Avoiding hell, according to Jesus (Luke 13:1-5)

If Jesus Christ Himself told you explicitly how you could certainly avoid going to hell when you died, would you listen to Him? If Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gave you simple concrete steps for not perishing forever, would you follow those simple steps?

In this passage from the gospel of Luke, you will have an opportunity to answer those questions, because in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus gives a message that is so clear that you almost have to try to miss the point.

13 There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perishOr those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

BACKGROUND

A little background would be helpful. Jesus is in Jerusalem and, as usual, He is surrounded by a large crowd. Some people in the crowd made a comment to Him about an atrocity that Pilate, the governor, had committed in killing people who had come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM – YOU WILL LIKEWISE PERISH

Instead of addressing their comment, however, Jesus talks about the universal problem confronting every member of the human race. “Do you think these were worse sinners than all the others? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-3).” Jesus establishes the truth that physical death is of secondary importance. The critical question is, “When you physically die, will you eternally perish?”

Jesus then repeats His message in another context. Eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). But the question was not, “Did they die this way because they were bad people?” No, the question was, “They died, just as you will die someday. When you die, will you eternally perish?”

The Lord uses events from the daily news to bring into the spotlight the eternal question of heaven and hell. Jesus was asking these people to consider their eternal destiny. “You are so concerned about what happens to others, but will you not consider that your dying day is also arriving sooner than you think? When you have your own ‘tower of Siloam,’ will you likewise perish? Will you repent or will you perish?”

SAME MESSAGE FOR YOU AND ME TODAY

Of course, the message Jesus gave to that crowd on that day almost two thousand years ago is exactly the same message that He gives to everyone living today. All the living will perish unless they repent. Twice our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells all who will listen explicitly how they can certainly avoid going to hell when they die. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Twice Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gives simple concrete steps for not perishing forever. Again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But if any man or woman will repent, they will not perish.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REPENT?

To repent means to turn away from your sin and to consciously choose to obey God. To repent means to hate your sin and to love righteousness. Repentance is when you confess to God that you are a sinner and that you no longer want to live your life of disobedience and rebellion but want to live as a disciple of Jesus. Notice that Jesus Himself gives a promise to all those who repent, that you will not perish.

HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?

We began this article with a couple of questions. Jesus Himself has now told us the simple steps we can take to avoid perishing forever. Will you listen to Him and repent, or will you ignore Him and perish?

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The quest for purpose (Luke 13:7)

Man is a purpose-seeking creature. Built into man’s very nature is the deep need for a purpose that gives meaning to his days. Yet even though there seem to be myriad paths available to a person, there is no obvious guide for deciding which path to choose and there is no universal, default destination for where the chosen path should lead. So, without a path and without a destination, the natural man struggles to find purpose. Sometimes we feel like Alice in Wonderland as she encounters the Cheshire cat at the fork in the road. Alice asks the cat, “Please tell me which road I should choose.” “Well,” replies the cat, “that all depends on where you are going.” “I don’t know where I am going.” “In that case, either road will get you there.”

JUSTIFY OUR EXISTENCE

Man needs a purpose because in some sense he wants to justify his existence. If someone were to ask him one day, “What are you doing here, anyway?” he would like to give some credible answer. And yet, what answer could he give? “I don’t really know what I am doing here. I just showed up one day and kept breathing.” We seek to justify our existence and are frightened to discover that our best offering is pretty shaky.

CAN I FIND A MISSION?

We would love a compelling mission for our lives that gives us a laser beam focus, but, if the truth were told, we would settle for any mission at all. The scene that opens the movie “Apocalypse Now” shows Martin Sheen sitting on a sweat-soaked bed in Vietnam as the ceiling fan slowly stirs the sultry air, and then the voice-over says, “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.” That pictures the state of every person as they begin to grow toward maturity and begin to contemplate their existence. “Here I am. Waiting for a mission.” Where can anyone turn to find an answer to the question of purpose? Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that produced no fruit. “Cut it down!” he says. “Why should it use up the ground? (Luke 13:7)” Whether we know the Lord or not, this question haunts us. “Why should he use up the ground?”

THREE KINDS OF PURPOSE

In my observation, there are three broad categories of purpose into which people fit.

  • No purpose
  • A man-made or man-invented purpose
  • A God-given purpose

NO PURPOSE

The natural state and the starting point of all people in their quest for purpose is “no purpose.” This is the result of the Fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. One of the consequences of man’s sin is that he is separated from God and so is groping around for purpose and direction like the blind. Isaiah says, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes (59:10).” There may be some casual searches for meaning at different points in life, but eventually the search is abandoned, and life becomes a long and aimless chore. Often this is a life defined by random choices because they lack a compelling ‘why,’ and random choices are usually bad choices. Tragically, I think this may describe the majority of people.

A MAN-MADE PURPOSE

It has already been observed that there are myriad paths in life available to a person, but there is no clear means for deciding which of those paths to take or why, and there is no default destination toward which a man or a woman should strive. Nevertheless, there are many who, because of their circumstances in life or because of their personality and character makeup, or both, find a path that, for whatever reason, appeals to them. The choice of path or purpose is often random (I remember we were on a trip to Florida on a summer break from college when I saw a rocket engine and decided to become a Mechanical Engineer!), but, having selected that course in life, men and women pour themselves into this “man-made purpose” with obsessive energy.

