In Luke 13, the message from Jesus to you is that it’s time to repent. By now in Luke’s gospel we’ve seen how repentance is the entrance to the kingdom of God, and that to enter the kingdom is to come to Jesus – a cause of celebration and joy.
Some people will want to put that off. Others think they’re already ok because, well, they’re here at church doing good things. But still, Jesus makes it clear to you that it’s time to repent.
He commands you, and then offers you grace and life in himself.
Jesus commands you to repent (1-9)
Read Luke 13:1.
Notice the phrase, “At that time…” We saw last week that Jesus was preaching that people should be ready for his return, when he comes to judge the earth. He called you to be reconciled to God now, before that day of judgment to come. Though as you become at peace with God you’ll find yourself divided against those who aren’t. Holiness and unholiness don’t mix.
You might also notice the reference to Pontius Pilate. Don’t ever feel sorry for him. He was a brutal man. Mixing Jews’ blood with their sacrifices was deliberately offensive in every way.
Read Luke 13:2.
We don’t know those Galileans were or what they did, but the people speaking to Jesus might have thought them wicked. Why might people think that?
- The Bible does teach that bad things happen as a result of sin. Judgment will always come (more on that tonight).
- But that doesn’t always mean that if something bad happens to you it’s a direct result of your sin.
- Job is the classic example in the Bible.
- Bad things sometimes happen to good people.
- But there are bad things in the world because of human sin – the general connection is true.
- Some will say that the universe is random, indifferent, and you’re just unlucky.
- Actually, all creation is tainted by the human sin in it.
But the point Jesus is making is that those Galileans weren’t especially sinful; they were just normal.
We’re all sinful
Because we’re all sinful. You’re sinful. Hence read Luke 13:3.
Jesus commands you to repent. He gives another example: Read Luke 13:4-5.
The person asking Jesus the question was asking him about the people who’d perished. But Jesus turns it round: The people who perished were no worse than you – and your day will come. So repent!
And remember, all this is in the context of Chapter 12 and Jesus speaking about his return to earth to judge all humanity. So can repentance wait? Can you delay it to later on?
The clock is ticking
Read Luke 13:6-9.
You can sense the fig tree’s time is almost up – and that is what Christ is saying to you right now.
- You’re the fig tree in his vineyard.
- What fruit are you producing?
- What spiritual, moral, ethical fruit is there in your life?
- And this isn’t about you compared to anyone else – God alone decides whether he is pleased.
In truth, none of us will ever produce a perfect life because we are all sinners. Jesus is saying that it’s time to repent. It’s “year 4” and the clock is ticking. In kindness, he is warning you and inviting you to live!
He will return, and he is helping you be ready for that day.
- Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.
- There are plenty of people who scrimp and save for a semi-comfortable retirement but never reach it.
- You need to be thinking beyond your retirement years, to your eternity stretching out beyond imagination.
In that sense, you should fear Jesus because he will be the Judge on judgment day – and you’re a sinner. But he calls you to repent of that sin, and go to him for forgiveness. Know him as your Saviour.
That is what he commands you to do, and what he dearly wants you to do. He loves you.
Today, church buildings and places of worship will be filled with people singing, praying, listening to sermons, hearing holy books read. Is that what Jesus means, when he calls you to repent?
Is he calling you to religion?
Jesus offers you grace (10-16)
The scene switches to a synagogue where Jesus is teaching. What you see here is a stark comparison of joyful life with Christ versus the burden of joyless, rule-based religion.
It centres on the healing of a woman. Read Luke 13:10-13.
- She had been bound by this horrendous condition for 18 long years. The pain and indignity and discomfort are hard to imagine for most of us.
- Jesus saw her and immediately called her over and released her from her condition.
- Her life was utterly transformed by Christ.
- He had compassion, healed her, and her transformation led to joy for her and everyone there.
Over and over in Luke’s gospel we see the same. When people come to Jesus, the outcome is joy (often in celebration and feasting).
A great day for everyone? Not quite: Read Luke 13:14.
Religion never saved a soul. On the surface, things looked promising:
- They’re in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
- They’re listening to Scripture read and to teaching – even teaching from Jesus!
- Not unlike you, and millions of others all over the world today.
But that synagogue ruler’s problem thought that his righteousness before God was his religion.
- By sticking closely to his religion – keeping every law to the nth degree – surely God would approve of him?
- To him, religious rules trump love, compassion, and healing.
- And there are plenty of churches and places of worship just like that.
