September 20, 2015
Read Lu 13:1-5 -- Will Rogers once gave a clock to friend engraved thus: “The clock of life is wound but once, And no man has the power To tell just when the hands will stop, At late or early hour. Now is the only time we own; Love life, toil with a will; Do not wait until tomorrow, / For the clock may then be still.” You say, That sounds a little morose! But it’s not, Beloved. That’s a daily reality we tend to deny. And not only will time soon run out, but outside of Christ, we are under a spiritual death sentence.
Disasters are one way that the Lord graciously reminds us of that truth. This passage has two – one natural and one imposed. But Jesus finds the same warning in both. At the end of Lu 12 He has warned His audience that while they may be great at reading signs of the weather, they do not read spiritual signs well at all. Then He urged them to settle with God out of court for their sinful natures. They respond, “Hey, you’re wrong. We know signs. We know that those Galileans that Pilate killed a few days ago must have done something pretty bad.” They made two devastatingly bad moralistic assumptions that Jesus immediately attacks. They assumed that people always get what they deserve, which is sometimes true and sometimes not in this life. And they assumed that the “good” people – namely them – didn’t need to settle with anyone. They were good enough. So last week, we looked at I. Two Great Tragedies and II. Two Grave Traps – bad ways of explaining those tragedies. Today we want to focus on Jesus’ response which consists of III. Two Gospel Truths. It is another presentation of His core message.
III. Two Gospel Truths
Note the similarity of Jesus’ response to each tragedy. V. 2: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Obviously that is exactly what they thought or Jesus would not have responded in this way. V. 4, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” Again the answer was, “Yes.” Their whole theological system was moralistic. They believed that all adversity, all hardship, all disability and all disasters were a direct result of the sin of the person involved. That was exactly what they believed. And, of course, it left them feeling pretty good about themselves because, after all, they had not been slaughtered or had towers falling on them.
As we saw last week, that was flawed thinking. But on this occasion, Jesus does not go there. He doesn’t argue that point at all. Instead He just presents the gospel with emphasis on the negative side. V. 3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And then for emphasis, He presents it again in v. 5, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It must be important and it is. It implies two critical truths that these people were not getting that we must all get if we are to ever see heaven.
A. We are all living on borrowed time
Notice that twice Jesus asks a telling question. V. 2: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans?” And v. 4: “Do you think that they [those killed by the tower] were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” They would have answered yes, but clearly in asking these questions, Jesus is implying that’s the wrong answer. He is aiming straight at the heart of their whole religious system. They see humanity divided into two groups – the good and the bad. Those who keep the law and those who do not. Judgment falls on those who do not. It was a tidy little system that allowed them to look down on anyone they considered less righteous than themselves.
But Jesus comes right out and says, “No! When you see people suffer, that is not necessarily retribution for sin.” Then – He turns right around, tho, and says, “But repent, lest you perish too!” That puts it in a whole different light. If He had simply said, “No, no. God doesn’t treat people like that. It’s not punishment for sin,” we’d have to say, “But wait a minute then. Life does stink then, huh? If they don’t deserve that, then what’s going on?” But He doesn’t say they didn’t deserve it. He just says they were no worse than anyone else. He just says it wasn’t the direct result of some certain sin. But He doesn’t say they didn’t deserve it. Instead he turns right around and lays a haymaker on them: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” With those words, Jesus has just thrown everyone under the same bus. He’s saying, “One the one hand, don’t think those people are worse because they suffered. On the other hand, realize that every person on earth deserves to have a tower fall on them. Don’t feel smug. You deserve to have a tower fall on you just as much as they did. If God gave you what you deserve, you’d have a tower fall on you too!” Sounds harsh to us. And it was not calculated to win friends and influence people – but it was calculated to bring reality into the tidy world of these people. It was calculated to bring them face-to-face with their own condemnation.
Like most people, these had never considered they might be that bad. They were Jews. They brought their sacrifices and attended the yearly feast. They kept the law outwardly. But they had a fatal flaw. Their hearts were far from God. They were trusting in what they did rather than in a God who wanted to change their heart. Jesus is trying to startle them into a true look at themselves. He is urging them to realize that they are living even now on God’s mercy, but judgment it coming. They are living on borrowed time. Jesus says, “You – likewise!”
He is urging them as He urges us, “Don’t look on your works. Look at your heart. Think of all the lies you’ve told that you never got consequences for. Think of all the stupid choices you’ve made that you got away with. Think of every time you’ve betrayed a friend, coveted what someone else has, lost your temper, taken revenge, harbored bitterness, chosen your way over God’s. See yourself for who you really are from the inside.” Few have ever received even a fraction of the consequences for the stupid, wrong, proud and selfish things they’ve done. God is graciously again and again, day in and day out NOT giving us what we deserve. Our hearts are filled with denial and excuses, but if we saw them as God sees them – saw the pride, alienation, hatred, murder, immorality and idolatry as God sees them, we’d realize – borrowed time! He’s looking for a broken and contrite heart, and we give Him pride, defensiveness and arrogance. And Jesus says, “You – likewise!”
Here’s the truth. The gospel is that we are much more flawed and lost than our heart dares believe. But we are also much more loved than our heart will believe either. If we weren’t, we’d already be gone. God’s patience causes us to think our outward righteousness is the source of our good fortune. We abuse His patience! The truth is, if we got what we deserved, the tower would have fallen long ago. It is only God’s mercy that keeps us alive the next minute. We are equally deserving of God’s judgment. We all fall short of the glory of God. James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” How can God say that? Did you ever consider that? How can God say such a thing? How can a simple swear word be as bad as murder? Here’s why, Beloved. It’s because the law is not a simple list of do’s and don’t’s. It is something much more profound than that. It is an expression of God’s character. So breaking even one point is a violation of His whole person, and, of course, the truth is, in our hearts we violate every point on daily basis. We’re living on borrowed time. But we are in denial.
