Friday, August 1, 2014

Running Out of Time

Life of Christ 122

Note: This will be my last blog post for about six weeks. I will resume this series in mid-September.

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling through Judea a few months before He dies. Judea hadn't been receptive of Him, and even whatever small chance she had was rapidly slipping away. Our story today (Luke 12.54-13.9) reveals in Christ a terrible urgency. The Jews were running out of time.
          At the close of Luke 12 Jesus gives two illustrations that reveal just how critical Israel's situation was. The first illustration is a weather one (Luke 12.54-56). In that day, prior to weather forecasts, everybody had a decent working knowledge of how to predict the weather based on how the sky looked. Jesus likens this to the fact that they should be able to see that if they rejected their rightful Messiah surely judgment was going to come next. It was simple cause and effect.
          The second illustration was a legal one (Luke 12.58-59). If you are being hauled off to debtor's prison you would be smart to settle immediately. If you don't, you will end up paying not only your debt, but additional interest, legal fees, court costs, etc. In other words, you are better off to come to an agreement immediately since you know, if you don't, your future will be negatively impacted.
          Jesus is telling Israel here that judgment is coming for them. This would be a terrible judgment based on their rejection of Himself. They would be wise to see it coming, and pay the price now of humility and faith rather than pay the increased price later of bitter consequence.
          Now bear in mind, please, that chapter divisions are not inspired. I believe because of context that the thought continues to flow directly from the end of Luke 12 to the beginning of Luke 13.
The Pontius Pilate stone, Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Pontius Pilate had sometime earlier murdered some Galilean Jews while they were attempting to offer sacrifices at the Temple. The Pharisees had a tendency to view all disasters as the hand of God directly at work. Thus, if something bad happened to you it was because God had singled you out for punishment based on your sin. The prevailing attitude toward the blind man in John 9 is an example of this. The proud Pharisees of Judea, believing themselves superior to the more worldly and materialistic Jews of Galilee, assumed that those Galilean Jews had done something sinful to merit the wrathful punishment of God via Pilate (Luke 13.1-2).
Jesus, after offering this as an illustration of wrong thinking on the part of the Pharisees, boldly tells them that they, superior Judean Jews, were just as guilty before God as any Galilean Jew was. 'Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish' (Luke 13.3).
Then, He uses another illustration to get his urgent point across to them. This one involved a construction mishap in which 18 people lost their lives. Jesus tells the proud Judean Pharisees that they were just as much in line to experience judgment and catastrophe as those 18 people, or the Galilean Jews that Pilate had murdered were. 'Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish' (Luke 13.5).
He then follows this up with yet another illustration, His fifth. He is almost desperately seeking to get His point across. This story is an agricultural one in which a man owned a fig tree that wasn't bearing fruit. After three years, not coincidentally the amount of time Jesus had already spent preaching to Israel, the owner concluded that the tree would never bear fruit so he decided to stop wasting his time and cut it down. 'These three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and fine none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?' (Luke 13.7). The manager of the vineyard pleads with the owner for a little more time, but a little more time is all the owner is willing to grant. After that the unfruitful tree will surely be cut down (Luke 13.9).
You can see, can't you, how all five of these illustrations tie together? Israel is the man looking at a sky which reveals oncoming bad weather yet this man refuses to adjust his actions accordingly. Israel is the man being hauled to debtor's prison who, unless he settles immediately, will pay through the nose. Israel is the fig tree that isn't bearing fruit, and the time is almost up. The Lord of the vineyard is coming to cut it down. Israel's only chance is to stop thinking she is spiritually superior, to humble herself, and to accept her rightful Messiah, Jesus. The only alternative is an awful judgment. 'Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.'
The Siege of Jerusalem, David Roberts, 1850
Of course, we know how the story turned out. Sadly. Israel rejected her Messiah, and in just a few short years a terrible judgment fell, via the Roman Empire, on her. Jerusalem was sacked, the Jews were shipped to all points of the compass, and Israel ceased to exist as a nation for 1900 years. Jesus gave her space to repent, and urgently urged her to do so, and when she refused judgment inevitably followed.
God's patience has limits, folks. His longsuffering is exactly that – long suffering. It isn't eternal suffering. Those who continue to resist God will find themselves at some point begging Him for His aid and hearing only a deafening silence in response (Proverbs 1.28).
This saddens me very much because there are people that I love with all my heart who are resisting the Lord. And I know He won't put up with that forever. I look at my country, a nation heading pell-mell away from God as fast as she possibly can, hardening more and more into direct rebellion against God's Word, and I tremble. Judgment is coming, sooner or later. I can see it looming, like an enormous cumulonimbus cloud, on the horizon.
At the same time that this saddens me I also find that it motivates me. I don't know how much longer this old world has before the trumpet sounds. I don't know how much deeper into rebellion and sin we can get before His judging hand comes down on America. Yet right now, we still have the freedom to take the Gospel to anyone we want. Let us use that freedom while we have it. Let us take advantage of the continuing mercy of God. Let us urgently labor, unceasingly, to take the Gospel to the men and women and boys and girls who walk the same streets we walk.

The situation is urgent. God's patience has limits. I see a storm cloud on the horizon. Let's get the grain in while we still can.

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