Monday Reverb – 21March2022



Repent or Perish

Luke 13:1-9 (NRSV)


Tragedy.  Disaster.  Undeserved suffering.  These are the things which raise challenging questions regardless of one’s beliefs.  Perhaps as a Christian, we may think these questions present no challenge to the Christian faith.  But as Christopher J. H. Wright has expressed, believing in a God who is both all-powerful and all good presents “a problem at every level”[1] when it comes to suffering without explanation.  Yet, we will seek explanations in the wake of the numerous accounts of tragic undeserved suffering.

Let’s take two events just two years ago from our upcoming Easter celebration.  First, on Easter, April 21, 2019, there was a coordinated terrorist attack that included the bombing of three Christian churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, claiming the lives of 207 people while injuring another 450 at time of reporting.[2]  Finding some form of causality and explanation in the wake of this irrational act of murder never amounted to any satisfying answer.   There was blame, there was commentary, but there was never an answer that accounted for the loss of innocent worshipers on that Easter Sunday.  In stories of such violence, it may be easy to dismiss any culpability on God’s part.  After all, it was a terrorist who sent suicide bombers to church — not God!


But, just to push the tension, let’s visit another account of tragedy, only not at the hands of terrorist, but at the hands of Mother Nature.  Less than a month before the bombings in Sri Lanka, reports went out that a series of tornadoes had touched down near the Alabama/Georgia state line destroying several homes and claiming the lives of 23 people.[3]  Unlike the terrorist, the target of the tornado was indiscriminate.  You may remember this event yourself, especially if you lived in the areas affected or had loved ones who did.  Perhaps you heard some of the incredible stories of those that were spared from the twister’s destruction.  Some people have told stories of how their lives were spared even though they lost everything else.  These stories are often retold as a witness of God’s miraculous protection.  We may respond after hearing such stories with a quip statement like, “Looks like God was looking after you!”

But what about the 23 people who lost their lives.  Did God lose sight of them?  Or worse, did he love them less?  And it is here we meet the challenge of claiming that God is both all-powerful and all-loving.  If that is true, the argument goes, then these tragic events are left as markers that claim otherwise.  While many may offer insightful explanations to give reasonable answers to this seeming incompatibility, we still live in the tension between who we think God is in himself and what we experience in his creation.  In this tension, there exists a much deeper threat to our lives than any terrorist or tornado can throw our way.  It’s the threat of letting our experience form our thinking about who God is, rather than learning about him from his own word of self-revelation spoken to us in Jesus Christ.  We will look at Jesus’ parable in Luke to hear what he says about God’s character, considering the inexplicable suffering we face in our world.

Before we go further it will be good to consider how Jesus used parables in his teaching.  I would like to borrow an illustration from Robert Farrar Capon who wrote a thought-provoking book on Jesus’ parables.  Picture a block of wood.  If I were a science teacher trying to teach students about the atom, I could say this block of wood is made up of atoms.  Then I could illustrate an atom by way of the solar system.  Just as the planets are circling the sun, electrons whirl around the nucleus of an atom. With that comparison the students can now see the inner workings of atoms that once remained invisible in the block of wood.  This is typically how a teacher would use illustrations. What was once confusing to the mind is now made plain and simple.

However, that is not what Jesus did with his parables.  He would take the same block of wood and solar system comparison to utterly challenge the way students once thought about the apparently solid piece of matter held before them.  Like the solar system, this block of wood is composed mostly of vast empty space.  So, your thoughts about what is solid turns out to be mostly full of holes.

The way Jesus used parables wasn’t to explain things in simple termsHe was aiming to reveal how peoples’ understanding of God fell short of who he is.  Ultimately, Jesus used parables as a tool to lead people to repent of wrongful ways of thinking about God.  We will look at one of those parables in Luke 13:1-9 intended to do just that.  Jesus begins with a choice to either repent or perish.

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them — do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:1-5 NRSV)

Now before we go further, let’s clear up a point here.  Jesus is not telling us that unless we change the way we think about God, we will perish, because we are all going to perish.  Rather, Jesus is talking eschatologically.  If you continue your wrong way of thinking about God, and believe the common, though mistaken, assumption that tragic events or evil happens as a result of sin and guilt, you will be left with a false view of GodThis false view will cause you to avoid pursuing a relationship with him.  You will feel left out, and unable to enjoy being with the real God.

