+ Lent 3 – March 3rd, 2013 +Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
We love measuring things. It’s true before as well as after birth; what’s her height weight and head-size? As children grow, we mark the walls or door frames: are they bigger or smaller, shorter or taller? School is a workshop of social measurement and comparison: who’s cooler or nerdier? Who’s the cutest girl or the hottest guy?
Apparently, people in Jesus’ day were just as obsessed with measuring things as we are. Some of them came running up to Jesus. “Did you hear what happened to those Galileans, Jesus? Their blood was mingled with the pagan sacrifices. They must have done something really sinful to deserve that; sure glad it wasn’t me.”
Jesus replies, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Comparing and measuring works well, say for example, when you’re building a bridge or a Boeing 787. However, it never works out well for us when our love of measuring things is applied in the spiritual realm. Like everything else, our old Adam takes a gift of God and curves it inward on ourselves. Chief of sinners though I be, there’s always someone worse than me. But who’s really the greater sinner there? The one who knows they are sinful or the one who thinks the other guys’ sin is worse than his?
Today’s Gospel reading isn’t really about why there’s tragedy, suffering and death in the world (although a fine application to make). Jesus uses this occasion to teach repentance. Not comparison. Not measurement. Not degrees or grades of sinners. Repentance.
Repentance isn’t taking a look in the mirror of our sins and then tilting it so the light of God’s law shines on the sins of those around us while we sit comfortably saying, “well, I could be worse; “thank God I’m not like those sinners…”
Repentance isn’t doing something to satisfy God’s wrath, as if God were a crooked cop to pay off.
Repentance isn’t rehab for sinners: “be a better person.” Adam 2.0 – he’s better, stronger, faster at getting rid of bad habits, and improving sinful behavior.
Repentance never begins with us looking at other people’s sins, only our own. Repentance begins, not by comparing yourself to your own standards or others’, but by Jesus’ standards.
The standard of the Law is remarkably simple. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind…and love your neighbor as yourself. Keep the Law - all 10 Commandments - and you will live. But break even one squiggly letter of the Law and you’re guilty of breaking the whole thing. Simple, but demanding.With Jesus there’s no sliding scale. No “A” for effort. Jesus doesn’t grade on a curve. And he’s not like your youth soccer coach, “Well, better luck next time kid, at least you tried; that’s all that counts.” No, none of that will do.
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Repentance, then, begins not by looking at the tragedy or sin of others, but by the tragedy of our own sin.
Repentance is an outright assault on our inward-bent, navel-gazing ways, a revolution launched against our old sinful flesh and our desire to be god.
Repentance is a turning, a complete 180 degree change. You were going that way, now go this way. You were walking in the counsel of the wicked. Be planted and live in the living waters of Christ’s righteousness.
Repentance is confessing the truth about ourselves in light of God’s Word: that our thoughts, words and deeds have earned us nothing short of temporal and eternal damnation. For if we say we have no need of repentance, what we’re really saying is, we have no need of Jesus. Jesus’ words call us to repentance; repent of comparing our sins with our neighbor’s sins. Repent of foolishly thinking we need no repentance. Repent and see our sin for what it is: a death sentence in light of the 10 commandments.
“How can I possibly measure up to that standard?” we ask. “What could I possibly do that would compare with those demands? That sounds impossible.”
And for us it is. That’s the point. God’s Law measures and compares us all by the light of His holiness and the same verdict is rendered upon all: total condemnation. We’re exposed. Naked. Guilty. Shamed. But what is impossible for man is not impossible for the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus does the impossible for you. Yes, all have fallen short of the glory of God…and you are justified by the grace that comes through His redemption; in His dying you live.
This is what the season of Lent is all about. The Holy Spirit convicting and exposing our sin; and the same Holy Spirit pointing us to a love beyond comparison: Christ Crucified for you. And so, Luther says, “Repentance is nothing other than a return to our Baptism.” Daily dying to self and Rising in Christ. Daily drowning our sins in Christ’s promises as the Holy Spirit works repentance in us. And out of repentance, Christ also works reconciliation, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Above all, repentance is God’s gift for you. It may not seem like it at first; it’s painful, but a pain that leads to relief, a death that leads to life. It is a gift to confess with David, “I have sinned against heaven and earth and then to hear Nathan reply, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” It is God’s gift that you cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” But rejoice, for Christ comes to dwell only among sinners.” This kind of confession only comes from one place – not from you or your striving to keep the commandments - but from Jesus who keeps the commandments for you and his life-giving Spirit who works repentance in you. Repentance is not our work for God; it’s God’s work in us.
This is the turning point when we tell the truth about ourselves and our thoughts, words, and actions. God works repentance in us, killing us with the conviction of the commandment that says, “You are a sinner, and you deserve eternal death.” But He also turns us away from our ugly reflection in the Law’s mirror, away from ourselves and all measuring, evaluating ways. And He turns our face to the face of Jesus, crucified for you, raised and glorified for you. Turn and look to Him. He is your righteousness; His blood is the payment for your sins.
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t share our twisted love of measurement and calculation. He is gracious and abounding in steadfast love. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that we would repent and live. And in order to give us life, He gives you what you don’t deserve. He reckons to you a righteousness that is not your own. He declares that you are forgiven; not guilty. On the cross the scales are tipped in your favor. The innocent dies for the guilty. The one who deserved no death laid down his life for us. The sinless One stands in our place as sinner. The obedient Son is faithful for all our disobedience.
The vine dies to give life to you, his precious branches. And by his death he bears great fruit for you, the living fruit of his suffering, death and resurrection. The saving fruit of his water, word, body and blood.
And by this fruit, he waters, feeds and fertilizes us fruitless fig trees week after week, year after year so that we too bear fruit, the fruit of repentance, the fruit of mercy to the those in need. The fruit of Christ’s gospel spoken to our neighbors and in our community.
There’s no need to measure or compare any more. Christ has measured up to the Law for you and not fallen short. He lived for you. Died for you. Rose for you.
And from the tree of His cross, He bears fruit in your Baptism where your sin has been removed from you as far as the East is from the West. Where God changed your mind and has given you a new mind, conformed to the mind of Christ. He’s given you a new heart that rejoices in repentance; and rejoices all the more in Christ Crucified for you. And there is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus. This is one gift without measure or comparison.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.