Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 13:1-9 – What Tragedy May Teach Us, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

Stories related to the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 still appear today.  I think it is good that we not forget the events of that day.  Those of us who were around 20 years ago remember the events of that day, especially the visually graphic suicide attacks of Al-Qaeda members, who flew hijacked planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Thousands died as those towers collapsed.  The events of that day caused many to question what God was doing in allowing this tragedy.  Why did it happen?  Was God judging our nation?  And many other questions were asked.

Similar questions were on the minds of those who walked with Jesus and heard his teaching.  The opening verses of chapter 13 tell of two horrible tragedies that had occurred in Jerusalem and the people were thinking about them and wondering about what God was doing through these tragedies.  One of the tragedies, in particular, is strikingly similar to the events of 9/11.  In verse 4 Jesus speaks about a certain tower in Siloam that had fallen, killing a number of people.

We are making our verse-by-verse through the Gospel of Luke.  We are going to look as these verses in two parts.  We are going to be looking today and Wednesday at “What Tragedy May Teach Us.”  I have arranged the material in these nine verses under two main headings for our consideration.  This morning we will look only at the first main point . . .

I. Consider The Mystery Of God’s Ways.

We will spend the majority of our time today in verses 1-5.  What you have in these first five verses are two questions by Jesus, two answers by Jesus, and two applications by Jesus.  The questions follow what Luke records in verse 1, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”  Luke says that there were some people present “at that season” or “at that time” who were talking to Jesus.  We would ask, “At what season?” or, “At what time?”  This takes us back to what Jesus had said at the close of chapter 12, especially the last six verses.  Jesus rebuked the crowds for their ability to discern whether it was going to rain, but they were clueless about Christ’s presence in their lives, that He was and is the promised Messiah and Savior.  Then Jesus tells a mini-parable about the need for repentance and reconciliation with God.  He tells of a guy who is on his way to judgment and that it would be better for this guy to settle his case along the way rather than stand before the bar of judgment and be found guilty.  The point for us was clear: Jesus says each of us are on a journey, moving inexorably on our way to the judgment of God.  It would be wise for us to settle our case out of court, settling the charge of our guilt for sin, before we leave this world and it is everlastingly too late.  “Repent.  Turn to Christ your Savior” –  That is the point.

There were some present, as we see in verse one, who had just heard Jesus say this and it caused them to think about the matter of God’s judgment and to speak about one particular example – so they thought – of God’s judgment.  They seemed to think that this incident in verse 1 was an example of God’s judgment upon those who were particularly bad sinners.

The incident in verse 1 is “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”  Luke is describing an event known full well to all who lived at that time.  Some Jews from Galilee had apparently traveled to Jerusalem for worship, maybe for the Jewish Passover, and Pilate, who was a really mean ruler, had a number of them killed while they were worshiping.  That is the meaning of the phrase, “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”  While these Galileans were worshiping through the offering of sacrifices, Pilate brutally murdered them.  Apparently, these people listening to Jesus tell them about the need to prepare for judgment cited as an example felt were particularly bad sinners who faced the judgment of God. 

Whatever their motivation in bringing up this incident, Jesus replies in verse 2, “And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?”  There is the question: “Do you think these guys were worse sinners than others simply because they suffered this way?”  Remember the structure here: question, answer, application.  He has asked the question.  The answer and application come in verse 3, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  Then Jesus raises another tragedy for their consideration, and again the structure is: question, answer, and application. 

Verses 4 and 5 tell us, “(Question) “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” (Answer) “I tell you, no; (Application) but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  This tower in Siloam was probably a structure that was built over one of the porticoes near the Pool of Siloam which John mentions in his Gospel, John 9, where Jesus tells the blind man to go wash.  There was a tower in Siloam that had fallen suddenly and its collapse resulted in the death of 18 people.  It was a tragedy and the people generally thought that this tragedy was evidence of the judgment of God upon particularly bad sinners.

We will spend the rest of our time here in these first five verses as we consider the mystery of God’s ways.  Wednesday, Lord willing, we will look at the second main point where we will consider the mercy of God’s ways.  We will deal next time with the parable Jesus speaks in verses 6-9, a parable illustrating the mercy of God upon an unrepentant people.

First we consider the mystery of God.  Now, as far as the crowd was concerned, there was no mystery about why these two events occurred: Pilate’s killing of worshipers and the collapse of the Tower in Siloam were evidences of God’s judgment upon a particularly bad bunch of people.  This was a popular belief in Jesus’ day.  I mentioned earlier the blind man in John’s Gospel.  Do you remember the question the disciples asked Jesus in John 9:2?  They asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” but that was the common view: this guy must have done something really bad to deserve this. 

It is the same error of thinking that befell Job’s so-called friends!  Job is suffering horribly and Eliphaz asks in Job 4:7, “Remember now, whoever perished being innocent?  Or where were the upright ever cut off?”  That is, “Job, the reason you are suffering is because you have done something wrong and God is punishing you.”  That is a popular view today.  It is not that God does not ever discipline us for personal sin.  He does.  But the view of Job’s friends is that all suffering is because of some kind of sin in our lives.  That is simply not true.  That was the wrong view of Job’s friends, it was the wrong view of the disciples in John 9 with the man who was born blind, and it was the wrong view of the people here in Luke 13 who brought up this tragedy of these Galileans who had been murdered.  Jesus asks rhetorically – and He asks this twice in verse 2 and verse 4, “Do you think these people were worse sinners than others?”  Then two answers in verses 3 and 5, “I tell you, no.”

