Jesus would be an unpopular funeral preacher today. With this sermon text: “Were those Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with your sacrifices worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” And this: Were those 18 people “who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them worse sinners than all the others living in Jerusalem?” I tell you, “no,” he said. “But, unless you repent you too will perish.” What a funeral message! (Luke 13:1-5)
This is a message on the need of all of us always to repent. I promise you, this is a positive message. It will end with you having a good idea of repentance.
Let’s look at those incidents in Luke 13 a little closer. In the case of the Galileans, Jesus, by the way, chooses to comment on their miserable end rather than on the corrupting of the Jewish sacrifice. Pilate was a meanie. He’d probably said to himself, “I’ll really get under the skin of these Sanhedrin types, I’ll mix some Galilean blood with that of their animal sacrifice; that’ll tick em off real good.” So he, perhaps, got a few prisoners and has their arms slit for a specimen of blood, or worse. The wickedness of Pilate’s act needed no comment. But what about the Galileans? Were they more deserving of what they got? No, not at all. “But unless you repent you too will all perish.”
That statement deserves a little comment, too. Question. Unless we each repent will we die a violent death? Is that what he meant by perish? No. Nine out of ten of us will die a non-violent death whether we are worse sinners or not.
There was in the ancient world a persistent idea – and it continues today in some quarters – that only horrible sinners would meet a horrible end, an agonizing physical crisis at the end of life. Never-mind the entire book of Job to teach otherwise, that one’s agony is not proportional to one’s sins. Remember also in John 9 the man who was born blind? Who sinned causing his blindness, him or his parents? “Neither,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
In that instance, and in the cases of the Galilean blood and the 18 tower deaths, Jesus is hitting at this false idea that only the most despicable sinners meet the most despicable deaths. His point is that we all will perish – eternal judgment – unless we repent. The word perish in this context cannot refer to a violent earthly end. Jesus implicitly rules that out because both not so bad sinners and bad sinners all die; that includes all of us. That leaves only one option; he is talking eternity.
So here is what you need to do. Go to your pastor, minister, priest, rabbi , father, mother or counselor and tell on me. Say, that preacher does not know me from Adam and he says that a whole bunch of people like me, people who are not terrible but good people, that unless we repent we will perish. Tell me what message I really need to hear.
If he or she is worth a grain of salt will say to you: “you need to repent.”
Let me tell you a little bit of the sad truth. At funerals it is common for people who know no better to say, “Well, his suffering is over, and he is in a better place.” Well, you know, we really don’t know, do we. If hell is the destination of the unrepentant, that is not a better place, not even a place of an eternal waiting room with TV and magazines; it is a place of suffering. I’m sorry. But Jesus would back me up on that: He said, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” would characterize the outer darkness, the fires of hell.
So, go to your minister and beg of him, “Pastor, tell me to repent (!) and give me direction on repentance. Go ahead, tell me. Help me.”
Therefore, until then I need to encourage you each to repent of all ungodliness. Let me right here and right now give you a little coaching on repentance. And this is good news.
First, Bow before God and say something like this: “Lord, I thought I was a good person. But I guess I’m a hell-bound sinner. I need your mercy. I’m told that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” That’s a start.
Stage two. Bow again and say to God something like this: “Lord Jesus, I hear that you died for me, in my place, that you took my sin on yourself and that is what put you to death. I accept that now. I repent of my attitude of self-righteousness. I need your salvation.” That’s the next step.
Stage three. Bow again and say this: “teach me daily repentance as a Christ believer and a Christ follower.” You see, this is the deal. If you are an authentic believer, you will really repent, every day. Every day you will see the need. There is a hymn that goes,
“I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord.” And the refrain: ”I need Thee, O I need thee, every hour I need Thee.”
Stage four. Live in the joy of the Lord. I mean it. Without repentance there is no joy. A non-repentant life is a longing life, an empty life. Nothing really satisfies. A repentant life purges, it cleanses, it brings a clean slate, purpose shows up. Paul wrote: “repentance is without regret.” Jesus is with you by the Holy Spirit. He abides with you, and with Him you can turn from any sin and with Him you can bear much fruit.
The parable of the unfruitful fig tree follows the Luke account of the Galileans’ blood and the tower deaths. The point is obvious: a repentant person is a fruit-bearing person. That is essentially a purposeful person.
Nine out of ten of us will die a normal death. It has nothing to do with being a good person or bad. Of course, reckless people are more likely to meet their end in an accident. And, some of us who live a repentant and joyful life in Christ will die tragic deaths. How we die says nothing about where we are headed or whether we were worse sinners or not. We, to those who attend our funerals, will be yet another testimony to this effect: unless I repent I perish after I die.
If I repent I Iive after I die. And if I repent before I die, I live in some joy, much purpose and can offer thanksgiving.
W.George, June, 2019