You’re Going the Wrong Way l Luke 13:1-9 l Chapel Hill Church Gig Harbor
You’ve heard from Pastors Ellis and Gunnar about our adventure at General Assembly this year. A tornado touched down half mile from the church, forcing us to seek shelter. It was very exciting! When I shared this news with my daredevil daughter, Rachel, she replied, “Just my luck; the year I skip General Assembly, you have all the fun!” Fortunately, other than a few uprooted trees and some building damage, we emerged unscathed…with a great story to tell!
But any given week, there are plenty of genuine tragedies to choose from, aren’t there? A boat full of immigrants capsizes, killing 650 people. A lunatic on a rampage in a Chinese kindergarten stabs to death 6 people, including two children. An apartment building in Brazil collapses, killing 14. Storms in Haiti leave 51 people dead and 140 injured. Tragedy!
One of the great obstacles to faith is the problem of pain and suffering in the world. If God is real…and loving…and powerful…, why does he allow suffering to exist? How can we make sense of tragedy? Well, as we continue our journey through Luke’s gospel, we come to a story that includes two tragic headlines from 2000 years ago. What will Jesus have to say about these terrible events? His response might surprise you.
“There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “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. 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.” Luke 13:1-5
Some more light and fluffy teaching from Jesus! This passage is unusual for a couple reasons. First, it’s one of the few times in the gospels that Jesus is told something of which he is apparently unaware. AND…it’s unusual because, instead of telling a parable, Jesus uses these contemporary events as illustrations for his teaching.
The first incident, of which Jesus was unaware, took place in the temple. Every day in the temple, sacrifices were offered 45 times! Every day, 45 times! Let’s pretend this building is the temple. As a worshipper you wouldn’t come here empty-handed. You’d bring your lamb or goat and, at the right time, come up, lay it on the table, place your hands on it in prayer…and then you’d slice its throat. That’d be your job. And my job as priest would be to collect the blood and pour it out upon the altar. Yummy. (Aren’t you glad Jesus did away with blood sacrifice!)
So…a group of Galilean Jews made pilgrimage to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice at the temple. And for some reason, Pilate got ticked at them. You remember Pontius Pilate; the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate had a terrible reputation for cruelty…and a contempt for the Jewish religion. In fact, it was because of his excessive harshness toward the Jews that he was recalled to Rome by the emperor: Caligula! The craziest and most sadistic looney to ever sit on the throne. If Caligula thought you were too brutal for your job…that was saying something!
Pilate, whose headquarters overlooked the Temple so he could keep an eye on things, noticed some unrest and sent a group of soldiers in to quell it. And they did. Brutally! They slaughtered the Galilean pilgrims and their blood was mingled with the blood of the animals they had just sacrificed. That was tragic headline number one.
Here’s tragic headline number two: A tower collapse. This is the Pool of Siloam. It is reached by Hezekiah’s tunnel which was excavated through solid rock. When I lead tours to Israel, those who aren’t too claustrophobic, walk through that tunnel…1/3 of a mile long! There was a tower at the corner of the city wall near Siloam. And tragically, it collapsed, killing 18 people.
Two tragedies. One by a despotic ruler. The other, an accident. If the Jerusalem Post existed at the time, these would have been the headlines. The people want to know what Jesus has to say about these tragedies. And behind it, are two unasked questions: “Did God do this?” …and “Did they deserve it?” Was God behind these tragedies…and were the people who died being punished by God for something they had done?
People still ask those questions. What about disasters? Is God behind them? If he isn’t…if he is an all-loving God…then why does he allow them? Frankly, there isn’t an entirely satisfactory answer to these questions. The Bible reveals that God is a Loving God, and the Bible reveals God is sovereign; in ultimate control over all things. The Bible reveals God is omnipotent; he is the all-powerful creator and can do anything he wants to do.