In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Last Sunday morning, we heard the tragic news that eight people had been shot in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Six were dead. On Friday, another tragedy happened this time in central Kansas. Three were murdered and fourteen wounded.
Yesterday I awoke to hear about five more dead as a result of a murder suicide in Washington State. In the middle of the week, four individuals in Virginia died as a result of a tornado. The youngest was only two years old. Other tragedies happened this week, too many to mention them all.
When tragedy happens, the question most often asked is “Why?” People search for answers, for motives, for some explanation about why. Often times there is a search for who is to blame.
Jesus Was Asked
Jesus was asked about a specific tragedy. “Why were a number of Galileans murdered by soldiers of Pontius Pilate?” Was Pilate to blame? Were the Galileans themselves to blame? Was God somehow punishing them for their sins?
Jesus answered their question with these words, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? Jesus wanted them to think about this tragedy in a much different way than whose fault it might have been.
If you hear his answer carefully, you will hear Jesus convicting all Galileans as sinners. These Galileans “suffered in this way,” at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers. With the words “in this way,” Jesus is saying that all Galileans, all sinners face suffering in this life, all face tragedy.
Jesus spoke about another tragedy. Eighteen people were killed when a tower fell on them. He asked the same question, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”
Again Jesus says, “No,” they were not worse offenders of God’s will. But in the same words Jesus condemns all the citizens of Jerusalem as offenders, as sinners. Tragedy comes into the life of all sinners, into the life of every person born into this world.
Tragedy Is Universal
All Galileans faced tragedy. All citizens of Jerusalem face tragedy. All Europeans, Africans, Far Easterners, Middles Easterners, Americans, all people face tragedy. We question why because we are looking for an answer that doesn’t include us.
We ask why in the hope that we can isolate tragedy so that tragedy only happens somewhere else or to someone else. How many times have you heard people say they can’t understand why tragedy struck in their quiet, peaceful neighborhood?
If tragedy happens somewhere else and to someone else, we see an opening to say that we were spared because we are good people. Jesus gave his audience that day no escape, no opening to say that they were not sinners. He gives us no opening either.
Tragedies are a sign to us that God’s wrath is real. His word is true, “the wages of sin is death.” Jesus used these two tragedies to reach out to the crowd around him. “He said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”
When Jesus warned them “you too will perish.” he was not warning them against tragedies like murder or earthquakes. Jesus was speaking about the eternal tragedy of being forsaken by God forever.
As difficult as tragedies here on earth can be, they are in no way as horrible as being forever separated from God and his love. Jesus came into the world so that we no longer respond to tragedies and suffering by asking, “Why?”
Whenever we encounter tragedy in our world, Jesus wants us to see that tragedy as evidence of sin in the world and of our own sin. He wants us to respond by repenting, by seeking God’s mercy and grace. Rather than ask Why tragedies happen, Jesus came to tell you How the tragedies of sin and death are overcome.
His prophet Ezekiel was one of many who God sent with the message of repentance. Ezekiel was to tell the people to turn from their sins or they would surely die. Again God was not just giving a message about death in this life but death for an eternity.
Ezekiel’s first task was to bring the people to the point where they understood the gravity of their situation. God needed them to say to themselves, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How can we live?”
Tragedies are a reminder that as sinners we are rotting away. When we see tragedies, Jesus says, “Repent so that you do not perish.” Each of us has enough sins to confess that we do not need to look for the sins of others in the tragedies of the world.
If you are feeling the weight of your sin and asking, “How can I live?” listen to what the Lord said to Ezekiel for the people then, “Say to them, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.””
Jesus came into the world to make those words possible to make them true for you. He came so that you might live. The Son of God came into the world to endure the greatest tragedy of all. God has given you the tragedy of the cross to see as a sign of his grace and mercy. You have the sign of Jesus hanging on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.
The tragedy of the innocent Son of God nailed to the cross is God’s answer to God’s judgment against your sin. Jesus is the one who takes away your sins and makes you righteous in the sight of your heavenly Father.
He changes you from a lost sinner to a child of God who is set apart to live a new life. Jesus gives you a message that frees you from fear, a message that you can share with those who suffer tragedies in their lives.
He calls you to repent so that he can comfort you with his forgiveness. He is the one who sent his Holy Spirit into your life with the gift of faith and with the power to turn away from sin. Jesus is the one who bears good fruit through you.
Tragedy and suffering are signs of your sins. Jesus is a sign of God’s grace and his forgiveness for you. In this world of uncertainty, tragedy and suffering, Jesus wants you to focus on the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Repent with the assurance that through faith in Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria