Unless You, Too, Repent…

Luke 13:1-3 “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! but unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”

It’s not hard to see how someone could come to such a conclusion, is it– that these men were somehow worse, guilty of greater sins, because of what happened to them? You might think that God would protect them while doing something so pious as offering him sacrifices. Instead they were killed in the act of sacrifice.  Wouldn’t that be a sign from God that he was angry with them and rejected their sacrifice? Wouldn’t that be an indicator that these men were somehow lacking in their repentance?

People tend to draw conclusions like that based upon what God allows to happen. We still do it today. When hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, some suggested God was targeting the city because of the wild behavior associated with the French Quarter or Mardi Gras. I once overheard a guest at a wedding express his surprise that God didn’t strike him dead when he entered the church. His reason? It had been so long since he last attended worship. When nothing happened, he concluded that God must be okay with his life after all.

The obvious sin that follows this kind of thinking is loveless, self-righteous judging of others. People become cold and hard toward their unfortunate neighbors. They find an excuse to refuse help or sympathy just when they are needed most.

A less obvious problem with this thinking is the way it undercuts our confidence in God’s grace. If he grants prosperity only to those who do right, and he brings hardship on those who do wrong, what are we to conclude when diagnosed with cancer? What must we assume if we suffer a long string of failures? What if we are the victims of a tornado, flood, or car accident? Does that make us worse than everybody else? Is the Lord targeting us for special judgment? Have we somehow failed in our repentance? Has our faith been a sham? Are we headed for damnation?

Jesus answers our questions whether we should see tragedies as a measures of repentance or faith. “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” These are not a measure of repentance. They deliver a message of repentance.

Do you ever read the obituaries in the newspaper? I have never read an unkind obituary. None of them say that Mr. Jones was a criminal, a cheat, a blight upon humanity and we’re glad he’s gone–good riddance! They speak in warm and loving terms. He meant so much to his family. He contributed so much to the community. He will be sorely missed.

Still, every obituary gives a silent testimony that this person, too, was a sinner. If the wages of sin is death, then every death is preaching of sin. It preaches not only about the person in the casket. The sermon is directed at me. I am mortal, too. I can’t hear about the death of my neighbor without being reminded of my own sin and impending death. That makes every death–whether from untimely tragedy, or at a ripe old age–a call for me to repent while there is time. The same holds true for every pain or heartache we experience through life. They are all a consequence of sin. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus does not issue his warning to be vindictive. He loves us and wants to help. The Great Physician is offering his diagnosis of our souls’ sickness. Doctors don’t deliver their diagnosis to see us suffer. They want to share the solution. So does our Lord. His medicine works. He suffers the symptoms and the consequences of our sin in our place. He cleanses us with his blood and forgives us. His treatment not only delays death and extends our lives. It cures death and gives eternal life.

Tragedies don’t make an accusation. They offer an invitation. Jesus invites us to repent and escape from death to life.

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