3rd Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and His only Son Jesus Christ, Amen.
- From 1348 to 1351 the Black Plague killed an estimated 25 to 60% of Europe’s population. Some estimates were higher which would mean somewhere between 75 million to 200 million people. This plague was also called “the Great Mortality” or “the Pestilence”.
- When torrential rains hit southern China in August 1931, it caused the Yangtze River to flood, killing nearly 3.7 million people. This was considered the worst natural disaster of the 20th century.
- December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was described in a speech as "a date which will live in infamy." The speech was delivered at 12:30 p.m. on December 8th to a Joint Session of Congress by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Very few people alive today can remember where they were during the attack on Pearl Harbor. None of us were alive for the 1931 flood in China or the 1351 plague in Europe. Many of us can vividly remember the terrorist attack on our country, which destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and the fear and anger that ensued. In this year alone, the world has experienced wars, floods, earthquakes, and volcanos erupting.
In each historical incident, thousands to millions of people were killed. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a military strike from a country waging war against the United States. Not all people killed on that day were military personnel, some were only citizens who were caught in harm’s way.
The people in the office buildings on September 11th were going about the business of the day in order to provide for themselves and their families. The natural catastrophes of flood or plague caused the death of men, women and children, who were not expecting the destruction of their land or loss of life.
Do you think the people killed were worse sinners than all other people of the world because they suffered this way?
This is the question Jesus asked his disciples and the “many thousands” [Luke 12:1] gathered around him. St. Luke says it was “in a certain place” [Luke 11:1], probably in Judea near Jerusalem since he and his disciples had recently visited Mary, Martha and Lazarus [Luke 10:38].
The people spoke up about an altercation presumably in which Pontius Pilate caused the death of Jewish Galileans. The historian, Flavius Josephus, recorded ten thousands of people uprising against Pilate for purchasing water using their sacred offerings. Pilate sent out soldiers armed with daggers into the crowds, dressed as the people. He instructed them to beat the people into submission, but the troops overstepped their orders and ended up killing thousands of them.
[The soldiers] laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not, nor did they spare them in the least; and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded; and thus an end was put to this sedition.
This was done in the temple area where the judgment seat stood, the same place where Pilate pronounced the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the same place the sacrifices of the people were made.
A tower in Siloam fell of its own accord, whether by poor structural integrity, erosion of the earth, or earthquake, no one is certain, but it was considered an accident of no fault to those who died. Although some may have said it was an act of God against the wicked sinners who lived there.
Jesus asks the people, “– do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” [Luke 13:4] His answer is no. People who have died in the past, people who die today and, of course, all of us who will die in the future are all sinners.
Every person of every walk of life sins. When we sin, we are telling God that we do not want to be righteous or holy or even good. When we sin, we are telling Satan, that we follow him and not God. When we continue in our sin and do not repent, that is return to God’s will, we are essentially making a promise to serve the Devil.
With this in mind, can you tell me you are a greater sinner than I am? Can you tell me that greater sinners than you exist? Sin is sin. In for a penny, in for a pound, and the wages of sin is death. [Romans 6:23a] No one is more or less guilty of transgression against God.
The judgment of God is the same for all people when it comes to sin. There is no plea bargaining, no parole and no commutation to a lesser sentence. We are all convicted to a life sentence of eternal death.
We have no excuse. We are no more innocent in an earthquake than we are in an act of murder. To be sure, we were born this way, but that does not clear us from our accountability of our sin. The same judgment applies.
Like a fig tree planted in a vineyard, we grow in the sun. We suck up the water and nutrients from the soil, but we do not produce good fruit. To any owner of a vineyard with a tree or vine that does not produce, we are useless as a living tree and useful only to be consumed by fire.
Like that fig tree in the vineyard, we can do nothing of our own accord to produce fruit and save ourselves from the axe. We cannot try real hard to squeeze out apples or oranges. We cannot pay someone to provide fruit for us. We cannot even flee from our current circumstance to some happy orchard where our fruitlessness is valued.
No, in our current state, we are helpless, hopeless and doomed to die. But thanks be to God that we are not without a Savior. Jesus Christ speaks to our Father in heaven and says, “Let me dig around it and fertilize it.”
Jesus Christ came into our lives, literally. He humbled himself to be born of a woman, the Virgin Mary, and became human in nature. He came to us speaking the words of life. The Word of God made flesh dug around our roots and cleared away the sin.
He fertilized us with his living word to give us strength and nourishment. He watered us with Holy Baptism so that the sin will be cast out and the faith of Christ enter into our innermost being. He continues to feed us with his body and water us with his blood in Holy Communion. By the forgiveness of our sin, we are able to produce good fruit and be a blessing to all people. The hymn ‘May God Bestow on Us His Grace’ speaks to this blessing.
O let the people praise Thy worth,
In all good works increasing,
The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth,
Thy Word is rich in blessing. [LSB 824 stz 3]
Jesus Christ did this by dying on a tree of sin and raising himself up again to kill our iniquity and defeat death forever. He who was without sin died, so that we who are full of sin might live. And how might we live? By turning away from evil and turning toward God. Another word for this is ‘repentance’.
Our Lord tells us that if we do not repent, than we will perish. We turn to the mercy and grace of our Father in heaven who has given us the means to be made righteous and holy in His sight. We turn to Jesus Christ.
We are a people who have turned against God. We follow the devil by our continuous sin, but we are not lost. God our Father has been moved to save this great nation. He sent His only Son into the world to die for our sins and break the control of our enemy Satan. Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the debt of our iniquity. On that Friday afternoon, a date which will live in our infamy, what was shameful and criminal conduct by us, the crucifixion of our Lord was the death knell of our sin.
‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ [Ezekiel 33:11]
As we live in the sanctified life of our baptism, of our forgiveness in the body and blood of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we bear the good fruit of God’s promise. We turn from our evil ways and return to God… For why should we die?
[Now] God the Father, God the Son
And God the Spirit bless us!
Let all the world praise Him alone,
Let solemn awe possess us.
Now let our hearts say, “Amen!” [LSB 824 stz 3]
 Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).