Called to Repent
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Tell what Jesus said about repentance in light of tragedy and the need to bear fruit.
2. Articulate the biblical connections between sin, repentance, and spiritual fruit.
3. Address one area of his or her life in which repentance and/or the bearing of more fruit is needed.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Pontius Pilate. PON-SHUS or PON-ti-us PIE-lut.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Feb. 4—My Soul Is Satisfied (Psalm 63:1–6)
Tuesday, Feb. 5—Turn from Your Ways (Matthew 3:1–6)
Wednesday, Feb. 6—Jesus Calls for Repentance (Mark 1:14, 15)
Thursday, Feb. 7—Repent or Perish (Luke 13:1–5)
Friday, Feb. 8—Bear Fruit of Repentance (Luke 13:6–9)
Saturday, Feb. 9—Paul Calls for Repentance (Acts 26:19–23)
Sunday, Feb. 10—Choose God’s Way (Psalm 1)
I tell you … unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Why Teach This Lesson?
So often, people find it very easy to see the faults in other people’s lives. Yet they are quick to overlook or ignore faults that lie in their own lives. It appears that there is a built-in self-patience and self-love that causes people to overlook even extreme flaws and wrong actions on their part. It appears that sometimes human beings will go to great trouble to place blame anywhere but on themselves.
Your students need to recognize the importance of daily examining and reexamining their own spiritual lives. Failing to do this can result in believers missing great areas of wrong and disobedience to the Word of God. Today’s lesson can allow the Word of God to shine light on their lives and hearts in this regard. As areas of disobedience become apparent, believers’ responses must be to make a turnaround. Getting rid of sin starts with repentance.
A. Repentance in the Bible
“If I have offended anyone by what I did, I’m sorry.” In today’s world, we often hear this type of apology. While this may be sincere, these words express no regret or remorse for the actions that offended. The only regret is that someone was offended. This is a far cry from apologizing by saying, “I’m sorry for what I did. It was wrong, and I regret my actions and the damage they have caused. Will you forgive me?” The difference between these two kinds of apologies is repentance.
Repentance is a major topic throughout the Bible. Sin is rebellion against God; it is disobedience to his will and commands. Because God is merciful, his primary reaction to our sin is not to punish immediately, but to call for repentance. A constant refrain of God’s Old Testament prophets was, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices” (Jeremiah 25:5).
A prayer of Solomon describes the first step in repentance: “We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly” (1 Kings 8:47). Repentance begins with recognition of sin. We should not assume that we can determine what is sin by our feelings. The Bible contains many clear statements as to what constitutes sinful behavior.
A second aspect of repentance is to experience a deep-seated sense of sorrow and regret for our sin. This is much more than regret at being caught or sorrow that comes as a result of disastrous sin. It is, rather, a soul-searching realization that our rebellious actions and attitudes constitute a slap in the face of our loving Father in Heaven. Paul describes this as being “sorrowful as God intended” (2 Corinthians 7:9).
A third aspect of repentance is replacing sinful actions with righteous actions. “If a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so” (Ezekiel 33:19). John the Baptist called this the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8). True repentance will have tangible results in our lives.
The New Testament uses two concepts to express the idea of repentance. The first is the idea of a change in thinking processes, a renewal of mind (see Romans 12:2). A second way of expressing the idea of repentance is to use the metaphor of the physical act of turning around. The principle is that we cannot be chasing sin and pursuing God at the same time. Paul expressed both of these ideas when he reported that the Gentiles had repented and turned to God (Acts 26:20).
In our world today, repentance seems to be a sadly lacking and increasingly rare commodity. Today’s lesson gives us insights into the high level of importance that Jesus placed on repentance. As his followers, we should hear his words carefully.
B. Lesson Background
Today’s passage from Luke is set during what has been called “the later Judean ministry” of Jesus. Combining Luke 10:1–13:21 with John 7:11–10:39 will give us the fullest picture we can have of this particular facet of Jesus’ work. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark do not record Jesus’ work during this period.
