You can listen to the audio of this sermon here.
God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you from Him our heavenly Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Why is there suffering in the world? Why do good people suffer? Is suffering a punishment on those who are guilty? Questions like these beg to be answered and are often in the front of minds and find their way into conversations on life and God. The bad things that take place in the world and in our lives leave us asking the question what did they do to deserve that!?
Jesus faced similar questions and it may seem that he skirted the issue with His answer but in reality, Jesus puts the questions into perspective that shows us there’s more going on than just the obviously tragic events and unwelcomed accidents that leave people dead and scarred.
Everyone is going to die. It is one of the things like breathing that all humans have in common. Whether it’s expected as in the case of an elderly person who has lived a “good, long” life. Or if it’s in the case of an unexpected accident, a tragic inappropriate action of another, or an unwelcome diagnosis of health failure that brings it about, everyone is going to die.
The only real question that matters for eternity is not the why of death or the how of death or even the when of death but the question that matters is who we die with. Dying with Jesus is the only thing that can save us and in the lesson today, Jesus is warning the people around him against the danger of dying alone. There’s more going on than tragedies and accidents, Jesus reminds the people questioning Him today that eternity is on the line — every day.
Jesus was told about some Galileans who were killed by Pilate while they were bringing sacrifices. There’s no question given by the text of our Gospel from the people, but it is as if they have told Jesus this news along with the question of why did this happen? Did they have it coming to them? They must have been worse than us for God to allow this to happen to them, right Jesus? We don’t know what question the people may or may not have asked but we don’t have to speculate too much because the text of the Gospel of Luke does give us Jesus’ answer to their unrecorded question.
Jesus says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Jesus asks the question for them and then answers the question. Simply put he used a common word many learn early in their life, He told them, “No.” No, they did not suffer in this way because they were worse sinners than all the other Galileans. No. Jesus doesn’t give them the why. God doesn’t have to tell us the why, but more important than why they died, more important than how they died, more important than when they died, Jesus doesn’t even get into who they died with.
He wasn’t as concerned about those who were dead and the circumstances around their deaths as He was about those who were alive. Let the dead bury their own dead. We don’t pray for the dead because they are out of our hands. Jesus wasn’t concerned about those who were dead because there time of struggle was over. It was either won for them by Jesus or lost by them because of unrepentance. You couldn’t sweet talk the dead to life, you can only leave them to God. Jesus was concerned about the ones who were alive and listening to Him, Jesus is concerned about you, so He turns the question around to have those around Him think about who they would die with. Would they die alone, with their life and works to save them or would they repent and die with the savior who defeats death?
“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He told them. Jesus wasn’t looking to teach the people around him about the problem of evil in the world. The people were familiar with that from at least one direct account they were familiar with. Jesus wasn’t worried about defending God’s name against the notion that He caused the spilling of the blood as a punishment on the people. No, Jesus wasn’t worried about those things. Jesus was worried about the salvation of those standing around Him. Jesus is all about saving people from dying alone.
Jesus makes the point even louder to them, that they have an opportunity to repent now, and He makes this point by beating the crowds to the next question. Knowing the people were likely unsatisfied with the “you can repent today answer” He heads them off by bringing up another tragedy. He says, what about the 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell? They died. Were they worse sinners than all the others who lived in Jerusalem and that’s why they died?
We could apply Jesus statements to any number of tragedies that we are familiar with, were the ones who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks deserving of it because of what they’d done or not done with their lives? Were the inhabitants of Louisiana who died in the Katrina hurricane deserving of it because of their many sins? Are those being slaughtered at the hands of ISIS getting what they deserve? And the children who never see the light of day and die to make a family planning goal, they must have some evil streak deserving death in them right? The individuals shot in Kalamazoo last weekend and in Kansas this past week must have had it coming right? We can insert any number of situations into this reasoning. You know those who have cancer have it coming to them because of the filthy people they are. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Jesus simply says, “No!” but unless you repent you too will likewise perish.
