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Sermon for March 20, 2022 – 3rd Sunday of Easter Preparation

Speaking Of Life 4017 | Praying for Deliverance

In a fractured world, it is easy to feel powerless in situations that are out of our control. Even when everything is shattered and broken, let us remember that we can always talk to our Father who surrounds us with his love and assurance of hope to keep us whole.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4017 | Praying for Deliverance
Greg Williams

Does the world seem broken beyond repair? It seems every generation at one point or another feels this way. In smaller ways, we also have times of brokenness in our personal lives when we realize there is little we can do to make things right. Whether looking at the world at large or dealing with a personal crisis, we often come to a place where we feel powerless. Maybe you feel that way today!

Consider this! If a small child is playing with a toy that becomes broken beyond their ability to fix, what do you think most children would naturally do? I think most would not hesitate to take the toy to a parent to fix. I’ve had numerous broken toys brought to me to fix and I’m sure most parents and grandparents have logged many hours fixing broken toys for children.

Today is a good day to remember that we have a heavenly Father who is able and willing to receive and repair all the brokenness in our lives. Feeling powerless can remind us of our need to approach our Father in prayer, bringing him all that is broken in us and in our world. Not only is he more than able to deliver and save us from all brokenness, but he has already done so in Jesus Christ. This means when we pray, we are not asking the Father to intervene in something he is unaware of. We are also not twisting his arm to do something he is not willing to do. We are participating in the Father’s sure deliverance from evil and brokenness. Like the child who brings a broken toy to a parent to fix, the most powerful and effective thing we can do in the face of worldwide brokenness is to bring it to our heavenly Father in prayer.

David concludes with a powerful reminder of the Father’s heart, which is turned towards his children who seek him in prayer:

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,
    but the Lord delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
    not one of them will be broken.

Evil will slay the wicked;
    the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord will rescue his servants;
    no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.”

Psalm 34:17-22

For our own sakes and for the sake of our world, the Lord invites us into his prayer to the Father as the most powerful way to participate in Jesus’ deliverance and restoration of all brokenness. It’s never too late to start praying for deliverance from our brokenness.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 63:1-8 • Isaiah 55:1-9 • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 • Luke 13:1-9

This week’s theme is repentance. The call to worship Psalm provides a fitting response of praise and worship from those who have turned to the Lord for their salvation. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah calls sinners to forsake evil and turn to the Lord who is abundant in mercy. The Gospel reading from Luke presents a parable from Jesus that gets to the root of repentance. The epistolary text comes from 1 Corinthians where the Apostle Paul, drawing from Israel’s experience in the wilderness, instructs believers to repent of the idolatry of self-reliance with the reminder of God’s faithfulness.

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 terms. He 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 God. This 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 something. Actions, 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 heads. Second, 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 god. The 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, https://www.foxnews.com/world/easter-sunday-explosions-at-multiple-churches-and-hotels-rock-sri-lanka-death-tolls-rises
[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, https://www.foxnews.com/weather/more-than-10-dead-many-injured-in-apparent-large-tornado-in-alabama-officials-say
[4] C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961), 6-7.

The Temptation of Jesus w/ Gary Deddo W3

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The Temptation of Jesus w/ Gary Deddo
March 20 – 3rd Sunday of Lent
Luke 13:1-9 “Repent or Perish”

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Program Transcript

The Temptation of Jesus with Gary Deddo

Anthony:  Okay. Let’s transition to our next text, which is Luke13:1 – 9, which comes from the NRSV. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for March the 20th.

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.”

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.’”

All right, Gary, unless you repent, you will all perish. There seems to be much to unpack here theologically. What should preachers preach?

Gary: Well, again reading any section in context, and of course, ultimately the context is the whole book of Luke, for instance, here and also the entire gospels and then the New Testament really.  So, the context here is we see people posing a question to Jesus.

But they don’t know and they are concerned about who this Jesus is, and they may very well also have an ultimate alternative motive, a hidden motive, or be entertaining unrecognized and false beliefs or assumptions. They’re going to come and tell Jesus something:  the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with sacrifices.

The Galileans may be actually a zealot type group that’s started a riot or an insurrection and then how Pilate to dealt with them. All right, but you see Jesus again, doesn’t answer their question directly. He asks them. See, he’s trying to get them to deal with him and who God really is.

So, he has to stop them. And that’s why he asked them a question: “Do you think that these Galileans suffered in this way because they were worse sinners than the all the other Galileans? No, I tell you.” (verse 2-3b)

You see, they’re talking about other people. “What about those people? Jesus. What about those people? What about those people? Aren’t they worse?”

And of course, how they’re thinking is some deserve worse treatment than others. “Don’t they? How are you going to answer that?”

It’s at least their assumption, if not some kind of ulterior motive going on here and maybe in the group, some present, had both, but Jesus is not interested in it.

