Today we honor the memories of those who lost their lives in the largest terrorist attack in history and the most lethal acts ever carried out in the United States.
The attacks involved the hijacking of four commercial airliners.
The fatalities were in the thousands: 265 on the four planes; 2,595, including 343 firefighters, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers, in the WTC; and 125 civilians and military personnel at the Pentagon. At least 2,985 people were killed in total. (On-line encyclopedia)
We also have on our minds and in our hearts today those who died or who were uprooted by Hurricane Katrina. Inevitably we begin to ask questions in the face of tragic events to which there are no easy answers. Many of the answers we seek will forever elude us in this life. However, there are some answers we can find, some truths we can learn during times of tragedy. That’s why it would do us well to turn to Jesus and learn from Him during times like these. In our text for this morning, Luke 13, we will hear Jesus issue a reality check for us. He will tell us that it is never too soon to repent, but it may soon be too late.
Luke 13 is not all that Jesus had to say about tragedy or evil in our world. There are other passages where He dealt with the evil in men’s hearts, the tribulations that we may face, and the strength that is available to us during trying times. There are other passages of Scripture where Jesus assures us that God will not leave us orphans, but that He will send the Holy Spirit to aid us. There are other passages where Jesus tells us that no matter what tribulations we endure we can be people of good cheer because He has ultimately overcome the world. Luke 13 is not all Jesus had to say about tragedy or evil in our world. But if I am going to be faithful to the text today then I want to stay with what Jesus had to say about tragedy in these nine verses.
In this passage Jesus is confronted with a recent national tragedy that was being discussed by the people of His day. Just as in our day, tragedies present opportunities for people to get together and talk. People naturally discuss the events and their aftermath. Today we gather around our television sets or radios, we search the internet, we read the papers, we gather with friends at Starbucks, and we sit around and talk about the news of the day. People were no less interested in the news of Jesus’ day. They too took the opportunity to talk about the hot topics of their day. The people mention to Jesus the recent massacre of Galilean worshippers by Pilate. They sought to draw Jesus into their political discussion concerning the tragedy. That’s why the Bible says in verse one, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” (13:1)
Some of the people sincerely wanted to talk about this event. Some people had ulterior motives. They wanted to trick Jesus into making a statement that would inflame anti-Roman hostilities and get the Roman government after Jesus. Others wanted to trap Jesus into saying something that might perhaps be interpreted as favoring what Pilate did. Then the Jews could condemn Christ. People wanted to bring Him into their political discussion, but Jesus ignored the political side of the issue and moved the spiritual issues at hand. Instead of indulging the people with a moment to talk about other people He made face their own humanity once and for all. Instead of looking in the current events of their day He wanted them to look at themselves in light of those current events.
TRANSITION: Jesus wants you to do the same today in the light of tragedies; they might be world tragedies, national tragedies, or personal tragedies. He doesn’t want you to be content to merely discuss “those” people to whom tragedy has touched. He wants you to take a look at your own heart. He wants you to take a reality check!
In fact, He issues three reality checks.
The people came to Jesus and told Him about how Pilate had murdered some Jews who were merely going up to worship God at the Temple. They wanted to talk about that tragedy. And Jesus says in essence, “Wait a minute. What about those 18 people in Siloam who were crushed to death when a tower collapsed?”
Jesus is saying, “The tragedies of life are a fact of life.” You don’t have to look long in the morning paper before you find accounts of different tragedies. Murder and mayhem, terrorism and crime, natural disasters and world disasters, they are a fact of life.
You will discover if you examine life closely enough that many of the tragedies of life fall under 3 categories. You have tragedies that are caused by human depravity. Pilate could be an example of that.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem had no love loss for the Jewish people. He viewed them as a means to an ends, namely as pawns to further his political career. We don’t know the exact details surrounding this event mentioned in Luke 13. But we do know that he did not get along with the Jews because he was insensitive to their religious convictions. Bible scholars tell us for example, that he once brought the official Roman ensigns into Jerusalem and infuriated the Jews who resented having Caesar's image in the Holy City. Pilate threatened to kill the protestors and they were willing to die! Seeing their determination, the governor relented and moved the ensigns to Caesarea, but that did not stop the hostilities. There was even a time when Pilate desired to sacrifice a pig on the altar in the Jewish Temple!
Bible scholar, Warren Wiersbe tells us that the atrocity mentioned in Luke 13:1 may have taken place when Pilate "appropriated" money from the temple treasury to help finance an aqueduct. In South Georgia we call that stealing! A large crowd of angry Jews gathered in protest; so Pilate had soldiers in civilian clothes mingle with the mob. Using concealed weapons, the soldiers killed a number of innocent and unarmed Jews, and this only added to the Jews' hatred for their governor. (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Gospel of Luke)
Much of the tragedy and heart ache in this life has been caused because of human depravity. When we talk of human depravity or total depravity we do not mean that all people as bad as they can be. What we mean by that is there is not an area, not an aspect, not a corner of a person’s soul that has not been tainted by sin. And often people make sinful decisions and sinful choices and they do things that harm other people.
