The Third Sunday in Lent March 14, 2004
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
157, 376, 323, 140(5-6)
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
In the name of Jesus the suffering Servant, our Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
We’ve all had our bad days, but I know that none of us have had a day like this: Within a matter of minutes, a man found out that his cattle were stolen, his sheep herd was destroyed in what appeared to be a freak accident, all of his means of transportation were stolen, and to top it all off, his children were all killed when the house in which they were gathered collapsed during a ferocious windstorm. You might say that either this man had bad luck (which as Christians we could easily discount), or that he had done something horrible to anger God. Yet, God said of this man, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8). Job had not committed a particular sin to bring punishments of God upon himself. God allowed these tests to come to Job to eventually strengthen his faith.
How do we regard tragedies? Are they judgments of God? Are they punishments for sin? Our text this morning explores this question and finds the answer in a loving God who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). What is the Link (if any) Between Tragedy and Repentance? I. Disastrous events are not necessarily judgments II. Those events are reminders to repent III. God issues warnings because judgment is coming. May the Holy Spirit bless our study this morning.
It seems that it is our natural reaction to connect tragedy with sin and punishment. After Jesus had finished talking about being prepared for the coming judgment, a group connected that thought with a recent event. While we’re not given all the details, it seems that Pontius Pilate became angry at a group of Galileans who were making sacrifices. He allowed them to make their sacrifices and then made his own unholy sacrifice by slaughtering those men and mixing their blood with those of the animals. That was a terrible event to say the least. The people thought that the victims must have been worse sinners.
Jesus brought up another event. A tower fell and killed eighteen people. Were those eighteen worse sinners? The answer is “no” in both cases. Jesus’ disciples used the same process of reasoning when they saw a man who had been born blind. They asked Jesus who had sinned and caused the affliction, the man or his parents?
Our minds work the same way. A few years ago, an earthquake hit Seattle on Ash Wednesday—the day after Mardi Gras riots in the area. Several years ago there was an earthquake in the Northridge area of California—an area which is also a center for the pornography industry. We tend to link tragedy with sin and think that every natural disaster is God’s punishment for sin. This is not necessarily so.
We have to be careful when we try to guess God’s thought and motives. Talking about the two incidents in our text, Jesus concluded that those people were not worse sinners. If God only allowed disasters to fall upon the heathen, then shouldn’t we also conclude that only the righteous would prosper? And this is not so. Generally actors and rock stars lead some of the most decadent lifestyles filled with drug and alcohol abuse, adultery and fornication, and yet they may earn more money in a year then you or I will earn in a lifetime. Because disaster has not come upon them, do we then conclude that God approves of their lifestyles? Certainly not!
When there is any sort of tragedy or natural disaster, this much is true: It is a reminder to repent. Jesus said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” [v.3,5] Death and calamity remind us of our sinfulness and of the power of God. Such events jar us into contemplating our own mortality and short time on this earth. If there is not repentance, then an even worse fate awaits. Problems in this life humble us and direct us back to our Lord.
Take a look at your own life in this regard. I know it is true for me. In fact it happened to me recently. I will confess that I have said very few prayers thanking God for the health that He has given to me and my family. However, when my daughter (18 months old) had to go into the hospital for three nights, then many, many more prayers went up to the throne of God. When Jesus came across ten lepers all ten were crying out to him for help, but only one came back after they were healed. There are times that we need to be woken up and realize that our help comes from the Lord and that He is responsible for helping us in our physical needs. Even more importantly God wants us to ask for spiritual aid.
You see, the root of all problems is sin. Without sin there would be no tragedies, no problems. Of course each one of us is a sinner and deserving of death because of our disobedience. When bad things happen we should not ask, “Why me,” but rather, “Why not me?” After all I have done so much to offend God that really and truly it would seem that deserve everything that is bad.
Anytime that we stray from God’s will there are consequences, even in this life. It’s like not following directions when you’re putting together a bicycle. It just won’t work out like you want it to. So also, when we don’t listen to God, we’ll find that naturally things will not go smoothly. When you disobey the government God has established, you may find that you’re paying a fine for speeding. If you don’t follow God’s directions for marriage, you my find that it will be rocky relationship.
