Jesus said: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Police forces massacre crowds of people. Towers fall and crush workers. Famines and epidemics wipe out large portions of the population. Earthquakes ravage
Jesus deals with those questions in today’s Gospel Reading: “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The thought that Jesus addresses with His teaching is common to many. Seeing the disasters that befall others, some will say that this is some sort of divine retribution, God’s acting against people that do not have His favor.
How such a thought arises is understandable. It has its roots in truths about the Lord God. He certainly possesses the ability to bring about large-scale disasters. He has a track record; mentioning Flood or
These truths should be remembered. But saying that the people who fall victim to disasters are worse sinners than others or that all disasters are exhibitions of divine wrath is not true. Jesus shows this in His response to the news about the death of the Galilean worshipers and the victims of the tower collapse at Siloam: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” There was nothing worse about those people. No, they were sinners just as much as the crowd listening to Jesus was, just as you listening to Jesus’ words centuries later are. Jesus’ message to them and to you is the same: Don’t think yourself better than your fellow man; for you all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Jesus warns His audience not to fall into the trap of self-righteousness and haughtiness. He wants humility from the people, because everyone is in the same boat. They all need the same thing: the forgiveness of sins that He provides—forgiveness that leads to the newness of life, even life everlasting. Jesus says: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” These disasters were not divine wrath being visited against the people, but they do illustrate what the judgment against sin looks like. If you think that the massacre of worshipers is horrific or that the tower collapse is terrible, then wait until you see the judgment at the Last Day! Then it isn’t just the temporal death of the body, it is without end.
So Jesus says: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It is the same message that the Lord God gave centuries earlier through the prophet Ezekiel: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” The death of the sinner does not please God in the least: He is powerful and just, but He is also gracious and merciful. He wants all to turn back and live. He wants none to suffer the judgment at the Last Day. His patience and mercy are on display in the words and works of Christ, delivering forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For those who receive Christ will be brought from their deserved death to the Lord’s life loaned to them forever.
The parable that Jesus tells after His talk about the recent disasters illustrates the Lord God’s patience and mercy. He tells about a vineyard owner who has an unproductive fig tree: “He said to the vinedresser, ‘For three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’” Why indeed? The tree is worthless. It deserves to be chopped down. For three years, it bore no fruit in either the spring or fall harvest. And yet, the vinedresser said: “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
Dig up the soil around the roots. Remove the weeds. Fertilize it. All for a fig tree that is barren! But that is what the mercy of God is like. He sends the message of the Law, as was seen in Ezekiel’s prophecy: “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of
But there is more than the digging. There is also the fertilizing, the provision of what will save you and lead to newness of life. For the Lord God also sends a message of Gospel, of good news, as was also seen in Ezekiel’s prophecy: “Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him.” What a statement that is! It is just like the vinedresser’s statement: “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” The desire is not to take the axe to the root of the tree, but to see that the tree produces fruit—that the sinner is led to salvation and lives in righteousness.
So Jesus says to you: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Salvation isn’t given to you simply because you are on the congregational roster. The fig tree in Jesus’ parable was in the owner’s vineyard.
No, salvation is given to those who believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by His death made satisfaction for their sins, whose merits are given to you through His Word. This is what you believe and trust: Christ died for your sins and rose to life again, so that you may live eternally. But that faith in Christ also leads to action: faith active in love, active in the works of righteousness. That is the fruit that you, the fig trees of God’s vineyard, should bear. Through the Master’s vinedressers work, the Holy Spirit has been given to you. As you receive Christ’s teachings, the Spirit digs the soil around your roots, removes the weeds, and deposits the nourishment. You are renewed, so that you may believe what Christ has done for you. You are renewed, so that you may do what the Lord God has instructed you—not taking pride in it, lest you fall, but humbly receiving the salvation that He gives to you.
Your Lord wants you to avoid eternal disaster. So He says: “When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them.” So Jesus also says: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Having turned from your sin and receiving the gifts of Christ, go and live. Your sins are forgiven. New life is granted to you. “Do not desire evil as [the Exodus People] did.” Instead, be fruitful and live according to your Lord’s commands. It is what He desires for you: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” That is the way of life, the way that Christ has graciously shown you and leads you to follow.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.