funeral message. And if you don’t start bearing fruit as a church, it won’t be long before this church ceases to exist. So repent, church, of your blindness and your hypocrisy, your self-centeredness and malice, your eagerness to be good in a way that you are unwillingness to do any good for others because you might be tainted by them. Stop being casual fans of Jesus that meet once in a while for a pep rally and get in the game. Follow him. Trust him. Grow. Bear Fruit.

Christian, you have this day to repent. For too long you have been pointing the finger at everybody around you, and have not listened to Jesus call for you to make a change and be the change in the world that it needs. For too long you have made excuses to hide from God. For too long you have called yourself Christian but your life has been prayerless and faithless, your heart has been selfish and bitter, you have been sitting on your hands instead of reaching out to your neighbor in love. Your ears have been filled with the strife and the rancor of the world instead of the still small voice of God. Too often you have used your words to wound instead of to heal and encourage. Look in your heart, and I will look in mine. We will see the words of Jesus speak to us today. We need to repent. We don’t have long. We are not promised tomorrow.

Seeker….Runner…you know who you are. You know that you have refused to submit to Jesus. You may be stalling. You may have been running away from him. Come to him today. He is giving you another opportunity to trust him today. He has given you another day to seize the opportunity of new life he offers. It won’t be any easier to repent tomorrow than it is today. It will only be more difficult. It will just mean that you will have less and less of your life to truly live. Jesus is compassionate. God is patient and longsuffering. But at one point there will not be another opportunity to trust him. At one point you will be like the tree that bears no fruit. And the ax will be coming for him. Repent now, while you have the chance.

As you come to the Lord’s table remember that it is a table of the blood and body of Christ. A table that calls you to repent. A table that calls you to new life. A table that proclaims he has come to rescue us from mess of our lives and make us whole

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