Some choose a career as being their obsession. Others choose their children or their family. Making money can be the purpose. Or sexual conquests. Or sports. Or really anything. Wrestling crocodiles. Chasing tornadoes. Politics. Being a “foodie.” The man-made purpose does not need to be important or impressive in the eyes of the world (although it often is). My obsession in my twenties and early thirties was rock climbing. (Like I said, it does not have to make sense or be impressive.) I poured myself into that activity and sacrificed almost everything else to pursue cragging. It seems foolish, but that is the nature of the man-made purpose. Once chosen the choice of the purpose is rarely questioned.

The author of Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher,” had chosen man-made pursuits. Enormously successful at all that he did, he was miserable. “So, I hated life! All is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Having given his life to wisdom and pleasure and accomplishment, he encountered that great equalizer. He encountered the problem of the six-foot hole. When considering his own death, he says, “The same event happens to all of them. How the wise dies just like the fool! As one dies, so dies the other (Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16; 3:19).” All those who pursue a man-made purpose will find vexation and emptiness in this life, and judgment in the next. “This, too, is vanity and a striving after wind.”

A GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE

The best of all purposes is a God-given purpose. This is possessed by all those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been called by God to faith in Jesus, the believer has received the blessing of a clear purpose that pleases God, that is intensely fulfilling, that lasts a lifetime, and that receives the commendation in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21, 23).” The believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is a divine guide for directing him or her to the right path (Isaiah 30:21). The believer has the mission of being a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and of being His ambassador in the world (2 Cor. 5:20), a mission that is joy-producing and satisfying and challenging. In trusting Christ as Savior, the believer has received a purpose that justifies their existence and that is worth spending a lifetime to accomplish. This purpose is worth living for and it is worth dying for.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 

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Celebrate Repentance (Colossians 3:5)

The other day I did a Google Search to find all the Celebrate Repentance groups there are in Charlotte, NC. Surprisingly, even in a city of Charlotte’s size, I did not find a single one. That meant that if such a group were going to exist, someone like me would need to start it.

Of course, this is a fictional organization. Celebrate Repentance as an organization does not exist, but I think that it should. And so, I began conceiving of what this group would look like. Although there are many passages in Scripture that speak about repentance, there are two that would be foundational to my group:

Luke 13:3, 5 and Colossians 3:5

LUKE 13:3, 5 – THE CALL IS TO REPENT OR PERISH

Jesus spoke with some people who supposed that a sudden, tragic end to life occurred only to those people who were rebellious and really wicked. In other words, “Of course the bad guys get punished. They deserved it, but the rest of us are okay.” Jesus used that occasion to speak about the universal sinfulness of man and the universal need for repentance. “I tell you unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” To make sure that these people did not ignore His warning and imagine, instead, that He was speaking only in hyperbole, Jesus gave another story and restated His warning: “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (13:5).” Jesus made a big deal out of repentance, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of repentance.

COLOSSIANS 3:5 – THE CALL TO PUT OUR SINS TO DEATH

In Colossians, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have recently been delivered from the pagan world of idolatry and immorality (“the domain of darkness” – Colossians 1:13) and been “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).” To make sure that these disciples show the fruit of repentance and begin to display holiness, Paul gives them direct instruction: “Therefore, put to death the members which are upon the earth: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Colossians 3:5).” Paul made a big deal about disciples of Jesus putting sin to death, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of putting sin to death.

From these two foundational passages there emerge two basic questions that would define the content for the local Celebrate Repentance chapter:

  1. What does it mean for the disciple of Jesus to REPENT?
  2. How doe the disciple of Jesus PUT SIN TO DEATH?

I anticipate that there would be two groups of people attending these meetings of Celebrate Repentance. One group wants to vanquish their indwelling sin and to cut it out of their life like a malignant cancer, and the other group wants to learn some new tools to better cope with their indwelling sin and to find some fellow travelers who could join them in their coping journey. These two groups are separated by a wide chasm, although they seem the same in outward appearance. What is it, then, that distinguishes a person from being a member of one group or the other?

A member of “the vanquish group” has mentally brought a scalpel to the meeting, and they are willing to use it. They have identified their sin and they have sharpened their dagger, but up till now, they have not learned how to use the dagger effectively enough to kill their foe. It seems that every time they think the quarry is in their sights, it somehow dodges the bullet. In fact, the reason they have come to the Celebrate Repentance meeting is to learn how to wield the dagger with skill so that the sin is put to death. A member of this “vanquish group” hates their sin and has come ready for war.

By contrast, a member of “the coping group” has brought no scalpel and no dagger to the meeting. They may have identified their indwelling sin, but they have no current plan or desire to kill that sin. While they do not like the effects the sin is having on their life and they are a little ashamed that they haven’t gotten rid of it yet, they have not resolved to kill the sin and to do violence to it. They do not hate the sin; truth be known, there are times when they still enjoy the sin, even though they know they should not.

The vanquish group” will find fellow warriors in the Celebrate Repentance group who are willing to give them ammunition and tactics for putting sin to death. The “coping group” will probably decide that they need to find another group that “knows more about grace” and allows them to continue in their sin as they continue to “struggle” with their sin.

Celebrate Repentance would indeed be a celebration of the freedom that we have in Christ to live as conquerors (Romans 8:37). Repentance is the weapon that appropriates for us the freedom that Christ bought for us on the cross. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).” We were slaves of sin, but now we are slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18), and Celebrate Repentance would give you the comrades and the tactics to trample sin underfoot and to rejoice in the holiness we were meant to have (1 Peter 1:16).

What do you think of this idea of Celebrate Repentance?

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