A theme of Jesus in the two chapters immediately preceding Luke 13 is the need for spiritual preparedness. He taught the necessity for living lives of light, not darkness (Luke 11:35). He exhorted the crowds to realize that they could not hide sin from God (Luke 12:2, 3). He warned of the sin that could not be forgiven (Luke 12:10). He promised strength and words from the Holy Spirit in the time of trials before the religious authorities (Luke 12:11, 12). He illustrated the folly of a man who cared more for his wealth than for his soul (Luke 12:16–21). He instructed his followers to be ready for any coming crisis (Luke 12:35).
There is no more significant aspect to spiritual preparation than repentance. The fruitful spiritual life cannot be found without consistent self-examination and purging of sinful attitudes. We cannot love sin and God at the same time; he will not stand for it. God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24), one who will have nothing to do with the devotion of his people to fictitious gods.
Jesus understood the preaching of repentance to be at the core of his ministry (see Luke 5:32; 24:47). The thirteenth chapter of Luke contains important teaching on repentance. Here we find the words of our Savior on this matter, a man who needed no repentance because he was without sin.
I. Sin, Tragedy, and Repentance (Luke 13:1–5)
When a great tragedy occurs, is it God’s punishment for sin? Is catastrophe God’s way of bringing people to repentance? These are two very different questions. The assumptions behind them are the focus of this section.
A. Pilate and the Galileans (vv. 1–3)
1. Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
The message Jesus receives comes from some of those who are accompanying him on his way to Jerusalem (but they are not necessarily his disciples). They relate the report of a recent atrocity in Jerusalem, where the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had slaughtered some Jewish Galileans within the sacrificial areas of the temple. Pilate is known to have little hesitation in using Roman military personnel to crush any resistance to his rule.
The incident is offensive in two ways. First, the brutality of a Roman massacre of Jews is a reminder of the fact that the Jews are not free; they are captives in their own land to the Roman overlords. Thus it is a political outrage. Second, the fact that the incident took place within the temple is a sacrilege, possibly involving the presence of Gentiles (the Roman soldiers who did the killing) in forbidden parts of the temple. Thus, it is also a religious outrage.
2. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
Jesus responds by turning the focus from the perpetrator (Pilate) to the victims (these Galileans). Jesus wants his listeners to consider why this incident happened. Were the victims more sinful than the general population, thus deserving of God’s punishing wrath? Were the Romans being used as an instrument of God’s justice? The issue thus ceases to be a political question. It is now a doctrinal question.
3. “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Jesus answers his own question. He tells the audience that this is not a matter of the level of sinfulness found among the massacre victims. All men and women are sinners. All unrepentant sinners will eventually perish, for the only eternal reward for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
What Do You Think?
What are some areas in which we as individuals need to repent? What about as a church? What will happen when we do?
B. Siloamites and the Tower (vv. 4, 5)
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?
Jesus now moves to another incident: the collapse of a certain tower in Jerusalem that had killed 18 people. We have no other details about this tragedy. Some theorize that this tower was part of the wall of the city near the pool of Siloam. This pool is located about 600 yards south of the temple precincts in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ point is that the tower catastrophe was not God’s way of punishing its victims.
The mention of Siloam brings out an interesting connection to the story of the man born blind that is found in John 9. This event is in the past as Jesus now speaks. Some in the crowd may know that this man was healed when he washed in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7). The disciples of Jesus thought this man’s blindness was the result of sin (John 9:1-2). Jesus did not accept their “sin causes blindness” conclusion there. And he does not tolerate the “sin causes catastrophe” argument here.
What Do You Think?
What is the danger of seeing all tragedies as direct punishments for sin? How do we correct this problem?
5. “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
The language of this verse is identical to Jesus’ statement in Luke 13:3, above. The point is the same: sin is not a comparison game where we attempt to point fingers at who is the worst. The need for repentance is universal. The alternative is eternal death. As Paul phrased it, “death reigned” (Romans 5:14) because of the widespread nature of unforgiven sin and unrepentant sinners.
What Do You Think?
What are we often tempted to do instead of repenting? How do we overcome this?
Humans seem to have such a knack for making biased comparisons and drawing self-justifying conclusions! The fictional Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady reveals this trait nicely when he sings, “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” In the song he admits that men have their minor flaws, but when all is said and done, it is men who should be imitated by women and not the reverse.
