March 6, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Last Sunday, I preached a sermon by this same title. The Gospel for the week was Luke 13:1-9, where the crowds are asking Jesus about a recent tragedy where some Jews from Jesus’ home region of Galilee were slaughtered by Pontius Pilate’s Roman soldiers as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to offer animal sacrifices at the Temple. Jesus’ reply to them was:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
When he was questioned about events like these, it would seem like the perfect opportunity for Jesus to defend God against charges of mismanaging the universe. So why do bad things happen to good people? It’s one of the Big Questions of life, and a difficult one, to be sure. Logic and our sense of justice demand to know, if God is good and all powerful then why does evil exist in the world? Why do people suffer? Why doesn’t God step in and prevent every terrible thing in the world from happening?
But Jesus doesn’t answer these questions, at least not to our satisfaction. Instead, Jesus says that we must not equate tragedy with divine punishment. Sometimes, bad things just happen, even to good people. He says that the Galilean pilgrims were no worse sinners than any others, and the people crushed by the Tower of Siloam were no worse offenders than others living in Jerusalem. It was nothing they did, which caused these terrible things to happen, God wasn’t reaching down to smite them.
It seems to me, that we think a lot like the crowd gathered around Jesus that day. It seems logical that sins would cause punishment to come down on a person. Probably most of you have had something bad happen to you, even something small—and you ask yourself, “What did I do to deserve this?” I’ve heard far too many times, in the hospital or in a funeral home, “I don’t deserve this” or “They didn’t deserve it.”
It’s true, sometimes our actions and behaviors carry risks and cause bad things to happen to those that do them. For instance someone who gets drunk and gets into a car is much more likely to crash and hurt themselves or others. A life of drug abuse can harm your body or kill you. Murderers and thieves go to prison (hopefully) when they are caught. But it’s important to notice that Jesus does not go there when it comes to the tragedies mentioned in the Gospel today—the slaughter of people by a brutal governor and a natural disaster like a falling tower.
Jesus makes two things clear. God did NOT cause their death because they were sinners, and the fact that they suffered these tragedies does NOT mean they were WORSE sinners than anyone else. It reminds me of the time Jesus healed the blind man and gave him sight. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither sinned!” (John 9:1-3) This is not a punishment from God! It just is, it could happen to anyone. It could happen to you.
What is so important for us to know, is that God walks with us during these times of hardship and tragedy. Or if you like that poem, “Footprints” then you might say it’s a these times that God carries you. We are blessed because we have a God of love who has experienced a life just like ours in Jesus Christ. And because he lived and suffered and died, there is nothing we go through or experience that he has not also experienced. And there is no comforter like one who knows your pain and what you feel.
It just so happens that I got an email last week about an incredible man named Nick Vujicic. Nick was born without arms or legs, but he doesn’t let that (or anything else) get in his way. Nick is my age, born in 1982 too, and as a motivational speaker and a preacher he has spoken to and touched the lives of millions of people all over the world. (More than I ever will, and I have all the usual parts and pieces!) In an interview with 60 Minutes, Nick shares his story which mirrors Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind in John 9:1-3. He tells the interviewer that his mother didn’t take any medications when she was pregnant, and there were no other circumstances that anyone could find that would have led them to expect his physical condition. Even the ultrasounds didn’t show anything unusual. And yet, Nick was born without limbs. Who sinned? Nick, while in the womb? His parents?
I think Nick would agree with Jesus, “No! Yet this occurred so that the works of God may be displayed in him.” Check out this video on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da5QQSxSsGY especially from the 8 to 9 minute mark where he makes that same point. It’s a thirteen minute video, but it will probably be the most inspiring and powerful thirteen minutes of your week. After that, you may also want to watch the shorter video of Nick’s visit to a high school for a motivational talk here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciYk-UwqFKA
And if you really get hooked on this amazing dude, Nick Vujicic was a speaker at Rock Church in San Diego and presented his message, “Life Without Limbs” and the 70 minute video is also on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=ZXlCeKBWfaA&NR=1
Also, Nick’s website is www.lifewithoutlimbs.org and well worth checking out!
Loving Father in Heaven, thank you for walking with me at all times in my life, through good and bad. Thank you for all the gifts you’ve given me, even those I take for granted. Help me in my difficulties and sorrows, and bless me to be a blessing to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.