Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Time off...

Vacation to Arizona...back February 3.

"Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" --- hymn based on Luke 14:1-14

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

(Luke 14:1-14 ESV)

God Is Gracious to the Humble

To the tune: LAUDA ANIMA (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/lauda_anima_goss). Based on Luke 14:1-14. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
God is gracious to the humble,
those who seek the marriage feast.
Dining with the Lord who’s risen,
Jesus, sacrifice and priest.
Lord, sustain us on our journey,
be to us our food and drink.

v. 2
Praise to holy, humble Jesus,
came from heaven down to earth,
came to us the Lord incarnate,
came to us as One who serves.
Last and least the rulers judged Him,
raised, the Father made Him first.

v. 3
Though the Lord is raised to heaven,
still He serves His church on earth.
Gives the Word and sends the Spirit,
gives His people heav’nly birth.
Raises us to life in heaven,
’round the throne we praise His worth.

v. 4
Eat the meal of Jesus’ kingdom,
see the risen Christ revealed.
Suff’ring Servant, Lord of glory,
through our Savior we are healed.
Take by faith the Christ who’s offered,
in the Word and holy meal.

v. 5
Serve the weak, the poor, the lowly,
that is who we are in Christ.
For God chooses not the mighty,
to the humble He gives life.
Therefore, look not down on others,
God gives grace to hearts contrite.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Divine Service of Worship: Have We Lost our Way?

I am writing hymns based on Luke’s Gospel, and recently I was working on a hymn for Luke 13:22-30. Here is how that passage begins:

“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward
Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell
you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house
has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the
door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where
you come from.’”
Anxious to explain the meaning of Jesus’ words, “Strive to enter through the narrow door,” I began the hymn with a verse explaining this imperative or command. For the second verse I went back to the theme of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus would die as the Savior of the world. Thus, I began the hymn with an imperative of the law and then moved to the indicative of the gospel.[1]

I thought the hymn was finished, but somehow, the hymn didn’t feel right to me as I sang it. Something was wrong. Finally, it dawned on me. I had reversed the New Testament order of indicative then imperative, of gospel then good works, of Christ’s service to us before our service to him.

Sadly, the mistake I made in my hymn is a mistake so many in Evangelical and Reformed churches are making on a regular basis in their church services. Our churches have forgotten the fact that the divine service of worship is first of all Christ’s service to us, not our service to him! The means of grace---Word and Supper---are just that! They are means through which Christ serves us. Through Word and meal Christ and his benefits are offered to us and received by faith. We come to the service, not primarily to give but to receive!

And, when we do give our worship and devotion to the Father through the Son and by the Spirit, that worship is to be fueled by the indicative of the gospel! Our hearts must hear the bad news of the law as the dark backdrop against which we hear the good news of the gospel. Then, having heard, received, and believed this wonderful gospel once again, we will be stirred to thanks and praise.

But in our churches we are losing the dialogue of sin, salvation and service or guilt, grace and gratitude. We used to begin our services, for example, with a hymn that spoke of God’s glory and majestic holiness. This then led to a time of confession of sins, and an assurance of pardon. After hearing the law and the gospel, we were then ready to sing our praise from thankful hearts and ready to offer ourselves to God in response to his mercy (Rom. 12:1).[2]

But, today, the dialogue of worship---of God speaking and our response---has been replaced by 20-25 minutes of non-stop singing---singing that often times communicates our story, not the Lord’s story of creation, fall, salvation, and consummation. We have forgotten the dialogical nature of worship. We have abandoned the back and forth of the historic liturgies of the church. Gone are the greeting of God, the call to worship, confession of sins and assurance of pardon, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings with Psalms interspersed, and the pastoral prayer. Gone also is the weekly meal, which Jesus instituted specifically on the day of his resurrection, so that the sermon would rightly culminate in communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. Historically, the divine service of worship consisted of two parts: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the table, but these two have been divorced, with the predictable result that sermons devolve into mere lectures. Nor is liturgy of the Word[3] doing its role of catechizing, for we have also abandoned the recitation of the Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed, and Lord’s Prayer (representing, respectively, the law, the gospel, and Christian service).