That kind of comparison makes for a humorous movie script, but it is deadly when it evolves into a game of comparing sins. We all know of people who we think commit more sins than we do. The temptation is both to count their sins and to rank-order those sins (on a scale of mild to horrible). The end result of this comparison game is to conclude that we personally are “not really that bad.” Won’t God be gracious to us because we are such nice people?
Jesus’ words confront those guilty of such smug self-satisfaction. Instead of self-justifying comparisons, we need the constant reminder to repent. We are all sinners. And the penalty for all unrepented sin is eternal destruction. The best time to repent is always now. —J. B. N.
Visual for Lesson 11
Have this visual on display as you ask your learners about spiritual U-turns they have made.
II. Repentance, Fruit, and Patience (Luke 13:6–9)
If personal tragedy and pain are not God’s ways of punishing sin, then why do we suffer? Does God ever use our misfortunes to accomplish his purposes? These are the questions that Jesus now explores in his Parable of the Barren Fig Tree.
A. Tree with No Fruit (v. 6)
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.
It may seem confusing to find a fig tree in a vineyard rather than an orchard, but we should not be surprised. Farmers in the ancient world plant several kinds of crops to guard against disaster if a single crop fails. Planting several crops also provides a variety of food for their own families.
The language here does not imply that the farmer himself planted the fig tree, but simply that he owned a vineyard where a fig tree had been planted, perhaps by a previous owner. This may be a single tree intended to produce figs for the farmer’s family, whereas the surrounding grapevines produce grapes to be sold.
Vineyards are planted in patches of ground that are especially fertile. A fig tree will “use up” the ground where at least one grapevine (and perhaps more) can be cultivated. Thus, the farmer is anxious to gauge the productivity of his tree. We see this concern as he comes to seek fruit on it.
B. Owner and His Patience (vv. 7, 8)
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?’
The task of the hired laborer or servant charged with the care of the vineyard is to maximize the field’s productivity. As we will learn, he is well acquainted with the unproductive fig tree and has faith in its potential for bearing fruit.
Some who read this lesson will know far more about fruit trees than this lesson writer does! I can say this much, though. Flanking the entrance to my driveway are two apple trees, one on each side. They are of different (but unidentified) varieties. Some years they both produce fruit. Some years neither one produces fruit. Some years the west tree produces fruit and the east tree doesn’t (or vice versa). Why is this? I don’t know.
When neither tree had more than a couple of apples in one particular year, I contemplated replacing them with ornamental cherry trees. I decided to wait, though, and the next year they each had a bumper crop. But to wait for three years? No way! After three years of no apples, I would declare them lost causes.
8. “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.
The one tending the vines and the tree pleads for his tree. He offers to carefully dig around it (aerate the soil) and fertilize it. We are not told why, but we see something that can only be described as love in his care for the barren fig tree.
This imagery helps unfold the meaning of the parable. The owner of the vineyard and the tree is God himself, the Lord God of Israel. The barren fig tree is the nation of Israel; this reminds us of Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard, which casts Israel as the field that produces an unacceptable crop (Isaiah 5:1–7). The one tending the tree is Jesus.
In context, the owner (God) had shown extraordinary patience with his unproductive tree (Israel), tolerating three years of failure. The standard procedure is to remove the tree after the second year of no fruit. But now the caretaker (Jesus) pleads for a fourth year. He desperately hopes his tree (Israel) will begin to bear fruit that is pleasing to God (compare Luke 6:44).
What Do You Think?
What can we learn about the caretaker (Jesus) that should serve as a model for us as we interact with those caught in lives of sin?
C. Fruit of Repentance (v. 9)
9. “ ‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”
The owner agrees to give the tree one more year, one last chance. The stakes are high, though. If there is no fruit for a fourth straight year, the tree will be cut down. It will have little potential use except as firewood (compare Luke 3:9). Although fire is not mentioned here, Jesus’ hearers know that this is the inevitable result for unproductive fruit trees.
In the Old Testament, Israel’s lack of repentance resulted in the national disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon (see Zechariah 7:8–14). A second destruction, this one by the Romans, will occur in ad 70, only some 40 years after Jesus tells this parable. Sadly, the tree of Israel will indeed be cut down.
