EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 2




Luke 13:3, 5

Repentance Tower

Repentance Tower

Near Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, you can see the ruins of a 16th century tower house known as Repentance Tower.  It was built by John Maxwell in 1565 to serve as the watchtower for Haddom Castle.

There is well-known story, probably apocryphal, of a skeptic who, passing by Repentance Tower one day, saw a young shepherd boy in the field reading his Bible. “Can you tell me the way to Heaven?” he asked the young lad.  Without hesitation, the boy nodded in the direction of the ruins and said, “By way of yonder Tower!”

Well, that shepherd was right; he obviously paid attention to what he had read in his Bible.  Repentance is the only way to Heaven.  How important is repentance?  Jesus’ first word to sinners is a call to repent from of their sins, not to love Him.

And this brings us to these EXCEPTional Bible verses, because there are really two of them:

I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.  (Luke 13:3  KJV)

I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.  (Luke 13:5  KJV)

What did Jesus mean when He said, “likewise”?  There is more going on in these two verses than meets they eye.  Let’s discover the depth of repentance as we look at these EXCEPTional Bible verses.

1.  Setting the scene

While our Lord was teaching and while He was on His final trip to Jerusalem, He got some bad news.

About this time he was informed that Pilate had butchered some Jews from Galilee as they were sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem.  (Luke 13:1  TLB)

This horrific event is recorded only here.  No other history of the Jews, including that written by Josephus, mentions it.  There is no doubt that these things happened during Jesus’ day.  Social tensions ran high and whispered talk of revolution was not uncommon.  The Galileans—those who were butchered—were highly susceptible to such talk.

Pilate, as we know, was cruel and probably frustrated.  He was the governor of a troubled, far-away province whose hold on power was tenuous.

Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, and it could well be that this slaughter happened during the Feast of Dedication; Pilate thinking these men from Galilee were zealots, nationalistic anarchists opposed to Roman rule.

The questions the Bible reader must ask is this:  Why was Jesus told about this incident?  Did they expect Him to do something about it?  The following two verses give us the full answer, but what we may infer is that the messengers did not connect this singular act of cruelty with Pilate, but with God.  Their assumption was that God was in someway unhappy with these Galileans; that they “got what they deserved.”

2.  A Root of evil

“Do you think they were worse sinners than other men from Galilee?” he asked. “Is that why they suffered?  Not at all! And don’t you realize that you also will perish unless you leave your evil ways and turn to God?”  (Luke 13:2, 3  TLB)

Verse two bears out the hypothesis that these Jews believed the slaughtered Galileans indeed “got what they deserved.”  This was a commonly held belief in the Jewish community.

Stop and think! Have you ever known a truly good and innocent person who was punished? Experience teaches that it is those who sow sin and trouble who harvest the same.  (Job 4:7, 8  TLB)

This was truly bad theology from one of Job’s comforters, but to this day there are Christians who believe it.  Jesus, however, did not, and He makes it plain for all to hear that without genuine repentance, there is no hope for life; that without faith in Him and the corresponding conversion experience, there is no hope but only death.  Apart from the grace of God, all are lost sinners and lost sinners will perish as suddenly and as horribly as those unfortunate Galileans.

These words of Jesus’ must have been very hard for His listeners to accept.  They looked down upon the Galileans and sinners, well, they were particularly to be avoided.  They themselves, the children of Abraham, believed they were “just fine” because of their religious heritage.

This teaching is profoundly relevant to Christians and church-goers in our day.  We are very good, and correct, in pointing out that sinners need Christ.  But we are not good at seeing that need persists in our own lives.  We are saved, but we still need Him.  We have repented, but we must continue to walk in that repentance.

3.  Repent!  Convert!

“And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?  Not at all! And you, too, will perish unless you repent.”  (Luke 13:4, 5  TLB)

Here is another terrible incident that Jesus uses to bolster His position that all people, even the very best of people, must repent.  This tower of Siloam was part of the pool of Siloam, and was attached to the southeast corner of Jerusalem’s wall.  We don’t know what purpose it served, but apparently an accident occurred at some point in the past where some or all of it collapsed, killing 18 people.  This incident—an accident—and the previous incident in which a bunch of Galileans were killed—not an accident—are both illustrative of Jesus’ main point:  death will come suddenly and without warning to good and bad alike.  Will YOU be ready when death comes calling?

