Luke: Suspended Judgment and a Reason for Judgment

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 3, 2010

Luke 13:6-17

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The Lord’s Day Morning

October 3, 2010

Luke 13:6-17

“Suspended Judgment and a Reason for Judgment”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 13 as we
continue our way through the gospel of Luke.
And as you turn to Luke 12:6-17, which is the passage we’re going to give
close attention to today, allow your eyes to scan back to the first five verses
of the chapter and even back into the verses at the end of chapter 12, because
you’ll remember at the end of chapter 12 Jesus says to those that are listening
to Him that they did not understand the times.
And He says this as a spiritual indictment of them.
They’re really good at predicting the weather, but they really can’t tell
the nose from their face when it came to spiritual matters.

And apparently, as a part of that particular conversation early in chapter 13,
people in the multitude had attempted to indicate to Jesus that they did, in
fact, understand the times and they pointed to the events of the people who had
been killed when the tower of Siloam, presumably a tower near the pool of Siloam
there in Jerusalem, had fallen and eighteen people had died.
And also they pointed to the event of Galileans who had been killed while
they were down in Jerusalem offering sacrifices.
They had been killed by Pilate.
And presumably, members of the multitude had said to Jesus, “We do
understand the times. Take for
instance these two circumstances.
They’re clearly examples of God’s judgment against ungodly people.”
And Jesus, you’ll remember we said last week, turned those very examples
on those in the multitude who had given them to Him as examples that they
understood the time, and He said, “No, the message of God’s providence in those
events is that unless you repent, you will also perish.”
So Jesus said that the message of God’s providence clothed in those
tragedies was the message, “repent or you will perish.”

Well, that theme of repentance continues on for a little while in the gospel of
Luke and we see that theme of repentance here today.
If you look with me, the section we’re about to read falls into two
parts. Verses 6 to 9 contain a
parable, and that parable is about God’s suspending judgment against Israel.
had not repented and the parable is a parable about God being ready to bring
judgment on Israel
because she had not repented and she had not brought forth spiritual fruit.
And in the parable, the vinedresser intercedes for
and begs God not to bring immediate judgment and she is spared for another year
in the parable. It’s a picture of Israel’s last
opportunity to repent. Jesus is
saying that Israel
is facing a turning point in her history with His ministry.
She will either repent or she will perish because she deserves God’s
judgment now. So verses 6 to 9, this
parable tells us about the suspended judgment of God.
Israel deserved to be judged, but
there was suspended judgment.

Then, it seems unrelated, but when you get to verse 10 running all the way down
to verse 17, there’s this interesting story about Jesus being in a synagogue and
a woman who has been deeply, bodily afflicted with a satanic oppression.
She’s been buffeted by Satan just like Job was buffeted by Satan in his
body. For eighteen years this woman
has been afflicted and bent over.
And she’s in synagogue on the Sabbath day when Jesus is preaching and it’s an
amazing story. She is healed and
delivered and praises God, but the reaction of the Pharisees to Jesus is of
accusation. They accuse Him and they
accuse her of being Sabbath breakers.

And you may say, “What in the world does that have to do with repentance and
suspended judgment?” Well, I would
suggest to you that what you have in verses 10 to 17 is a picture of the reason
that Israel is under
judgment. Their hearts are hard to
the works of God. They don’t see the
great, gracious works of God right in front of their own eyes.
They don’t respond to the mercy of God like they ought to respond to the
mercy of God. And so in the reaction
of the religious leaders in the synagogue, we see a picture of hard, unrepentant
hearts, and because those hearts are hard and unrepentant, they cannot bring
forth fruit, which is precisely what the owner of that fig tree in the parable
in verses 6 to 9 says he’s coming to look for.
“I’m coming to look for fruit on this fig tree that I planted three years

Well, that’s the connection between the passages.
Let’s pray before we read God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for
Your Word. We ask that You would, by
Your Holy Spirit, illumine our eyes and hearts and minds to see and hear and
understand it, but not just to understand it Lord.
Show us our own sin. Show us where we need to repent as we study this
passage together. Convict our own
hearts of the places where we are hard and cold towards You.
Grant us repentance and give us fruit from changed hearts, the fruit of
living out Your Word and will by grace.
We ask all these things in Jesus’ name.

