THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
Luke 9:51-19:48

The Time to Repent Is Now
Luke 13:1-35

. INTRODUCTION

Time is running short. Starting in Luke 9:51 Jesus has been looking towards Jerusalem because He is in the last year of His life here on earth. As a result He knows that it is critical for Him to train His disciples so that they will carry on His work after He has ascended into heaven.

Yet the short amount of time is not only critical for the disciples; it is also critical for the nation of Israel. For the past 1700+ years God has been reaching out to the Jewish people, first to Abraham the father of the Jews, then to the patriarchs, and finally to the entire nation itself. Time after time God had spoken to the Jewish people through the prophets and through various other means. Time after time God had reached out to the Jews by rescuing them from the hand of Pharaoh and from other hostile enemies. God had blessed them with a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet time after time the Jewish people had rejected God. To be sure there are notable exceptions to this statement: Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Hezekiah, Josiah, etc. Yet for the past 1700+ years the Jews on a wholesale scale had rejected God. God had been patient with them. God's patience though was about to run out. It was time for them to decide once and for all whether they were going to be for Him or against Him. It was time to put up or shut up because this time He was not just sending prophets to the Jews; this time He had come Himself.


URGENT APPEAL TO REPENT (13:1-9)

Jesus' disciples approach Him and inform Him of a tragic incident in which the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had slain some of the Galileans while they were worshipping in the Temple area. Apparently they were offering sacrifices when Pilate had them slaughtered. As a result the blood of the victims became mingled with the blood of the animals being sacrificed. This would have horrified the Jews who took such great pains to offer pure and holy sacrifices in the Temple. The disciples' take on this incident is that these Galileans were probably horrible sinners whose sins had finally caught up with them.

Jesus deals first with their misunderstanding of this issue. The fact that these Galileans met such a tragic end did not mean that they were horrible sinners. In the next incident in which the tower of Siloam (a tower just south southwest of the Temple area) fell upon 18 people and killed them the people who were killed were not worse than anybody else. To be factual these were sinners like everybody else, but they were not worse sinners than anybody else. Tragedy does not necessarily mean that the people who suffer the tragedy are the chief of sinners.

Jesus' point is that we are ALL sinners and that therefore we ALL need to repent. Although we are not as bad as Hitler, we are all as bad off as Hitler. Hitler perished eternally because he did not repent. Well, we too shall perish if we don't repent and commit our lives to Jesus.

Jesus then gives a parable to illustrate His point. A certain man has a garden which he has entrusted to the care of a husbandman. The man goes to check out his garden one day and discovers that one of the fig trees planted 3 years ago has not begun to bear fruit. (The period of 3 years can refer to Jesus' length of ministry; yet it probably refers to the amount of time it normally takes for a new tree to start producing fruit.) The man who owns the garden is put out with the tree and instructs the husbandman to cut it down. The husbandman though defends the tree. Maybe the tree needs just a little bit more care. For example, if the husbandman digs around the roots of the tree, the tree might get more oxygen and more water to help it grow.

What happens next though is important. The husbandman then says that if the tree has not begun to bear fruit within a year after all these measures have been taken, then he will cut down the tree. In other words he cannot defend leaving the tree up after it has been given ample opportunity to bear fruit. God is patient with us; however, He is not eternally patient with us.

The context of this story shows us that Jesus is speaking primarily to the nation of Israel. At the end of this chapter Jesus will basically tell Jerusalem that her hour is up. Although it refers primarily to the nation of Israel during Jesus' day, it can apply to us as well. God is patient, waiting for us to repent; however, He is not eternally patient. The time to repent is now.


AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE NEED FOR ISRAEL TO REPENT (13:10-17)

Did Israel really need to repent? The following incident reveals that Israel was desperately in need of repentance. Jesus has entered a synagogue on a Sabbath and has beheld a woman whose back is seriously crooked. Although in many cases this would be just a physical problem, scoliosis of the spine, in this particular case her crooked back was caused by an evil spirit. Jesus looks at her and feels compassion for her. She does not ask for healing; His heart simply goes out to her. As a result He heals the woman.

