Soldiers had brutally killed some Israelites, and the people asked Jesus why it had happened. His response was surprising. He's saying, you're coming to Me vexed with this theological problem of why My Father allows all this suffering and all this pain in the world.
But you're asking the wrong question. The question you should come to Me with is, why wasn't I slaughtered? Jesus took a question about temporal safety here on earth and flipped it on its head. He went straight to the heart of the matter and made a critical spiritual application. Thank you for joining us today for the Lord's Day edition of Renewing Your Mind.
I'm Lee Webb. And as I reflect on the sermon that we're about to hear from R.C. Sproul from the Gospel of Luke, I believe you'll find the message clear and the implications eternal.
So I'll be reading from chapter 13, beginning at verse 1 and reading through verse 5. There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood pilots had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, no. 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 sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Again, these are the words of our Lord. And though they deliver a sobering and indeed frightening message to us, they are to be received by those who are as is with all of the respect that we give to Him as our Savior, submitting to all of the authority that the Father invested in Him.
Please receive them as such. Let's pray. Again, our Father, we ask that You would give us ears to hear these words as difficult as they may be for us to receive, that You would bend our wills not only to receive but to rejoice in every word that proceeds forth from Your mouth. Open our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our souls that they may be pierced by Your truth. For we ask it in Jesus' name.
Amen. For many in and around Jerusalem, it was a scandal what had happened. When on a feast day, presumably Passover, some pilgrims had journeyed to the city to offer their sacrifices in the temple. And when they went in there, they were met by soldiers sent by Pontius Pilate, who came in and massacred them in cold blood. It was a gory scene, as Luke suggests, that as these pilgrims were bringing their animal sacrifices and offering their blood in that place, the soldiers so cut up these worshiping people that when their blood spurted from their bodies, their blood was mixed and commingled with the blood of the sacrifices. And when the word of the slaughter reached the streets and to the people, people were confused. They were frightened. They were asking the question that all believers do when tragedies like this take place, where was God in all of this? These were pious Jews. These weren't rebellious Jews. These were people who made the journey to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice of praise to their God. And their people were saying, wait a minute, where is this God who delivered us from bondage in Egypt? Only then might later send us into exile, but again in His mercy to restore us and bring us back, and now place us once more under the oppression and tyranny of Rome.
And now that oppression has manifested itself in this most ghastly form. Not only were our people murdered, but where they were murdered, in the temple, when they were murdered, in the middle of their worship, where was God in all of that? And one of the surmisings that came from those who were speculating on it was, well, surely these people, though they were on the surface and outwardly pious, were actually inwardly corrupt, and they must have been great persons of wickedness for God to allow this to happen, because there must be a calculus between the degree of sin that we commit and the degree of suffering that we experience. They had forgotten the book of Job, where Job's friends had wrongly come to the conclusion that because of the desperate degree of Job's suffering, he must have been the worst of all sinners.
They probably weren't there when Jesus answered a similar question concerning the man born blind that's recorded for us in John chapter 9, and they rushed to judgment. There's an equation, suffering, sin, equal. But beyond that was the bigger question, how can a just and holy God allow something like this to happen?
The philosopher John Stuart Mill posed one of the most famous arguments against Christian theism when he said that Christians claim that God is good, that God is loving, and that God is omnipotent, that these things cannot all be true, not with all of the pain and the suffering and the tragedy that is in this world. Because if God is good and if God is loving, if He would see all this pain and see all of this suffering, He would surely eliminate it unless He can't. Now, if He wants to get rid of pain and suffering but He can't, then He's not omnipotent. And if He is omnipotent and doesn't rid the world of all this pain and suffering, then He's neither good nor loving. Of course, Mill in his cogitation overlooked two salient points that were not part of his thinking, namely the holiness of God and the sinfulness of human beings. Because if God is holy, beloved, and we are sinful, there must be pain and sorrow in this world until it is all redeemed. But Jesus understood the struggle that these people were having about this tragic event, and He gave an answer to their question. Now, if we didn't have this text before us and all we knew was that people were struggling, we might assume that Jesus would say something like this, "'I know that the Bible says that he who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. But do you have any idea what a massive enterprise it is to supervise and manage this vast cosmos, that my Father has to keep the Pleiades in place and maintain the correct motions of the stars?
