Repent or Perish
We live in a world filled with fatal calamities, natural disasters, and life-ending tragedies. We hear of fatalities caused by colossal earthquakes, massive fires, and destructive tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Someone may perish from a fatal car accident, an airplane crash, a train wreck, or a sunken boat.
Then, there are murderous aftermaths of a terrorist explosion or a movie theatre, college or high school shooting spree. We are reminded that whether “premeditated” or “accidental,” unanticipated fatalities do and will occur.
What is Jesus’ message to people living in a world rife with tragedies and calamities, plagued by the possibility of unforeseen death. His words in Luke 13:1-5 are telling, and it is a message not only for the masses then, it is a message for humanity today and message that believers can also proclaim.
In verse one, it reads:
1 NOW ON THE SAME OCCASION THERE WERE SOME PRESENT WHO REPORTED TO HIM ABOUT THE GALILEANS WHOSE BLOOD PILATE HAD MIXED WITH THEIR SACRIFICES.
While in a crowd of thousands (Luke 12:1), persons brought up an incident where Pontius ordered his army to go into the temple in Jerusalem with their weapons drawn where the Galilean Jews were offering sacrifices. And he had his soldiers slaughter the Galileans. Following this massacre, it states that Pilate had mixed and co-mingled the blood of the victims with the blood of the animal sacrifices. Today, this is what we could call a premeditated murder.
By comparison, we may recall the tragedy of the Boston marathon bombing that occurred on April 15, 2013. A peaceful and joyous sporting event was interrupted by two explosions that cut down two women and an 8-year-old child, and left several wounded, many of whom lost their ligaments or required physical amputations.
The previous year, July 20, 2012, twelve people were killed and 58 were wounded in a shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater screening of the new Batman film. The gunman, age 24, was dressed head-to-toe in protective tactical gear, and set off two devices of some kind before shooting up the theater with several guns, two of which police recovered at the scene.
Then there were the 32 killed at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia on April 16, 2007. The gunman: a 23-year-old student, went on a shooting spree killing people in two locations and wounded an undetermined number of others on campus.
If Jesus were on earth today, and people described these events in search of an explanation, I think many people might be shocked by His response. In Luke 13, Jesus responds with two critical truths regarding tragedies and calamities. And in addressing the crowd (and people today) He both dispels error and He warns the unrepentant.
It's the message that the church of Jesus Christ must take to unbelievers everywhere who are on the verge of perishing under God's judgment. The first truth is this:
I. Victims of Tragedies Are Not Worse Sinners Than Those Whose Lives are Spared
Look at verse 2: AND JESUS SAID TO THEM, “DO YOU SUPPOSE THAT THESE GALILEANS WERE GREATER SINNERS THAN ALL OTHER GALILEANS BECAUSE THEY SUFFERED THIS FATE?
Notice in Jesus' response that He doesn’t focus on the perpetrators, the heinousness of the act, or engage in any social or political commentary. He turns their report into a question and directs it back to the crowd by asking if they think these Galileans were worse transgressors above all Galileans because they suffered these things? Was God punishing them on account of greater sins they committed above all the people of Galilee? Is that what you think? Is that why they suffered this fate?
Notice how He answers His own question at the beginning of verse 3: I TELL YOU, NO…
His words are emphatic! He dispels the prevalent, yet flawed belief among the Jews at that time (and even among people today) that tragedies and calamities were God’s means of punishing people for their sins (Job 4:7; John 9:1-2). Jesus dismisses the assumption that God punished the Galileans because their sins exceeded those whom God spared. Jesus’ point is don't assume that people suffer tragedies because their sin surpassed yours and don’t think that you’ve been spared because you’re more righteous than the victims! No one is morally superior; the truth is that, according to Romans 3:10-18, apart from Christ, all human beings are sinful, guilty before God, and deserving of His judgment. And the only righteousness that any person can boast in is the righteousness of Jesus Christ which is credited to those who trust in Him. Furthermore, Luke 13:1-5 say nothing about the victims’ spiritual condition i.e., whether they were believers or unbelievers, saved or unsaved.
And Jesus isn’t finished. He asks a second question in verse 4:
OR DO YOU SUPPOSE THAT THOSE EIGHTEEN ON WHOM THE TOWER IN SILOAM FELL AND KILLED THEM WERE WORSE CULPRITS THAN ALL THE MEN WHO LIVE IN JERUSALEM?
