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“Questions at the Cross: If Men Do These Things . . . ?
Luke 23:31


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday in Lent—March 3, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

During Lent this year, for both our special evening and Sunday morning services, we are considering “Questions at the Cross,” questions asked by Jesus and others during the first Holy Week.  The entire sermon series is listed on the back of today’s bulletin.

This morning we continue with a question Jesus asks those who are weeping over him while he is on his way to Calvary: “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!”  Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Jesus himself is the green tree.  For, in his life on earth he bore such marvelous fruits as men have never seen before or since.  “We beheld his glory,” John says, “the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Peter says in Acts, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you with miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him. . .  he was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

“Weep not for me; weep for yourselves . . . For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  We are the dry trees, as Paul says in Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”  “The ax is already at the root of the trees,” John the Baptist warns, “and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

We are the dead, dry trees, under the same judgment as the fruitless tree in today’s Gospel Reading: “I’ve been looking for fruit on this tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!”   That is what we all deserve, because we are dead in our trespasses and sins, dry trees, not producing in our lives the fruit God requires.  We deserve to be cut down and thrown into the fire of hell.

“For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  Jesus is warning us, “If this is how I am slaughtered by humanity, even though I have done nothing wrong and committed no sin—a green tree bearing the perfect fruits of righteousness—then consider how severely all of you as dry trees truly deserve to be punished by God.”  “Weep not for me; weep for yourselves . . . For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  “I’ve been looking for fruit on this tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!”

“‘Sir,’ said the gardener, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.’”  The digging around symbolizes the preaching of the Law, which prepares us to receive the fertilizer of the Gospel.   One of best fertilizers is actually called blood meal, because it really is made from the dried blood of animals.  The book of Hebrews says, “Jesus suffered . . . to make [us] holy with his own blood. . .  he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. . . we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

“‘Sir,’ said the gardener, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.’”  You were a dry, fruitless, dead tree.  But, like the gardener in the parable, Jesus spares you from destruction, and lovingly fertilizes you, with his own blood.  He applies this fertilizer of his blood to you through his Word and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Christ’s blood is the true “miracle grow.”  For, this miraculous fertilizer does what no other fertilizer can, takes what was dead and makes it alive again.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions. . .  in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

“If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  The Good News is, for us men and for our salvation the green tree was cut down.  In our place he was cursed, damned, crucified, dead, and buried.  And on the third day he rose again from the dead.

“If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  Paul says in Romans, “He was put to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. . .  therefore, since we have now been justified through his blood . . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Your sins are all forgiven, you are justified and at peace with God, you will not receive the punishment a dry tree deserves, because for you the green tree was cut down.

“If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  This question Jesus asks on the way to the cross is a final warning and earnest plea to repent and believe the Gospel, to trust in him as your Savior.  Jesus put it this way a few hours earlier at the Last Supper:

“I am the true vine. . .  remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Amen.

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