Do you see how we have silenced the voice of Christ in our services and replaced His with our own, at least, in part? Do you see how we have changed the dialogue from God’s story of sin and grace, law and gospel, justice and mercy, to the stories the latest contemporary Christian musicians may tell? It used to be that whatever song or hymn we sang was chosen to fit into the dialogue of worship. We didn’t string together four or five songs in a row without regard for the dialogue between the Lord and his people. Songs could function as the Word, prayer, praise, confession, or exhortation to one another. But now we just string songs together with no discernible gospel logic. The feeling that I experienced with my reversal of indicative/imperative is magnified ten-fold because so many things in our services somehow feel wrong.

Brothers and sisters, we are not applying our theology to our practice of worship (let us hope we are not!). During the Reformation, the reformers understood that a change in theology requires a change in worship. Reformed theology must be applied to the practice of worship, just as Charismatic theology or Catholic theology is applied, respectively, to Charismatic or Catholic worship. We kid ourselves if we think that our worship services are about style and have nothing to do with our theology. There is a reason Luther revised the worship service to reflect the rediscovered truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone. Luther, and the other reformers, understood that theology must be applied to our worship together.

I close with a chart that shows the historic pattern of Christian worship. Of course, Scripture does not give us one infallible liturgy! But it does give us truth that we can apply to our worship together. This chart shows the dialogical or conversational nature of Christian worship. The arrows pointing downward represent God’s Word to us. The arrows pointing upward represent our response to God’s Word to us. The arrows pointing horizontally represent our words to one another.

This sample pattern of worship, showing the dialogical nature of worship, comes from The Worship Sourcebook. Part of its preface to the chart says, “A regular order of worship protects the congregation from overly zealous or overly creative worship leaders who might impose too much of their own agendas on a worship service. A predictable order of worship gives the congregation something to hang on to, something to expect—especially those people, including children, for whom consistency is an important prerequisite for participation. Most important, a well-conceived order of worship ensures that the main purposes of worship are carried out. In other words, a thoughtful pattern for worship keeps worship as worship. It protects worship from degenerating into a performance, into entertainment, or into an educational lecture.”

Call to Worship ↓
Greeting ↓
Prayer of Adoration or Prayer of Invocation ↑
Call to Confession ↓
Prayer of Confession and Lament ↑ ↔
Assurance of Pardon ↓
Passing of the Peace ↓ ↔
Thanksgiving ↑
The Law ↓
Dedication ↑ ↔

Prayer for Illumination ↑
Scripture Reading ↓
Sermon ↓

Response to the Word
Profession of the Church’s Faith ↔ ↑
Prayers of the People ↑
Offering ↑

The Lord’s Supper
Declaration of God’s Promises and Invitation ↓
Prayer of Thanksgiving ↑
Breaking of the Bread ↓
Communion ↓ ↔
Response of Thanksgiving ↑

Call to Service or Discipleship ↓
Blessing/Benediction ↓

[1] The imperative and indicative refer to two moods of Greek verbs.  The indicative mood indicates fact or reality, while the imperative states a command.

[2] Romans 12:1: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
[3] The liturgy of the Word was also known as the liturgy of the catechumens, for its role in catechizing the people was recognized.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Journey of All Journeys---devotion and hymn based on Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
(Luke 13:31-35 ESV)


“It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem,” and so Jesus will not be deterred by the Pharisees from the course the Father set for him. Jesus comes as the prophet Moses spoke of when he said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen”
(Deuteronomy 18:15). And, like all the prophets, he too must suffer and be rejected.

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament office of prophet in two ways. First, like the prophets, Jesus spoke the words of God and performed miracles. Second, like the prophets, Jesus suffered for speaking God’s word to the world.