The religious leader though is indignant at the healing, specifically because it took place on a Sabbath, the day of rest. Although he directs his comments to the people, he is actually criticizing Jesus. He tells the people to get their healing done on the other 6 days of the week and to leave the Sabbath alone.

Jesus' response reveals how deeply into sin the nation and its leaders had fallen. They were so concerned about being "righteous," and yet their attitude towards healing those hurting on the Sabbath showed that something was radically wrong with them. Jesus shows the inconsistency of the synagogue official. The Jews believed it was permissible to release on a Sabbath an animal that was tied up. This allowed the animal to go graze and find water. Jesus does not criticize this practice. This was basically extending humane treatment to animals. The problem lay with the fact that humane treatment was not being extended to humans. For whatever reason the religious leaders were being cruel to those very people created in the image of God. If they were cruel towards those created in God's image, how much more then were they cruel in their attitudes towards God. The cross is the ultimate expression of that cruel attitude towards God.

"But," you might say, "I thought the Jewish religious leaders were righteous people." Based upon a human understanding of righteousness, they were righteous. The only problem is that Jesus is not evaluating us upon this understanding of righteousness. The most righteous person ever to live on the earth was Jesus. He is the standard of righteousness. Although righteousness involves not murdering and not committing adultery, it involves much more than this. For Jesus righteousness to a large degree is based upon the way you treat others, especially the down and out: extending aid to the poor and showing compassion upon those who are suffering physically, emotionally, mentally. Since Jesus healed on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath is a righteous deed. Their refusal to follow Jesus in this way demonstrated they were NOT righteous.

A casual reading of the story shows that the main culprit in the story is the Jewish synagogue ruler. On the other hand, the people seem to support what Jesus is doing. Wasn't the problem with Israel primarily a leadership problem? If so, why was the whole nation itself going to perish? The reason the whole nation was going to perish was that when it was all said and done the people supported the rulers. To be sure the greater culprits were the religious leaders; however, the people were guilty because the vast majority of the people eventually threw their support behind the religious leaders.


A MOTIVE TO REPENT: JESUS' KINGDOM IS ULTIMATELY GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL (13:18-21)

Ultimately though why should I repent? How does all this talk about the kingdom of God affect me, and how should it motivate me to commit myself to Jesus. Jesus gives 2 parables to illustrate the ultimate success of His kingdom. The first illustration is that of the man who plants a mustard seed. (The first proverb highlights a man, while the second highlights a woman.) The proverb stated that the mustard seed was the smallest of all the seeds in the garden; whereas there are smaller seeds than the mustard seed, it had the reputation of being the smallest. Yet after the mustard seed has been planted, it produces a huge plant, measuring 8-12 feet in height. The mustard shrub is so large that even the birds of the heaven can nest in its branches. In the second parable the woman kneads some yeast (leaven) into the lump of dough. The yeast has such a pervasive element to it that it eventually permeates the entire lump of dough.

A lot of speculation has gone into these 2 parables. For example, do the birds represent Satan, indicating the presence of evil within the church? Once more does the leaven indicate evil since throughout most of the Bible leaven represents sin? These speculations do violence to the main teaching Jesus is promoting here. He is talking about the incredible ultimate success of the kingdom. Although the kingdom starts out so small, yet since it is God’s kingdom, it will be wildly successful.

How does the success of the kingdom motivate us to commit to Jesus and to the kingdom of heaven? Chuck Colson, former adviser to President Nixon, discovered the truth of this principle. He had hitched his wagon to a corrupt politician. At the time he committed himself to Nixon, it appeared he had made a wise move. By the end of 1972 Nixon had thrashed McGovern and the Democratic party, losing only the state of Massachusetts in his landslide victory. Although some of Colson’s motives might have been motivated by noble thoughts, the truth is that he committed crimes in promoting Nixon and the conservative movement. Within a short time after this landslide victory, Nixon was disgraced and Colson found himself in prison. Through that experience he committed himself to the cause of Christ. His conclusion? It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.

