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Posts Tagged "Luke 13:1-9"

There, But For the Grace of God

March 24, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel text, specifically where Luke records Jesus’s words, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? … Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that 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.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Skinned knees. Broken toys. Annoying traffic. Busted appliances. Budgetary battles. Loss of income. Disintegrating friendships. Broken marriages. Cancer diagnoses. Unexpected deaths. Unpleasant circumstances vex us all to one degree or another; it seems to be universal to the human condition. Just a brief perusal of the news networks (whichever one you prefer) reveals some of the devastating happenstances that befall humanity on a daily basis: a massacre in Christchurch, where 50 are slaughtered in cold blood. Unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, causing death and devastation. Violent protests in Venezuela, where the government refuses to hear the cries of their suffering and starving people. And in all these situations, these stories that flood into our homes through the television screen, there is often a question that creeps into our minds: “Who screwed this up? Who’s to blame here? Whose sin has brought God’s judgment upon these victims?”

As uncomfortable as it may be to hear that question verbalized, you know in your heart of hearts that this is something you’ve thought before. I know I have. Maybe you’ll recognize this question if it has a different victim: you. When something unfortunate happens to you for no apparent reason, you likely ask yourself, “What did I do to deserve this?”

This is precisely the mindset that Jesus is countering in our Gospel lesson. At some point as He is going about teaching, some people around Him ask for His thoughts regarding this handful of Galileans whom Pilate had put to death. Adding insult to injury, these people were killed as they were offering their sacrifices to God in the temple, thus mingling their own blood with that of their sacrifices. Certainly they didn’t deserve to die, especially in such a horrific and bitter way! So, what’s the deal, Jesus? Why did this horrific tragedy befall them? What sin did they commit to merit such a horrible end? Jesus doesn’t give this nonsense any credence. Instead, He replies, “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.”

With such a powerful rebuke, He could have stopped there, but Jesus provides yet another, more daunting example: the tower of Siloam that fell upon and killed 18 unfortunates. What did they do to deserve such an end? Whose sin caused the stone to slip, the wind to blow, the tower to topple? Jesus deftly puts us in our proper place, as He tells those gathered around Him, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that 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.”

Why did these people have to die? What did they do to deserve such horrific ends? For that matter, why did nearly 3,000 American citizens meet their Maker on September 11, 2001? Why did all those Christians in Africa and elsewhere in the world taste the bitterness of death at the hands of extremists this past week? Why do the people in North Korea languish under an oppressive tyrant, who throws Christians into concentration camps the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Holocaust? Why do bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it? … That’s not the right question to ask here.

Consider the words that we speak on a weekly basis: O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities, with which I have ever offended You, and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. Frankly, as hard as it may be to hear, this is what we deserve. It doesn’t matter the sin – whether you’re an adulterer, a mass murderer, a gossip, a coveter, or a liar, we all deserve every unpleasantry up to and including death. We deserve it, because we are sinners. Not because of any individual sin that we’ve committed, but because we are, by nature, sinful and unclean.

The question isn’t “Why do bad things happen to good people?” There are no good people; we are, all of us, sinners deserving of whatever punishment God sees fit. No, the question isn’t “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but rather, “Given that we’re bad people, why doesn’t God strike us down right now?” Speaking for myself, I know that I deserve to die under the tower of Siloam. I deserve to die at the hands of Pilate. I deserve to die in New Zealand and Ethiopia and Egypt. I deserve the tortures that were dispensed upon the faithful by the Soviet government; I deserve the worst that the North Koreans could throw at me today. I deserve it, because I’m a sinner. And so do you. So … why hasn’t God stricken us down yet?

The answer is simple: because of His love … His mercy … His grace. You may be familiar with the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” That statement is truer than we may understand. When we see hundreds of workers suddenly laid off … there, but for the grace of God, go we. In witnessing a terrible auto wreck or a house fire … there, but for the grace of God, go we. When news comes of yet another mass shooting or stabbing or vehicular homicide … there, but for the grace of God, go we. There’s no individual sin that was the cause of these terrible happenstances, and to suggest otherwise is to place a terrible and undue burden upon the afflicted. Were it not for God’s grace, His favorable disposition toward us wretched sinners, we would all endure such suffering, and then some. We would all come under the hammer of His divine justice, and rightly so. We’d be beaten into the dust, meriting any and every affliction and suffering imaginable.

But thanks be to God that, according to His grace and mercy, He laid the hammer down, not upon us who deserve it, but upon His only-begotten Son. Because Jesus was beaten into the dust of death on our behalf, we know that we no longer stand under God’s righteous judgment. Because He died the horrific death that we deserve, we know that the price for our sin has been paid. When we were sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for our souls!

See, in His own suffering, in His own horrific and undeserved death on Calvary’s cross, the only good Man dealt with the root of all our suffering! Since He has dealt with sin, putting it to death in His own flesh, He has given us the promise that we will not endure the eternal condemnation that we deserve. Instead, He has promised that we will receive the crown of life when He raises us from the dead on the Last Day! Thanks be to God that we don’t get what we deserve – His wrath. Thanks be to God that we do get what we don’t deserve: His grace, forgiveness, and love.

It’s a fruitless endeavor to try and figure out the reason behind catastrophes whenever and wherever they occur; true, sometimes we bring disaster upon ourselves, but those are the naturally occurring consequences of our actions. The natural disasters, the unanticipated diseases, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time has nothing to do with any individual sin one commits; no, it’s simply a matter of living in a world that is broken, torn apart by sin. It’s just what happens. Instead of seeking the reasons, we simply drop to our knees in thanksgiving and repentance, knowing that it is only by God’s grace that He has spared us, every moment, up to this present one, because He loves us. He desires all to be saved, and wants to give us wretched sinners every opportunity to repent, to come to the saving truth of Christ Jesus and all He has done for us. Thus, in tragedy and calamity, in disasters natural and manmade, we simply repent, beating our chests and saying, “Kyrie eleison. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner,” knowing that He is.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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