************ Sermon on Luke 13:1-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 23, 2001
"Repent or Perish"
I Worse Sinners?
A This week's issue of Newsweek has a bone-chilling, stomach-turning picture of the attack on the World Trade Center. It is easily the worst picture I have seen of the terrorist action. It shows the top stories ablaze – smoke and fire billowing out. Above the blaze is a man hanging out the window. Below the blaze is a person desperately clinging to the outside. And, most heart-wrenching of all, it shows a person falling 80 stories to his death who jumped out of a burning office. With temperatures of 1000 - 2000 degrees inside the burning tower, you can understand these desperate actions.
Thanks to modern media we get to see and hear everything about disasters, tragedies, massacres, and terrorist attacks in real time – as they are happening. I'm not sure if we are better off now that we get to see events unfold in front of our eyes. But we got to see what happened in New York and Washington D.C. We get to see the mass graves of Bosnia. We get to see the wreckage after a car bomb explodes in Israel.
B Whenever horrible tragedies like this happen, we find ourselves asking hard questions. If you believe in God, you wonder, "Why is it that God spares one person and destroys another? Were the victims under a special curse because of something they did, so that God singled them out for death? Was and is God punishing America for the immorality we see everywhere? Or is there some other explanation?"
Why have so many people been massacred in Israel and Bosnia and Chechnya? Why do so many people get killed in certain areas of our cities? Is it because these people are so much worse and less civilized than we are? Or are they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? And what about those who are dying or who have died because of AIDS? Are they being struck down by a special judgment from God? Is God singling them out because He finds them more disgusting than the rest of us? Or does it have nothing to do with God? Are they just innocent victims who need more sympathy from us and more money from the government?
II Repent or Perish
A Before we put our foot in our mouth, we would be wise to look at how Jesus responded to some tragedies at His time. The Bible tells us that Jesus was speaking to a crowd of many thousands (Luke 12:1); there were so many that they were trampling on one another. Anyway, some of the people in the crowd told Jesus the latest news from Jerusalem and area. They were interested in Jesus' comments about the situation.
They told Jesus of what happened to some Galileans. We aren't told all the details, but it probably went something like this. These Galileans were in the Jerusalem temple one day offering sacrifices. They became overwhelmed by the setting with its overtones of Jewish nationalism – past glories, former independence and self-rule – and started to speak and demonstrate against Roman rule. Pilate quickly put down their rebellion and butchered them upon the very same altars they had just offered their sacrifices upon.
In return Jesus reminded His audience of what had happened in the village of Siloam. Siloam had a water reservoir from which Jerusalem drew its water needs. Pilate built an aqueduct – an open gutter supported on towers – to speed up the transport of the water. During construction one of the towers collapsed and killed eighteen men.
The people of Jesus' day had a ready explanation for the gruesome deaths of the Galileans in Jerusalem and the eighteen in Siloam: they were "worse sinners" and "more guilty" than those who were not killed. God's people have always been tempted to think this way. Remember Job? He lost his servants, his oxen and donkeys, his sheep, his camels, and his precious children. His friends came to comfort him. Some comfort they were! Do you remember what they said? "Job, you have sinned against God. Now you had better repent." Or, remember the time Jesus met a man who was blind from birth. The disciples of Jesus asked Him: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2).
B But Jesus does not allow the people of His day or of our day to talk or think this way. He says:
-"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."
-"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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
As I hear these words, I can almost hear Jesus saying to you and to me:
-Do you think the victims of war and gang violence are worse than other sinners? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
-Do you think that those who are dying of AIDS are more guilty than everyone else? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
-Do you think that those who died in New York, or Washington D.C., or Bosnia, or Israel, or Chechnya, are worse than other sinners? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
C When something awful happens to other people, we tend to think of it in one of two ways. We either think of them as innocent victims of a random, senseless tragedy, or we think of them as especially evil or foolish people whose conduct made them ripe for the disaster that overtook them. We either cry about how unfair and senseless the world can be, or we think it is absolutely fair that they perish, because they have show themselves to be morally and spiritually inferior.
But notice, Jesus takes neither approach. He doesn't tell us that the victims' deaths were senseless accidents. And at the same time, He insists that their tragic end does not prove they were worse people than those who were still alive and well.
