He who came to “proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18) was a preacher of repentance (Mark 1:15). Some might consider a call to forsake sin and live righteously as some sort of oppressive bondage, but the truth is that our evil deeds are what chain us down. Jesus would break us free!
Here we meditate on a short sermon by Jesus which calls us to repentance.
“Judge for Yourselves What Is Right” (Luke 12:57-59)
Jesus tells of a man in dire circumstances. He owes someone lots of money. The plaintiff is about to bring the complaint before a judge, who will surely impose an indefinite sentence in debtor’s prison. There is only one thing to be done: humble himself, and try his best to sit down with his accuser before getting to court and reach a settlement.
This is not legal advice. Jesus is urging us to apply the same logic to our relationship with God. We owe God loving obedience, which we have not paid him. Our debt is immense, and the last thing we want is to face the divine Judge and have to pay for our sins. There is only one remedy: admit guilt, prostrate ourselves, and be reconciled. Now!
Worse Sinners (Luke 13:1-5)
Some present in the crowd on that occasion reacted the same way we tend to think today. They heard a call to repentance and assumed Jesus was talking about other people! They brought up a recent tragedy and implied that the victims must have been terrible sinners to suffer such an ignominious end. It seems comforting to us, somehow, that there are some people who do worse things than us.
Jesus pulls the rug out from under this way of thinking. He declares that the victims of that tragedy were no worse than “all other men” (Luke 13:4, NKJV). We are sinners, every last one of us, even if our sins are not those of others, and we needn’t wait to have a tower falling on our heads for our need to repent to dawn on us. Some wait until they see the imminent judgment of God upon them to consider their need for reconciliation. The perceptive ones realize they are living in a period of patience, and that even if they are experiencing abundance and blessing, the very kindness of God leads them to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Bear Fruit (Luke 13:6-9)
The clincher in this powerful message on repentance is a parable. Jesus introduces a fig tree that has borne no figs year after year, such that none could disagree with the vineyard owner’s logic when he declares to the gardener, “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” (Luke 13:7) The fig tree can be immensely grateful for that gardener, for he responded with intercession: “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9).
The fig tree is you and me, the vineyard owner is God, and the keeper, Jesus. What does this parable teach us about the Son of God? First, where others (and perhaps you yourself) might say, “This fig tree is hopeless! It’s had enough chances,” Jesus believes that you can truly change, from the inside out, and bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance. Second, He mediates for you, begging a delay in judgment to give you every opportunity for salvation. He desires it earnestly, for he says, “If it bears fruit, well.” Finally, he invests himself personally in you. This vineyard keeper was willing to work hard and provide the best advantages to this unworthy tree.
That personal investment, in reality, meant that the glorious and divine Son of God came to the world to walk in our dust and meet us in our weakness. It meant that He gave no less than Himself (Ephesians 5:2), dying on the cross to provide the ransom for us so that we don’t have to “[pay] the very last cent” (Luke 12:59, NASB) for our sins. What grace! If we reject this One in His perfect patience and supply, then absolutely nothing could possibly bring our prideful and stubborn hearts to repentance. We could have no excuse in judgment.