How Jesus Responds to Tragedy

Sunday's Sermon OutlineIn the aftermath of the bombings yesterday in Boston, I find myself waiting for someone like Pat Robertson to come along and do the two things that he’s best at: sticking his foot directly into his mouth and making every other Christian look bad. In all fairness, Pat and others of his ilk have made something of a cottage industry out of declaring that tragic events are clear evidence of the judgement of God for sin.

As I considered this last night, I began asking myself how Jesus would respond to these horrible and tragic events.

And then I remembered that our Lord did respond to events that weren’t all that dissimilar from these during His own ministry here on this earth. So I decided to find my Greek New Testament, and I ended up reading and meditating on the first five verses of the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

As Jesus has just finished reminding those whom He had been teaching that their eternal souls deserved the same diligent attention as their business matters, since they may at any time be called to an account, we read this at the beginning of Luke 13:

Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered and said unto them, Think ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they have suffered these things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, think ye that they were offenders above all the men that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

In this text Jesus moves his questioners to examine their own hearts as he moves them from the uncertain interpretation of divine providence to the certain expectation of final judgement.

In vv. 1-2, we have certain members of the crowd coming to Jesus and presenting a question to Him, wanting to know if he had heard that while some Galileans had been on their way to the temple in Jerusalem for worship, the wicked governor of Judea had ordered his soldiers to fall on them with their swords, and as they slaughtered the worshipers and their attendant flocks, the blood of the two had mingled together. Surely a horrific event, to see men and women killed on their way to worship the true and living God.

But there is a more distressing undercurrent to their question––it seems that what they have taken away from this incident is that these Galileans must have been notorious sinners! Jesus’ response, in short, is “What in the world would give you that idea?” I almost wonder if He looked at them askance and asked if they had ever read Job!

Jesus’ response points us to the reality that the business of interpreting God’s providence is a difficult and uncertain manner. We see the same thing in 13:4 when Jesus responds with a question of His own about those who died in the collapse at the tower of Siloam––if the Galileans were notorious sinners, would you make the same judgement of those residents of Jerusalem who were killed?

These are both situations where the facts permit more than one possible interpretation based on biblical testimony. Surely if we learn anything from the narrative in Job it’s that there is no certain correlation between sinfulness and suffering. Matthew 5 reminds us that God sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust alike. It is equally possible, given the teaching of Scripture, that these events may be interpreted as meaning that these people were unfit for this world and that God used these tragedies to call his children home to himself.  Or that these events were being used by God as afflictions to purify those that loved Him and to spur them to greater holiness and godliness of life.

But Jesus’ response reveals that while interpreting divine providence is uncertain at best, what is certain is that apart from repentance, all men will perish. We can get an idea of how the term perish is being used here by looking at John 10:28, where Jesus, speaking about His people, says:

I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

The word perish is being used in a similar way in our text in John 13––namely, as a sort of short-hand for divine judgement. So when Jesus says to those who have approached Him that, apart from repentance, they would “likewise perish,” He is pointing to the suddenness with which our deaths and subsequent judgement before God will come upon us.

If we take nothing else away from the tragedy in Boston, let us at least learn that none of use know with certainty when we will exit from the narrative of our own lives, but that it is certain that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that to face judgement. The only sure way to avoid the punishment that we deserve is by repent of our sin and turning to Christ for forgiveness, and in doing so receiving and resting upon Him and His perfect work for our acceptance with a holy God.

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"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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