D So what is the Lord's message here? What is the message the Lord wants us to learn from the blood of the Galileans and from the victims of the fallen tower? Let's extend this even further: what is the message the Lord wants us to learn from the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Are we to learn from this that only the wicked die premature deaths? Are we to learn from this that only the wicked die of AIDS, go bankrupt, give birth to disabled children, are bombed in New York City, or are killed in the Pentagon? Of course not! If this is the conclusion you have come to, you have learned the WRONG lesson, an UNBIBLICAL lesson.
Well, then, what is the Lord's message to you and to me? To say it in a few words, in the Lord's words: "unless you repent, you will perish."
Do you realize what our Lord is saying to us here? He is saying we are all sinners: you, me, and everyone out there are sinners. When we think of sinners it is really easy to go to a prison and point to the murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers, child molesters, drunkards, and addicts we can find there. But to get a really close look at a sinner, a first-hand look, all that we have to do is stand in front of the bathroom mirror. The Apostle Paul speaks of this when he says,
(Rom 3:10-13) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."In other words, you, me, and every other person here is a sinner who needs to repent.
"Unless you repent, you will perish." Do you know what else this says? This says that all of us – you, me, rapists, murderers – we all deserve to perish, to suffer the fires of everlasting hell. We all are sinners so we all deserve God's wrath.
And you know what?: we all will perish, we all will go to hell unless, unless, we repent! Did you catch that? "Unless you repent, you will perish." This means, dear people, that there is a way out. There is a way we will not spend eternity in the fires of hell. There a is way to escape God's judgment. That way, and it is the only way, is repentance.
A What is repentance? Repentance is falling down on your knees before God, confessing your sins, and asking Him for forgiveness in and through Christ. Repentance is more than feeling bad or sorry about your sin. Many people feel bad or guilty about their sin but they keep right on doing it. True repentance is changing the direction of your life and, by God's grace, striving to quit your life of sin.
I want you to think about what repentance really is. Repentance is not a response to being caught and the consequences that follow. Rather, repentance is heart-felt sorrow for sin and for missing the mark and for hurting the heart of God.
Repentance is going beyond the victim mentality we see and hear so much today. Everyone today is a victim. No one today is responsible for their own actions. They are all victims of circumstance, of bad genes, of being raised in a bad environment, of discrimination, of racism, of slavery, of poverty. The person who is repentant, on the other hand, doesn't try to escape responsibility. He or she admits they have messed up and sinned and fell short of the glory of God.
B I do not know any of the people who died at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. The news media have been tracking down the names and revealing some of the details of their life. But not once have we been told the most important detail. Not once has the media reported that a victim repented at some time before they died in the terrorist attack. Not once have we been told about a person falling down on their knees before God, confessing their sins, and asking Him for forgiveness in and through Christ.
On September 11 some 6400 people died or are still missing. How many of them repented? That's an important question. But do you know an even more important question: Have you repented? After seeing and hearing what happened in New York and Washington D.C., have you repented? Have you fallen on your knees before God, have you confessed your sins, have you asked God for forgiveness in and through Christ? That's the question Jesus wants you to answer.
C In a wonderful passage Jesus tells us what happens when sinners repent:
(Lk 15:10) ... there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.When a sinner – any sinner – repents the angels start singing and praising God and bringing hallelujahs before the throne of grace. They are singing and praising God and saying hallelujahs because a sinner has been washed clean in the blood of Christ and is now with Jesus in glory.
D I want you to think, for a moment, about the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. They both died: but one of them died without repenting and perished in everlasting hell fire; the other died after he repented and is spending eternity with Jesus in paradise.
These two thieves remind us that there are two ways to die: you either die IN sin or TO sin. The thief who died mocking Christ died in sin. He was a sinner who died in his sin and went straight to hell. The thief who died confessing Christ died to sin. He was a sinner who repented and went to Christ in Paradise.
Now let me ask you: how are you going to die – TO sin or IN sin? Will you die after you repent or will you die without repenting?
My prayer is that we all will listen to what the Lord says to us. My prayer is that we all will repent and will die TO sin. My prayer is that none of us will perish.
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