He has to make sure that gravity is operative in every second. Give Him a break. Even my heavenly Father has to take a rest from time to time.
And this particular afternoon, He just took a well-deserved catnap. And while He was nodding, Pontius Pilate took advantage of the moment and sent his troops into the temple and slaughtered the worshipers there before my Father had a chance to awaken. I'm sorry about that.
I'll take it up with Him and ask Him to be more vigilant in the future.'" That's not what he said. He said, "'You think that these Galileans were worse than the other Galileans, that this tragedy should befall them? No.
No, that's not it. Don't you understand that unless you repent, unless you repent, you will likewise perish.'" What's He saying? He's saying, you're coming to Me vexed with this theological problem of why my Father allows all this suffering and all this pain in the world. But you're asking the wrong question. And the question you should come to me with is, why wasn't I slaughtered along with the others?
And He goes on to take it another step. He said, what about those 18 people on whom the Tower of Siloam fell and killed them? Right next to the Pool of Siloam, they were constructing this tower in Jerusalem, and probably it was during construction that 18 innocent people were walking down the street. They're minding their own business. They're not engaged in sidewalk superintending. They're not harassing the construction workers. They're not throwing pigs in the middle of them to corrupt or defile this project.
They're just minding their business, walking down the street. And without warning, that tower began to shake and suddenly fell down and crushed 18 people to death. Jesus says, what do you think? Do you think that these 18 were the worst scoundrels in all of Jerusalem, and that's why God exacted His vengeance upon them? Now I say to you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Now the Scriptures make it clear that all of us from time to time are victims of injustice by other people, and all of us at one time or another have injured others unfairly and unjustly. But when we experience injustice at the hands of men, Jesus tells us we ought not to faint, but we ought to pray. And He says, will not God vindicate His elect who cry unto Him day and night? God promises to make right those injustices that we have either committed or received, but not once in my lifetime have I ever received an injustice from the hands of God. Not once in your lifetime have you ever been treated unfairly or unjustly by God. I taught theology for over 50 years, and I've heard literally a million questions from students asking about the difficult questions of theology.
And what I hear all the time is the one that's being dealt with here. Why did God allow this to happen? Why did my baby die?
Why did my husband die? I hear that kind of question every day. You know, the question I almost never hear is the biggest question of all. I've yet to have a student come up to me vexed in consternation consternation and confusion about theology and say to me, there's something I don't understand.
And I say, what's that? Why did God save me? That's the biggest mystery in my theology. Why did God save me? I can give two different answers to that question. Why God saved me? The first one is this.
I don't know. And the second one is because He would not allow His Son to suffer the travail of the cross and not be satisfied. The only reason I can give on heaven and earth for why God would save me or save you or save anybody was to honor His Son, certainly not because we deserve it in and of ourselves. What we deserve, Jesus is saying here, is to be slaughtered in the temple and to be crushed on the sidewalk. That's what we deserve. That's justice.
All the rest is mercy. Now, I have a favorite story to illustrate that, which I know some of you have heard before and probably more than once. There's a finite number of illustrations given to every preacher, and so we have to use them more than once. But it happened in 1966 when I was teaching college in the North Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, and I was teaching introduction to the Old Testament to the freshman class of 250 students. The only room big enough for that class was the college chapel, and so they gathered there that first day, all 250 of them, and I went over the syllabus and over the reading requirements, told them when the midterm exam would be and the final exam and that sort of thing. And I said, in addition, we have three small papers due, eight to ten pages.
The first one's due September the 30th, the second one October the 30th, the third one November the 30th. And they have to be turned in that morning at the time of class and knowing already, having had some experience teaching college, that every freshman would be able to teach in college, that every freshman's a Philadelphia lawyer. I had to spell out in detail what the exceptions might be. I said, unless you are physically confined to the infirmary or have a death in the immediate family, if you fail to turn those papers in, you will get an F for that assignment. Does everybody understand? Yes, everybody understood it, at least until September the 30th, where 225 students came with their papers. I looked at the back of the chapel, and there were 25 freshman students in abject fear and terror.
