Text: Luke 12:54-13:8
Does anyone know what time it is? Looking at your watch is one way of telling the time. But there is another approach telling the time. This is the approach your mum uses when she says, “It’s time you settled down and got a proper job.” This involves looking around you, and realising that now is the right time, the opportune time, the ‘now or never’ time.
In this middle section of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on a journey. The beginning is recorded in Lk 9:51 – ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ As the journey moves towards its fateful end it’s time for decisions to be made, for opportunities to be seized, for challenges to be met.
‘Open your eyes. It is time to make your peace with God. Do it now, before it is too late. Do it now – God’s patience will not last for ever.’
1. Open your eyes. 12:54-56. As rural people, Jesus’ hearers kept a close eye on the weather. They knew when to expect a heatwave, and when to prepare for rain. But with regard to more important things, they were blind as bats.. They could forecast the weather, but the could not discern the times. In this they were blameworthy – ‘hypocrites’. It is not that the could not, but that they would not. What, exactly, was it that they should have discerned? They should had seen that God was at work right before their very eyes. Lk 7:22 records an occasion when the John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Reply: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
There may be some here who have not yet opened their eyes to what God is doing. I would urge to you to take note of Jesus Christ, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and the continuing work of his Holy Spirit.
Only he was foretold in detail centuries before he came, Lk 24:27. Only he declared that he came from outside the world, Jn 6:38. Only he was without flaw of character, Heb 4:15. Only he claimed that he was God, Jn 8:58. Only he died for the sins of the world, 1 Pet 3:18. Only he rose from the grave. Only of him can it be said, ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.’ It’s time to open your eyes.
2. It is time to make your peace with God. The picture in 12:57-59 is of two people who are in dispute. One of them is you. You are heavily in debt, and at this very moment you and your adversay are making your way to court. What will you do? Will you wait until you are thrown into the debtor’s prison? Or will you turn to your companion and see if you can settle the matter out of court?
Scripture represents our state before God as one of indebtedness. God has a dispute with us, and there will certainly be a day of reckoning. Settle your account with God now. You will find that he is willing to offer terms more favourable that you could possibly imagine. In fact, if you are willing to accept it, an offer of help has already been made from someone who was willing to pay your debt in full.
3. Do it now, before it’s too late. In 13:1 we read that there were some present on that very occasion who told Jesus about a recent terrible event. “Rabbi, some Galileans were down in Jerusalem offering sacrifices in the temple, and Pilate’s soldiers massacred them.” The implied question is, “Why did God allow this to happen?” There was a widely-held view amongst the Jews that suffering was directly related to sin. If you were sick, or disabled, or poor, or met with an early death, it was because you were a worse sinner than others. Would Jesus support this view, or not?
Jesus’ answer is as remarkable for what he does not say as for what he does say. He offers no answer to the question, “Why does God allow tragedies like this to happen?” Instead, he cites a second example of sudden, tragic death, and denies that either happened because the sufferers were greater sinners than anyone else. But his main concern is to urge his hearers to take action before a similar fate afflicts them. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
There is a place for earnest enquiry. By all means bring sincere questions and we’ll see if we can find some answers in God’s word. I would not rubbish serious study of any subject, least of all theology. But no-one ever came to Christ simply because all their questions had been answered. Abstract theorising and speculation will never take you to the heart of God’s truth.
Jesus will not allow us to side-step our own responsibilities in the matter. We are not members of the audience, but actors on the stage. We are not observers only, but participants in this great drama of redemption. And there are issues of life and death to be settled. It is time to heed the warnings. Do it now, before it’s too late.
4. Do it now – God’s patience will not last for ever. This section concludes with a little parable, vv6-9. A man has a fig tree that has been planted in his vineyard. He keeps coming to look for fruit on it, but there is none. After three years, he says to his vinedresser, “Cut it down; it’s a waste of space.” The vinedresser replies, “Let’s give it one more year.” Interestingly, Jesus does not finish the story: he leaves it open. The main point is this: there is a limit to God’s patience. Do not presume on it, or imagine that you have all the time in the world. You do not. How many people are there who would quite like to make their peace with God, but not right now? What’s the hurry?
There was a meeting of the board of directors going on in Hell. Satan was concerned over the fact that business was slow. He wanted to reach as many people as possible and draw them into Hell. One demon jumped up and said, “I’ll go back to earth and tell the people that there is no heaven.” “That won’t do,” said Satan. “We’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work.” “I’ll tell them that there is no Hell,” offered a second demon. “No – that doesn’t work either,” said Satan. A wise old veteran in the back of the room rose and said, “If you let me go back to earth, I can fill this place. I’ll just tell them that there is no hurry.”
‘All the while thou delayest, God is more provoked, the wicked one more encouraged, thy heart more hardened, they debts more increased, thy soul more endangered, and all the difficulties of conversion more and more multiplied upon thee, having a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in’ (George Swinnock).
This is not ‘big stick’ religion. Jesus is not so much threatening, or even warning, but pleading. Lk 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings?” 2 Pet 3:9 ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ It is a time for accepting God gracious offer. Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Now is God’s time for making peace with him.
And what about those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ? Do we have his sense of urgency, of things moving on, of time running out? ‘What are you doing? You are not simply imparting information, you are dealing with souls, you are dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity, you are dealing with matters not only of life and death in this world, but with eternal destiny. Nothing can be so terribly urgent. I am reminded of the words spoken one afternoon by William Chalmers Burns…He one day put his hand of the shoulder of a fellow minister and said, “Brother, we must hurry.”‘ (Lloyd-Jones)