Of course, Jesus’ suffering, unlike the prophets, was redemptive. Jesus was not only a prophet, but also the very Son of God! His suffering and dying brought about the forgiveness of sins. His dying also marked the end of this present evil age, just as his resurrection marked the beginning of the new creation. But, still, as the eschatological or final prophet, Jesus spoke the very words of God and was rejected because of what he taught.

This same pattern of suffering for speaking God’s Word was continued by the apostles and is continued by faithful ministers today. Listen to what Paul says to Timothy, who was a pastor: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God . . . ” (2 Tim. 1:8). But why does the apostle Paul suffer? He goes on to tell us just a couple verses later: “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do” (2 Tim. 1:11-12). Paul suffered because he faithfully preached and taught the apostolic message received from Jesus.

The hymn below focuses on the vast journey the eternal Son made in assuming our nature, and then going in that nature to the cross. It was a journey that defines the very notion of love. The only right and safe response to this journey is to welcome Jesus as our crucified and risen King, and to be willing to suffer if need be for our loyalty to Jesus and teaching.

A Journey Vast Was Made in Grace

To the tune: ST. CRISPIN. Based on Luke 13:31-35. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
A journey vast was made in grace,
from highest heights to lowest place.
The Son of God became a man,
in love fulfilled the Father’s plan.

v. 2
Jerusalem, His destiny,
there would He pay sin’s penalty.
The place where all the prophets died,
there would our Lord be crucified.

v. 3
Though tempted, Jesus set His face,
He wavered not to take our place.
He was the temple crushed and raised,
the place where sinners can find grace.

v. 4
The love of Christ, a flaming fire,
to gather sinners His desire.
Receive and welcome Christ the King,
hide in the shadow of His wings.

v. 5
To Jesus and His words stay true,
consider all He’s done for you.
He suffered, died and took your place,
with faith and courage run the race.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jesus' Journey and Ours --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 13:22-30

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
(Luke 13:22-30 ESV)


Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem that began in Luke 9:51: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die. His dying must take place in Jerusalem, for this is where the prophets perish (Luke 13:33), and Jesus is the prophet, whom all the prophets foreshadowed. However, this was Jesus’ mission from the beginning, for the Father sent him to die in our place for the forgiveness of sins. But ultimately Jesus’ mission culminates in the heavenly Jerusalem, for he must be “taken up,” opening heaven for his people. Thus, Jesus completes his round trip from the Father in heaven to the earth and back to his Father and heaven.

In this passage, again, Jesus emphasizes the need for repentance, just as he had in Luke 13:3, 5. To “strive” to enter the narrow door does not mean that salvation is by our works or by our moral striving. Rather, it means that the kingdom is gained by a God-given repentance that hears the Word of God and puts to death daily the sinful inclinations of the old nature or old man. Martin Luther understood this, for the first of his 95 Theses said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Lutheran scholar, Arthur Just, agrees that this repentance is lifelong, and echoing Jesus includes in repentance the element of striving or struggle: “St. Paul offers a window into this inner struggle and how it is resolved in Romans 7:7-8:11 . . . . This ongoing, lifelong struggle characterizes the lives of all who are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:1-11).

I am struck by the sentence Jesus uses twice in this passage to describe unbelievers, even if they did at times eat and drink with him (the Lord's table fellowship is not an automatic guarantee of salvation!): “I do not know where you come from.” If we are to be received into the heavenly feast of the kingdom when Jesus returns, we must be born from above. In other words, we need a second birth. By faith, even now, our home must be with the crucified and risen Christ in heaven. Those who are of this world and know only the first birth, Jesus does not know and will not acknowledge on that last day.

Another theme found in the hymn below is that of the Lord’s Supper and the way our Lord continues to feed us through Word and sacrament as we make our journey to heaven. When Jesus says that his words are Spirit and life in John 6:63, he means that he communicates his risen life to his people through the Spirit who indwells us and gives us the second birth.

