1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Luke 13: 1-9
“Galilee & Siloam”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Last week I provided a sermon focusing on the book of Jeremiah and the problem of pride which prevents us from turning from our evil ways by ultimately averting our eyes from realizing that our actions are evil and then getting angry at those who points out our faults. In the Old Testament, and Jeremiah is no exception, we come to realize that God does indeed punish evildoers, even going so far as blessing the Babylonians who sacked and enslaved Judah. Judah would not turn from her sinfulness, desiring to murder the prophet Jeremiah for daring to tell them that God was going to destroy them if they don’t turn, and so God severely punished them.
By reading the Old Testament no one can claim that God is not a wrathful god. He has led his people in battle. He has led battle against his people. He has done many things that cause fragile minds to question the goodness of God. How can a good God allow such suffering? But just as much as we can tell in the Bible that God does indeed have a righteous temper, we need to remind ourselves that he is also all good. He is wrathful at times and punishes at times because he is good. He is the definition of good, thus it is inappropriate to question if he is good using a human understanding of good, but to rather use God as the perfect example to evaluate the goodness of everything else.
Now when I talked about Judah and all others who can’t see their sins, the focus of my sermon was only on those who have indeed sinned, today I will flip to the other side of the coin and focus on those who have not sinned yet still suffer.
When Jesus went to Jerusalem there was a nasty belief that was rampant in all of Israel. It was the belief that if you were suffering then that is proof that God was punishing you and if you were prospering then that was proof that God was blessing you. Such a belief was so widespread that many started believing that the most blessed in Jerusalem were obviously the rich and powerful. The more things you had the more God loved you. If you were lacking and in severe need then that’s proof you aren’t praying hard enough. A full belly and health is proof that God has indeed blessed you as oppose the dirty plebeians with sunken cheeks.
Such a nasty belief; a belief that almost mirrors the lessons of Joel Osteen, Copeland, and other such false prophet conmen who preach the Prosperity Gospel, telling good Christians that if they pray hard enough then God will provide and if their life isn’t well put together then you aren’t praying hard enough. Such satanic teachings have led good God-fearing Christians into despair as they wonder why God has not relinquished them from their earthly miseries. Some even suggest that the suffering of others may be proof that such people are conducting atrocious evils and are unwilling to repent of their sins. This reminds me of the story of Job.
Many by now may have realized that one of my favorite books in the Bible is Job. The Lord God described him in Job 1:8 as, “my servant Job… there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” A man who, even though blameless, would according to verse 5, would rise in the morning to burn sacrifices for his entire household just in case anyone unknowingly sinned as little as cursing God in their hearts. This was a man right with God, the most upright of men, and still Job suffered tremendously. His friends, though good, were of the belief that if you suffer then that must mean that God is punishing you and if you are living the life then that is proof that God is blessing you. So when Job lost practically everything short of life itself, His friends wrongly assumed that Job had committed a grave sin and was too prideful to acknowledge his fault.
Job has done nothing wrong and yet he suffered, and that is the whole point of the story of Job. To point out that bad things do just happen; to expose the fact that there is a Devil; to humble our misguided and rash judgments when we assume that someone one is suffering because they committed a grave sin; and to follow the example of Job who never ran away from God and humbled himself before God once God presented himself.
Another example is Christ himself. Did he not suffer the worst kind of torment anyone could suffer from? That is to knowingly carry the sins of the world into Hell. Did Christ deserve such agony? No. He was and still is sinless. There was no punishment from God the Father that he could ever deserve. He experienced the highest form of suffering, yet he was the least qualified human in all of history to receive any form of suffering, let alone punishment.
Last week I preached that God does punish, this week I provide a counter in that we shouldn’t be too quick to believe that God is punishing. Sometimes bad things just happen and there are no explanations. Sometimes it is Satan who is causing the suffering. And sometimes it is just fallen humans causing tragedies.
When Jesus came to his people, one of the things he preached against was this very notion that suffering is proof that God was punishing. He said in our Gospel, “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 of 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.”
Both incidents are events not noted elsewhere in the Bible anywhere, yet recent enough that those who heard knew what Jesus was talking about. The Galileans in question was a group killed under Pilate’s watch for offering sacrifices to God. These Galileans are martyrs for they were killed because of their faith. The suffering they faced was because they conducted that which God instructed in Scripture, but went against Roman law. If one was to believe that suffer equates divine punishment then one must assume that it is a sin for these Jews to offer sacrifices in accordance with Scripture; such a bizarre notion that no Jew would ever support. As for the tower of Siloam, a structure in Jerusalem, it just fell for no foreseeable reason found in scripture and led to the death of eighteen victims. Based on the context of Jesus’ speech, one can assume that the eighteen victims did nothing to deserve their death and were just caught up in the tragedy. It would be silly to victim blame those who died because of the falling tower, claiming that the reason why they died was because their sins were worse than the survivors.
Yes, it is true that God punishes and it is true that God cause death on some who sins unrepentantly, but it would be a logical fallacy to then state that all suffering and perishing is a result of some punishment from God. In the end, whether we are civil or evil, rich or poor, die calmly or tragically, unless we have faith we will all meet the same fate and likewise perish. On account of our merits and only merit, the reward that all will receive is equal, which is to be cast out into the outer darkness and perish. Whether we meet our end on the battlefield, quietly on our bed without pain, in an accident, through capital punishment, or anything else that would cause us to cease living, it does not matter, for we will all equally perish.
If we think we can win ourselves into heaven by doing good things then we live a lie. If we believe that by amassing great wealth we could buy our way into heaven then we live a lie. If we believe that fame could allow us to influence our way into heaven then we live a lie. In the end, all will perish and be cast out into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
That is unless they have faith. The way you die does not determine what happens after death. The number of sins you committed also does not determine what happens after death, well that is unless the number is zero, but let’s get real only God can accomplish that. What determines what happens after death is whether or not you have placed your trust in the one who died on the cross to take on your sins, went to hell so you won’t have to, and then rose from the grave to lift you up with him for all eternity in true life.
All will likewise perish because all have sinned. Jesus who died for your sake asks that you have faith in him, to repent of your sins, and allow him to take on your sins on the cross. If you allow him to take your sins, then you will not likewise perish but live eternal life in heaven above.
So in the end, bad things do happen, but that is not proof that God is punishing you. In fact, because all have sinned all will receive equal punishment in Hell, but through Christ, so long that we have faith in him, he who suffered your punishment on behalf of you for your sake, you will not perish.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, no matter what comes our way help us to keep our heads held up high knowing that through faith in you we are indeed saved. In your holy name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.