There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 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? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 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? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5
I debated with the Lord when He pointed out this scripture to me this morning, because I knew exactly what it referred to. This is a tough bit of scripture and a very hard truth to swallow. It does not thrill me that many will not be pleased by this, but the truth of the Word of God must be exalted.
When tragedy or calamity strikes we always say things like, “keep those families and those injured in our prayers,” “remember the victims and their families in our prayers,” or “be with the victims and the families.”
Those are compassionate responses, but what substance is behind them? That question won’t sit well with some of you, but the response of Jesus probably wouldn’t either. In fact, to many, Jesus’ response seems downright cold, yet it is the most gracious and loving response that could possibly be given.
You see, when tragedy, which has become all too common in our world of late, strikes, we suck in our breath, feel an ache and maybe even a little bit of fear. Some immediately wonder why God would allow such a thing to happen. We might wonder if they were saved. We may wonder if those who died or were wounded were being judged by God. There is little doubt that those thoughts were on the minds of those gathered around Jesus. Jesus’ response answered those questions directly. Paraphrasing, He said:
“Do you think these were greater sinners than all others?”
Do you really think that God judged these people because they were greater sinners than all others? It would be arrogant to think such a thing, because there were probably regenerate Christians among those who died or were wounded in Las Vegas. Did God pour out His wrath upon those people because of their sins? Of course not! Nobody should even suggest such a thing, in word or thought, and those who do should be rebuked by the very same question and subsequent answer of Jesus.
“I tell you, no.”
The depth of a person’s sin does not determine the means by which he or she dies. It is not our individual sins which are being punished in our bodily death. The fact of the matter is that we live in a fallen world that is full of evil. Because of the fall of man and original sin, evil men do evil things. For purposes unknown to us, God draws back His protective hand for a moment and the evil of the world is allowed to have its time. In every case, His allowing evil to have its moment has a redemptive purpose. Does that sound a little hard to swallow? Look at Jesus’ response:
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
There isn’t a lot of warmth and comfort in that statement either, is there? Look at it more carefully. As you look at it, keep in mind that Jesus had and still has a singular purpose and that is to bring about the salvation of His lost sheep. His greatest desire for His lost sheep is that they repent of their sins and come to Him. The hard truth, which Jesus spoke with great clarity, is that unless you repent, you will likewise perish.
Now, does that mean that we will have our blood mixed with our sacrifices or a tower will fall down on us? Certainly not! So, what does Jesus mean by the word “likewise?” What He means is this:
“If you do not repent, then you will perish in your sins.”
Jesus was telling those around Him that this tragedy was an opportunity for those who were still alive to repent before they died. This is a very loving, gracious and sobering statement and it needs to be applied to our lives every time we see tragedy and calamity strike people anywhere in the world. This warning is far more substantial than, “be with the victims and their families.”
Our prayers should be with these people, but our prayers need to have substance behind them. Our prayers need to reflect that singular focus of Jesus for the redemption of His lost sheep. Our prayers need to be about healing the greater wound of unrepentant sin in the lives of those most directly effected as well as the lives of every single living person who witnesses the aftermath of whatever tragedy or calamity has come.
Jesus did not finish His statement concerning sin and repentance of those from Galilee and the Tower of Siloam at that point, but He also told a parable to help clarify His point. Here is the parable:
“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
The point is clear. Those who do not bear fruit deserve to be cut down. That is God’s justifiable right as God. We cannot question that righteous judgment of God. Instead of looking at God’s judgment in these tragic situations, we need to seek His mercy. We who have not been cut down have a little while longer to come to repentance and produce fruit.
Because we have a little while longer, we ought to be grateful for God’s mercy, offer up thanksgiving and humble ourselves before Him. We ought to put down our arrogance and recognize that because Jesus gave Himself that we might be redeemed, He is worthy to be exalted above heaven and earth. Colossians 1:13-14 says:
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
This is the greater purpose of Jesus. It is for our redemption that He gave His blood, purchasing our forgiveness of sins. We are in the light because He has delivered us into the light. By His Word we come to repent of our sins and are fitted for His kingdom.
In the tragedy of Las Vegas and every tragedy or calamity which has been and is yet to come, we are given a warning and another opportunity to recognize that those who will not repent of their sins and be taken into the fold of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, they will perish in their sins. This reality ought to stir us not only to prayer, but to bearing witness of our Lord and preaching His Word to the lost sheep. It is a time for us to refocus on humbling ourselves and exalting Jesus so that others will know of His great mercy and come to Him.
Lord Jesus, quicken the hearts of your servants that they might bear witness of your mercy and grace as they look upon the tragedy in Las Vegas and other such events throughout the world. Make them light bearers in thought, word and deed to those who are yet bound to perish in their sins. Visit those who yet remain with an understanding that they are yet given an opportunity to repent of their sins and be redeemed by your precious blood. Bring them to their knees so that they may believe in you and exalt you in their lives. Let your name continue to be exalted above every other name in heaven and earth until you return to our fallen world in glory. Amen.