The theme of the final verse is the theme of reversal. Just as Jesus was judged and crucified by a human court, but his verdict reversed by the Father through his resurrection and ascension, so too will there be reversals when God judges all people through his Son. On that day, some like the Pharisees who depend on their own righteousness will be condemned, while others who know themselves to be quite sinful but repent and turn to Jesus, will be justified.

For Us Jesus Made a Journey

To the tune: STUTTGART. Based on Luke 13:22-30. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
For us Jesus made a journey,
to the cross He set His face.
In Him we are raised to heaven,
Christ our home and resting place.

v. 2
Strive to live a life repentant,
live in Jesus’ narrow way.
Baptized into Jesus’ dying,
seek to live by grace through faith.

v. 3
Is your home in earth or heaven?
Do you know the second birth?
If you died and rose with Jesus,
live not for the things of earth.

v. 4
Soon arrives the feast of heaven,
Jesus present in His home.
Will the door be opened to you,
or the door forever closed?

v. 5
Praise the Lord who feeds His people,
feast of heaven now in time.
Gives Himself and all His blessings,
words of Spirit, words of life.

v. 6
Jesus’ judgment brings reversals:
some are first who will be last.
But the state of those repentant:
new in Christ the old has passed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Parables of the Kingdom---devotion and hymn based on Luke 13:18-21

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
(Luke 13:18-21 ESV)


These two parables serve as the conclusion to a discourse of Jesus that began in Luke 12:1. Jesus began that talk with a warning about the leaven of hypocrisy that can keep a person from the kingdom, and now he closes it with another reference to leaven, this time using leaven as a picture of God’s kingdom.

Both of the parables in these verses are similar. Both begin with something small that end up being large. The mustard seed was proverbially small, about one millimeter in width, and yet it grows to a tree 8 to 12 feet high. Similarly leaven, though small, works itself through even a large batch of dough (three measures of flour is about 50 pounds!).

God’s kingdom, which is equivalent to the new creation, will fully come when Jesus returns. But already this new creation or kingdom was present in the conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary (it is also something we possess already by faith in Christ!). Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation, so also the Spirit “overshadowed” Mary to bring about the new creation in Jesus. Thus, the kingdom begins in a small and hidden way, in the womb of a virgin, and in the death and resurrection of the virgin’s Son.

In this hymn, I am using Jesus’ own imagery, in which he pictures his death as the dying of a seed which brings forth much fruit (John 12:24). I’m also using the Old Testament concept of the remnant, which referred to the few faithful Jews who stayed true to the Lord in the midst of widespread apostasy. In a very real sense, Jesus is a remnant of one, the only man who has remained faithful to the Lord from beginning to end. It is his faithful and righteous life that has won the kingdom for us.

Verse 3 changes the imagery slightly to picture the gospel as a seed that’s sown in our hearts, much like the teaching of 1 John 3:9. Only the regenerative power of God’s Word and Spirit can change us and keep us in union and communion with our risen Lord.

The Kingdom Starts Out Like a Little Seed

To the tune: MORECAMBE. Based on Luke 13:18-21. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The kingdom starts out like a little seed,
the Holy One in Mary’s womb conceived.
The new creation starts with just one man,
the Son accomplishes the Father’s plan.

v. 2
The Spirit hovers as He did at first,
brings forth the child who will reverse the curse.
Jesus the remnant and the holy seed,
planted in death and raised as Lord and King.

v. 3
The gospel message like a seed is sown,
with pow’r to cleanse and idols overthrow.
Don’t be discouraged though the work is small,
our Lord is risen working all in all.

v. 4
In dying Jesus is a seed that’s sown,
in rising Jesus is a tree full grown.
And like the birds in Him we find a nest,
engrafted in Him we are ever blessed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Journey of the Christian Life

These are some wonderful words from Arthur Just's introduction to his commentary on Luke. Just is a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