Keep in mind that repenting means primarily to change how one thinks about somethingActions, of course, will follow the way we think.  Jesus knows that if we carry this wrong-headed thinking about the Father in our hearts, the suffering and tragedy we all experience will be a weight too heavy to bear, and may turn us to blaming God, rather than worshipping him.  C.S. Lewis seemed cognizant of this threat in his observations of his own grief upon the loss of his wife:

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not “So there’s no God after all,” but “So this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.”[4]

That is what is truly at stake in how we think about tragic and senseless acts of violence by the hands of men or nature.  We are tempted to let the experience of the event tell us who God is in his inner being.  Our pain can drive our thoughts to counter Jesus’ revelation of his Father of love.  What is important in knowing God is who he reveals himself to be, not what we project onto him by our experiences.  Jesus will now follow up with a parable that serves to reveal to these distraught hearers God’s character that is consistent with God’s interaction with Israel throughout their history.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none.  Cut it down!  Why should it be wasting the soil?’  He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9 NRSV)

In Jesus’ Parable of the Fig Tree, we are better served to hear Jesus challenge our thoughts about suffering rather than hear a word of affirmation to what we typically tell ourselves.  After all, he is telling this parable to help his disciples think differently about who God is and how he deals with our sin and guilt.  Remember the block of wood illustration.  Here are a few ways we will look at the parable:

First, the owner of the vineyard in the parable will be a stand-in for the erroneous viewpoint that people typically hold about God.  It may be helpful to see the “owner” as a mythological god ruling in our headsSecond, the vinedresser serves as a Christ figure who helps us see how God actually deals with humanity.  Third, all humanity, including you and I today, will be represented by the fig tree.

As with all fruit trees, under the law of Moses, fig trees were protected from being cut down.  They were precious and meant for the enjoyment of the owner.  Note that in this parable, the fig tree was planted in a vineyard not an orchard.  The Father did not “plant” us in his garden to market us or to produce fruit for his livelihood.  We were created for his pleasure and enjoyment, not for some utilitarian end.  There is more to this detail of the vineyard or garden that can be explored.  Perhaps Jesus means to invoke the recollection of Adam and Eve in a Garden where they chose to listen to the lie that God was holding back from them, not having their best interest in mind.  Adam and Eve chose to listen to the lie about a mythological god rather than the God who walked with them in the Garden.  With this setting within the parable Jesus has found a backdoor where we may revisit the choice of who we listen to.  Do we give more weight to experiences that feel like God is absent or do we trust in the one who has promised to never leave or forsake us?

Let’s take note of some historical details that Jesus includes that we modern readers may miss.  For the Jews these details would serve to remind Jesus’ disciples of God’s presence with Israel throughout her history.  In Leviticus 19:23-24, we see that it was forbidden to take fruit from fruit trees for the first three years.  In the fourth year the fruit would “be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord.”  For the Jews hearing this parable, the act of the owner wanting to cut down the fig tree because he couldn’t find fruit on it for three years would have run counter to what the law stated.  If we see God looking to cut us down when we don’t produce, we hold an image of God in our minds that contradicts his own revelation to us.  The “owner” in the parable is not acting like God had acted with Israel in their experience or with their law.

The vinedresser at this point speaks to the “man” — the mythological god we have created — and echoes what the law would have said to do: “Leave it alone for one more year.”  This phrase “leave it alone” comes from the Greek aphes, carrying the meaning of forgive.  It’s the same word Jesus utters from the cross in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive (aphes) them ….”  The vinedresser takes upon himself the fruit-bearing of the fig tree by digging around it and fertilizing it with dung.  It would be a smelly job of blood, sweat and tears but he gets to the root of the problem.

This parable in the hands of Jesus challenges any concept we might hold of a God whose patience runs out on us and  looks to destroy us like some short-tempered mad man.  Rather, he comes to us in Jesus and operates through grace; through aphes.  Through the crucifixion, digging into the dirt and dung of death, Jesus has rooted out the unfruitfulness of our human nature. We are called to repent of any wrong-headed notions that it is up to us to produce fruit in the fear of an axe-crazed owner bent on our destruction.  We abide in the fruitfulness of our Savior who works only through aphes. 

