Sunday, June 20, 2010

[Matt's Messages] "Jesus and Tragedies"

“Jesus and Tragedies” 
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
June 20, 2010
Luke 13:1-9

Last Friday, June 11th, at the Albert Pike Recreation Area in Arkansas, just before dawn, a flash flood occurred.  A wall of water hit the park and the little campground on it without any warning. 

“The park is located along the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers, and the flood struck so quickly that many of the campers had little chance to escape” (CNN).

On Monday, canine rescue teams discovered the 20th body, and officials hope that it is the last.

A tragedy.

Now that our news is instant and global, we are getting used to hearing about tragedies.

How many major earthquakes have there been this year?  The whole world watched as Haiti went down in a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake on January 12th of this year.

The Haitian Government reported that an estimated 230,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless.


The nation of Chile had its earthquake just the next month on February 27th. 8.8 on the Richter scale!  Over 500 deaths.  That doesn’t sound like very many compared to 230,000, but it’s about 5 times as many people as there are in this room. And earthquake only lasted 90 seconds!

A tragedy.

And what is the tragedy that we see on the news everyday right now?

The Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  On April 20th, an explosion on a deep-sea rig claimed the lives of 11 British Petroleum workers, burned the rig for 36 hours, and then it sank into the ocean.

The explosion unleashed a torrent of oil that flows to today!

It is the largest offshore spill in U.S. history with tens of millions of gallons spilled to date. It is estimated to be flowing at between 35,000 to 60,000 barrels (1,500,000 to 2,500,000 US gallons) of crude oil per day.

A terrible tragedy.

And no one wants to take responsibility for it.


What does the Bible say about tragedies like these?

What does Jesus say about tragedies like these?

We need to know because there are tragedies every day and more on the way.

What does the Bible say about tragedies?

Well, the Bible says lots of things about tragedies. 

I’m sure that if we did a little Bible study, and I asked you all to turn in your Bibles to passages on what God says about tragedies, that we would have many passages come to mind with lots of good things to say.

Some passages would emphasize God’s sovereignty over tragedies and remind us that God is still in control even when our world seems out of control.

Some passages would emphasize God’s love and comfort in the midst of tragedies.  That God doesn’t disappear, but that He’s right here with us, as believers, when we go through a tragedy.

Some passages would remind us that tragedy is mysterious. That God allows it and (even in some way ordains it) but that He never does anything evil or wrong.  Rather, it is Satan that does the evil and brings about tragedies.  We’d maybe turn to Job and see the contest there between God and Satan and how God stays sovereign and accomplishes His purposes in the tragedies that befall Job, but that it’s Satan who has been designing the evil.  Tragedies are mysterious.

Some passages would have other messages calling us to trust God in tragedies or to  pray for those who are going through tragedies.

But here in our passage for today, Jesus goes in a different direction.

Jesus confronts some major tragedies, and He says something that we don’t normally think of to say when tragedy hits.

It’s almost shocking where Jesus goes with this!

Because He doesn’t start with where you and I normally start–and that’s compassion.  Which is a wonderful place to start.

But He starts somewhere else here in Luke 13.  He starts with repentance.

Look at verse 1 again.  “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”

Jesus receives some very tragic news.  People from his homeland had been killed while worshiping.  Imagine some armed thugs breaking into our church right now, and slicing some of our throats and then pouring our thick, red blood on the communion table.  That’s how horrible this was.  Pilate’s men had killed some Galileans (where was Jesus from?  Nazareth was in Galilee!) and had mingled their blood with the blood of sacrificial lambs on the altar in the temple.

And some people shared this tragic news with Jesus.  And Jesus knows what they are thinking.  You see, the prevailing notion of the day was that if someone suffered like this, then they must have been an extraordinary sinner to deserve it.  Remember the story of Job?  Job’s quote-unquote friend Eliphaz said, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?  Where were the upright ever destroyed?  As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (Job 4:7).  One for one.  Sin for suffering.  That was the prevailing notion.

Strangely enough, something almost opposite is the prevailing notion today–and that is that there is almost no sin worthy of perishing.  That those who lived in Haiti and Chile and worked on the oil rig and camped in Arkansas did in no way deserve their fate.  They were completely innocent and should not have suffered at all.  That is today’s prevailing notion.

And both notions are partly right and mostly wrong.  Jesus saw things far differently than we often do.  And he saw them with absolute accuracy.  He is the one human who absolutely accurately saw reality clearly as it really is.

V.2 is Jesus’ stunning answer to the tragic news.  And it is shocking to today’s ears.  V.2

“Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”

Their suffering was not in proportion to extraordinary sin.  Their suffering was in proportion to ordinary sin!

