Luke 13:1-9: Repent or you, too, will perish

Building Damage (610x352)How should you respond to tragedy or disaster? I ask you to consider this, not as an American citizen, but as a Christian. How should you react—as a Christian—to suffering, persecution, or mass murder?




One way is to repent. In Old-Testament Hebrew, repent is “shuv”: turn back, turn around. “Metanoia,” rethink, come to a new mind, is what we find in the Greek of the New Testament. Such turning away is a switching of tracks from wickedness to righteousness, from death toward life, from condemnation into forgiveness.

Repent? What does that have to do with a disaster or tragedy? “I didn’t do anything to deserve this!” From our vantage point, this is true—but not from God’s perspective. From eternity, from the mind of God, do you “deserve” what is good? Nope!

“He’s a worse sinner than me. Why should I suffer?” Repent of the idea that you are anything less than the “worst of sinners,” as the Apostle Paul saw himself.

The incident with Pilate, in our Gospel reading, was a hot topic in Jesus’ day. Up in the northern hill country, Galilee was a breeding ground of rebellion, political zealots, and terrorists. Bin-Laden types gathered there, burning hot for Israel’s independence.

One of Jesus’ disciples was such a radical: “Simon the Zealot,” Simon, the terrorist against Rome. (This isn’t the same Simon, whom Jesus renamed as “the Rock,” Peter.) Don’t be surprised that people wanted to know what Jesus thought. Pilate had slaughtered some Galileans and mixed their blood into the blood of their sacrifices.

The people want the inside scoop on Jesus’ politics, His plans, and His messianic ambitions. What did He think of this atrocity? Was God on their side or not? Did their slaughter unmask God’s displeasure?

His answer is surprising. You’d expect Jesus to comment in some way or another. Was their cause righteous or not? Did they die a martyr’s death, or did they deserve it? What about Pilate desecrating the sacrifice they brought to the Temple? Jesus takes those calamities and then turns the question back on the questioners.

“Do you think these Galileans were more sinful than others because they suffered this way?” What is in your mind? Can you measure God’s favor by what happens to you? To hammer His point home, Jesus gives His example: a construction accident, which had no obvious sin connected to it. A tower fell, killing 18 people.

What about that? Maybe the Galileans brought political trouble to their doorstep, but a collapsing tower? What’s behind that? Was it just dumb luck, or bad engineering? Was it an earthquake, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Such calamities happen here, there, and everywhere. Did those people offend God more than the residents of Jerusalem? Does a direct connection exist between someone’s sin and his suffering?

We’re not talking “karma” here, which is biblical by the way—at least the idea is. A person reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7). For example, when something bad happens to you because you did something stupid, your idiotic deed is just coming back to bite you. Someone does deserve that! So then, apart from reaping what you sow, does a direct correlation exist between one’s sin and suffering?

Many think that way. Jesus’ disciples met a man who was born blind, and they supposed: “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Job lost his family, his wealth, and his health. His three friends could only infer: Job did something wrong. “Get right with God,” was their advice. “God, then, will get right with you.”

So, were those Galileans, whom Pilate slaughtered, worse sinners because of how they died? Jesus tells us: “No.” Then came the surprise: But if you don’t repent, you will also perish. “Is Jesus right? Repent? Is He talking to me?” Yes! Repent!

You think repenting is for others, not you. Those “sinners” out there, or so and so in the congregation, or pastor, but not me. Jesus directs His call to the insiders—you!

Israel thought they were a shoe-in with God—no matter what! God chose them as His people! They had the Torah and the Temple. They had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Moses, Elijah, and David. God brought them through the Sea and the wilderness. He blessed them with a victory over their enemies, set them up with a land, nation, and Law. They thought, “We’re in with God no matter what.” No, you’re not! Repent!

“Pastor, you’re thinking Old Covenant. Our life with God is now different.” Well then, let’s look at the church at Corinth in the New Testament. They were active and “spiritual,” understanding much of the faith. They had prophets, visions, many Holy Spirit-given gifts, and spoke in tongues.

