Excerpted from print: “Behold A Greater Than Solomon” – 1989 (Rev. Alvin E. Wagner)
Jesus’ Response Regarding Catastrophes | Luke 13:1-5
Edited – Rev. Ron Pederson
Text: 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.” (Luke 13:1-5).
Two gruesome catastrophes had shocked the community of Jerusalem, where Jesus was preaching. No doubt Jesus knew of this; yet some of His listeners brought up the matter with the purpose of getting His reaction. Questions such as: “Why did these things happen? What was God’s purpose in permitting them? Were they judgments upon the victims for some gross criminality? How do you explain these catastrophes?” they undoubtedly asked.
He did not respond in an atheistic way, as though these catastrophes were purely accidental and that God had nothing to do with them. Had He answered in that way, He would have been contradicting Himself and the Scriptures. For just a short time before this, He had taught His disciples that nothing, not even the death of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29), occurs fortuitously and everything comes under the purview and providence of God.
No distant Lord, no mere observer of events is He. All natural phenomena as well as all human affairs are in the range of His cognizance and governance. In the hollow of His hand, He holds the fate of nations as well as individuals (Isaiah 40:12) Therefore, even catastrophes occasioned by man’s ineptitude are properly called “acts of God”.
Fatalism, you see, is decidedly anti-Christian. It foolishly ignores the relation between God and His believers, the privilege and power of prayer as well as their freedom in earthly things. True, the Bible states, “Man’s days are determined….the number of his months decreed” (Job 14:5). But it also asserts that man’s life can be prolonged as in the case of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:5). Or shortened as David says of the wicked: “they will not live out half their lives” (Psalm 55:23). Though seemingly contradictory, both state the truth, the one as it is from the standpoint of God and eternity and the other from the viewpoint of man in the realm of time. Both views must be entertained lest we fall into the error of either atheism or fatalism.
Yet the error Jesus felt constrained to correct that day in Jerusalem was the judgmental stance people so often take regarding catastrophes, thinking they must be divine judgments on the victims for some special, gross sin of theirs.
“Do you think,” He said, “that those murdered Galileans and those crushed patients in Siloam were worse sinners than others?” And to correct that type of thinking, He proceeded to utter an emphatic, decisive, and repeated no: “No I tell you; no.”
Don’t think, however, that this captious, self-righteous, judgmental attitude has disappeared; it’s still around today. But to that kind of unfair thinking, what says our Jesus? “No, I tell you; no.” When we are spared, then, while others are taken, let us never, never think that it’s because we were better than they or they were worse sinners than we.
But most importantly, Jesus would have us regard them (catastrophes) as spurs to repentance, as you can see from His concluding remark to the questioners: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Instead of dwelling on the fate of the Galileans slain by the swords of Pilate and the eighteen crushed to death by the falling tower of Siloam, He wanted them to be thinking of their own. These, like all catastrophes, are to affect you deeply, touch and move you to repent, because—“Unless you repent, you will all perish”.
For God, being gracious as well as just, wants no one to perish. The one thing He desires above all others is the eternal salvation of mankind. “As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). Not willing is He that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). To that end, He sent His only begotten Son, the Christ, into the world to lay down His life for its redemption. For that reason, our Redeemer commissioned His Church “to preach repentance and remission of sins in His Name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). And, to impress upon them the necessity of such repentance, the Lord did not remove from earth the sorrows and tragedies brought upon it by man’s fall into sin. Calamities continue, even to the end of time, as reinforcements of His purpose and message: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
This, to be sure, is not a popular interpretation of world catastrophes. Even within the churches, in spite of the Scriptural warning, “Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17), the lukewarm and indifferent, the formalists and drifters, the dissemblers and errorists abound. The Lord chastens them, but they feel it not and coolly scorn His plea: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Yes, let every calamity, great or small, far or near, speak to us of the transiency of life, the nearness of death, the inevitableness of judgment and say, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Soul-saving? Life-giving is this message? Oh, yes! It holds out a glorious hope to all, even the worst of sinners. Stern and severe as its warning is, it has a loving assurance that all who do repent will not perish. They will be forgiven of all iniquities, absolved of all guilt, acquitted and accepted in the family of God—and all this freely by grace through Jesus Christ. For repentance in the Biblical sense, as Jesus used it, embraces not only a contrite conviction and confession of sin but also a believing acceptance of the forgiveness and the power He gives to turn from our evil ways and walk in the newness of life.
To Christ, then, let us cleave as our Lord Redeemer and use life’s sorrows and catastrophes as spurs to contrition and repentance till He comes. Amen.