The Call To Repentance
1. At the time of the previous great earthquake disaster of the Osaka-Kobe area, I heard tell many people making reference to God. For example, I heard the question asked, "Why does God do this kind of thing?" I overheard voices [of people] saying, "It's the judgment of God," or "It's divine punishment." It was not necessarily in a church when I heard such words like these concerning God. Rather, I heard many people talking about God who don't usually believe or worship God. But, as I reflect on this, I feel it's pretty common for God's name to be brought to one 's breath in connection with this duo [of disaster and divine judgment]. This happens in a variety of scenes of disaster or hardship. "Why is God doing this?" That is not a question asked with pure and true meaning because it is not really asked for God to answer. More likely it is a word of criticism for God. And there are even people in antagonism who say, "This is the judgment of God." When one is under hard times one may use the expression "God has left me" without thinking as one talks about [his or her pain].
2. Our feelings often vacillate between these two things. We have experienced these two in common; that is we have ended up condemning another. When we say, "It's the judgment of God [on you]," or "You are God forsaken," in reality it is not necessarily God doing the judging, much rather I think it is really a human being sitting in the seat of a judge, isn't it? In addition, when one says, "Why does God do this?," a person turns into a judge of even God.
3. The passage of scripture I read you today deals with persons like that. The Lord identifies that they are making a mistake. The judgment seat was not originally the place for humans to sit. When we sit in a place which is not the place we originally ought to sit, it's most likely that we fail to see the truly important thing. What is it [that we often fail to see]? What in the world should we see and what we should hear? I would like to clarify this matter through the word of the Lord.
Unless You Repent
4. First, I read you from verse one to verse five. "Just at that time, several persons came and announced to Jesus that Pilate mixed the blood of Galileans in their sacrifices. Jesus answered. 'Do you think that those Galileans met with such calamity as that because they were deeper in sin than some other Galileans? That is not true at all. I say to you, unless you also repent, you all will be destroyed in the same way. Furthermore, do you think that the eighteen persons who died after the tower of Siloam fell down are deeper in sin than any other person who had been living in Jerusalem? That's not true at all. I say to you rather, unless you yourselves repent you all will perish in the same way,'" (verses one through five).
5. The governor of Judea Pontius Pilate mixed the blood of Galileans in a sacrifice. We should not necessarily take this literally. In brief, I think that Galileans were murdered by the altar [in Jerusalem]. It's believed that the incident occurred at the time of a festival because "sacrifice" has been referred to. That must have been a terribly shocking incident for many people. Perhaps that's why it says several persons arrived from Jerusalem and announced this happening to the Lord Jesus. This specific incident does not survive as a record in extrabiblical historical sources. However, the story is quite probable. That is to say, it's likely to be true because Galilee was the cradle of the Zealots [a political party of sorts] which was an anti-Roman paramilitary group. Even in those days it was their central region. And on the other hand, it was known that Pontius Pilate was very cruel against instigators and insurgents. I think this event was probably a small scale armed rebellion which took advantage of the festival confusion and Pilate had to suppress it with military force.
6. Well, when we have incidents like this, people will of course have thoughts. "Why did God allow such cruel treatment as this?" Even more we can't help but ask questions like this when it takes place at the temple. What's more, as I already mentioned, it has to do with the Zealot group and in the name of God they were exercising force of arms. One would ask why didn't God help them out?
7. But as for that group, there must have been words heard like this. "Since they were killed in the temple they must have been extremely bad people. That was the judgment of God beyond all doubt." If the ones who died were members of the Zealots and the Pharisees were the ones who came to the Lord Jesus and announced the incident, I believe they were surely thinking like that. The Pharisee sect and the Zealot party agreed on the point of being anti-Rome. But, the Pharisees [made harsh judgments in this case] because they rejected liberation based on violence. So, a special feature of the Pharisees was the doctrine of retribution based on cause and effect [that is, if you sin, your sin will zap you; if you live by violence, you will die violently]. Therefore, what [the Pharisees] must have said was, "In the final analysis their conduct was not in accordance with the divine will. God judged them."
8. Against this background the Lord questions the persons about this particular incident. "'Do you think that those Galileans met with such calamity as that because they were deeper in sin than some other Galileans?" And, he says, "That is not true at all." Regarding such calamity as this the Lord does not permit a person to speak as a judge putting oneself in the place of a disinterested speaker. The Lord doesn't allow their tidy categorization of retribution. He says, "That is not so." Then, what should a person see and what should one hear in such a situation? The Lord says, "I say to you, unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way."
9. We cannot place ourselves in the position of one who condemns. We shouldn't do so, for in no time at all we our own selves will be made to stand before a righteous God. We are the ones who will stand before the One who holds eternal life. The Lord makes that point clear. What we should hear with our hearts through these various events is the call to repentance directed to none but ourselves. Consequently, the Lord takes up one more event and repeats the same topic, which is about the people victimized* at the accident scene. The victims* were not especially deep in sin. The ones deep in sin are the same as they were or we are or even you are. Therefore, more important than anything else is that we ourselves hear the call to repentance and how we respond to that call.