Hear the Word of the living God from Luke 13, verses 6 to 17:

“And He told this
parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking
fruit on it and found none. And he
said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on
this fig tree, and I find none. Cut
it down. Why should it use up the
ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir,
let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.
Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you
can cut it down.’’

Now He was teaching
in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
And there was a woman who had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.
She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.
When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are
freed from your disability.’ And He
laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified
God. But the ruler of the synagogue,
indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There
are six days in which work ought to be done.
Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’
Then the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites!
Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the
manger and lead it away to water it?
And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen
years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?’
As He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame, and all
the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by Him.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

What do you think Jesus would say if He came to a church where people were going
through the motions of religion but where there was no fruit?
There were claims to love God, claims to love Jesus, claims to care about
the salvation of sinners, claims to want to live for God’s glory, but no fruit,
none. What do you think Jesus would
say to a congregation like that? You
don’t have to guess. You don’t have
to guess. Jesus is speaking to a
little assembly, a little congregation, a little synagogue here, somewhere in
Palestine during the course of His ministry, and He comes into contact with
people who make great religious claims — they claim to love God, they claim to
live for God, they claim to long for the coming of the Messiah, they claim to
live according to God’s Word, they claim to be concerned that people will be
converted unto Him and live for God — but they have no fruit.
And Jesus speaks to them here.

And the first thing He does is He tells a parable.
And this parable is designed to illustrate the fruitlessness of Israel.
Israel is like, in this parable, a
fig tree that has been planted by God, and He planted that tree so that it would
bear fruit. Fruit is the
consequence, the evidences, the works that flow from the grace of God that God
does in His people. And when He
saves you by grace, He saves you in the language that Billy read this morning
from Ephesians 2: 8-10. He saves you
by grace, through faith, not by works — no, your salvation is a gift from God —
but He saves you to — what does Paul say in Ephesians 2 verse 10?
He saves you “to good works.”
He saves you “for good works.”
You’re not saved by good works; you’re saved for good works.
You’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and as
a new creation made by the grace of God, you manifest that new creation by
living in a new way. You live a life
that is adorned with fruitfulness, with good works, with things that give
evidence that you live for God, that you live to God, that God is done and is
doing a work of grace in you. And so
God comes to Israel looking
for that kind of fruit. What kind of
fruit? Living for God, looking for
the Messiah, obeying His Word, seeking conversions and the wellbeing of those
who are in bondage to sin and under the buffeting of Satan.

And in the parable, God, the owner of the vineyard, comes to the fig tree again
and there is still no fruit. And he
says, “Cut it down.” And the
vinedresser, and maybe the Lord Jesus is indicating Himself here in His
mediatorial role of interceding for His people, says, “Don’t cut it down yet,
Lord. Give it one more year.”
It’s one last chance for Israel.
It’s a depiction of Jesus’ ministry.
God has, from the beginning, sent prophets, faithful prophets, to His
people, starting with Moses. And on
down through the years, those prophets have spoken God’s Word to His people, but
His people have not borne fruit. And
in these last days, He has sent His own Son.
Perhaps they will hear Him.
And so the vinedresser says to the owner of the vineyard, “Wait one more year,
and if they bear fruit then you may spare your judgment, but if they do not, cut
it down.” It’s a picture of the last
opportunity of Israel to

But of course, it’s not just a picture for the Jewish church; it’s a picture for
any people that have been under the rich ministry of God’s means of grace.
had been given enormous opportunities to sit under God’s Word, to see the
sacraments of the Old Testament spread before them, to have the temple of the
living God, the one place on the planet that God had appointed for His worship
in Jerusalem, in
the temple. Year after year they
could see the sacrifices. Year after
year and week after week they could be in the synagogue service and hear His
Word read and proclaimed and sing His Word back to Him and pray to Him according
to His Word, but they had not borne fruit.
But Jesus’ indictment is not just for Israel; it’s for
anyone who sits under God’s Word and does not respond in repentance and in the
fruits of good works which adorn those who truly trust in God.