"Life itself is a journey from birth to death. For the Christian, life is a pilgrimage from baptism to death, which is the entrance into eternity. In the waters of holy baptism, the Christian gets death over with as he dies and is buried with Christ and is reborn to new life in Christ that never ends. But as the Christian journeys to his destination of full communion with Christ in heaven, he lives under the cross, where he is continually living in Christ as hears his holy Word and feeds upon his holy food to sustain him on the journey. The Christian's pilgrimage climaxes in his physical death, which is an entrance to full communion with Christ in his heavenly home. The goal of the journey is to live in Christ's presence forever and to feast at his table for eternity."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Sign of the Eternal Sabbath --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
(Luke 13:10-17 ESV)


The Sabbath first shows up in Scripture in God’s rest on the seventh day. Unlike the other six days of creation, the Sabbath day had no evening or darkness. The Sabbath day pointed to an eschatological or eternal goal (eschatology refers to the last days and the new creation). If Adam would have obeyed the Lord, judging and resisting the serpent’s temptation, then he would have gained for the human race the Sabbath rest of eternal life forever. Instead, Adam sinned and all of us were barred from God’s kingdom, Sabbath rest, and life.

God in his mercy did not leave us in the sin, shame, and slavery of Adam’s sin. He sent his Son as the last Adam to earn for us what Adam had lost. Jesus gained the eternal rest, freedom, and life of the Sabbath on behalf of all those who place their faith in Him. His miracles were signs that indeed the eternal Sabbath was breaking into this present age through his person and work. So when Jesus heals this woman, who was cruelly bound by Satan, freeing her in his compassion by word and touch, this was a sign that pointed to the fulfillment of the Sabbath by a new Adam! Sadly, the ruler of the synagogue was blind to the eternal day and freedom to which the Sabbath pointed, which Jesus was bringing about (Leviticus 25 had taught that the Sabbath pointed to freedom from slavery and debt).

In verse one of the hymn below, we sing of the new creation and eternal Sabbath rest and life Jesus brought us. We receive what he has earned for us by faith in him. Verse two emphasizes how Jesus healed the woman (as he heals us) through word and touch. The teaching of Jesus is not enough if it does not bring us into contact with his life and power!

In verse three, the damage that sin brings to Adam’s race is taught, which is pictured by the burdened woman, bent over in her affliction, rather than standing upright before God. But all of us in Adam also bear Adam’s marred image, burdened and bent over by the guilt and the power of sin. But Jesus, the perfect image bearer, came to restore us to his image, and he begins that restoration even in this life, by communicating his grace and power to us through his Word and sacraments, for the sacraments are, like the miracles, signs which communicate Christ’s risen, eschatological, eternal Sabbath life to us, even in this life! The life of the age to come is already enjoyed in this life by those with faith in Jesus!

Christ Jesus Brought a New Creation

To the tune: O DASS ICH TAUSEND (click on Baptized into Thy name most holy 298). Based on Luke 13:10-17. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
Christ Jesus brought a new creation,
eternal Sabbath rest and life.
In Jesus there’s a liberation,
to live as children of the light.
He worked to earn our Sabbath rest,
through faith in Him His saints are blessed.

v. 2
O free us, Lord, from sin’s dominion,
in great compassion heal our souls.
O speak the word of sin forgiven,
and give the touch that makes us whole.
Jesus, You died and rose again,
O may Your life in us begin.

v. 3
In Adam sin has marred God’s image,
our sin a burden that deforms.
O Jesus, speak and heal sin’s damage,
and to Your likeness please conform.
Convey Your grace through Word and sign,
Your touch that heals this heart of mine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Jesus' Teaching about God's Judgments in History --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 13:1-9

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
(Luke 13:1-9 ESV)


Sadly, disasters are common in a fallen world. Sometimes they are perpetrated by man, like the situation with the Galileans, whom Pilate put to death while they were presenting sacrifices in the temple. Sometimes they are natural disasters or accidents, like the deaths that resulted from the falling tower in Siloam.