“If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” Great question identified with evangelists from Billy Graham to James Kennedy. But in a recent survey by Lifeway Research, 30% of people said they wonder about it occasionally. 11% said about once a year, but almost 50% said they never wonder about it at all! Meanwhile, Dr. Heiko Obermann, Reformation era historian said in a lecture: “In the time of Martin Luther, almost every single human being in European civilization woke up afraid that he would die before nightfall? Eternal destiny was a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute thought. Every night, as the late Medieval or early Reformation human being closed his eyes, he feared that he would wake up either in heaven or in hell. You do not live with that fear.” He’s right. Now, Beloved, God doesn’t want us to live in fear. But we’ve lost the sense that we live on borrowed time, but that doesn’t change the fact! We’re on the clock.
B. Our only hope is repentance
So, we’re on borrowed time. What do we do? Jesus gives a one-word answer. Repent. Repent. The word literally means to turn around – you’re headed to Cheyenne; you turn around and head toward Denver. Only this is speaking of your life direction. It involves two things – turning from sin toward God. We could turn from one idol to another. But repentance is turning from all idols toward God – from our heart! That’s repentance.
Now, keep in mind, Jesus is not saying this about or to people who at the moment are being buried by towers. He’s not saying it to people who are going thru suffering and financial strain. The Bible addresses those. Jesus addresses those, but not here. These people who doing okay. This is His counsel to people whose lives are trouble-free at the moment. No towers falling. These are some of the most righteous people on the planet – going to synagogue, saying their prayers, following all the rules. But Jesus is saying just when things are really smooth and you are feeling most self-satisfied – that’s when you’re in dangerous territory spiritually. And Jesus is saying, “Watch out. You’re going to perish. Look out! You need to repent!”
Jesus is pointing out a very important truth here. Repentance is not primarily about breaking the rules. Of course it is that too. If you lie, if you lose your temper, if you cheat, if you rob a bank, if you gossip, you need to confess your sin and abandon it. But that is not the essence of repentance. Because the essence of sin is not breaking the rules. The essence of sin is violating God by replacing Him with self. The essence of sin is putting yourself or something you want or desire in the place that only God should have. The essence of sin is being your own Savior – not looking to Him but doing it yourself. And it’s in trouble-free times that we are most likely to do that.
Society helps us convince ourselves we have no sin. Naturalism tells us that what we call sin is merely the residue of an evolutionary process that rewards aggression and for which I am not responsible. Psychology tells us that what we call sin is merely an overactive conscience and all we need to do is ignore the guilt feelings. Liberal theology tells us that sin is merely low self-esteem and the solution is to find and heal the inner child that was abused by restrictive parents. Moralists tell us that sin is a list of do’s and don’t’s and the solution is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Notice that none of these have any reference to God. The Bible says that sin is replacing God with self. It doesn’t matter whether it is Lucifer saying, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:14), or Adam and Eve falling for the line, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen 3:4), or the people at the Tower of Babel saying, “let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4), the essence of sin is always the same – replacing God with self.
So Jesus says, “Don’t think you’re better than those killed by Pilate or crushed by the tower. Don’t think your goodness is saving you. The only reason you have not been crushed is God’s grace in giving you more time. But you must use that time to repent of your self-centeredness, your self-justification or you will also perish.” Rom 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” God’s giving you time for a reason – that you might beg mercy and receive forgiveness. Instead, we say, “No thanks. I’m good! No towers are falling on me.”
So how could Jesus offer pardon for repentance? Know why? Because even as He said repent, He was on His way to have the ultimate tower fall on Him so it wouldn’t have to fall on us. The reason that the best person, the only perfect person, had the worst life is because He willingly accepted being crushed by the ultimate tower. The tower of God’s judgment must eventually fall on all sin. But the reason it does not have to fall on me is because He let it fall on Him. He took my place under the tower of God’s judgment so that I don’t have to. And when I repent I am acknowledging that He has paid the price for me and I am accepting His payment for my guilt!
To repent is to acknowledge that all our good works are wonderful when they express a broken and repentant heart, but that they are useless as a means to earn God’s favor. God looks not on outward appearance but on the heart. That’s exactly why Paul, the most outwardly exacting man of his time came to this conclusion: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:4-8). That’s repentance. Turning from self to God. It’s a lifetime commitment. When Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish”, he used a present tense verb – not one-time, but ongoing action. Lifetime commitment.
Conc – Repentance is at the heart of the gospel, Beloved. Jesus death and resurrection is only good news for those who repent. That’s always been the message. Noah’s message from the steps going up to the Ark was not, “Something good is about to happen!” Amos was not confronted by the high priest of Israel for proclaiming, “Name it and claim it!” Jeremiah was not put into the pit for preaching, “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.!” Daniel was not put into the lion’s den for telling people, “Possibility thinking will move mountains!” John the Baptist was not forced to preach in the wilderness and eventually beheaded because he preached, “Smile, God loves you!” The two prophets of the tribulation will not be killed for preaching, “God is in his heaven and all is right with the world!” The message of all these men was the same as that of Jesus – “Repent! Return to me. Hear me. Listen to me. Come to me!”
It was only when Paul repented his perceived goodness that he found peace with God. Until that happens, we are living on borrowed time. And the tower of eternal judgment could fall any time. Borrowed time ends with physical death. God says in Heb 9:27, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after than comes judgment.” There are no tomorrows then. You must be ready. God uses human calamity to remind us what Jim Elliott, the missionary who was martyred in Ecuador in 1956 once said: "When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die." How do you do that? Live a life of repentance. Do not wait until tomorrow, / For the clock may then be still.” Let’s pray.