You know, I was reading my favorite devotional commentator, J.C. Ryle, on the
gospels this week, and I came across a passage in which he comments on this very
point. And it’s a little bit quaint
because he’s talking about 19th century England.
He’s talking about England in the late 1800’s, but see how what he says
about England in his own day helps apply this passage to us today.
Ryle says:

“Our Lord teaches
this lesson (the lesson of the call to repentance and the lesson to whom much is
given much is expected) the Lord teaches this lesson by comparing the Jewish
church of His day to a fig tree planted in a vineyard.
This was exactly the position of Israel in the world.
They were separated from other nations by the Mosaic laws and ordinances,
no less than by the situation of their land.
They were favored with revelations of God which were granted to no other
people. Things were done for them
that were never done for Egypt
or for Nineveh or for Babylon
or for Greece or for Rome.
And it was only just and right that they should bear fruit to God’s
praise. It might reasonably be
expected that there would be more faith, more repentance, more holiness, more
godliness in Israel than among any other land.
This is what God looked for.
The owner of the fig tree came seeking fruit.

But we must look
beyond the Jewish church if we mean to get the full benefit of this parable
before us. We must look to the
Christian churches. We have light
and truth and doctrine and precepts of which the heathen never hears.
How great is our responsibility!
Is it not just and right that God should expect from us, fruit?
We must look to our own hearts.
We live (and now again, he’s speaking of 19th century
England) — we live in a
land of Bibles, liberty, and Gospel preaching.”
Can you think of another place that fits that bill?
“We live in a land,” he says, “of Bibles, liberty, and Gospel preaching.
How vast are the advantages that we enjoy compared to the Chinese or to
the Hindu! Never let us forget that
God expects from us fruit. And these
are solemn truths. Few things are so
much forgotten by men as the close connection between privilege and
responsibility. We are all ready
enough to eat the fat and drink the sweet and bask in the sunshine of our
position as Christians and Englishmen and even to spare a few pitying thought
for the half-naked savage who bows down to stocks and stones.
But we are very slow to remember that we are accountable to God for all
that we enjoy and that to whomsoever much is given, of them, much will be
required. Let us awake to a sense of
these things! We are the most
favored nation upon earth. We
are, in the truest sense, a fig tree planted in a vineyard.
Let us not forget that our great Master looks for fruit.”

Now think of it, my friends — J.C. Ryle said those words about his England about a hundred and fifty
years ago and they were true. England was the
exporter of Christianity to the world.
There were more people in churches in
in Ryle’s time than there are in churches in America in ours.
And England was certainly a blessed
nation. But when he says those
words, “We are the most favored nation upon the earth,” I can’t help but think
of another place. And who can doubt
the privileges and blessings that have been poured out upon our land and upon
our people? And then I think of how England is
today, with thousands of churches shuttered and closed and dark — some turned
into flats, some turned into theaters or to bars, less than 2% of the population
Bible-believing Christians. Ryle
said that there was a message in this parable for his England in the
19th century that the Lord was looking for fruit and that we should
bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.
Could there be a less obvious message for us today in this parable?
The Lord calls us to repentance.

You know, John, when the Pharisees approached him in the wilderness to hear him
preach, looking on him as an oddity, not only said to them, “You brood of
vipers!” he said to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
With all the light that the Lord has given you, with all the Gospel that
the Lord has taught you, and you’ve heard it in your homes, you’ve heard it in
Sunday School classes, you’ve heard it in discipleship groups, and prayer
meetings, and in countless Sunday services on the Lord’s Day morning and
evening, but have you repented and have you brought forth fruit?
Is there fruit in your life that is in keeping with repentance?
Have you believed the Gospel?
Is God the one that you delight in more than anything else?
Are you growing in Christ? Do
you long for godliness and holiness?
Is the Lord’s Day the market day of the soul for you, you can’t wait to delight
in the presence of the company of God’s people and the praise of the Lord of
grace who saved you? Does your life
bear fruit? That’s Jesus’ word for
you and me today.