Here, Jesus recounts a separate incident involving the death of 18 persons in Jerusalem at the hands of a tower. Although we don’t know the details behind it, the tower evidently just collapsed or toppled over, crushing and killing 18 people. What we have here is not a premeditated murder, not a callous act of violence, but what we would label a tragic, fatal accident. And unlike the slaying of the Galileans, this was a tragedy in which seemingly, no persons could be blamed.
Such was the case on Saturday, April 25, 2015, when a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck the country of Nepal leaving a death toll of over 7,000 fatalities and over 14,000 injured, according to the National Emergency Operation Center. One person said the quake had caused "incalculable human loss and suffering, with millions of people rendered homeless."
Jesus asks if those people who were crushed under the tower greater debtors than all those who dwell in Jerusalem? Did the sins of those souls outweigh all of Jerusalem? Are all those who perish from natural disasters, a plane crash, or a boating accident greater sinners above else? Again, Jesus says, I TELL YOU, NO…
Again, victims of tragedies are not worse sinners than those whose lives are spared.
A second critical truth from Jesus’ words is to
II. Beware of Your Future Calamity Unless You Repent
Look at the second half of verses 3 and 5: “…BUT UNLESS YOU REPENT, YOU WILL ALL LIKEWISE PERISH.
Jesus calls for Israel to repent to escape destruction! Not only does Jesus bury the false notion about sin and suffering, He warns the thousands, the masses, the multitudes. You all better repent of your sins, or likewise, all of you will perish! They must experience a radical change of mind, attitude and belief and a radical change in their behavior, actions, and the course of their lives. They must turn from all of their sins and turn to Christ in faith. They must forsake their rejection of Jesus Christ, believe in Him as their Messiah, Lord, and the Son of God, and follow Him. And brothers and sisters, repentance was not only Jesus' message and command to Israel, it is God’s message to all mankind everywhere.
In Acts 17:30, it states: THEREFORE HAVING OVERLOOKED THE TIMES OF IGNORANCE, GOD IS NOW DECLARING TO MEN THAT ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE SHOULD REPENT.
God is issuing a universal (worldwide) call for repentance.
Also, In Luke 24:47, Jesus told His disciples it was prophesied that repentance for the forgiveness of sins was to be proclaimed to the nations. The fulfillment of that prophesy began with the apostles and by extension, the church continues to fulfill it by proclaiming repentance today. And in Luke 13, Jesus told the multitudes if you don’t repent, you will all likewise be destroyed. You will all perish under a far weightier judgment than any tower; you are going to perish under the judgment of God. You will be consigned to the lake of fire and perish forever. Isn’t that part of the message of John 3:16: FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND UNIQUE SON THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.
The implication of Luke 13 is that if you’re not a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, you must realize that the point of calamities and tragedies is not to over-assess the why of the tragedy. The point of tragedies is not an occasion to question God's existence. And if and when tragedy strikes, it’s not the time to accuse God of being heartless and indifferent to suffering, or question does God exist. It's not the time to question why does God allow some people to suffer and die. If you're an unbeliever, the question to ask, "In light of my rejection of Jesus Christ, why does God still let me live?"
The point of tragedies is to assess your own life and your standing before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the world! The fact is that no one, neither the victims nor the survivors have a right to life! And Jesus’s words still hold true today. A failure to repent and trust in Christ places you in the path of divine judgment. According to Jesus, there’s absolutely no other way to escape from perishing apart from repenting. Therefore, unsaved people today are living on borrowed time. The salt from the hourglass is running out on their lives.
Accidental and premeditated fatalities remind us that life is fragile, tomorrow's not promised, death is real and its timing is uncertain, and apart from the church being raptured, we’re all going to die! And for the most part, you don’t know when, you don’t know where, and you don’t know how; but you better be right with God when death comes!
Jesus’s Word to the living in light of calamities is that victims of tragedies are not worse sinners than those whose lives are spared. Also, unbelievers should beware of their future calamity unless they repent.
For the church of Jesus Christ, the occurrence of calamities and earthly tragedies are an opportunity to proclaim Christ’s message to the living. And I don’t know about you, but each time I hear about a mass shooting, a fatal natural disaster, or other casualties, no matter the size or magnitude, I’m brought back to Jesus’ words in Luke 13.
So, when was the last time you used tragedy as an opportunity to call unbelievers to repent? And my unsaved friend, will you today heed Christ’s word to repent and avoid perishing in hell?
If you are an unbeliever, may God cause you to heed Christ’s warning. And if you are a believer, may we sound the alarm so that people might repent and not perish.