He’s not going to make a judgment. He’s got the more fundamental concern, and you see, they’re not thinking about their own repentance. They’re avoiding that question. “Did they get what they deserve?” That’s what they’re talking about.

Jesus is saying, “The issue is you guys. Are you willing to repent? Whether you think you’re a worse sinner or not, that’s the issue.  Unless you, yourselves repent and recognize your total need for the total grace of God, completely undeservable. So, are you asking me this question to avoid your needing to repent and receive God’s forgiveness?”

A lot of the game at the time was what God wants you to do primarily is to avoid the need to receive his forgiveness. So, if you were a perfect person, you would have absolutely no need to repent or to receive forgiveness.

That’s what they think the game is.  That isn’t the game! The game is to be in right relationship and to receive forgiveness whenever you need it, because it’s there for you, not to see how minimally you can do it. And so that you can say you’re more righteous than another. “I don’t need to repent as much as somebody else.”

It’s not a comparison game. And I think that’s the game they’re playing, and they want to see where Jesus lines up in the comparison game of who needs to repent and who doesn’t need to repent, who needs more or who needs less.

And he’s giving them a warning: If you’re attempting to avoid the need of repentance, you are in real danger. This is a warning. You will perish just as they did. In other words, yeah, they should perish; someone should perish. He’s saying, be concerned about yourselves first because God calls all to repent, all to receive his forgiveness. Whether you’re a worst offender or a less worse offender, it doesn’t make any difference.

We all need the grace of God, total grace for total forgiveness. That’s what we need. And he does give them: this is a warning. It’s not what he wants. Right? Here, what I’m always interested in is why so often our first reaction is to hear a warning as if it’s a prediction and something God wants.

Whereas, even in a human situation, which is not perfect by any means, but when we warn somebody strongly, is that because we don’t care about them, and we want them to experience the negative consequence we’re warning them about?  Or is it because we want them to avoid it?

So, the strength of Jesus’ warnings are exactly proportional to his love for them.  Exactly proportional. They’re just as strong in both directions.  Someone who won’t warn another doesn’t care; he would just say nothing. So, this is a strict warning about what is apparently a real possibility if they refuse to repent and they say, “Well, I’m not going to repent. They have to. They certainly have to repent more than me. They’re worse sinners than I am. Why should I have to repent? Look, they’re not even repenting.”

You see all that comparison game hiding behind. If they would somehow manage to do that into eternity, and because the whole point is their pride wants to avoid ever having to repent and playing the comparison game in order to avoid it, they will come to hate forgiveness and to avoid it and therefore to avoid God and to repudiate and to hate his charity, to hate his compassion, to hate his goodness, to want nothing to do with it because it’s so beneath you and beneath me.  That’s the real danger here that Jesus is giving them a very strong warning.

Yes. You’re concerned about the medicine others will taste. What about the medicine you might taste? That’s the issue here. So again, Jesus turns the tables exactly like he did before and saying, look, it’s about you and God and me. That’s the issue here.

Anthony: So what’s going on with the fig tree?  Is it just a bad fruit tree or is there more than meets the eye?

Gary: Yeah, I think he’s moving on a little bit here, following again, a parable, even like the other ones. I think there is a parable at the end of three days, the third day.  Here we have another parable, more extensive. The idea here is, why not cut the tree down now because it’s not bearing fruit.

And the comeback is the gardener says, “No, we can wait because there’s other things that could be done dig around it, put manure on it. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good. But if not, then yes, you can cut it down.”

The point here is, well, why do I need to repent now, Jesus?  Maybe I’ll think about that later.

You know, aren’t you going to answer this question about the Galileans?  Didn’t they deserve it more than others? And Jesus is saying just because there’s a delay in the final judgment – even though as a fig tree, the leaders, especially the leaders of the Jews, are not bearing fruit here – doesn’t mean there won’t be a final day and an end point when God’s judgment does come.  And if your hearts are hardened and you’ll never turn away, you won’t receive, if you won’t receive his forgiveness. So don’t presume upon this time now. Yes, God is patient. God is giving you time to repent.

Don’t take advantage of that. Don’t play God. That is a very dangerous thing to do. Your hearts may become so hardened that you will never turn.  Today is the day of salvation. I think what Jesus is trying to do is get them to not put off, but to deal with him today, even though yes, God is patient.

But to put God to the test, and say well, I’ll try to get away with it as long as I can. That’s a dangerous game. And so yes, there is a delay. There is a delay in Christ’s return. But we are not to take advantage of God’s kindness, right? And there are other places in the New Testament that talk like this, to not take advantage of it and think we can play God.

I think he’s cutting off that variable, that escape route. I think he senses there was some in the crowd that want to escape the need to repent, to receive the total grace that God has to provide us and that we need.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Can you think of things in your life, or things going on in the world that seem broken beyond repair? Do these things give you a feeling of helplessness?
  • Was the analogy of a child bringing a broken toy to his dad helpful in how you thought about prayer?
  • What brokenness in the world can we pray about today?

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? 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?

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