Too many of us give ourselves to things that ultimately don’t matter. As much as my dad loved Safeway, his family was the ones at his bedside the night he passed away. When it is all said and done, I may want my friends beside me to comfort me during times of sadness, but I really want my pastor to be there. We need to learn from these critical moments in our lives the right priorities God would have for us to live by.


THE NARROW DOOR (13:22-30)

It would be easy to misunderstand what Jesus was saying in the previous 2 parables. The wild success of God’s kingdom does not guarantee that everybody is going to enter that kingdom. The door is narrow which enters into the kingdom of heaven, and not everybody is going to be able to enter through that door. Most of us will jump on the fact that Jesus is the door. Jesus quite plainly states that to be true: “I am the door . . . if anyone enters through Me, He shall be saved” (John 10:9). I must commit myself to Jesus if I am going to be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Yet from the context itself we see that mere confession alone is not enough to enter that door. If I commit myself to Jesus, if I confess Him to be Lord of my life, then my life will change. I will not be like the Galileans who did not repent. I will not be like the synagogue official who cared more for dumb animals than for people God loves so deeply. Rather I will follow Christ in helping the hurting no matter the minute, day, or hour. The life I live indicates whether or not I have truly entered the kingdom through Jesus Christ.


JESUS’ LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM (13:31-35)

At this point Jesus entertains a delegation of Pharisees who inform Him that Herod Antipas is seeking to kill Him. Jesus responds first by calling Herod “that old fox.” It is a term of ridicule. Too many of us fail to give evil its proper name, evil. We’ve been coerced into making politically correct statements about these kinds of people. Jesus though is not politically correct, even though it might cost Him His life. Herod is evil and needs to be so designated. We call such people “evil” not because we are judgmental and are superior to them; rather these people need to be confronted with who they are so that they might truly repent and so others will not be influenced to consort with them.

Next Jesus assures the Pharisees and His followers that Herod is simply not going to be successful in trying to snuff out Jesus’ life. Jesus has just told them 2 parables that informed them of the radical success of the kingdom of God. In the same way 2 things will prevent Herod from killing Jesus. First, Jesus has not finished the work His Father has assigned for Him to accomplish. He has at least 3 days of healing left before He is to go to Jerusalem. Next, His dying outside of Jerusalem simply is not going to happen. Jerusalem, not Herod, is the killer of God’s messengers. He will most definitely die within a short period of time; however, it will not be by Herod’s hand. It will be by the hands of the Jerusalem religious authorities.

At this point Jesus launches into one of the greatest laments in all literature: Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather her children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and yet you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate! And I say to you, you will not behold Me until the time comes when you will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Throughout Luke and the other Gospels Jesus has reserved harsh words for the unrepentant Jewish people, and especially for their religious leadership. These words were not for the purpose of lambasting the religious leaders. The words were coming out of a broken heart. Sometimes harsh words are the only words that can wake up a rebellious child. They come though not from hate but from love. Jesus’ lament reveals the love He has for the Jewish people, even for the Jewish religious authorities. Jesus never wanted to destroy the Jewish nation. He had wanted to be tender and compassionate towards her just like the hen is gentle and protective towards her brood. The problem was not with Jesus. It was with the Jewish nation: AND YET YOU WOULD NOT HAVE IT. All that is left for Jerusalem and the Jewish nation is the cataclysm of 70 AD. Yes, Jesus will devote a full week to minister in Jerusalem before His crucifixion; however, He knows what the outcome will be. He will be put to death, not by Herod, but by the Jewish people themselves, the very ones He came to love and protect.