Text: Luke 12:35-13:9 | Listen to Message
A Judge Who Loves You
At any moment Jesus Christ could split the skies and come down and it will be the end of the world as we know it. In that moment, a division will be made. And it will not matter how successful or even how righteous you’ve been, but only one thing will matter: “What did you do you with Jesus?” Did you ignore him, marginalize him, or even reject him outright … or did you give him the fundamental trust and allegiance of your heart?
Jesus warns that things will not go well for the unrepentant and unbelieving. He makes no mention of a “love” or “kindness” that tolerates all sin and sweeps it under a cosmic rug. He endorses no viewpoint that all paths eventually lead to the same God. What he does say is downright startling and offensive to the modern, independent, secular mind: he says there’s going to be judgment, separation, imprisonment, and fire.
Now, before you get indignant toward a Jesus who speaks this way, there are two things you should consider about this same Jesus from this text:
1. Before Jesus ever judges you, he was judged for you.
In Luke 12:49 Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” And in 12:51 he says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” But right smack in the middle of those two terrifying statements of judgment he says this: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.”
What was this baptism and why is Jesus in distress until it is fulfilled?
Obviously this isn’t speaking of Jesus’ water baptism, which had already taken place. “Baptism” is a euphemism for his impending death on a cross. This is what has him in great distress – yet this is precisely what he came to earth to accomplish.
You see, Jesus wasn’t going to be crucified as punishment for his own sin or crimes; he was going to take the wrath and die the death that our sins deserve. The cross is a picture of substitution: the innocent sacrificing his life in place of the guilty, so that we might be forgiven and declared innocent.
Do you hear the Good News? Long before Jesus comes to punish sinners, he came to be punished in the place of sinners. Long before he comes to enforce the horrible reality of death and separation from God, he took that kind of death on himself to give us life. No one will ever face the condemnation of God without first rejecting the free grace of the One who was condemned in their place.
But there’s even more good news in this text:
2. Before Jesus ever judges you, he labors to make you fruitful.
Look at this parable in Luke 13:6-9 and notice the mercy and grace Jesus extends to those who are living sinful, wasted lives! He pictures them as a fig tree that doesn’t bear any fruit year after year. But rather than simply cutting them down and discarding them, the vinedresser (Jesus) says this to the owner of the vineyard (God the Father): “Sir, let it alone this year, until I dig around it and put on [fertilizer]. Then, if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
We have no one to blame but ourselves for our dry, fruitless lives, yet Jesus works to make us fruitful. Like a caring vinedresser, he goes to work pruning off the dead and diseased branches that are sapping our vitality. He turns over the soil of our compacted, earthbound hearts to make room for the life-giving oxygen of the Gospel. And he floods our souls with the Spirit’s nutrients, which will cause our lives to bring forth abundant and healthy fruit. Only if we reject his grace will we find ourselves without grace in the end.
Jesus is coming again – and it could be today. Let us live vigilantly and faithfully in light of this truth. But let us also give ourselves to warning the lost and to sharing with them the Good News of salvation, so that they, too, might receive him with joy and not with grief.