Luke 13:1-9 – “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ” (NIV84)
I spent the summer of 2005 working for a church in Florida. On the way back to Minnesota, I visited famous sites along the way. Like Kiln, Mississippi. You know about Kiln, Mississippi, right? Brett Favre’s hometown. I was there! Maybe a more well-known stop was New Orleans. My brother found a little jazz club off of Bourbon Street with the best jazz music I’ve ever heard. I finally made it back to college and on to real life again. Until just three weeks later, I picked up a newspaper—remember those?—and do you know what I saw? The entire city of New Orleans was under water. Can you name the hurricane? Katrina. 1000+ people died. Everything I had just seen was completed flooded. A whole city—right here in the U.S.—destroyed. Unbelievable.
So what did people ask? Why? Why New Orleans? It’s never productive to speculate, right? So what do we do? Speculate. Guess. Assume. I remember how lots of Christians in America made very vocal assumptions. Why New Orleans? “Well, it’s obvious. New Orleans was destroyed because of its immorality! Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street. They deserved it! Like a modern Sodom and Gomorrah…” That’s what people said, right? Were they right? Except what about all the others? How many disasters have happened in your lifetime? 9-11. Columbine. Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Newtown. Plane crashes. Why? Have they all done something to deserve it?
Let’s see what Jesus says. Disasters aren’t new, nor is speculation about them. Our lesson tells us, “There were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” We don’t know anything more about this massacre, but three details stick out. Galileans were killed. What famous person lived in Galilee? Jesus! These were his people! Second, Pilate. Where have you heard that name before? He later sentenced Jesus to die. He was heartless. It’s no surprise he was behind the killing. Third, “blood mixed with their sacrifices.” Where were they killed? Sacrificing at the temple. Even church killings are nothing new. These worshippers were senselessly killed by Pilate as they offered sacrifices to God.
And Jesus knew what people were assuming: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” What was the assumption? “If these people died like that, they must have been more sinful. They must have deserved it! They’re not as good as we are.” Sound familiar? What was Jesus’ response? “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Were those Galileans worse sinners? No! They were just like us! If God were to destroy every place where there are sinners, what would be left? When we see a tragedy, Jesus wants us to realize that we deserve the same thing! So, repent!
This is hard for us to get in our heads, so Jesus gives another example. “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them.” Again, we don’t know anything more about this incident. A tower fell in Jerusalem and killed 18 people. This disaster wasn’t caused by people. It was a random, unexpected tragedy. Like a natural disaster. To Jesus’ audience, this example hit closer to home. It didn’t happen to Galileans from up north. It happened to Jews in Jerusalem itself. Hmmm… What about them? It’s always easy to judge people far away. “Those people” up in Galilee, or “those people” in New Orleans. But what if the disaster hits at home… Then what?
Jesus knows that assumption in us: “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” That’s a hard attitude to shake, isn’t it? “They must have done something to deserve it. We must be better than they are.” What was Jesus’ response—again? “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus squashes this idea that people who suffer tragedies are worse sinners than everyone else. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Since Jesus repeats that, we better understand it: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” What’s Jesus saying? Were they worse sinners than us? No! Were they better than us? No! The point isn’t that they deserved it more or that they deserved it less. The point is that everyone deserves it. There are no good people. Everyone is in the same boat. There are only sinners. And what do sinners deserve? Tragedies. Disasters. Judgment. That’s what sinners deserve! Since that’s the case, every disaster in life—from mass shootings to hurricanes—every disaster for us is a wake-up call from God. “But by the grace of God, there go I! That’s what I deserve.” Got it? God uses tragedies as wake-up calls to get us to see our sin and repent. God’s wake-up calls!
It’s just that it’s really hard to wake up, isn’t it? It’s been two weeks, and I still hear people complaining about daylight savings time. 31 states are considering legislation to end daylight savings time and its horrific consequences—we have to get up an hour early one day a year. Isn’t that awful? How are we going to recover? Right here at our church we had 60 less people than average attend on March 10th. 60 less people for daylight savings time. It’s hard to wake up!
If it’s so hard to wake up physically, how much harder is it to wake up spiritually? It’s easy to get comfortable in our lives. To establish routines that have nothing to do with God. When God calls us to wake up, how often don’t we hit the snooze? “I’ll start going to church once I have kids… Snooze… I’ll start going to church when my kids grow up… Snooze… We’ll have more time for God when basketball ends… Snooze… When work slows down… Snooze… When the weather is nicer… Snooze… I’ll stop living in this sin when it stops being so fun… Snooze…” Sound familiar? It’s hard to wake up! But Jesus has some chilling words about his return on Judgment Day… “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36). Oh boy!