You don’t have to look far before you can find tragedy because of human depravity.
There is a second category of tragedies. That would be natural disasters.
We have seen this type of tragedy in recent days with Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes aren’t the only natural disasters that befall humanity. There are also:
Our insurance policies call these events, “Acts of God.” The Bible tells us that we live in a fallen world. Sin has tainted our world. The whole creation groans for that day when Christ returns and establishes a new world order. Even the earth is tired of the curse of sin. Natural disasters were not ever intended by God in His plan. They are the results of the fall.
So you see, much of the heartache in our world comes from human depravity or natural disasters. But there is a third category of tragedies. I call it, “Human deficiencies.”
The Tower at Siloam is an example of human deficiency. I don’t think it shocks you to know that whatever man builds breaks. You can buy a brand new car and it won’t be long before you get a “check engine” light and you have to take it in for service. Or you receive a notice in the mail that its being recalled for some problem. I enjoy reading about new cars. I love to read Edmunds.com. I will check out the forums where car owners can discuss the problems and solutions to the problems they are having with their cars. And I don’t car if you drive a Volkswagen Beetle or a Lexus LX470, everybody has problems with their cars.
Anything man builds breaks.
Human deficiency! We are not perfect and what we create is far from perfect!
In all of these tragedies, whether caused by human depravity, natural disaster, or human deficiencies, human lives can be snuffed out in the prime of life.
For the victims of September 11, 2001 it was just another day at the office or on a plane.
It was also true of the victims Jesus referred to. For those people murdered by Pilate it was just another day going up to the Temple to worship God. For those people in Siloam it was just another day to walk past a well-known architectural feature on their way home or on their way to the market. But tragedy struck without warning.
Grieving families, shocked survivors, and stunned on-lookers were left standing in the wake, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives; trying to make sense out of the senseless. Jesus is telling us that the tragedies of life are a fact of life.
Perhaps in the aftermath of these separate events mentioned in Luke 13, people gathered to tell their stories.
Now the people are seeking to draw Jesus into their discussion. But instead He issues Reality Check #1: The Tragedies of Life Are A Fact of Life. He says, “You ask me about the tragedy that befell the Galileans, well what about the eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell?”
Not to diminish the hurt and agony tragedies bring, but tragedies are a fact of life.
Jesus wants you to know that life is not fragile just for those murdered by Pilate or crushed by a falling tower. The fragility of life applies to you, too.
Do you remember the Tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004, killing 200,000 people?
All of these 200,000 people who perished assumed they had long lives ahead of them.
Who among them would have ever dreamed that their lives would end on such a beautiful day in such an ugly way?
It would be easy and convenient for those of us not affected by this tragedy to say, “Well, that sure was a freak accident. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about something like that happening to me!”
REALITY CHECK! Jesus says our lives have always been hanging by a tender tenuous thread. The fragility of life doesn’t just apply to those people! It applies to me as well! When you drove to church services this morning you put your life in danger! You probably already knew that based on the way people drive in this city!
Listen to the Bible’s vivid description of the fragile nature of your life.
14 How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog — it's here a little while, then it's gone. NLT
REALITY CHECK! Jesus says tragedies don’t just happen to those people; they could happen to us as well.
Tragedies have a way of making us take a closer look at our lives. We begin to take an inventory of how well we are living. Tragedies make us take our eyes off the mundane things of life and consider the things that really matter.
Tragedy has a way of doing that you know? We can so easily get caught up in the fast pace of life where one day runs into another. Life seemingly rolls on, one day after another, one week after another, and one year after another. Years go by so quickly that we hardly have time to stop and notice.
But tragedy, while never good, has a way of making us stop for a brief moment and put life into perspective. Times like these make you think about what is truly important.
After tragedies you hear people say:
Listen to the instruction Moses gives us in Psalm 90.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Centuries ago Moses said, “Oh God, life is so fragile. Teach us to number our days so that we can live like you want us to live. Help us to make life count. Teach me to count my days so my days can count. Tragedy could come along and take that precious gift away so quickly.”
Reality Check #1: The Tragedies of Life Are A Fact of Life.
Reality Check #2: The Fragility of Life Applies to You Too.
I never get many “Amen’s” when I say that. Perhaps you are thinking, “Come on Ricky. It’s a little morbid isn’t it to be talking about death like this. Why are you preaching this sermon? Why couldn’t you preach a sermon about five ways to be happy and wealthy before you get home?” I need to preach about death because it is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment. Besides, have you noticed that people are dying who have never died before?