The application to individuals is obvious. There is no question but that God is incredibly patient with his unrepentant sons and daughters (compare Nehemiah 9:30). God wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God’s patience, however, is not the same thing as permanent tolerance. God awaits our repentance. God watches for evidence (fruit) of our changed, repentant hearts. Yet at some point, at a time determined by God alone, this period of patience will end. This will seem sudden and unexpected to us, “like a thief” in the night (2 Peter 3:10). If we ignore repentance, we will not be ready for this “day of the Lord.”
What Do You Think?
In what ways do you bear fruit to demonstrate that you truly have repented? Or is it prideful to point out your own fruit? Why, or why not?
Figs are one of the earliest domesticated fruits. Secular records from about 2500 bc refer to figs, as do some of the earliest narratives of the Old Testament. The Spanish brought figs with them when they established a mission at San Diego in 1769. The most common variety of fig was called the Mission because of its association with the Spanish missions in California. More variety in figs eventually arrived, including the Sari Lop, from Smyrna, Turkey.
But early attempts to grow the Sari Lop in California were a failure. The trees, for some reason, did not produce. As a result, many of the trees were torn up and disposed of as worthless. But some people were not willing to give up on the newcomer. As later discovery proved, it was an issue of pollination. Once that was figured out, the Sari Lop trees were a great success in California (www.nafex.org/figs.htm).
We like reading success stories! But it is safe to assume that if the pollination issue could not have been resolved with the Sari Lop, then the patience of the orchard owners would have run out. A tree that bears no fruit is not worth the space it takes up in the orchard and is certainly not worth the caretaker’s time. Does this warning sink in? —J. B. N.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Some may think that Christians should be entitled to a special, protective relationship with God that exempts us from personal pain and tragedy. Yet the people of Christ’s church live with heartbreak on a continual basis. The joy of childbirth is changed into the grief of crib death. A family’s normal existence is shattered by a drunk driver. Financial stability is lost due to unemployment. The list goes on.
A few years ago, a good friend’s house was destroyed when a windstorm caused a tree in his neighbor’s yard to fall on it. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but there was no way he could have foreseen or avoided this accident. He is a fine person, a leader in his church, a faithful husband, and a wonderful father. Why did this happen to his family?
When we evaluate such tragedies, there are two big mistakes we are likely to make. First, some believe that God causes such events as direct punishment for some type of hidden sin. Today’s lesson is a rebuttal to this way of thinking. We are all sinners. If God were constantly punishing sin with tragic consequences, we should be suffering the unspeakable on a daily basis. To believe that God immediately punishes sin with pain is to misunderstand his patient desire for us to repent.
Second, some think that God is unable to prevent our misfortunes and doesn’t really care about our suffering. It is easy to feel abandoned when we are in the deepest abyss of sorrow or fear. But this also misunderstands the nature of God. God is sovereign, the master of the universe. Nothing is beyond his control. God is loving, the Father who sacrificed his own Son for us. He will not abandon us in the time of trial. “For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath” (Deuteronomy 4:31).
In the end, we may not completely understand the why of tragedy, except to remember that we live in a sinful, rebellious, and imperfect world. There is no simple answer, because sin can have both direct and collateral damage to our lives.
Is it possible, however, to understand that God sometimes uses tragic events to bring people to repentance? Almost all people will eventually suffer in a way that rocks them to their emotional core. Will we respond by shaking our fist in anger at God? Or will we better understand our utter dependence on him and turn our wayward hearts toward home? Will we accept the reality of life’s pain and turn to the one who gives comfort? “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
Yes, we cry when our friend dies because it hurts us deeply. But we must hold on to our eternal hope. We have “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2). We are to be in constant self-examination for those actions and attitudes that separate us from the one who will comfort us the most. This is the fruit of repentance.
The words of the prophet Joel are particularly eloquent for bringing this lesson to a close: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13).
Thought to Remember
God awaits life-changing repentance.
Merciful Father, we confess our lack of repentance. We confess that there are areas in our lives that we have not totally allowed to come under your control.
Most of all, we confess that your patience with us is far more than we deserve. Your mercies are everlasting. Your steadfast love endures forever. Through your power and presence, give us hearts of repentance and grant to us the capacity to produce fruit in our lives. We pray this in the name of the one who bore the guilt of our sins on the cross, Jesus Christ, amen.