The Parable Of The Tree That Is Fruitless
10. As he continues further on, the Lord tells one of his parables. The Lord clarifies through this parable how he is making a call to repentance. Please look from verse six to verse nine. "So, Jesus told the following parable. 'A certain man planted a fig tree in the vineyard, he went to look for fruit on it, but he did not find any. He said to the gardener there. Even though for three years already I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree, there has not been one instance that I've found. Therefore, cut it down. Why shut off land? The gardener answered. O master, please let it be like this for this year, too. Let me try digging around the tree and using some fertilizer. If I try that, next year it might have fruit. If nothing good still does not come up, then please cut it down,'" (verses six through nine).
11. The planting of a fig tree in a vineyard kind of makes me wonder about all this, but it seems like this was not at all offbeat. The important matter here is neither the figs nor the grapes, but that they are plants used together to show Israel in the Old Testament. The master looks for fruit on the fig. But, he does not find any. That hunt continues for the space of three years. The master has searched for fruit for three years. What is being represented in the actions of that master? The thing shown there is the expectations of God. God was expecting fruit of his people.
12. When we think about the relationship of a believer with God, often times we only think from the direction of "the person believing in God." God is the true One and humanity relies on that truth. The situation is that we think we have a relationship with God and a believer at that point. That is not wrong either. But, in truth there is another direction which we should not overlook. That is [the direction] of "God believing in the human being." When God saves a person by his grace, God believes that a person is responding with truth and has expectations for him or her.
13. That expectancy is shown well in the "ten commandments" given to Moses after God saved the Israelites from Egypt. The ten commandments are recorded in Exodus 20:2 and following, but they begin with the words, "I am the Lord, your God, the God who lead you out from the house of slavery, the country of Egypt." Then it continues, "With you, you shall not have other gods besides me." It is translated that way, but to translate it literally, the text says there, "With you, you have no God other than me." [Most Japanese Bibles have the commandments translated from Hebrew to Japanese in a prescriptive legalist imperative style of command such as] "Do not murder." The literal translation of the sixth commandment is "You shall not murder" or "You do not murder, [which is grammatically descriptive of what God expected from humankind.] Even all of the other commandments as well are written after a descriptive rather than prescriptive manner. In other words, this is not just a legal commandment, but expresses the confidence and the expectations of God.
14. Why should he call us to repentance like he does? Originally there was God's confidence and expectations. But after we betrayed his confidence and expectations, he called us out to repentance.
15. I return to the parable of the figs. The master says, "Therefore cut it down." Thereupon the gardener answers, "O master, please let it be like this for this year, too. Let me try digging around the tree and using some fertilizer," (verse eight). We should not think here that the master genuinely represents God the Father or the gardener Jesus Christ. God the Father decides swiftly in a short temper to send down judgment, however, God the Father subdues his anger on behalf of the mediating Jesus Christ does. We should not think this is [the message of the parable], because it was God the Father alone who sent Jesus Christ into the world. Based on that, the Bible teaches "God is love," (First John 4:16). It is an entirely unbiblical view to say God the Father is a God of wrath and Christ is love. Therefore, we should see in the entire scope of this parable God's "abundant loving kindness, forbearance, and endurance" (Romans 2:4) and not interpret the characters [of the story] allegorically. That is, the figure of God expressed here is a God who puts up with persons who have should have been torn down long ago, a God who waits for our act of repentance, and a God who will forgive the repentant person.
16. However, we should not overlook the description regarding "time" which is recorded in the text here. We should react with seriousness to the words "this year," "next year," and "if nothing good still doesn't come." In the first place, the warning and the parable of the Lord Jesus which I read you today continue in one long continuous speech which is related to "time." From chapter twelve and verses fifty-four on is recorded the contents of a speech that tells of "discerning the time." Then, the focus of interest in the speech which is from chapter twelve and verse fifty-seven on is where the recommendation is that says, "when you are going to the public officials with the one suing you, on the way there please try hard to make peace with that person." It is clear that this is not a literal recommendation. The thing that is at issue here is the time is coming when we will go before the judge. That is, it is alluding to the time when we will stand before God the Judge. Therefore, setting aside the details of the contents, this, too, has a main focus dealing with "the time before we arrive at the throne of the Judge."
17. The gardener says, "O master, please let it be like this for this year, too." Then, he says, "If I try that, next year it might have fruit. If nothing good still does not come up, then please cut it down." The time is limited. Indeed, God has set the time of the end. The time when he is calling out for repentance will not go on for ever. Consequently, the apostle Paul has so spoken in the following way in the epistle addressed to the church at Corinth, "Yes now [is] the time of grace; right now [is] the day of salvation," (Second Corinthians 6:2).
18. We have entered into Passion Season and thus greeted the third Lord's Day. This period is particularly a time for repentance. We would like to thank God for his issuing out his call [of repentance] to us even during this moment of time. I would like to thank God for the fact that "Yes now [is] the time of grace; right now [is] the day of salvation." Now we are in the time of grace, we must incline our ears to the voice of the Lord. We should not take lightly God's forgiveness of those who come to him repenting and God's "abundant loving kindness, forbearance, and endurance" which allows us to live in a righteous relationship with Him above.
End Notes: *Same word as "sacrificed, sacrifice" in Japanese. But, the first case refers to when Pilate sacrificed Jewish blood by the altar in Jerusalem and so they were victims at the hand of a human being and in the second case it refers to being a victim of chance as when the tower accidentally fell on the people.