These 18 people tragically killed were no better or no worse, no less guilty than the Galileans, yet both unfortunate groups met the same end.

At this point in Jesus’ teaching, it would be a good idea to take a look deep inside your own heart to make sure you have experienced the journey from darkness to light; from death to life.  Repentance—conversion—is the only hope you have for eternal life.  Your good life, your honorable heritage, or any other means you think might help you on Judgment Day will not.  Only genuine repentance moves you from “guilty” to “not guilty.”

Also at this point, a good working definition of “repentance” is needed.  Some people think it is the same thing as “feeling sorry” for your sins, but that’s not quite right, even though “sorrow” is part of repentance.

Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you but because the pain turned you to God. It was a good kind of sorrow you felt, the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so that I need not come to you with harshness.  (2 Corinthians 7:9  TLB)

You can experience great sorrow over your sins but never repent of them, but you can’t repent of your sins without experiencing great sorrow.  The crowd that heard Peter’s powerful preaching on Pentecost experienced this heartfelt sorrow:

These words of Peter’s moved them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”   And Peter replied, “Each one of you must turn from sin, return to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; then you also shall receive this gift, the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2:37, 38  TLB)

As far as Peter was concerned, simply “being moved” was not nearly enough.  Lots of people are moved by a powerful sermon or teaching or Gospel song, but that’s not the same thing is repentance.  You must repent; experience conversion—change your mind then your direction—then your sin problem will be dealt with.

4.  The urgency of the need

What Jesus taught here was more than just a teaching; it was prophecy.  If we read verse 5 in another translation, this becomes clear:

 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Three decades from when Jesus spoke that sentence, in 70 AD, occurred the siege of Jerusalem.  Over one million Jews perished and many were scattered all over the world.  Priests and commoners alike died, many horribly.  Repentance is vital, but also urgent.  To show how urgent the need for repentance is, Jesus told this parable:

“A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if he could find any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed.  Finally he told his gardener to cut it down. ‘I’ve waited three years and there hasn’t been a single fig!’ he said. ‘Why bother with it any longer? It’s taking up space we can use for something else.’  “ ‘Give it one more chance,’ the gardener answered. ‘Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine; if not, I’ll cut it down.’ ”  (Luke 13:6—9  TLB)

This parable has allusions to Micah 7:1, in which Israel is compared to a useless fig tree:

Woe is me! It is as hard to find an honest man as grapes and figs when harvest days are over. Not a cluster to eat, not a single early fig, however much I long for it! The good men have disappeared from the earth; not one fair-minded man is left. They are all murderers, turning against even their own brothers.  (Micah 7:1  TLB)

The fig tree is symbolic of Israel.  Its owner expected it to bear fruit, yet it was barren.  It let down its owner.  Similarly, Israel was one huge let down to God.  The nation had choice privileges and blessings, yet they refused to be what God wanted them to be.  Time and again, from the Old Testament to Jesus’ day, Israel was warned that judgment was coming unless they repented—unless they changed their collective minds.  They didn’t, and in 70 AD they were scattered among the nations, and worse.  So many never saw it coming, or they refused to see it.  The end came suddenly, with no time left to repent.

This teaching and especially this parable was for the sake of Israel.  Yet at the same time, it serves as a solemn warning to all.  Whoever you are, wherever you are, or whenever you are, you must repent.  It’s God’s way or no way.  The lesson of these EXCEPTional verses is clear:  Turn to the Lord without delay!  Nobody is guaranteed a tomorrow.  Like the man who owned the troublesome fig tree, the Lord is patient and He doesn’t want anybody to die in their sins.  But that patience will eventually run out.  One day, and only God know when, your time will expire and so will His patience.  One who procrastinates runs the very real risk of being lost forever.

Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call upon him now while he is near.  Let men cast off their wicked deeds; let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy upon them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon!  (Isaiah 55:6, 7  TLB)

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