The wonder in the world is not that people suffer.  The wonder is that people don’t suffer more often because we are all ordinary sinners–and deserve a fate worse than death.  That’s Jesus’ perspective.

Jesus takes this tragic news as normal.  And He uses it as an opportunity to warn people to repent.  “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”

To perish means to die.  And Jesus means much more than just physically dying, because we all do that (even repentant people)–it means spiritually dying, spending eternity in Hell–conscious eternal torment.

“Unless you repent, you too will perish.”

Jesus is saying, those Galileans met a dreadful end.  But they were no worse than you.  And you, too, will meet a dreadful end unless you repent.

But someone might say, “Well, those Galileans probably did something against Pilate to deserve some action.”  We don’t know what, but that wouldn’t be surprising.  So Jesus, goes out of His way to show that this principle of God’s wrath applies to natural disasters, too.  V.4

Jesus says, “Or those eighteen 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.”

Now, 18 sounds like a very low number compared with Haiti’s 230,000, but this is clearly a tragedy.  Here we have a building falling on top of people and killing them.

I remember that I couldn’t get this passage out of my head when 9/11 hit.  I preached on this passage the Sunday after 9/11.

Would Jesus have mourned the deaths of these 18 people? I believe, yes, He would.  Jesus hated death. Jesus hated the enemy of death.  Read John chapter 11 some time to see how much Jesus hated death in all its forms.

Would Jesus have comforted and consoled the families of the victims left behind in the wake of the tower of Siloam tragedy?  I believe, yes, He would.  He wept with those who wept and cared for people like a gentle shepherd.

But He also cared about their souls.  And He knew that their deepest need was for repentance.  “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

You and I deserve a fate worse than a tower falling upon us.  We deserve the torment of Hell because we are ordinary (not extraordinary!) ordinary sinners.

That’s what Jesus is saying!

On one level, of course, we are shocked by tragedies like what happened in Arkansas and in the Gulf of Mexico.

But on a reality-level, we should be shocked every day that we don’t die in a worse way!  Because we are sinners.  And God is absolutely holy.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus is sounding a warning.  A warning to everyone here in this room.  A warning to everyone in our country.  A warning to everyone in all of the world.  A warning that we need to share with our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When Jesus hears or tells of a tragedy, he reminds the crowd that God is holy, and we are sinful.  God is righteous, and we are unclean.  God is just, and we are rebellious.

God would be and is right to cause us to perish.  And every tragedy is a warning bell going off for us to repent while there is still time.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

We don’t tend to hear that these days.  We don’t want to hear that these days.

But it’s what Jesus said.

Jesus says, “Do you think that the 11 people who died on the oil rig were worse sinners than the ones who escaped?  Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus says, “Do you think that the 20 people who died in the flash flood in Arkansas  were worse sinners than the ones who escaped?  Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus says, “Do you think that the 230,000 people who died on Haiti’s earthquake were worse sinners than the ones who escaped?  Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Those are hard words.  But I have good news for you this morning:


Starting in v.6, Jesus tells a story, a parable, that further explains his point of view. It is scary, but it’s also full of hope.

After saying, “‘Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, `For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?’` ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.’`”

Notice, that this story comes on the heals of the warning to repent.  The fig tree is you and me.  Fig trees in the Bible refer to God’s people. First, Israel, and then all of God’s people, including you and me.

And God’s justice is looking for fruit on us–the fruit of faith, the fruit of repentance.

And He has not found it.  So He plans to cut us down (that is to judge us!  We just talked about the coming judgment that Jesus has announced).  He plans to cut us down.  But there is another part of God’s character–His mercy, His longsuffering, His patience–that stays His hand for another period of time with more gracious care and fertilizing words of promise rained down upon the fruitless fig-tree.

This parable is saying that God is patient–that there is time today for us to repent.

If you are listening to this sermon, if you are alive: breathing, thinking, weighing what I’m saying, then God is being patient with you and giving you a chance right now to repent.  My words are the vinedresser’s care and fertilizer for you. God is calling you now while there is time to repent.
2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

For those of us who are unrepentant today, God is saying, “Don’t cut the tree down just yet.  Wait a bit.  I have every right to cut this tree down, but I will give him or her more time for the fruit of repentance.”

The good news this morning is not only that God has sounded a warning that we should repent, but that God is also giving us time to repent.

God is not just holy and righteous.  God is merciful and patient.

And we need to tell this to others, too.

When was the last time that you and I told someone to repent while they still can?

I stood at a graveside on Monday and urged the people at that graveside to repent.