And the story that He begins to tell – it’s a true account unlike the story of
the parable which is just a metaphor, an illustration – the account that is told
next by Luke really happened. And
it’s a very sad account. And in it
we see a picture of how the religious leaders of
had not repented and how they were not bringing forth fruit in keeping with
repentance. And we see that
distinctly in at least four ways.
And I’d like to direct you to four things in the passage where we see the hearts
of the religious leaders of

First of all, notice what is happening here. In verse 10 we read that “He was
teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.”
Now this is the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is teaching the Bible in a Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath day.
In other words, the Word of God is teaching the Word of God in the very
presence of their hearing. And do
they respond to Him in wonder, love, and praise?
No, they respond to Him with accusation that He is breaking the Word of
God. Now think of that.
The Word of God teaching the Word of God in your presence and you accuse
Him of breaking the Word of God. It
shows their hearts.

You remember the story that Luke tells you about those two downcast and
disconsolate disciples who had left
after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial but before His resurrection and they’re on
the way back to Emmaus and Jesus meets them along the way, only they don’t know
it at first. And He walks with them
along the way as they pour out their hearts and their
griefs and their
tears over the death of the one that they had hoped would be the Messiah.
And you remember He rebukes them and He tells them that they just haven’t
believed their Bibles enough. And
then He begins to teach the Word of God to them as they walk back to Emmaus.
The Word of God teaches them the Word of God and then as He breaks bread
with them back in their home, their eyes are opened and they realize it’s Jesus
and then He’s gone. And they turn to
one another and what did they say?
“Did not our hearts burn within us when He was teaching the Word?”
Well of course! It’s the Word
of God teaching them the Word of God and the Lord, though they were weak and
stumbling and feeble, they were believers.
And when those believers heard the Word teaching them the Word their
hearts burned within them, but not these Pharisees.
When they hear the Word teaching the Word they accuse Him of breaking the
Word. That’s the first way you see
that their hearts are not right.
They don’t have hearts of repentance; therefore, they can’t bring forth fruit
because their hearts are hard.

But there’s another way you see it as well.
Look at how they respond to this poor woman.
Look at what’s said about her in verse 11.
“There was a woman who had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.
She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.”
Not only do they not have any kind of evident sympathy for empathy with
this woman, there’s no concern for her estate displayed at any point in this
passage for her, here’s the thing that I want you to get – these people, these
men are supposed to be preachers of the Word.
And preachers of the Word ought to care about God’s people coming to
worship. And they see this woman who
is bent over, buffeted by Satan, she’s been in this physical condition for
eighteen years, but where is she friends?
She’s at church! She’s at the
synagogue! She had all manner of
excuses not to be at church. She
could have said, “You know, I’m feeling pretty poorly,” but she’s in the
synagogue, under the means of grace, hearing the Word of God read and
proclaimed, singing His praises — for eighteen years she’s bent over.
She can’t even stand up straight, but she’s with the people of God
worshiping on the Sabbath day.

You know what those Pharisees ought to have been saying about her?
They ought to have been saying, “There is an example of someone who knows
and loves the living God. She could
be at home balled up in her bed in the gall of bitterness about her lot in life,
but she’s with the people of God under the Word of God.
Praise God! There’s an
example of a faithful daughter of Abraham!”
But what do they say about her?
“You Sabbath breaker. Come
and get healed some other day of the week.”
It shows their hearts. Their
hearts are hard against the evidence of grace in this woman’s life.
When Jesus speaks about her, look how He speaks about her.
He says she’s a “daughter of Abraham.”
What does He mean by that?
This is a godly woman. He’s saying
to those Pharisees, “You could learn something about godliness from this woman.”

You know, younger people — and in this case I’ll count myself among it — younger
people, there are older folk in this congregation who you have no idea what it
means for them to get to church here Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, but they’re
here. There’s something for us to
learn from them. There’s something
for us to learn from them, just like this godly woman that Jesus said, “Look at
where she is. She’s under the Lord’s Word.”
You know, your desire to be with the Lord’s people under the Lord’s Word
on the Lord’s Day says a lot about your heart.
It’s one of those fruits that the Lord comes looking for.
And here’s this woman — she has it.
She has it but the Pharisees don’t have it and they accuse her even
though she has it. You see, it’s
another picture that they haven’t repented and that their hearts are hard and
that they can’t bear fruit.

