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Sermon: Luke 13:1-9
Lent 3 – March 24, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

Why don’t people believe in God? Why don’t people believe in Jesus? Why don’t people trust God? Why don’t people go to church to worship God? There are obviously lots of different answers to those questions. People have a lot of excuses for not believing in God or not worshiping him.

One reason that I’ve heard again and again over the years can be summarized in these words – people are mad at God. Few people are ever going to admit that they’re mad at God or angry with him, but their words, attitude, and actions make it evident that they are. For example many people say they don’t come to church because it’s where their father’s funeral was, or it’s where their grandmother’s funeral was. It’s too painful for them to come to church. Or some people will make reference to some very tragic event in their life and then blame God for letting that event happen. That’s why they don’t come to worship God. They’re angry at God.

In our text today some of Jesus’ listeners mention a terrible tragedy that happened to some Galilean worshipers. And we might first of all suspect that the people mentioned this tragedy to Jesus because they were questioning God’s wisdom or they were angry at God. But it appears rather that they were suggesting that the tragedy happened to these Galileans because they were guilty of some sin. But Jesus warned his listeners, and he warns us today, that tragic events are no excuse to suspect people of sin. Rather tragic events are reminders to us to always repent of our own sins so that we don’t face eternal tragedy.

Today we consider Jesus’ warning

UNLESS YOU REPENT . . . .

In the larger section of the gospel of Luke where we find our text today Jesus was giving a lot of warnings to be watchful, to interpret the times that pointed to the final judgment, and to repent of sin. Some of Jesus’ listeners gave him the opportunity to expound on the importance of repenting of their sins.

They told Jesus about an absolutely horrible event in which Pontius Pilate mixed the blood of some worshipers from Galilee with their sacrifices. Some faithful Jewish worshipers had made the eighty or so mile trip on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD God. For some reason they angered Pilate and he killed them. He slaughtered them so brutally that their own blood was mixed with the blood of their animal sacrifices, right there before the temple.

This is the only time we hear about this event, but clearly it was one that people in both Galilee and Judea knew about, and it made them shutter. No doubt Jesus knew about it too.

Why would good people, presumably faithful worshipers of God, be cut down in such a horrific manner, right in the middle of offering their sacrifices? There no doubt were some people who questioned God for allowing this terrible event. There probably were people, especially friends or relatives of the victims, who were angry at God.

But Jesus knew that there were some mentioned this event to him because they assumed that the Galilean victims themselves were to blame, that they deserved this kind of death for some terrible sin, that these Galileans were more guilty than other Galileans who did not die.

Jesus had a real clear answer to them: “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus’ answer must have shocked his listeners. First of all, God was not to be blamed for the Galileans’ tragic and innocent deaths. And second, the Galileans had not committed some kind of sin that they deserved this death. They were not more guilty than anyone else. As a matter of fact, rather than trying to find a reason why this horrible event happened or blaming the victims, Jesus’ listeners needed to repent of their own sins so that they didn’t face eternal tragedy in hell.

And just to make his point doubly clear Jesus himself made reference to another tragedy. He said, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” This is another event we know nothing about other than what Jesus mentions here. But one of the towers, and an obviously large tower, along the wall of the city collapsed and killed eighteen people. Unlike Pilate killing worshipers, this event was apparently a random event with no cause or explanation. And once again Jesus answered his own question – “I tell you, no! [These people were not more guilty.] But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When tragedies happen we like explanations. Two brand new Boeing jets crashed in a similar fashion in the last few months killing all the people on board both planes. Boeing executives want to know why – and for good reason. They want to fix whatever the problem might be so that it doesn’t happen again. And friends and relatives of those who died want explanations too from Boeing, and probably many of them want an explanation from God.

When tornadoes rip through communities destroying everything, killing people, including little children we wonder why. When floods inundate much of the Midwest like they are this spring, people standing knee deep in water wonder why. When policemen are innocently shot and killed we wonder why. When innocent citizens in Chicago are the unintended victims of gunfire we wonder why. Or substitute whatever personal tragedy or sad event in your life causes you to ask why.

And often when we ask why we look heavenward for an answer. We want God to give us a reason, an explanation. But just like Jesus didn’t give his listeners an explanation for those two tragedies he doesn’t give us an explanation either for the bad things that often happen to innocent people.

And the only answer that we can come up with from the word of God is that, first of all, we live in a sinful world. Bad things, tragedies, happen in a sinful world. Sometimes bad things happen to people as a result of their own sins. Sometimes bad things happen to people who have done nothing wrong – like the people who were killed in collapse of the Siloam tower.

And we can say based on words from the book of Hebrews that God sometimes purposely sends challenges and even punishments into our lives to teach us to be stronger Christians, to be more faithful. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” And we all know the Apostle Paul’s passage from Romans: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God uses all the events of our life, good or bad, ultimately for our good, to bring us to faith, to keep us in faith, and to finally bring us to heaven.

But Jesus’ words today would tell us that the troubles and tragedies of life serve an even more important purpose. They remind us to repent of our sins. The sin in this world, the results of sin, the tragedies, the natural disasters are all reminders to us that we live temporary lives in a temporary world. Jesus once warned, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

The events that Jesus mentions in these verses, famines and earthquakes, happen all the time. But they are meant as reminders to us that there is a judgment coming, there is an end to this world coming. Repent of your sins and be ready for the judgment.

The tragedies that we personally face in life, the challenges that we face, the events in our nation or around the world in which people are injured or killed all make us want to look up to heaven for an explanation. Sometimes God might reveal to us the reason, but usually not, or at least not real clearly. And we shouldn’t carelessly assume that people’s personal sins brought down their misfortune.

Far more important, Jesus tells us that the tragic events of life should remind us and urge us to repent of our sins so that eternal tragedy in hell doesn’t overtake us. Know the seriousness of your sins, be sorry or contrite for your sins. Turn to God for his mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And make the effort not to commit those sins anymore.

The Apostle Paul in our Second Lesson today from 1 Corinthians encourages us not to sin by reminding us of the rather simple fact that we don’t have to sin. We can say no to sin. God will never allow us to be tempted to such a point that we have no choice but to sin: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

And in our text Jesus provides us with a wonderful parable that encourages us to repent of our sins. He wants us to know that God stands patiently waiting for our repentance, waiting to forgive us. A farmer was going to cut down a fig tree because it wasn’t producing fruit. But one of his workers told him to let it go another year. He would fertilize it and care for it. Then he said he would look for fruit on it. But after one year if there was no fruit, then the farmer could cut it down.

God patiently and graciously waits for our repentance. So repent every day and look to God for his mercy in Jesus. But don’t be careless in this matter of repentance. The last day is coming when there will be no more time to repent.

Bad things happen in life to us and others. Don’t blame God. Don’t get angry with God. Don’t question God. Don’t try to come up with perfect explanations for tragedies. And most of all, don’t point to other people’s sins for an explanation. Be concerned about your own sin, your own repentance, and God’s mercy. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Amen.