Their knees were knocking as they trembled, and they said, oh, Professor Sproul, we failed to make the adjustment from high school to college. We didn't budget our time the way we should have, so we don't have our papers done yet. Please give us some more time. And I said, okay, I'll give you two more days this time, but don't ever do it again.
Oh, thank you. And everything was great until October the 30th. In October the 30th, 200 students came with their papers, and 50 of them didn't have their papers. And I said, where are your papers?
And again, they're repenting in dust and ashes. Oh, Professor, it was midterm, and we had assignments from all the other courses we had, plus it was homecoming, and we were engaged in building floats, and all of the rest. We're so sorry. Give us one more chance, please. I said, okay. And this really happened. Spontaneously, they started to sing. We love you, Prof Sproul.
Oh, yes, we do. And for 30 days, I was the most popular professor on the campus, until November the 30th. 150 students come with their papers. A hundred of them strolling as casual as you can imagine.
And I watched them walk in the back. Where are your papers? Johnson, where's your paper? Hey, Prof, no sweat. No?
I'll have it for you in a couple of days. I said, you don't have it today? He said no.
And I took off the ubiquitous black book and opened it up to Johnson, and I said, Johnson, F. And he became livid, and he looked at me with red face and shouted out something. You know what he said? That's not fair.
That's not fair. I said, what did you say? He said, I said, that's not fair. I said, oh, it's justice that you want, Mr. Johnson. Don't I recall that the last month you failed to have your paper, and I gave you an extension.
Isn't that correct? He said, yes, sir. I said, okay. I'm going back and give you justice.
F for that one. I said, who else wants justice? And you could hear a pin drop. The clamoring had ceased.
No one else wanted justice. What happened there? The same thing that happens in all of our lives. The first time we taste the tender mercy of God, His grace, our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude, and we start singing, amazing grace, how sweet the sound. But then the second time, we're not quite so amazed and quite so grateful. By the third time, we not only expect it, we demand it, because now we're entitled to the grace of God. And if we get anything less, we're not only confused, but we become angry. This question came up at our conference over the weekend, and I mentioned that though we may experience profound pain and grief and sorrow in this world, so deep that it could lead us to the pit of despair, there is no possible just ground for anyone ever to be angry with God.
There are a million reasons for God to be angry with me, but not one reason justly for me to be angry with Him. But like Henry Higgins, we've grown accustomed to His grace and now confuse justice and mercy. And I said to my students, if you ever think that God owes you mercy, if you think for a second that God is obligated to be gracious to you, then let a bell go off in your brain that teaches you that you have now confused justice and grace. Though God's character is to be generous with His mercy and that He is so gracious, grace is always unrequired and voluntary. And so, we can on the one hand expect it because of His consistency of character. We can never presume upon it. On the one hand, we should never be amazed by grace because God is so gracious.
On the other hand, in one sense at least, we should always be surprised by His grace. That's what our Lord is saying here. Unless you repent, this is your destiny. This is your destiny. Unless you are converted, you will perish just like the Galileans in the temple and the people on the sidewalk. So, put your trust and your hope in His mercy, and let God be God. Never taking the grace of God for granted. This may be the most important thing we hear today.
What a great reminder from R.C. Sproul as he looked at Luke chapter 13. Each Sunday here on Redoing Your Mind, we return to Dr. Sproul's series from Luke's Gospel, and week by week we benefit from his years of study and experience. As the co-pastor of St. Andrew's Chapel here in Sanford, Florida, Dr. Sproul preached through complete books of the Bible, and those sermons were the basis for his commentary series. When you contact us today with a donation of any amount, we'd like to provide you with a digital download of his commentary on Luke.
You can make your request and give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. Dr. Sproul had a knack for explaining theology in a way that doesn't require a seminary degree. We're continuing that tradition here at Ligonier with a podcast called Simply Put. Each Tuesday, my colleague Barry Cooper sheds light on a different biblical or theological term using helpful illustrations to apply it to your life. It's a short, easy listen, and you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or by visiting simplyputpodcast.com. Again, that's simplyputpodcast.com. Well, the next sermon in Dr. Sproul's series from the Gospel of Luke is on the parable of the barren fig tree, and I hope you'll join us for that next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
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