This is an important reminder for us today.  It is popular today to view all suffering as evidence of some kind of personal sin in our lives.  This is the Eastern religious view of karma.  If you do good things it results in good for you.  If you do bad things it results in bad for you.  It is an unbiblical view and yet so many professing Christians live this way.  We even joke about it when some minor bad thing happens to a friend, we may say, “Well, you must not be living right.”  A certain preacher in a small town preached regularly against the existence of a local saloon in his town.  One morning a sudden tornado swept the saloon away.  Next Sunday the preacher stood in his pulpit and proclaimed that the destruction of the saloon was evidence of the judgment of God.  The following week another tornado visited the town and swept the church building away.  At this point, the preacher decided he had better change his theology!

There is great mystery in God’s ways.  Often the wicked prosper while tragedy befalls the most godliest of people.  You and I must remember this, or we may find ourselves falling into this erroneous thinking, that we must have done something terrible to make God mad at us.  We must avoid what Kent Hughes calls, “The misguided tendency of ill-informed Christians who heap imagined guilt upon themselves for the calamities that have befallen their children or other loved ones.”

I want to lay-out this morning a few implications that we will flesh-out a bit more fully next time.  If we ask the question, “What May Tragedy Teach Us.”  There are a few lessons we should learn. 

First . . .

 1) Our Lives Are Uncertain.

Our “default mode” of thinking tells us that we have got plenty of time.  We are going to live another day.  Tragedy is something that happens to others.  We read about it in the morning paper.  We see it on TV.  We think, It does not happen to us; it happens to others.’  Every funeral I preach I try to say something like this at the end, “One day, there will be a service like this for every one of us.”  It is a reminder, I trust, of the brevity and uncertainty of life.  Are you deeply aware of the uncertainty of your own life? 

If so, it will lead naturally to the second implication . . .

2) We Should Thank God For Our Preservation.

That is, we should not take any day of our life for granted, but should recognize that the only reason we continue to live is because God has spared us.  Do you thank God for His preserving your life?  Begin each morning before you get out of bed with these words, “God, thank you for giving me another day of life.”  Then add, “Now let me live it for Your glory.”

We used to teach our children this prayer that reminded us of the uncertainty of life and the need to thank God for our preservation.  We teach our children to pray in the evenings: “Now, I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  It is God who preserves our lives while we sleep, while we are not even thinking of Him.

This is a much more God-centered way of living, isn’t it?  It is not, “God, give me this,” or, “God, I deserve that.”  But rather, “God, I recognize that you are the One who keeps the blood flowing through my veins and the oxygen going to my brain.  You can stop my heart at any moment.  Thank you, O sovereign Creator and Sustainer of my life.  Give me the wisdom to live this day in gratitude to You for Your grace and mercy.”

Thirdly . . .

3) We Must Repent.

This is the application made twice by our Lord Jesus in verses 3 and 5: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  Some had told Jesus in verse 1 about Pilate and this tragedy in Jerusalem.  And rather than going off on Pilate and talking about tragedy in the abstract or general terms, Jesus turns the conversation inwardly, pointedly to these who have raised the issue.  In essence, Jesus says, “Let’s not try to solve the mysteries of God here with respect to tragedy somewhere ‘out there.’  Look at yourselves.  Unless you repent, you will perish, too.”  That is, when death comes, everyone perishes, everyone perishes unless he or she has repented.  Put another way, “We must repent or we will perish in the judgment to come.”

Repentance is a change of mind regarding our sin.  It is a change of heart about our sin and it is a turning from our sin and a turning to the One True God.  It is not merely outward reformation or change of behavior to benefit our situation.  It is not like hitting the “re-set” button or like “rebooting” our computers, clearing out the clutter of things we have done wrong and trying to start again afresh and anew.  That is not repentance.

Repentance is a gift of God that results in a changed heart, a heart responsive to the ways of God.  Repentance happens when we come to terms with the claims of Christ upon our souls and we are convicted of our sin and we turn to Christ.  We must feel our sin, mourn our sin, confess our sin, and hate our sin.  I heard someone say recently, “We should hate our sin as much as we hate our suffering.”  I think that is a good indicator that repentance has taken place.  Do you hate your sin as much as you hate your suffering?

Two quick aspects of repentance we will deal with more fully on Wednesday . . .  

a) We Repent Initially As We Place Our Faith In Christ.

We believe the Gospel and we repent, turning away from sin as a dominant pattern in our life and we turn in faith to Jesus Christ.  Some of you need to do that.  But repentance is not just that which we do initially. 

Secondly . . .

b) We Repent Continually As We Live Our Faith In Christ.

Repentance is something true Christians do daily, continually throughout the day.  A marriage counselor once said, “People don’t fall out of love, they fall out of repentance.”  He is right.  We must repent continually.  Similarly, we do not fall out of fellowship with friends, or other church members, we fall out of repentance.  We fail to confess our own sin and turn from our sin and go to that person and ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation.  Often we just ignore them and run away.

I close with the words of a preacher from an earlier generation.  He said, “Some people do not like to hear much of repentance.  But I think it is so necessary, that if I should die in the pulpit, I should desire to die preaching repentance, and if I should die out of the pulpit, I should desire to die practicing it.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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