But the punishment for sin is an entirely different matter. The permanent punishment for sin took place on the cross. Jesus absorbed the penalty for sin when He suffered the punishment of Hell on the cross, feeling the heavy hand of God turn against Him. As a believer in Christ, you have the benefits of His substitution. If someone rejects Christ, his punishment for sin will take place in Hell. In either case, punishment does not take place in this life. When things seem to work against us in this life, it can be thought of as discipline because there is a purpose behind it. They are wake-up calls to induce sorrow over sin, and work a change of heart in us.
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree illustrates God’s concern when there is a lack of repentance. In that parable, a fig tree was tended for three years and yet there was no fruit. The keeper of the vineyard was ready to get rid of the tree, but he was persuaded to keep it for one more year. If after it was fertilized, it would still not produce, then it would be cut down. God made every effort with the Jews. He sent prophet after prophet to warn them about their sin and to foretell the coming Messiah. Finally, He sent John the Baptizer and then His own Son to preach among them, and yet (for the most part) they rejected Him. God still puts forth that sort of effort among us. He speaks to us. He pleads with us to amend our ways. While we may be uncaring or ignorant, God knows full well the deadly results of sin.
To remain in sin and be impenitent (not having sorrow over sin) ruins faith. When there is deliberate disobedience to God the sinner is in the crosshairs of God’s judgment, where no one can win. If there is not sorrow over sin, then the final judgment will be one of damnation. Impenitence is a sign that there is no faith, or as in the case of the fig tree, there is no fruit being produced. This is why God wants us to warn one another when there appears to be lack of sorrow over sin.
As your pastor, I will do my best to address situations of which I am aware. But in most cases, I am among the last to know when a person is caught up in a sin and is damaging his soul. This is where you need to step in, not to come to me, but to first go yourself and in Christian love warn that person of the consequences of impenitence. God not only uses His Word to make us aware of our sin and of our need for a Savior. He will also use circumstances in this life to show us our mistakes.
If an individual shows no repentance, then we dare not pronounce Christ’s forgiveness to him. That may sound harsh, but were you to say that he is forgiven without being repentant, then you would be encouraging him to continue in sin which leads to damnation. Then, why should he change? But where there is sorrow over sin, then we should not hesitate, but quickly and with grateful hearts assure our fellow sinners of the forgiveness that Christ won for them on the cross.
By the same token, we should be open and receptive to admonition if the occasion comes when we are trapped in a sin and need admonition. The bottom line is that without repentance there is eternal damnation. God is serious about this and issues warnings through His Word, through us, and through events in this life to call sinners to Him.
There is another word of warning in all of this: Do not mistake God’s patience for slackness. In the parable of the fig tree there was an end to the farmer’s work. There was a time when he felt there was no more use working on that fig tree. God does have His limits as well. It is foolish to test Him.
In the Old Testament the Israelites did test God and tried His patience. God warned and warned them about their idolatry and their rejection of Him. They didn’t listen, and finally He sent the Babylonians to take them captive. Jesus issued warning after warning which went unheeded, and about forty years after His death the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Patience should not be mistaken for approval.
Some people do suppose that if everything is going smoothly in their lives, then God must be pleased with all of their actions. If their health and wealth are fine, then even if they’re caught up in a sinful lifestyle, they assume they “snuck one by” God. Maybe God wasn’t paying attention, or maybe He doesn’t really care as long as I’m fairly good. That kind of attitude leads to a falling away from God. There is an end to God’s patience.
So is there a link between tragedy and repentance? There is in this respect: Every tragedy is a reminder of God’s coming judgment. Judgment is a reminder of our need to be right with God, and this is only accomplished when there is sorrow over sin and faith in Christ. If there is a lack of repentance, then it follows that there is a lack of faith.
When there is some sort of natural disaster, we don’t need to wonder whether or not that group was any worse sinners than we are. Rather as the Apostle Paul did, consider yourself the chief of sinners, and use the opportunity to once again confess your sins turn to Jesus for forgiveness. With Jesus is where the answer lies. Find relief, hope, and deliverance at the cross of Christ. His blood offered for your sins has prevented you from going to Hell which truly is the ultimate disaster. Although troubles may enter your life, be thankful that your Lord cares about you enough to draw you closer to Him—the One in whom alone there is life. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.