This last week, I spent 3 days with the EFCA National Leadership Conference, and as I always do, I caught again the urgency that the EFCA has to reach people with gospel while there is still time.

The world is dying without Jesus.

And God is patiently extending more time to those who live to repent while they still can.

There is time for us to repent today!

And the second good news is even greater!


Jesus said (in both v.3 and v.5), “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  But the opposite is also true, “If you repent, you will have life!”  That’s the opposite of perishing.

John 3:16:  “God so loved the world (that’s despicable people like you and me) that He gave His One and Only Son (Jesus Christ, the One who Himself suffered the wrath of God upon sin,) that whoever [repents] and believes in him shall NOT PERISH but have eternal life.”  Not perish!

John 10:27:  Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. [Un-snatch-able! Safe!] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all [greater than the US Government, greater than British Petroleum, greater than the nation of Haiti or Chile, greater than the National Park Service, greater than the fear of death, greater than all] no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).  Safe and secure from all alarms!

The greatest news in all the world is that God has provided a substitute to perish in our place so that if we come to Him repentantly we will not suffer the pains of Hell.  And we will be safe!  At home in God!  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Not perishing, but having eternal life.

Life, brothers and sisters! Life!  Abundant life!  The thief comes to steal, and kill, and destroy in tragedy, but Jesus has come so that we might have life! And life abundantly!  Life in the fullest sense of term. Life that we can’t begin to imagine the joys of!

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  But if you do repent, you will have life!

I can’t think of a more comforting and consoling phrase to hang onto than “eternal life.”  God is granting life to those who repent.

So repent!  Repent!  Repent!

What does that mean?  Let me put it this simply:

To repent means to turn from sin and trust in Him.

I think we can all remember that.  To repent means to turn from sin and trust in Him.

It’s not just saying, “I’m sorry,” it means making a break from the passing pleasures of sin, of choosing our own way to live our lives, and trusting in Him.  Looking to Him to be our soul’s satisfaction, and asking Him to run our lives.

And God is God.  And He offers the only terms acceptable to Him for a real relationship.  And those terms are–total surrender.  No bargaining. No giving Him only Sundays and Wednesday Nights.  No token prayers.  Total surrender.

Turn from sin and trust in Him.

If you are an unbeliever or living like one this morning, I call you, with Jesus, to repent.  You are a sinner deserving of Hell (just like I am).  But God is holding your catastrophe back and giving you this chance right now to repent. Turn from your sin and put your trust in Him.  Surrender.  Ask Jesus right now to forgive your sin and rule your life.  Give Him the steering wheel of your life.

If you are a professing believer right now, I call you, with Jesus, to repent.  You and I are no better than those who suffered these tragedies.  Martin Luther once said that the Christian life is “a race of repentance.” 

We need to turn from our self-satisfied sins and trust in Him.  We need to make Him our All-in-All, our sufficiency, our greatest treasure, our joy.  We need to be able to say, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever!”

We need to repent and to bear fruit.

If you wonder if you are truly repentant, you can tell by looking to see if you have any  fruit in your life.

That’s what the man did in verse 6.  He looked for fruit.

And the fruit you should look for is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Do you have those things?  Are you growing in those things?

You don’t earn God’s favor by having those things, but you can tell if you’ve repented and are trust in Jesus if you are growing in those things–even just a little-by faith.

Repent and bear fruit.

And we need to call other people to repent.

To turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

God is giving life to those who repent.

And it’s life to fullest.

How does this story end?

I never noticed this until this week.

The parable doesn’t end.  It’s open-ended.

It stops with the man asking for another year for fig tree and then the axe.

But we never find out if the fig tree produces fruit.

It’s a cliff-hanger ending.

And I think that’s because He wants us to write in the ending.

Choose your own ending.

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  But if you do repent, you will have life!

Messages So Far In this Series:

Certain of Jesus
The Back-Story of Jesus
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus - A Very Special Child
Preparing the Way for Jesus
Jesus Is the Son of God
Jesus in Galilee
Jesus and the Sinners
Jesus Brings Real Joy and Rest
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part One
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Two
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Three
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four
Amazing Jesus
Disappointed with Jesus
Loving Jesus Much
Jesus' Real Family
Jesus Is Lord
Who Is Jesus?
Following Jesus
Sent By Jesus
Q&A With Jesus
Sitting at Jesus' Feet
Jesus Teaches Us to Pray 
Jesus Is Stronger Than Satan
More Blessed Than Jesus' Mom
Being Real with Jesus
Jesus and Our Stuff
Be Ready for Jesus' Return