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Saturday, September 11, 2021

"Turn and Trust - 9/11" [Matt's Messages]

What follows is the unedited manuscript of the message I preached the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. At that time the death-toll was estimated to be about 5,000 people. The official number turned out to be 2,977 which is devastating to consider. 

As we mark this day 20 years later, may we continue to remember the awfulness of what happened, to applaud with gratitude the courage and service of so many who ran into danger, and to learn the lessons the Lord wants us to hear and to heed.

World-Trade-Center 9-11
AnonymousUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

"Turn & Trust"
September 16, 2001
Luke 13:1-9

What do you say after a week like this?  As you know, on Tuesday, terrorists succeeded in leveling the World Trade Center and killing thousands of people.  The Pentagon was attacked by another hijacked airplane and yet another dug a deep crater south and west of here in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Our nation has been attacked.  The death toll is higher than Pearl Harbor and the Titanic combined.  The nation has been in crisis-mode all week with planes grounded and financial markets frozen.

This has been the greatest American tragedy in my lifetime, and most of the week I had no idea what I was going to say to you this morning because of my grief for the nation.

What do you say?  In 5 short days, our country has gone through shock, fear, exhaustion, and mourning in quick succession.  It’s been overwhelming.

Christian leaders from around the country have urged that this day be set apart as a “National Day of Mourning and Prayer” and have urged pastors everywhere to give words of comfort and consolation to our congregations.

And that is right.  We need to hear words of comfort–words about the powerful love of God that cannot be separated from us who are in Christ Jesus (Did you hear George W. Bush quote Romans 8 on Friday?).  And we need to hear words of consolation–words about the God who cares about pain and suffering and is powerful enough to do something about it.  A God who is great and a God who is near–just like Pastor Russell told us a few weeks ago.

But there is a word that is conspicuously missing from the national dialogue this week.  I have not heard it on National Public Radio or heard about it being spoken on the television or written in the newspapers.

And that word is “repentance.”  Repentance.

And while I intend to share words of comfort this morning, I believe that God is calling for Christian leaders to call people to repent because of this tragedy.  Don’t just mourn.  Don’t just pray.  Don’t just hold candlelight vigils.  Repent!

Why do I say that?  Because Jesus said it.  Let’s look at Luke chapter 13, verses 1-9.

V.1.  “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 bad news just like we received bad news this week.  People from his homeland had been killed while worshiping.  Imagine some armed thugs breaking in here 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 and mingled their blood with the blood of bulls, rams, goats, and doves on the altar in the temple.

And some people shared this bad 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 from late January?  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 worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and were flying on commercial airliners did in no way deserve their fate on Tuesday.  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 absolutely accurately.  He is the one human who absolutely accurately saw reality clearly as it really is.

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

“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.

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

To perish means to die.  And he 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, 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 5000, but here we have a building falling on top of people and killing them.  Would Jesus have mourned their deaths? I believe, yes, He would.  He hated death. Jesus hated the enemy of death. 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 building falling upon us.  We deserve the torment of Hell because we are ordinary (not extraordinary!) ordinary sinners.

That’s what Jesus says!

On one level, of course, we are shocked by what has happened this week.  We thought we were generally safe and secure and protected by the military might of the United States of America.

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 who hears about this tragedy all over the world.  And, yes, a warning to those who perpetrated this atrocious crime against our nation.

“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.”

Those are not my words.  I didn’t want to say them this morning.  But they are Jesus’ words.  And He would not let me say anything else.

Jesus says, “Do you think that the 5,000 people buried under the World Trade Center 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:

#1.  There is time for us to repent today!

Starting in v.6, Jesus tells a story, a parable, that further explains his point of view . It is scary, but 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.  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!).  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 [some of you are wondering why God does not strike Osama Bin Laden dead right now.  2 Peter 3:9 says...] God is patient with you [why doesn’t God strike you dead right now?], 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 God is also giving us time to repent.

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

And the second good news is even greater!

#2.  God is granting life to those who repent!

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.”

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. [Unsnatchable! Safe!] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all [greater than the US Government, greater than Osama Bin Laden, 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 terrorist comes to steal, and kill, and destroy, 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 in a week of death 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.

In preparing to build a house this Fall, I’ve learned a lot about contracts.  If you don’t set the terms, someone else will set them for you.

And God is God.  And He offers the only terms acceptable to Him–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 on Tuesday. 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!”

Our nation needs to repent.  Not just pray, not just hold candlight vigils, not just mourn.  But repent.  I pray that many and not few would bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ because of the warning of this tragedy.  Because if they do not, the real tragedy will be even worse.

On Tuesday, those who had not repented perished–not just once but twice–and the second death is eternal.  But those who had surrendered their lives in repentance to Jesus Christ were ushered into His glorious presence and found out what life truly is.

If you repent today, no matter who you are, you will have life.  God is holding back for repentance, and God is granting life through Jesus to all who surrender to Him.

What is holding you back?

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