In Jesus’ day it was common to blame the people who died in these disasters. “These people must have been more wicked than others to incur this judgment of God,” was the thought. In our day it is more common to blame God instead for such things. “Why did God not prevent these events?” is the question people ask. But Jesus would have us look at all of this differently. Jesus would have us see that all of us are guilty sinners who deserve the wrath of God. All of us have sinned in Adam and stand guilty before him, deserving his judgment.

The people in Jesus’ day were right about two things: first, they were right in seeing that God is sovereign over things like the wicked deeds of rulers or the falling of a tower; second, they were right in seeing these events as God’s judgments in history. But where they went wrong was in thinking that these judgments were directed at people much worse than them or us! Jesus would have us see that we too deserve God’s wrath and judgment. Jesus would also have us see that, indeed, his judgment is coming, for all of us will have to stand before him when he comes again to judge all of Adam’s guilty race. Therefore, we need to repent in order to avoid a negative verdict on that day that is coming soon.

In verses 1-3 of the hymn below, our situation as a fallen race in Adam is pictured. We are like men awaiting judgment. The Bible is clear: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment . . . .” (Hebrews 9:27). There is only one hope of escape from a guilty verdict and that is to be joined to Jesus, who graciously came to bear our judgment at the cross. Natural disasters and “accidents” foreshadow and picture the judgment that is coming. When we see these judgments in the lives of others, or even in our own lives, they should remind us of our need to repent, for this is the step we must take to be right with God. Verse 3 helps us to see how repentance involves a turning away from sin and a turning toward Jesus.

Verse 4 of the hymn is a commentary on Luke 13:6-9. The unfruitful tree in these verses is Israel. Israel is often referred to in Scripture as a vine or tree. But, like Adam, Israel failed to bear fruit unto God. For nearly three years Jesus had healed and ministered among the Jews, but still there was no fruit. Therefore, the time for judgment was drawing near. Yet God is merciful, and he gave Israel time to repent, so that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, many Jews came to repentance were joined by faith to Jesus their King. Engrafted into the second Adam and true Israel, who died and rose on our behalf, a new life of daily repentance and faith is possible. From our union with the risen Christ comes the grace and power to live a life of daily repentance.

How Good and Kind is Jesus

To the tune: MUNICH. Based on Luke 13:1-9. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
How good and kind is Jesus,
in Him the Father see;
was sent for our salvation
to set the pris’ners free.
For men await the sentence
that’s coming on our race.
But Jesus bore our judgment,
that gives His people grace.

v. 2
In Adam, death’s appointed,
then comes the judgment seat.
For all will have to answer,
our Maker we will meet.
Disasters come upon men,
a picture of that day.
In Christ alone is safety,
in Him alone escape.

v. 3
“Repent,” the word of Jesus,
so turn from sinful ways.
In Adam all will perish,
a guilty, fallen race.
But there is hope in Jesus,
if we will turn to Him.
For on the cross He suffered
to save us from our sins.

v. 4
Our Lord, the second Adam,
embodies Is-ra-el;
the Son of God and David,
succeeded where they failed.
Engrafted now in Jesus,
receive His risen life.
Bear fruit of your repentance,
as those who’ve died with Christ.

Philip Ryken on the Real Tragedy of the Human Race

I was reading Philip Ryken's commentary on Luke 13:1-9 and I thought these few sentences were particularly good. Here is part of the passage and then Ryken's comment:

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Gali...leans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

". . . we are all going to die. This is something people often seem to forget after a disaster. We are horrified at the way people have died, and rightly so. We are shocked and grieved that people have fallen from the sky, or been swept out to sea, or killed in cold blood. In our distress we sometimes fail to see the real tragedy, which is that we are all going to die. In a disaster, death comes all of a sudden. Yet the overall death rate remains unchanged: it is still 100 percent. Since we belong to a lost and fallen race, we are all destined to die, and after that, we will face the final judgment . . . ."

Ryken is teaching us, just as Jesus, that the great tragedy is that we are part of a fallen race that is under the sentence of physical death and eternal death. And, unless we repent, we too will suffer both kinds of death.

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