We don’t know the status of the souls, the salvation of those who were killed in the mingling blood incident, nor do we know the eternity in store for those who had the tower fall on them. But we do know that they perished. What did they perish from? Well, they perished from the opportunity to repent. No longer would they have the opportunity to turn from their sin to the God who saves them from everlasting condemnation. So Jesus wants the people around him, and He wants you to realize, that the day is coming the day when your struggle is over is coming and He wants to win the struggle for you. He wants you to die with Him.
We often fall into the trap of speculating, why do bad things happen to good people. Well. There’s a flaw in that question that we should be familiar with, there’s no such thing as good people. There is a good person, though and that person has the power over death and that person desires to make things good for all people. And He makes things good by letting his blood become the sacrifice, He makes things good by letting the tower of the law fall on him. He makes things good for all people by taking the punishment for all sins in the one place that the punishment for sin is given by God once and for all.
Jesus goes to the cross. And on that cross the evil of the world is paid for once and for all. All the things that are done that deserve everlasting condemnation are dealt with by God as He pours out His wrath against the one who hung in your place. The church ceiling doesn’t cave in when filthy sinners walk into church. We had that proved to us once again today when we all sat safely in our pews. The lightning bolts don’t fall from the sky against the wicked ones of the world, we may wish it in one breath and thank God for it in the next. God’s wrath is not a sin seeking missile targeting sinners all over the world but finds its target as the cross hairs level in on the one place where every sin is gathered and claimed by the only one who could atone for everyone. Jesus died so that we do not have to die alone.
Following the response of Jesus to two tragedies, Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a fig tree. A fig tree is planted in a vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found nne. And the owner of the vineyard says to his vinedresser, “Look, it’s been three years and there’s stil no fruit. Cut it down and use the ground for something not so evil, not so wicked, something that does what it is supposed to do.” The vinedresser buys some time for this tree and says, let it live this year, let me fertilize it with manure and aerate the soil around it , then if it bears fruit, it has done what it is supposed to do. If not, then cut it down.
In this parable we see that judgment is leveled against the non-fruit bearing ones. John the Baptizer spoke this way of trees as well in Luke 3:9 he said, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” In Matthew 3:8 John is recorded as telling the brood of vipers around him, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Every day we have is a day given to us to bear fruit and before you start thinking of your abilities and opportunities for bearing fruit alone: think about your track record. How has it gone for you? Have you had enough years to be bearing fruit worthy of giving you life? I will caution you lest you think too highly of yourself. Consider yourself according to the ten commandments. Have you loved God perfectly with all your heart putting Him before yourself and everything else in this world? Have you loved your neighbor perfectly, better than you love yourself? Have you done everything you can for everyone out of love? I know you haven’t. God knows you haven’t and if this frightens you, good it should because the ax is lying at the root of the tree and it’s only a matter of time before the time to bear fruit is gone. Repent.
So how can we be fruitful with the Lord? It’s by His grace, by His mercy, by His life that we live and move and have our being. It’s by us living not in ourselves but in Him that anything good can come at the end of these days the Lord has granted us. And God grants us everything we need to have a life in Him. He calls us to repent. He moves us to repent. He gives us the fruit of repentance and with that the evil we are is no longer ours to take care of. By the repentance God grants to us, we have a place with Jesus who takes care of everything that would keep us from God. He takes care of everything that would have us die alone. He takes care of our death so that eternity with Him is ours.
Realizing who we are what we are, we are left to wonder, Why do good things happen to bad people? And the answer is a love that doesn’t quit. The Lord God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that the wicked turn from his way and live. Each day of life we have is a demonstration of the Lord’s patience. By His love, through His power He moves us to Himself. By the Spirit’s it is given to us that we would repent, that we would live because of Jesus’ death. And with this truth even when disaster may strike us we need not fear because we do not belong to the world and it’s disasters. We belong to the one who overcomes it all. He is here to save us. God loves you through Jesus to overcome anything that would keep you from Him. And as He loves you, He loves the world through you so that many may come to repent and know His goodness.
He doesn’t want us to die alone. He wants us to turn from sin to Him and live. And as He turns us to Himself, we have life that lasts beyond the grave.
In Jesus’ name.