Summary: how to view death
March 18, 2001 Luke 13:1-9
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 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? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 ”‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Back in the 1960’s a famous saying was, “what’s your sign?” It was thought if you had the same sign as the person you asked, like a Zodiac or whatever, then you would be a good match. This sounds completely foolish to me. I find it incredible that people will pay big bucks to listen to someone try to read the signs of their palms or their birth dates and try figure out some deep meaning behind their “signs.”
Jesus, however, was also into signs - but of a different type. He instructed his disciples not to be ignorant of certain “signs” of the end times. Just prior to today’s text, Jesus was chastising the people for not being able to read the signs of the times. They couldn’t tell from the obvious signs that their Messiah was in their presence.
In light of this chastisement, the people came back to Jesus in today’s text, and claimed to be able to read the sign of death - that they understood the message behind some random and recent deaths. So Jesus addresses the sign of death, and he calls us to -
Learn the Sign of Death
I. It warns us that our death may be near
Death is not a pretty picture to look at. Even the signs that death is coming are ugly. Whether it’s the pain in your back or the arthritis in your bones or the wrinkles on your face - none of us likes to think about dying. One of the most sickening signs of death is to hear someone’s lungs fill up with fluid - which is referred to by some as the “death rattle”. Then, when death comes - it is even uglier. It is portrayed by the common picture of the Grim Reaper. This is not a pretty picture of death to look at - an overgrown skeleton in a black robe with a sickle in his hand.
Within the past week, two people that I knew died. One was Sharon Callahan. Her death was somewhat surprising, but in the same sense somewhat expected. Having been on a respirator for months, her time was limited, and so there were no great headlines. But another young man I knew - in his lower 30’s - also died of cancer. When someone so young dies, it raises more eyebrows - makes people take notice. When Dale Earnhardt recently died in a car crash, the whole world of racing stood up and took notice. Some deaths grab people by the brain and just force them to ask - What is the meaning behind this death?
In Jesus time, people thought a lot about the meaning behind death and sickness. In John 9, when Jesus and his disciples walked past a man who was born blind, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” When someone was blind, crippled, or died early - they immediately assumed that there was some sin connected to the suffering. Such seemed to be the case behind the deaths of some Galileans. Our text says, there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Galileans were known to be a very rebellious group of people according to the historian Josephus - always ready to disturb the Roman rule. Therefore, when Pilate put some of them to death when they had come to Jerusalem to make an offering, the people automatically assumed that God was punishing them because they were more rebellious than others. Sometimes we do the same thing. When a drunk driver dies we might make a judgment - “he had it coming.” The message we believe is, “don’t drink and drive!” We try to determine the message behind the death - to read the sign of death.