Luke 13:5 Jesus said, "I tell you; unless you repent, you too will perish."
When I was a boy there was a tragedy in our area. It was 1971. The water tunnel dug under Lake Huron was nearing completion. It was a five mile tunnel underground out into the lake to supply water for Detroit, Michigan. One December day a there was a terrible tragedy. Unknown to the workers, methane gas had collected in the tunnel. Somehow a drill sparked a detonation, A terrible explosion went off down in the tunnel. Of a 42 man crew, 22 men were killed in an instant. Rescue workers sorted through the arms and legs. It was dreadful. Workers left their homes that morning glad to have a job. A few hours later they were all dead, their families left grieving.
There was a boy in my fourth grade class named Wayne. His father was killed in that explosion. Of the 12 or so boys in my class, was he worse than the rest of us? Was the death of his father a punishment for something he did, or that his mother did? He would never see his father again. Would God punish me by taking my father away if I didn't obey him perfectly?
The gospel for today (Luke 13:1-9) tells us that we don't know why God allows some tragedies to happen and prevents others. In worship we pray for many people with illness. Some are healed and others aren't. Jesus mentioned some tragedy that happened at the Temple. History doesn't record it, but apparently the Romans killed some Jews from Galilee as they were offering their sacrifices. Jesus asked if the crowd if they were worse than other Galileans.
Another tragedy happened when a stone tower fell and killed eighteen people. Were those people worse sinners than the others who lived in Jerusalem? His answer to both situations was no. But we should take it as a sign. Life is short. You never know how long you are going to be here. So live each day as if it were the only one you have left. Most importantly, get ready to meet your maker.
Paul says a similar thing in 1 Corinthians (10:1-13). He uses an example from Israel's history. God loved his people. He freed them from slavery in Egypt, let them through the waters by a great miracle, led them through the desert with a pillar of cloud and fire, and fed them the miracle food of manna and water from a rock. But when Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, they were worshiping an idol. God punished them. Another time they were sinning by having sex outside of marriage with foreign people. This led them to worship false Gods. God did not spare them. Twenty-Three thousand of them were killed in one day. There are other examples from this time period.
This should show us that God is serious about sin. It's not something to laugh at. "Wrong, yes, but everyone's doing it these days." God is watching. He will do two things. First he will send someone to warn you of what you are getting yourself into. If you don't listen to that, he will let you go your way, but you will be condemned for it when you die.
When really bad things happen, we should see this as a warning. Tornadoes, crashes, wars, explosions, floods, and fires—these are all signs to us that life is fragile and God wants us to get ready to meet him. Death can happen to any of us at any time, at any age.
Today, I'm the one he's sent to warn you. It's my job, my calling as your pastor. God told Ezekiel the prophet to warn the people. If he warned them, and they did not listen, the people would die but Ezekiel would live. If he didn't warn them, then Ezekiel would be responsible for their deaths, and he would be punished also. (OT Reading, Ezekiel 33:7-20).
People of God, the Ten Commandments are not the Ten Suggestions! God says we are to have no other Gods. We are to regard his Word as the truth and honor his name. We are to gather for worship each week. We are to honor those he places above us. We are not to hurt anyone, take their property, their reputation, or their virginity away. We are to do everything we can help them to hold on to these things that God has given them. It doesn't matter how other people around us are living. We are to live as God says.
When we find ourselves living in conflict with what God clearly states as his law, we are to repent. Repent means to recognize this. We should feel sorrow.
There are two kinds of sorrow: worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is when you are not sorry you did something, just sorry you got caught doing it. Godly sorrow is when you realize you are sinning against God, and that frightens you, and you want to stop doing that right away. Faith is when you run to Jesus' cross for forgiveness and know that God is not going to punish you as you deserve.
God is very patient with us. There is so much sin among us. Some of us are greedy. We think that more money is going to make us happy and safe. Some of us are discontent. We are never happy with the life God gives us. Some of us are sexually immoral. We think that sex outside of marriage is going to fulfill us.
God is patiently calling us to repent. It's like that parable Jesus told about the fig tree. It wouldn't bear any figs! Year after year it grew, but bore no fruit. The owner wanted to cut it down. But the vinedresser said, "Give me a chance with it. I'll take care of it, there's still a chance. If it doesn't produce fruit for you next year, then cut it down."
That fig tree is you. There's so much good fruit that we could be producing, but we aren't. God isn't through with us yet. Jesus comes in as our friend, our savior. He gives his life for us on the cross. He comes to us in his Word. He supplies our needs, comforts our fears, and dries our tears. He washes us clean in Baptism. He feeds us with heavenly food in the Lord's Supper. He does all this, waiting for us to produce that fruit that he can use.
You trust Jesus with your forgiveness. You trust Jesus to give you eternal life. Why don't you trust God with your life today? Produce good fruit in keeping with repentance. Let your light so shine that people will see your good deeds and give glory to your father who is in heaven!
When the really bad things happen, God isn't punishing you because you are worse people than others. But he is calling you to get ready to meet him, and to treasure in your heart all that he has done for you in Jesus more than anything else.
James F. Wright
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
Send Pastor James F. Wright an email.