Listen to me, the priority of you life, if you don’t do anything else in life, if you don’t ever accomplish anything else in life is to get right with God and be ready to die at a moment’s notice. Because at whatever else you succeed in life, if you fail here you have failed!
Don’t be like that rich man Jesus once spoke of:
19 And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (NKJV)
And Jesus is the one who asked:
36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (NKJV)
Jesus warns the people of His day and He warns us that dying is not necessarily the worst part of tragedies. The worst part would be to perish in your sin!
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? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’”
Jesus confronts us with the spiritual, not just the physical. He asks us to examine our hearts and see if we have repented of our sins.
These people Jesus spoke to had the mistaken idea that tragedy only invades the lives of those who are worse sinners that others. They believed that tragedies befall the deserving. “Tragedies befall those whose lives are not right with God, therefore, since my life is free from tragedy I must be spiritually OK; business as usual.” Jesus says, “No! All men are guilty before God. All men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:23)
None of us are innocent. And the most important thing we can do is to get right with God through the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus calls them and us to repentance. Jesus says unless you repent you will all likewise perish! Jesus says the tragedy of all tragedies is not to die. You are going to die one day. The tragedy of all tragedies is to die without being saved from your sin! That’s the tragedy of all tragedies.
The reason Jesus uses this opportunity to preach a message on repentance is not because He is callous to human suffering. But Jesus knows human nature better than we do. He knows that it will not be long before the tragedies no longer occupy the headlines and no longer carry the shock-value they once had. The tragedy will soon fall from the headlines and people will forget. He knows that it will not be long before we are back to business as usual! Jesus knows that we soon forget the first two reality checks!
There was an article in the Australian Newspaper, The Advertiser that I read on-line a few days after the Asian Tsunami. The title grabbed my attention.
By OLINKA KOSTER
200,000 people dead, gin and tonic in hand, these guys are going to get a good tan! How quickly we forget!
Experts say that 3 people die every second. If this fact is true, then 180 people die every minute, 10,800 people die every hour, 259,200 people die every day, and 94,608,000 people die every year. A tsunami of death washes over this planet every day.
The reason you should make getting right with God and being ready to die the priority of you life is because statistics prove 1 out of 1 persons die. People are dying who have never died before! It is appointed once for man to die and after this the judgment!
We place our soul in eternal peril when we convince ourselves that we are special ones and we are unlike these poor souls who died.
There is only a small window of opportunity where reality can change us for eternity, and I mean eternity! When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior your life changes for eternity. You destiny, your future is changed forever! God in His great love for you God, with a heart full of compassion says, “Look into the future! One day you are going to die. Repent now and be saved. The tragedy of all tragedies is to die in your sin without Christ as your Lord and Savior!”
Jesus’ words are very arresting. They don’t fit well in our modern, pluralistic society that teaches all roads lead to Heaven. In telling us to repent or perish he is telling us that heaven is not the automatic destiny of people when they die. You must repent which means to turn from your sins and turn to the savior in faith. To repent is to make a willful, conscious decision to say, “God, I have rebelled against you and now I want to turn to you and ask you to save me by your grace. Forgive me. Be my Lord and Savior.”
Jesus ended His sermon in a strange way. He ended this strong message on repentance by telling a story. At first glance the story seems out of place.
6 He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 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?' 8 But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'"
Did you notice something? The story ended. You say, “What happened? Did the Fig tree produce fruit or was it finally cut down?”
That’s the questions isn’t it? It’s the question Jesus wants you to ask yourself? Will Jesus find the fruit of repentance in your heart? Every moment He gives you is a moment of grace because He wants you to be saved. He is giving you the chance to end the story of your life the right way. Repent of your sin today. Say, “God, I’m that fig tree and I haven’t been sorry for my sin. I haven’t produced the fruit of repentance. I have lived life like it would never end and like I would never have to give an account to you. But I ask you to forgive me. I turn to you. I want to be saved.”
Steve Doocy: The weather man of the Fox News Channel was on the air right after September 11, 2001. I watched him as he recounted the stories of survivors and victims of the terrorist attack. Smoke was still rising from the ruins of the once mighty world trade center. The Pentagon still had a gaping hole in its side. The wreckage of United Airlines Flight 93 was still lying quietly in a Pennsylvania field.
Steve Doocy related the story of a business man who was trapped in one of the top floors of one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Steve said the man quickly typed this note into his e-mail program:
“Son, our building has been hit. See you in heaven. Love, Dad.”
He pressed enter and sent that e-mail. A few minutes later his son checked his e-mail and received his dad’s message. And with that we are reminded… It is never too soon to repent, but it may soon be too late.
Do you know for certain that of you died today that Heaven would be your home? (Etc.)