But unrepentant sin trumps it all. They were the Apostle Paul’s most challenging congregation, thinking they knew all they needed to know. Split into their little groups, caught up in their self-centered spirituality, they had little room for repentance.

What are we to do when life crashes off the road and nosedives into the ditch? What are we to do when evil’s long shadow dances in victory, and the upright man collapses, wounded and left for dead? What should we do when the prince of this world mocks and jeers the Prince of Peace without relent. One word: Repent.

Repent means to re-think. God wants a hard rethinking about life in this word to be your way of life in this word. He wants you to think in a different way. You need to rethink death. Death isn’t the worst that can happen to you. Jesus died and came through it alive—and He promises that you will too, trusting in Him.

The worst is dying in unbelief, in unrepentance, relying on what you’ve done, not Christ. It’s boasting that what you have contributes to your standing before God. You look to yourself and not what is yours in Christ Jesus.

To repent is to stop pushing God into a corner. “Why does He allow suffering? Why does God let evil have its way in the world? Why did God let this happen to me? What is He trying to tell me?” To all these queries, Jesus calls out: “Repent!”

When we nail God into the corner, it exposes our lack of trust. When you demand to examine the building plans, you no longer believe the Builder. Faith is belief.

God doesn’t promise to make sense of everything for you—at least not right here and now. He does promise, however, to take such sin-caused evil and work through it for your eternal benefit. God isn’t the author of earthquakes, floods, and fires. God isn’t the source of mudslides and tidal waves. He isn’t the bloodlust behind wars and genocide. He isn’t the corruption inside toppling towers and political tyrants. Sin is.

Our life in this world runs in the freedom, which God gave as part of His creation—but now as a hostage of sin. Now, don’t think that God is powerless. He’s not. Scripture records God interacting in this world—for our salvation. Apart from eternal salvation, life in this world runs in its fallen tracks. God will restore this world, in His way and time, through the life-granting death of Jesus, on the Last Day.

That’s what it means when Scripture tells us: “All things work together for the good of those who love God—those whom He calls according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It doesn’t mean that bad has somehow turned virtuous. Towers toppling on people isn’t helpful. A despot slaughtering citizens and desecrating the Temple isn’t virtuous. An earthquake killing thousands isn’t lovely. Cancer is not wholesome.

They are part of a sin-trapped creation, unraveling in chaos. Despite such disarray, God is working everything for your benefit, for your salvation, through the death of Jesus. Faith believes that and lives it. Faith lives, trusting God will work—and has worked—His good through the death of Jesus, despite what your eyes, gut, or experience may tell you.

God “wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). God is patient. He puts up with hostility, unbelief, and rejection. He is patient, not wishing anyone in this world to perish, but all to come to repentance.

Why does God put up with this world, sin and all? Why isn’t He on some big campaign to clean up and reform this world, giving the world what it deserves? Suppose God did clean up the world. We would all be dead, even before we knew what He was doing! So, He lets life be, working all for our salvation.

Towers fall, and dictators dictate—that’s our collective doing. And yet, through it all, God is calling His people, His Church, you to repent. At the root of this fallen world is original, ancestral sin, which goes all the way back to Adam. The world isn’t the only casualty of this sin infestation, so are you. Infected with sin, you repent and come to a new mind. “Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13).

God’s call to repent is to embrace the life of being both a saint and a sinner. Each day, the old Adam in you dies. Each day, the new man in Christ rises. Every day, you turn away from death toward life, from self to Christ.

Repentance is the believer’s way of life. Sin wants us to blame others for our problems—even God. Faith, however, doesn’t blame but repents. Turn away, turn around, and turn back. Re-think everything: what this world is like as a fallen creation, and who you are as a sinner. But don’t stop there! Realize, even more, who Christ is as the Savior of the world—and your Savior, as well! Amen.