Jesus drove this truth home with a parable. A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard. For three years he kept going to it, looking for fruit. Did he find any? No! So what did he decide to do? Cut it down! A fig tree that doesn’t produce figs is worthless. This shouldn’t have been hard for Jesus’ hearers to understand. God often talked about Israel as his vineyard. How long did Jesus spend preaching to the people of Israel? Three years. What response did he get? No fruit. No repentance. God is patient. He wants everyone to believe and be saved. But does God’s patience last forever? No! At some point, judgment comes. See why wake-up calls are needed?
It’s just that Jesus adds an interesting detail in his parable. The gardener of the vineyard asks for a little more time. “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” It’s hard not to think of Jesus praying to God for us. For our world. “Father, just give them another year. A little more time of grace. Let my Word be preached some more. I’m going to keep looking for fruit. For repentance. Send them more wake-up calls. Then if they still don’t listen, cut them down.” When you hear that, what’s your response? When’s the day to repent and believe in Jesus? Today. Today’s the day!
Because at some point, there won’t be another day. We don’t know when that time of grace for you and me will end. God’s patience doesn’t last forever. It ended for many of the Jews in 70 A.D. Do you know what happened? Just like Jesus predicted, the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem. No stone was left on another. God is very patient. But his patience has an end. The day came for those Galileans on that day when Pilate slaughtered them at the temple. For those 18 Jews when the tower fell. For 3000 Americans on 9-11. For a 1000 in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina. Your and my day is going to come. Either death or Judgment Day is coming for all. If I’m sleeping when that day comes, I’ll face God’s judgment in hell for my sins.
So Jesus—God—gives us wake-up calls. Sometimes very abrupt, shocking wake-up calls. Can you see why? It’s because he loves us! Why does a mom wake up her children? Because she loves them and doesn’t want them to miss out on something important. Why does a college student wake up her roommate? Because she cares about her and doesn’t want her to miss something important. Why does a son wake up his dad in time to watch the basketball game? Because he loves him and doesn’t want him to miss something important. Why does Jesus send wake-up calls? Because he loves us, and he doesn’t want us to miss something very important!
Think of all that Jesus has done. He lived for you and died for you and rose for you and ascended into heaven for you. Then he carefully formed you and made you. He baptized you and claimed you as his very own. He’s forgiven your sins, been with you every single day, and prepared a room for you in heaven. What more could Jesus possibly do? He doesn’t want you to miss out on all that he’s done for you! Wake-up calls are grace. This is God’s love! My loving Savior Jesus doesn’t want me to miss out on the free gift of heaven that he’s won for me, and so he patiently sends me wake-up call after wake-up call to repent of my sin and fall into his forgiving arms.
But wait a minute: What about all those people who actually die in those disasters? What about those whose deaths are the wake-up calls for everyone else? Here’s the hard truth: For unbelievers, it’s God’s judgment. Whenever an unbeliever dies, whether at a ripe old age or in a sudden disaster, that’s the day of God’s judgment on that person. Without repentance and faith, that tree will get cut down. That’s what Jesus says, right? That’s why God calls on us again and again to repent! Are you ready for that day, whenever it comes? But for believers, that tragedy means something else—heaven! From our perspective, some lives seem to get cut too short, but do you think people in heaven are thinking, “I wish I could have lived longer on earth…” No way! For believers in Jesus who were slaughtered by Pilate or crushed by that tower or drowned in New Orleans, they opened their eyes in heaven, saved by their faith in Jesus. Is that bad? No!
So are you awake? Jesus wants you to be. He doesn’t want you to miss out! Pay attention to the news. Don’t ignore the tragedies all around us. Live in sober recognition of what could happen to us any day. God provides constant wake-up calls for us to repent and trust in Jesus. My younger brother is in Marine Corps. I asked him once how he handles facing death on his deployments. He said, “There are a hundred things that could kill you any day in the U.S.” “Thanks. That’s great to know.” It is. It is really great to know. That could be me. That should be me. That’s what I deserve. Forgive me, Jesus! By God’s grace, I have another day. You have another day. Another day to repent and trust in Jesus. Today is the day. Listen to God’s wake-up calls!