Summary: Misfortune Amiplifies God's Call to Repent 1) Individually; 2) Immediately
Did you hear the shocking news out of Egypt on Tuesday? 19 tourists died when a hot air balloon exploded and plunged 300 meters to the ground. One moment these people were enjoying something they had dreamed of doing for years - floating above ancient Egyptian ruins in the soft light of an early morning desert sun. That dreamed mutated into a nightmare when something went terribly wrong with the gas burners attached to that giant balloon. What does the tragedy mean? One person I overheard speaking about the incident thought it was a sign to go horseback riding this spring break instead of taking a hot air balloon ride as he had been planning. The people of Jesus’ day would have said that those 19 tourists must have been guilty of some wrongdoing for which God was punishing them. What do you think? Is there a lesson to be learned from this or any other tragedy? What was God saying with 9/11 for example when 3,000 people died in a horrendous act of terrorism? Or do bad things just happen and we have no explanation for them? There is no need for us to remain clueless if we listen closely to Jesus this morning. He informs us that misfortune is God’s megaphone. It amplifies his call to repent individually, and immediately. Let’s make some sense of what that means.
Misfortune was a regular occurrence in Jesus’ day as it is today. Take for instance the tragedy that had fallen upon some worshippers from Galilee. While they were offering their sacrifice in the temple, Pilate, the Roman governor, sent in his troops to slaughter them, mixing human blood with the blood of the animal sacrifice. That would be like a gunman spraying bullets on a congregation while it was celebrating Holy Communion. What a gruesome scene that would be: the blood of the congregants mixed with the wine of the sacrament staining the floor of the church! Those who had told Jesus about the incident thought that the calamity was proof that God was punishing those Galileans. Oh sure, they may have seemed pious for travelling from their home in the north to offer sacrifices, but God really knew their hearts and he had exposed them as hypocrites by allowing them to be killed in such dramatic fashion. Was that really the lesson to be learned? Listen to Jesus’ response: “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” (Luke 13:2-5).
Misfortune, explains Jesus, is God’s megaphone. He uses it to broadcast an important message, but the message isn’t about the people who died in the tragedy; the message is about and for us who are still alive. God uses calamity to amplify his call to repent individually. In other words when we start to wonder, “What did those people do to deserve such an end?” we’re missing the point. The questions we should be asking are “What if that had been me? Would I be ready to meet my Maker? Do I live in daily repentance of my sins, hating my self-centeredness and striving to live for God and for those around me? Or am I just coasting through life unconcerned that the crack I made at my sister’s expense, the sarcastic reply I gave my parents, or the demeaning look I shot those teenagers are at odds with the way God wants me to live?” Oh we may think of our sins from time to time. In fact we even confess them here in church. But have we really repented of them? Jesus highlighted the importance of true repentance when he told the following 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?’” (Luke 13:6, 7)
The vineyard owner represents God and we represent the fig tree. Jesus invites us to consider the question: “Am I a productive fig tree?” Sure, I may be planted in the church. I may give all the right responses in Bible class so that outwardly it seems that I’m a true believer but that might not be the case. John the Baptist had to deal with people like this. He said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…” 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:7b, 8, 10-14). True fruit is not just saying that we are sorry for sin; it’s stopping the sin and undoing any harm our sins have caused. Does God find such fruit in your life? Have you stopped downloading copyrighted music you haven’t paid for? Have you stopped grumbling about household chores? Those who make excuses for their sins instead of confessing them and seeking God’s forgiveness are barren trees in danger of being cut down and thrown into the fire – no matter how great their church attendance or Bible knowledge might be.