Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Using up Good Soil - March 3, 2013 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: Luke 13:1-9
Very often the question is asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and yes, we have addressed that question here before. Sometimes the question is asked, “Why are some saved and others are not?” And perhaps we have answered that question as well. At other times the question is stated as, “Is there a correlation between sin and suffering in this world?” In our text for today Jesus does not solve the mystery of why things happen, either bad or good, rather He uses these instances as a call to all for repentance.
C. S. Lewis wrote a book titled, The Problem of Pain. Over the years, many people have asked the question, “If God is all powerful, how come there is sin and pain in the world.” The implication being that God is not all powerful, or there would be no sin, pain or suffering in the world. And the statement has been made that, “Either God is not all powerful, or He is not all loving.” Again, the implication being that if God where either all powerful, or all loving, then there would be no sin, pain or suffering in this world. The problem of pain and suffering in our world brings about many questions about what kind of a God we do have. Today, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God we will address this issue of pain and suffering and we will see that we do have both an all powerful, and an all loving, gracious God even in the midst of all the sin, pain, and suffering in our world.
First, we see the wrong approach. Luke writes, “1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v. 1-3). The thought among the people was that these people who were killed must have really been sinful to suffer such a horrid death. Now, although that thought might not be spoken out loud in our world today, I would suggest that it is often on our minds. How often do we equate something uncomfortable and even bad happening to us as a punishment for our sins? How often is it on our minds when we are extremely ill, or have something stressing on us in our life, that we wonder what we did that God would be punishing us in such a way? I would go so far as to suggest that we might even have such thoughts on our minds concerning our family and friends, wondering what they did that they are having struggles in life.
Notice Jesus answer, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus does not put a rank or degree on sin. As a matter of fact, His words remind us that in His eyes, sin is sin is sin. All sins are equal in Jesus’ eyes. This should not surprise us, because we know, since the Garden of Eden, that all sin equally merits, not just some temporal or physical punishment, but eternal punishment, namely eternal spiritual death. Each one of us is deserving of eternal spiritual death.
But just in case we do not understand, Jesus goes on to say, “4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v. 4-5). Here again, the thought among the people was that these people too must have really been sinful to suffer such a horrid death. Again, the connection is made between one’s sins and the type of earthly physical, temporal punishment a person would receive.
But again, Jesus’ answer is, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Notice that Jesus is not explaining why bad things happen, why some are saved and others or not, He is simply using these examples to encourage each one of us to look at ourselves, at our own lives and our own sins and see that we too need to repent. The wrong approach is to put sin and suffering into a human scale of what is right and just and fair, instead, what our Lord wants us to understand is that we are all guilty of sin and we all stand before God worthy only of eternal spiritual death.
So, how do we approach this subject of sin and suffering? Luke continues, “6And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, 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?’ 8And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”’” (v. 6-9).
In this parable we are introduced to the man who owns the vineyard. This person is God the Father. God the Father is the Creator and now Preserver and Sustainer of all creation.
Next, in this parable, there is the vineyard. The vineyard is the children of Israel and, as we will make note, the vineyard is also us. In this parable the children of Israel are reminded by Jesus that God created them, God chose them from all the nations of the world and made them His own people. God chose them, not because of anything special within them, but by His grace, God chose them. God gave them all that they needed to support their lives. And He promised to send them a Savior to save them from their sins. He gave them faith, forgiveness of sins and eternal life and His will for them was that they would bear fruit, in other words that they would live their lives doing the good works which He had for them to do.
We want to be careful with this next part of the parable because we do not want to turn this parable into an allegory, but I believe we can make a good case that the three years mentioned in this parable are a reference to Jesus three years of ministry on earth.
The three years include the present year, the next year in which the vinedresser would dig around it and fertilize it and the third year in which there would be fruit, or no fruit. This “three years” as a reference to Jesus years of ministry on earth is seen best when we understand the last character, the vinedresser, is Jesus. Jesus is the one who goes before God the Father and pleads for His people. Jesus’ plea is this, that God would give His people one more chance. This last chance is Jesus’ ministry on earth. If this last chance bears fruit, if the people believe, fine. If this last chance does not bear fruit, then cut it down, in other words, give someone else a chance. It is these last words which come as a real warning to the children of Israel, and to us because these last words remind us that the time of grace has a limit. The limit of God’s grace is our time on this earth. We have from the time of our birth until the time of our death to take part in God’s grace, which is given to us and which is ours only through faith in Jesus, which is given to us as well.
Now let us apply this to ourselves. First, we want to understand that suffering, temporal and physical suffering, is a result of sin. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden our world has been infected with the ugly results and curse of sin. Cancer is a punishment for sin. AIDS is a punishment for sin, as well as earthquakes, tornadoes, monsoons, flooding and the like. Thorn bushes and weeds are a result of sin. Now please do not misunderstand, although these things are punishment for sin, there is not always, nor necessarily, a direct correlation between one’s sins and one’s punishment. Let me say that again, there is not always, nor necessarily, a direct correlation between one’s sins and one’s punishment. In other words, just because something “bad” happens to someone does not necessarily mean that person has done some hideous sin, remember, that was how the people of Jesus’ day were thinking. Unfortunately, one person may suffer even though they are a really “good” person and another person may not suffer even though they may be deemed to be a horrible individual. A child may suffer with AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion, but a mass murderer may not be caught and prosecuted. The point is that the whole world often suffers the temporal punishment for all sins.
Thanks be to God, however, that no one need suffer the eternal spiritual death penalty for sin. Notice I said that no one need suffer this penalty. No one need suffer the eternal spiritual death penalty because Jesus suffered all eternal punishment for us in our place, by sacrificing Himself on the cross for us. That is why Jesus came to this earth, to take all our sins upon Himself and to suffer the eternal spiritual death penalty, to pay the price for sin, for us, for you and for me, in our place.
So, now, as we look at this parable we understand that, as always, Jesus is speaking to us. God has done everything for us. God the Father is the Creator and now Preserver and Sustainer of all creation. He has created us, given us all that need to support our lives, given us His Son to save us from our sins, given us faith, forgiveness of sins and eternal life and His will for us is that we will bear fruit, in other words that we will live our lives doing the good works which He has for us to do. Yes, Jesus expects us to bear fruits of faith, to do good works, not because we have to, not in order to earn eternal life, not in order to keep from being punished for our sins, but because of and as a response to all that He has done for us.
Two more observations, to put sin, pain and suffering into its proper Gospel context we come to understand that the ultimate purpose for suffering is ultimately to give glory to God. The examples we have from Holy Scripture are many. Why was the blind man born blind, was it because of his sin or the sins of his parents? Neither, but so that the glory of God might be revealed. Why did Jesus not make it in time to heal Lazarus? So that we would see the glory of God. Why do we have struggles, pain, and suffering in our lives? So that we might give glory to God.
And finally, did you notice the optimism on the part of the vinedresser, Jesus? His is one of expectancy. He goes about His work hopefully, looking for the good results, not halfheartedly, pessimistically, thinking that there is no use. Jesus is an optimist when it comes to dealing with us sinners. What a beautiful example to us in our own lives when we are struggling with each other and our own unchurched family and friends, and especially with our perverse society. Do not give up. And for our own bit of encouragement, as we face trials and tribulations, Paul reminds us in our Epistle reading for this morning, “13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13). May the Lord give you such encouragement in your own lives of faithful service to Him as you rejoice in the forgiveness He has won and given to you. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.