Within 10 miles of here, this very morning, there will be hundreds of people going through liturgy and routine without ever repenting of sin or engaging with God at all. Engaging with religion is not the same as engaging with the living God. It can be a vehicle, but no more than that.
He even misunderstood what the Sabbath itself is. It’s a gift. Time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy, and the Sabbath was a foretaste of the full rest to come.
As New Testament Christians, the Lord’s Day is his gift to you. Time with God here, at home, away from work. Some have jobs that involve shifts, we understand. But still, make time to be with God when you can.
Now read Luke 13:15-16.
Jesus even goes so far as to call the synagogue leader (and others like him) hypocrites.
- They’re prepared to release a donkey or ox to get to water on a Sabbath,
- But they won’t see this woman released from disability on that Sabbath – to be transformed to live to see many Sabbaths to come, praising God, giving thanks.
It’s not only synagogue rulers or church leaders who can fail in this. We all do.
- Can you say that you’re the same here as you are outside church?
- Do you think people in work or at home experience you as we experience you here?
- Might there be some double-standards in your life too? Some hypocrisy?
As we said a few weeks ago, there’s a sense in which we all understand we are hypocrites.
- You’re a Christian, you love the Lord, you hope in him.
- You’ve repented of your sin and gone to him for forgiveness.
- And yet you still sin – everyone does. It’s why the New Testament has such emphasis on forgiving one another.
But the hypocrisy here is about a deliberate choice of living by one set of rules in private and another in public – putting on a religious face for others to see.
Consistency and Grace
The root of that is when you measure your spiritual maturity by your law-keeping or religious observance. You have rules on a clipboard or tablet of stone, but not in your heart. But if your holiness of life is rooted in Christ, your heart is changed and you’re released to life in him.
Put that woman’s healing (release from disability) together with Jesus’ command to repent.
- When you’re bent over and burdened by crippling expectations of rules and religion.
- Attendance; christenings; mass; penances; pilgrimages.
- Repent of your sin. Ask God for forgiveness.
- The past is done. Christ was crucified to take the punishment your sins deserve.
- No amount of religious effort from you can make up for your sin – but you don’t need to.
- He is ready to forgive you. Repent of your sin, and ask.
- Don’t be crushed by religion.
- Jesus offers you grace: Trust him.
So does it not matter how you live, as a Christian? Very much so!
Jesus calls you to life (17-21)
How were these things received? Read Luke 13:17.
Jesus’ adversaries were humiliated and would come back at him another day. But for everyone else, there was rejoicing!
Is the kingdom of God like a dry, dusty, lifeless church where duty is more important than compassion? No. Jesus gives two pictures of what the kingdom of God is like: Read Luke 13:18-21.
Very much images of life, and strength, and growth. Language of breadth and blessing to others. Joyous, happy, living language. Is that how you describe the kingdom? If not, have you forgotten that you’re part of the kingdom and that the problem might be you?
You might well have difficult things in your life. The apostle Paul did, over and over. But he called us to rejoice in Christ. You can do that even when suffering – maybe even more then than any other time.
Suffering is the school of prayer. Rejoice in Christ.
Christian maturity is growth in your experience of Christ. We sometimes revere people with lots of Bible knowledge and think of them as very mature in the faith. But true maturity is growth in Christ.
It’s good to grow in knowledge, but that is only a means to an end – and the end is Christ himself and a life pleasing to him.
And when we come together here, encourage one another in the life Jesus has called you to.
- So we continue to be a place of joy and worship and song.
- We continue to preach God’s word, hearing him speak.
- Just as we continue to gather to pray, coming before him as his people.
May the Lord himself keep us all from empty religion.
You and I are to live in Christ, and make this a place of grace and forgiveness. This is to be a place known for living in Christ, not suffocating under a burden of impossible rules. The law of God will point out your sin to you. Repent of it, and ask God to forgive you.
In grace he will, and you will be united to Jesus, with the Holy Spirit of God in you.
Does it not matter how you live then? Yes!
Can we live without laws? No!
- As a Christian, repented of sin and forgiven by God, trusting in Christ’s death in your place, you are a child of God.
- You have union with Jesus, Christ the king of all.
- The Holy Spirit in you gives you a new heart, new desires.
- Reconciled to God, you want to live to him and for him forever!
- And that is true human fulfilment, joy, and life.
- And that is how you live: Christ in you, living in holiness – not to earn God’s love, but to express it to the world.