“U.S. submarine slams into Japanese fishing vessel – nine people remain missing.”
“Two San Diego teens die when classmate goes on shooting spree.”
“Three teens drown when swept into the sea at Pouch Cove, Nfld.”
There are many other tragic headlines we could add to that list, some which may even hit closer to home. Have you ever wondered why such things happen? Who hasn’t? While Jesus doesn’t explain why God allows such things he does tell us in our text that God uses calamity to grab our attention. Therefore let’s spend some time today considering calamity’s call; it’s a call to repentance – for all of us, while there is still time.
One day while Jesus was teaching a large group, news came from Jerusalem that Pilate had just killed a number of Galileans while they were offering sacrifices in the temple. We don’t know much about this incident but it doesn’t surprise us to hear that Pilate would think nothing of sending his troops into the temple to carry out an execution.
What was it these Galileans had done to meet such a violent end? Perhaps they were planning a rebellion, or had attempted one. Such groups were not uncommon. In fact the Pharisees would later charge Jesus with being the leader of such a group. Whatever these Galileans had done, those who brought the news seemed to be convinced that God had punished them through Pilate. Knowing what they were thinking Jesus said, “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”(Lk. 13:2, 3).
When a person meets a violent end do we often suppose that they received what they had coming to them - like a drug dealer who gets gunned down while trying to expand his turf? While Jesus did say that all who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:52), when someone meets a violent end the message that we are to take to heart is this, “Repent!” We shouldn’t think that we are without guilt because the same thing hasn’t happened to us. Let me ask you this. Were the students who survived the shootings at Columbine, and Santana high schools less sinful than the ones who died? No, of course not. Instead the message that each surviving student, and the message that we need to hear is that we are just as deserving of such an end because we too are sinful. You see it’s only by God’s grace that we live peaceful lives.
To make sure the crowd understood this point Jesus shared with them another example of an untimely end. He asked the crowd if the 18 Jews who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them were more sinful than anyone else? Again the answer was, “No, that’s not the question to ask.” Even if God did cause that tower to fall on those 18 Jews to punish them just as he caused fire to rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s not out place to find out what they had done to deserve God’s punishment. If that’s our reaction then we are missing calamity’s call to examine ourselves to see if we are ready to meet our Maker.
So what does it mean when someone comes to an untimely end or suffers through tragedy? We don’t know and if we try to figure it out we’re going to come up with the wrong answer just like Job and his three amigos Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did. Do you remember how Eliphaz and company were convinced that Job had lost his children, possessions, and health because God was punishing him for some secret sin? Job on the other hand felt that the calamities were all a mistake and he demanded an explanation. In the end God assured Eliphaz that he wasn’t punishing Job for any specific sin, and he chastised Job for demanding an explanation. God never did tell Job why he allowed him to suffer the way he did. It was simply enough for Job to know that God was wise, powerful, and everything he does is correct. Therefore there was and is no need for God to explain himself to us.
Although God doesn’t owe us any explanations for the way he runs the world he does give us a few important insights into suffering. Through Job’s example God shows us that nothing happens to us that he does not allow to happen. Paul assures us that when God does allow us to face difficulty he always gives us the strength to cope with it (1 Cor. 10:13). We also know from the Apostle Paul that God does not send tragedies into a Christian’s life to punish. While we may have to suffer the uncomfortable consequences of our own sins, Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That’s because Jesus has taken the punishment we deserve for our sins (Romans 8:1). Why then does God allow us to suffer? Because he disciplines us as his children and uses calamity to bring us closer to him (Hebrews 12:7-11). Think of how God used Paul’s sickness to keep him focused on Jesus for his strength and not on himself (2 Cor. 12:9). Do you see why we Christians can always rejoice, even in the face of suffering? We have the promise that everything, even calamity works for our benefit (Romans 8:28).
Calamity not only reminds us to repent of our sins but that our time to do so is short. To drive that point home Jesus shared a parable with his listeners. He spoke about a certain fig tree that bore no fruit for three years after it had been planted. Understandably the master was upset and directed the gardener to cut the tree down. The gardener however pleaded for more time and promised to give the tree the very best care. He said that if in another year the tree didn’t produce fruit then he would cut it down.
The meaning of the parable is pretty simple. God the Father is the vineyard owner, the Son is the gardener, and the fig tree represents you and me. The kind of fruit that we, the tree are expected to produce are fruits of repentance, and our time to produce such fruit is limited.
To produce fruits of repentance doesn’t just mean to acknowledge that you’ve done a few bad things in your life; it means to be truly sorry for every sin you commit and to turn away from it trusting that Jesus has forgiven you. Just how good are we at being sorry for our sins? For example when we fall into the sin of impatience do we excuse ourselves saying that we we’re under a lot of pressure, or that we wouldn’t be so impatient if it wouldn’t be for the kind of teachers, or co-workers we have? That’s not repentance; it’s passing the buck.
To produce fruits of repentance means that you not only refuse to make excuses for your sins but that you will seek to undo any harm your sins have caused. For instance if I have offended brother Byron then I better go and make things right with him and not just think to myself that I was wrong but God will forgive me anyway. Jesus once said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24).
Someone who has been touched by God’s Word and is truly sorry for sin will not want to continue to live in that sin but it’s so easy for us to become complacent isn’t it? Instead of comparing ourselves to the Holy God we often end up comparing ourselves to the people we hear about in the news and we begin to think that we’re pretty good. The moment we think that we are standing strong God may make us aware of some calamity and that’s his call for us to repent. In speaking about how God dealt with the Israelites Paul said in our second lesson today, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:11, 12)
Every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut down and when it is it only has itself to blame. Through the parable we see how God is patient in looking for fruits of repentance going to extremes to find that fruit but that patience won’t last forever. Think of how God waited an extra 120 years for the people of Noah’s time to repent and when they didn’t he destroyed them. Peter says that God is patience with us as well but that patience won’t last forever. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Pet. 3:9, 10).
Right now God is working to bring us to repentance. Through the law he seeks to break up that tough exterior and with the gospel he penetrates our heart bringing us comfort and forgiveness. If any of us are found to be without fruit when God comes calling – we only have ourselves to blame. Therefore don’t put off repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus. The time is short!
A couple weeks ago in Bible class we heard how the chief priests wanted to put Jesus to death so badly that they told Pilate that they and their children would take the responsibility for his death. I then asked the class this question: Do the Jewish people deserve all the trouble that has come their way because of their rejection of Christ? How would you answer that question having studied our text? I hope that you would say that that isn’t even a valid question. Instead the question to ask is this, “Am I ready to meet God?” Dear friends, consider calamity’s call. Repent because God is gracious and has taken away your sins. Repent now, because his patience won’t last forever. Amen.