Don’t Wait to Be Done with Sin | April 16, 2020
What Mercy Says in Calamity
When they told JESUS about the horror that had happened,
HIS response caught them completely off guard.
Pontius Pilate, from what we know from the Gospels & the Jewish historian Josephus, was a politically & morally pragmatic Roman governor willing to employ humiliation & brutality when he wanted to exert imperial authority over a fomenting rebellion.
He did both when he ordered the assassination of some
Galilean Jews while they were offering sacrifices in the
temple according to the law of Moses.
We aren’t told the historical reason behind the killings.
Perhaps these particular Galileans had engaged in
some seditious act against Rome, or perhaps they
happened to be in the right place at the wrong time
when Pilate decided to send a general
message of terror to the agitating Jewish people.
What we are told is Pilate had the Galileans’ “blood...
. . . mingled with their sacrifices.”
This added the insult of religious defilement to the
horror of the murders, ensuring whatever message
he was sending would spread throughout Palestine
with the speed of fear & outrage [Luke 13:1].
We’re also told when JESUS received the news,
HE completely ignored whatever message Pilate
And HIS answer to the people’s theological question
as to why this happened likely shocked HIS hearers
almost as much as it shocks us today.
JESUS’s response was brief & blunt:
Do you think that these Galileans were
worse sinners than all the other Galileans,
because they suffered in this way?
No, I tell you; but unless you repent,
you will all likewise perish. [Luke 13:2–3]
What JESUS didn’t say was shocking.
HE said nothing about a messianic deliverance of
GOD’s people from the humiliating Roman
oppression & the grievous Gentile occupation
of the Promised Land.
HE said nothing about the offense to GOD’s glory
in the temple’s defilement.
HE said nothing about specific sins the Galileans
may have committed to warrant GOD’s allowing
such ignominious deaths — nothing that might
allay HIS hearers’ fears that such a horror
could befall them.
HE didn’t even say anything about
forgiving one’s enemies.
What JESUS did say was even more shocking:
the Galileans’ tragedy should lead HIS hearers to
repent before GOD.
The fact that they were still alive was
owing not to their goodness,
but to GOD’s mercy.
Before these hearers had time to formulate questions
or objections, JESUS drove HIS point home
with a different example:
Or those 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell &
killed them: do you think they were worse offenders
than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?
No, I tell you; but unless you repent,
you will all likewise perish. [Luke 13:4–5]
In both the premeditated murder of the Galileans &
in the accidental deaths resulting from the tower’s
collapse, JESUS wanted HIS hearers to hear an
urgent message from GOD:
Why This Suffering?
The people listening to JESUS that day were
looking for an answer that all people of all eras
Why this suffering?
Why this evil, & why did it befall these victims?
What can I do to escape from it befalling me?
We know, not only from this text in Luke 13:1-5 but
from numerous places in Scripture, that many held
to a theology of suffering that drew direct lines from
an individual’s specific suffering to a specific sin
We hear it in Job’s anguished spiritual wrestlings &
centuries later in the disciples’ question about
why a man was born blind [John 9:1–3].
The answer JESUS gave accomplished, in one stroke,
a number of crucial theological corrections.
It removed unwarranted social stigma from victims
of such calamities & their families by emphasizing
that their guilt wasn’t necessarily worse than anyone else’s.
It undercut anyone’s errant belief that their
current lack of suffering amounts to
GOD’s endorsement of their righteousness.
And most importantly, it revealed the
sin-guilt of every person before GOD.**
‘Unless You Repent’
That last point was JESUS’s main point, the urgent
message HE wanted the people to hear in the
headline-news tragedies of the day.
Whether perishing came through the agency of evil
human volition [Pilate], or the various effects of
futility-infused creation [falling tower], or, as HE would
address just a few verses later, the effects of evil
spiritual oppression [Luke 13:10-17]
— for JESUS, the primary issue was
the perishing itself, not its agent.
The primary issue wasn’t how people died, but
that people died, & death’s eternal ramifications.
That’s the problem JESUS had come to address.
The collective human problem is that
“all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned
— every one — to their own way,”
& JESUS had come to have
“the iniquity of us all”
laid on HIM [Isaiah 53:6].
The wages of our sin is a death far more profound
than the ceasing of life in our bodies, & JESUS had
come to provide us GOD’s “free gift of eternal life”
HE hadn’t come to deliver the Jews from Rome’s
temporal oppression, but to
deliver all people everywhere
who would believe in HIM
from eternal perishing, &
to give them everlasting life
in a Promised Land
of which the Israel of this age was
but a copy & shadow [John 3:16].
And this is why JESUS responded to the news of the
Galileans’ deaths with the shocking words
“unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
It may sound harsh.
But there are moments when seemingly harsh words
are great mercies, as every parent of a young child
about to dash into the street knows.
JESUS’s hearers didn’t need to know the specific guilt
of the Galileans or Pilate’s political motivations or any
other secondary issue.
They needed to know if they still had breath,
the offer of forgiveness for sin &
escape from terrible perishing
was still offered to them
— if they would repent.
And the same is true for us today.
Judge with Right Judgment
JESUS is not simplistic when it comes to the
agonies of human suffering.
Reading through the Gospels, we see that “repent”
is not the only way HE responds to our afflictions.
HE responded with manifest compassion & kindness
to many, such as:
a mother about to bury her son [Luke 7:11–15],
a leper who longed for healing [Matthew 8:1–4], &
a man paralyzed for 38 years who thought
he’d never walk again [John 5:1–17].
But JESUS said something during the controversy erupting
from that last example that we can apply here.
Having healed the paralyzed man on the Sabbath, HE
was rebuked & opposed by the Jewish leaders.
HIS response to them was,
“Do not judge by appearances, but
judge with right judgment” [John 7:24].
In other words, the leaders & observers had not seen the
most important reality in the man’s suffering & deliverance:
the mercy of GOD & the offer of repentance [John 5:14].
When we examine our own suffering or someone else’s, we
are often tempted to ask why.
What did we or they do to deserve this?
Or we may try to decipher GOD’s purposes in a Gordian knot
of secondary causes.
But this is far above our creaturely pay grade, for
GOD’s purposes are often opposite of our perceptions.
Instead, the most helpful truth to hear, & heed, might be
JESUS’s words “Do not judge by appearances,
but judge with right judgment.”
Headline in Every Tragedy
We are called to respond to the myriad human suffering
in the world in many ways.
But one takes precedence above them all.
As with HIS original hearers, the urgent message
JESUS wants all of us to hear in the headline-news
tragedies of our day is
“unless you repent, you will
all likewise perish.”
These are shocking words to hear in the face of suffering.
They catch us off guard, because they are answering a
question most people are not asking.
But coming from JESUS, especially hearing them
this side of the cross, we know they are not the
heartless ravings of a hateful prophet.
No one loved like JESUS [John 15:13].
Rather, they are the mercifully frank diagnosis of
the Good Physician, who offers to bear our
eternally terminal disease HIMSELF
if we will repent & receive HIS free gift of
eternally healthy life.
Jon Bloom [@Bloom_Jon] serves as author, board chair, & co-founder of Desiring GOD. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, & Don’t Follow Your Heart. He & his wife have five children & make their home in the Twin Cities.
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