The parable ends with the vinedresser saying to the “man,” “If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then you can cut it down.”  The vinedresser trusts in what he is doing to the tree.  He knows the tree will bear fruit, and he knows the man will not need to cut it down.  We can trust in Jesus working through grace for our fruitfulness, or we can perish in our wrong-headed belief in a mythological godThe mythological god will cut us down every time, but the real God never will.  Notice the fruitfulness of the fig tree is bound up in Christ’s work in the tree.  He does not magically make fruit appear on the tree but rather he takes up the role of the true gardener who remains in faithful relationship with the tree.  In this way we can see that we participate in our own fruitfulness by Christ presence with us, working by his Spirit in our lives.  In this way Jesus brings in the incredible dignity that comes from being in real relationship with him.  Our relationship and response to him in our actions and decisions are gifted with incredible significance.  Our prayers and what we say and do in our lives adds up and counts for something.  We are not just wasting time in our relationship with Jesus in the here and now.

Jesus’ words in response to senseless violence and unexpected tragedy serve to build our faith in the God who is faithful to his people.  We may never have satisfying answers to the challenge of suffering this side of heaven. But we do have God’s Word to us in Jesus Christ.  His Word is that God is good even when our experience is bad.  No matter what our thoughts may be telling us!  This can lead us to face our sufferings with hope rather than fearful questioning of God’s character.

As we come to see more and more who the Father is in Jesus Christ, we will be less inclined to demand an explanation from him of “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Instead, we can pray as Jesus taught us, “Deliver us from the evil one,” trusting that God aims to remove all evil and suffering to bring us into his everlasting Kingdom.  This is the greatest ministry believers can engage in for the sake of the world.  Pray to the one who has, is, and will do something about evil and suffering.  Like the Speaking of Life video brought out, if a child has a broken gift he cannot fix, the most powerful and effective thing he can do is to bring it to his Father who can.  This is a position of hope and not despair.  May we join the cloud of witnesses seen in the biblical story and those faithful believers who came before us by turning to the One who is for us when everything in life seems to be against us.


[1] Christopher J. H. Wright. The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of faith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 27.
[2] Louis Casiano, Stephen Sorace, Lucia I. Suarez Sang. Easter Sunday explosions at multiple churches and hotels rock Sri Lanka, death toll rises past 200. Fox News, accessed July 30, 2019,
[3] Frank Miles. At least 23 dead, many injured, in apparent large tornado in Alabama, officials say; fatalities could rise. Fox News, accessed July 30, 2019,
[4] C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961), 6-7.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From the Sermon

  • What events of evil and suffering do you see in the world today that may tempt us to think God is not good or that he is not for us?
  • Did the illustration of the block of wood used to teach about atoms help you better understand how Jesus used parables?
  • Do you think this will help you in reading of Jesus’ other parables?
  • The sermon stated that we can be tempted to let the experience of evil and suffering tell us who God is. How does this inform the importance of knowing Jesus’ revelation of the Father to us during our times of trial and tribulation?
  • Can you think of times where your faith was challenged by a tragic event?
        • What do you think caused your faith to be challenged?
  • Can you think of times where God’s word, either from the Bible, a sermon, or a friend, helped restore your faith in the Father?
  • Did the understanding of the Old Testament laws concerning fig trees help you understand the Parable of the Fig Tree differently than before?
  • Discuss why it is important to repent of faulty ideas about God that do not conform to Jesus’ revelation of the Father! How is not knowing who God is a worse tragedy than perishing from a violent or natural disaster?
  • The sermon concluded by offering prayer as the greatest ministry the church has to offer for the sake of the world. What did you think of this statement?
  • Does it encourage you to respond to the evil and suffering in the world by praying for God’s deliverance?




Q: What is your view on Jesus’ statement that he would be in the grave three days and three nights? I believe Jesus. I do not believe that it was parts of days and nights like some say. 


Matthew 12:39-41  Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”  39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.  



  • Some believe the “3 days and 3 nights” refer to a literal, exact 72 hours.
  • Why?
  • They understand the passage literally.
  • They want it to prove a belief they have about the crucifixion


