March 7, 2010: Don’t be a Smug Believer!

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we need You to remind us of the necessity of genuine repentance. Although we hear that word weekly, and sometimes even practice it daily, our flesh often grows smug in the midst of temptations, gives in to them, and then smugly continues on because seemingly nothing happens. Lord, none of us know when You will call us to account, so prompt us to snap out of our smugness and live repentance daily. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR WHO SEES ALL

TEXT: Luke 13: 1-9

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

There really are two kinds of believers in this world. Those who bend their will to some sort of “higher power” and those who scoff at the existence of any god. Channel 5’s “Chronicle” program just had a special on the scoffers and avowed atheists. They all preened at how they are just as well adjusted and just as happy as any of those “religious” folks. All of them disavowed any religious belief system. But, of course, they are all liars. Everyone has some sort of beliefs they follow. People have value beliefs, moral beliefs, political beliefs, and ultimately they believe in themselves, that they are right. Without believing in something, anything, you literally cannot make a single decision in life. Why corn flakes vs. cheerios? Why chicken vs. beef? Why a Honda vs. a Chevy?

Among those who espouse to be believers in a “higher power,” there are really only two subsets. Those are: Christians who honor the Triune God and non-Christians who pay homage to some sort of fake god. We call them heathens in traditional Christianity. Likewise, within Christendom, there is yet still another subset. That is, Christians who really try to live up to the high standards of God’s Word and live out daily repentance through a total reliance upon God’s grace, and what we could call nominal believers who’s attitude is: “I’ve heard it all before, I have nothing new to learn, so I’ll go through the motions of my faith and hope for the best.”

By your presence, you’re telling the world that you’re a believing Christian. No one other than you and God knows the steadfastness of your faith. That’s because only you and God can read your heart. So, today’s theme may apply to you very specifically, or maybe a bit more generally. Either way:

DON’T BE A SMUG BELIEVER!

I

Everyone tries to play the guessing-game about the victims of a tragedy. “Why did it happen to them?” is a question we all toy with. And believers in god (little g) immediately conclude in their heart-of-hearts that they must have done something especially terrible to warrant such an untimely death. Of course, the parallel thought within such a heart is this: “Since it didn’t happen to me, I must be on o.k. terms with the “big man upstairs.” This is really the setting for our lesson, the questions posed to Christ, and the reason behind His answer.

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those 18 who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”

Apparently, some Galileans had gone to the temple to offer sacrifice on a holy day. Apparently they became so agitated by it and so full of religious nationalism that a riot broke out. (This happened at various times.) Anyway, Pilate sent soldiers who quelled the riot, killing those folks and their blood mixed with that of the animals they were sacrificing. Likewise, a tower around the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem fell upon 18 people unexpectedly. They, too, were killed without warning by this event. These things fall under the guideline of providence. That is, no mere human can deduce the “whys” of God such as: Why did the earthquake occur in Haiti, or in Chile? Did those people do something especially evil in order to bring it upon themselves? Bad things occur in this world because the entire world is sinful. Period. That’s Jesus’ answer. However, what we can deduce from such events is that our time of grace is limited, we need to live and practice daily repentance, and then no matter what, we’ll be prepared if it happens to us.

II

The message of Lent is the message of our text.—Don’t be a smug believer! Don’t rest on your past laurels. Don’t think you have everything in life figured out. And don’t play Russian roulette with temptation and with sin. For you may have played with a particular sin like slander, or theft, or cheating on your spouse; you may have gotten away with it for many times. You then begin to think that it really isn’t so bad because no bad consequences ensue. Each time the chamber of that revolver clicks “empty.” But eventually God’s judgment will fall, the hammer will fall and disaster will come. So, don’t smugly think: “It’ll never happen to me!”

Again, Jesus addresses this immutable truth with the parable of the fig tree. For three long years after planting a fig, the owner came to the vineyard and expected to find fresh figs, fresh fruit. But, each year the fig came up empty. Finally, he grows exasperated and says to the vineyard supervisor: “Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” Of course, this is a word picture of God Almighty and the nation of Israel specifically, and the entire world generally. Christ came and watered and tended the little tree of proclaimed faith for three years. But the fruit of that tree was non-existent among the masses. Time to cut it down and start over! However, the vineyard worker, standing for Christ Himself, pleads the cause of that little tree. He’s patient. He’s kind. He wants to give it one more chance. He wants to give you one more chance. “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it (with His blood). If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Well, we know what happened. The vast majority of souls in Israel did not listen and learn. They failed to repent. They failed to embrace Christ and appreciate His goodness, love, and forgiveness. Instead, these religiously smug people who thought they were far superior to any Roman or any Gentile played “follow our leaders like Caiaphas” and they killed Christ on a cross. Yes, how often God’s patience is tried and His grace is used against Him?! And then, the axe falls. Yes, failure to repent due to smugness leads to certain destruction of self and of soul.

I may be preaching to the choir, as it were, but every one of us needs to guard against smugness and/or apathy when it comes to our faith in Jesus Christ. We guard against it by recognizing our sins, by practicing repentance, by begging for forgiveness, by trying to enlarge and strengthen our faith, and by continually repeating from the heart: “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” As you continue to walk the path of Lent, burn that truth even deeper into your heart! Amen