But there’s another reason you see that their hearts are hard in this passage
and that is, they accuse Jesus of misinterpreting Scripture.
Look at what they say in this passage.
After Jesus heals, they say, “There are six days in which work ought to
be done. Come on those days and be
healed and not on the Sabbath day.”
They accuse Jesus of breaking the commandments of God in the Scripture by
breaking the Sabbath day. They
accuse Him not just of misinterpreting the Scripture, but of Sabbath breaking.
Now my friends, you will look through all of the most stringent Sabbath
laws of the Old Testament in vain to find one that says that you can’t heal on
the Sabbath day. There’s not one.
These men had clearly misinterpreted the Word of God.
In fact, they had added to the Word of God by adding prohibitions that
God had not given. Even though the
prohibitions are very impressive and demanding and stringent with regard to the
Old Testament Sabbath, God had never come up with one that said you can’t heal
on His Lord’s Day.

And Jesus takes them immediately to the woodshed and He reminds them of the
provision that was made in the Sabbath law of the Old Testament for the care of
domestic animals — donkeys and oxen.
And He says to them — look at what He says in verse 15 — “You hypocrites!
Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the
manger and lead it away to water?”
The Old Testament allowed for deeds of mercy and necessity on the Lord’s Day and
one of the necessities was your domestic animals needed to drink water and so
they needed to be unloosed from the manger so they could be taken to water.
And that was necessary work and it wasn’t considered a violation of the
Sabbath. And so the Lord said, “You
Pharisees yourselves, you loose your animals to give them water on the Sabbath.
Are you saying that God doesn’t care more about this godly woman who, for
eighteen years, has been under the buffeting of Satan, that he doesn’t care more
about loosing her from her bondage than about donkeys and oxen from their
bondage so that they might get water?”
In other words, He makes an argument from the lesser to the greater.
And so the very fact that they accuse the Word of God of misinterpreting
the Word of God and of breaking the Word of God shows you their hearts.
They don’t understand the Bible.

But here’s the other thing they miss.
Look back in verse 13. After
the woman is healed and she straightens up, what does Luke tell you she does?
“She glorified God” — end of verse 13.
Now any pastor worth his salt glows with joy when he sees the people of
God getting it. When he sees the people of God glorifying and enjoying God, the
pastor says, “It’s all worth it!
It’s all worth it. When I see the
people of God loving Him and trusting Him and glorifying Him and following after
Him and growing in grace, it is all worth it!
Yes!” And this woman, in
response to Jesus’ healing, glorifies God.
Any good pastor would have said, “Oh, that is so good to see the people
of God glorifying God!” But what do
they do? They tell her that she came
on the wrong day to be healed. “You
should have done that between Sunday and Friday afternoon, not on the Sabbath
day.” And it shows their hearts.
The reason they didn’t have fruit is because they had hard hearts.
The reason they didn’t have fruit in keeping with repentance is they
hadn’t repented. And with the Word
of God in their presence, they still didn’t get it.

My friends, there’s a message for us in that, for God has given to you His Word.
Have you repented? Is there
the fruit of that repentance in your life?
Can you see the evidences, the marks of His grace at work in you, so that
you find yourself living for God, treasuring God, delighting in God, glorifying
the Messiah? You find your heart
moved when you see sinners unburdened from their sin and shown grace and mercy
by God and it encourages you when you see fellow believers glorifying God for
what He’s doing in their life? Those
kinds of fruit evidence in your life?
Jesus’ word isn’t just for Pharisees and it wasn’t just for that
synagogue some two thousand years ago.
It’s for us. May God grant us
Gospel repentance that leads to fruit.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for
Your Word. We know it is for us upon
whom the end of the ages have come.
Thank You that You sent Your Son for sinners, sinners like us.
Thank You that He’s a friend for sinners.
Grant us repentance and forgiveness and give us fruit.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now if you’ll take your hymnals with me and turn to number 498 we’ll sing,
“Jesus What A Friend For Sinners.”

Now receive this blessing from the one who is able to grant you repentance and
forgiveness and fruitfulness. Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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