  • The context suggests otherwise (that the “3 days and 3 nights” is not literal)
      • The context shows that Christ was referring to a sign … and that (only) sign would be His resurrection … and there are about 20 verses that speak of that “sign” taking place “on the third day” or “in three days” … compared to this one passage.  
          • Matthew 16:21   From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
          • Matthew 17:23   and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.
          • Matthew 20:19   and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
          • Luke 9:22   saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
          • Luke 18:33   They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
          • Luke 24:7   saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”
          • Luke 24:46   Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, [a]and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,
          • Acts 10:39-40   And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:  40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly
          • 1 Corinthians 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
          • John 2:19-22   Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?  21 But he spake of the temple of his body.  22 When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.  
          • NOTE how “third day” is understood in other passages of the NT …
          • Luke 13:32   And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
          • Luke 24:21  But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.  (Cf. Luke 24:13 and Luke 24:1)
      • Mark’s gospel phrases things a little differently. In Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:34, it is said that Jesus will rise “after three days” (sometimes translated “three days later”). This is a stylistic difference, an idiomatic way of saying the same thing. We know this by comparing Mark with the parallel passages in the other gospels, as well as comparing the verses with the language of the first-century Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus wrote in Greek, the same language as the New Testament. In his book of history known as The Antiquities of the Jews, he uses “after three days” and “on the third day” interchangeably. (From an article on the Jews For Jesus website).
      • So, what’s the point?
          • IF Jesus was buried for exactly 3 days and 3 nights, THEN He would have been buried for 72 hours … which means He would have risen on the fourth day (not the third).
          • If today is Monday, then the third day will be Wednesday. That’s the normal way we communicate.  If Sunday is referred to as the first day of the week, which day is considered the third day of the week? (It’d be Wednesday)   That is why Saturday is regarded as the seventh day.  That’s also the language used by the vast majority of passages in the Bible that speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

          • Esther 4:16-5:1   Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.   17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.  

            Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king’s house, over against the king’s house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house.

  • Jesus was not in the “heart” of earth
      • IF one insists that this one verse, Matthew 12:40, is true about the exact length of time that Jesus was in the tomb, THEN we should insist that be also true that His body was buried in the ground … that there was a grave — not only six feet deep, but even deeper—much deeper to qualify as the “heart of the earth.”     
      • The truth, however, is that Jesus was not even IN the earth (given that He was not buried “six feet under” or whatever depth in the ground, and then covered with dirt.  The body of Jesus was never, literally, in a grave. His tomb was carved out of a hillside … not at all six feet under. 
      • So once again this verse is not speaking literally — not of a precise number of hours and not of a precise method or location of burial.     
  • Jonah did not die … while he was in the belly of the fish    
        • Is the passage saying that what Jonah experienced in similar to what Jesus experienced? 
        • If we interpret Matthew 12:40 to mean that Jesus was buried for the same amount of time that Jonah was in the belly of the fish, THEN it would be fair to conclude that Jonah suffered the same fate as Jesus. 
        • If we disregard all other passages when Jesus spoke of his death, burial and  resurrection … and try to force this one statement in Matthew 12:40 to be a literal 72 hours, (as an exact period of time that the dead body of Jesus was in the tomb) … then we will have to insist that Jonah was also dead for 72 hours while in the belly of the whale. 
        • However, according to the book of Jonah, it is clear that Jonah did not die while in the great fish.  He was trapped, and probably dying, but but he never died.  He prayed to God from the belly of the great fish.  
      • If we admit that “heart of the earth” was not meant literally, then we must also admit neither were “three days and three nights” meant literally in terms of the time Jesus’ body was in the heart of the earth.


  • If “heart of the earth” does not mean “six feet under,” what does it mean?
  • The sign that Jesus is our Messiah is not a specific length of time that he was in his tomb. Neither the Jewish religious leaders nor the Roman soldiers were poised with stop watches outside the tomb, knowing that when the 72nd hour had elapsed he would either be our Messiah and Savior, or he would not.  If that was what was commonly understood, they would have been marking time in such a way to disprove his claim of an exact 72 hours, but they did not.
  • They did, of course, post guards outside the tomb to prevent his disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus was resurrected, just as he said he would be. They — Jewish religious leaders, Roman military and political government, as well as Jesus’ disciples were well aware that Jesus said he would be resurrected on the third day.  They were prepared to stop it.  However, we read nothing about them taking his comment about “72 hours in the heart of the earth” literally.
  • The length of time that the body of Jesus was in the tomb is not the object of celebrating his resurrection. That he was raised is the sign that he was and is Messiah — not what one might regard as the accurate computation of how long his body remained in the tomb.
  • The sign that Jesus is our Messiah is not some clock-watching mathematical puzzle. The sign is that His tomb is not occupiedHe is risen.   No one else has ever been resurrected, with their body glorified and made immortal.   That’s the sign — not some mathematical calculation.


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