The Lord’s Day Morning
September 26, 2010
“The Message of
Repentance Clothed in Tragedies”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
O come, let us worship and bow
down. Let us kneel before the Lord
our Maker, for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock
under His care. So let us worship
If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 13, and
as you turn to Luke 13:1-5, you may want to allow yourself to peek back to the
final verses of Luke 12 because they will help you understand the very first
words that are recorded by Luke in Luke 13:1 where he says, “There were some
present at that very time.” He’s
making not only a temporal linkage between what Jesus is going to say in Luke
13:1 to what He’s just said in Luke 12, but he is making a contextual linkage.
The topic leads into the discussion that we’re going to read today in
Among the topics that have been addressed of course, you find in Luke 12:49-59
is Jesus’ words to the people gathered there that they were really good at
understanding the weather but they did not understand their present times and
they did not know how to read the signs of the time.
They didn’t adequately read the message of God’s providence for them.
They didn’t adequately understand the significance of Jesus’ presence
with them and His message for them, or the message of His person and His work.
And so the comments, the interaction, that Jesus is going to have with
the crowd in chapter 13 verses 1 to 5 — and very frankly, much of chapter 13 has
to do with the same message. It’s a
message that zeros-in on our own personal repentance.
And it has as its context, the context that has been introduced in Luke
So let’s pray to the Lord and ask for His help and blessing as we read the Word.
Lord, it would be very easy to
read a passage about repentance and to hear a message about repentance and for
us not to engage in the business of repentance ourselves.
It would be possible for us to think about repentance and not to engage
in repentance. It would be possible
for us to think about others who need to repent and not to repent ourselves.
We ask, O Lord, that by the grace of Your Spirit, that as we read and
give attention to and hear Your Word today, that this would not be the case with
us — we would not just learn more about repentance, we would repent.
So teach us this from Your Word today.
Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it.
Speak to our hearts. You know where we need to repent.
Use even the reading of Your Word today to get to us.
For we ask this in Jesus’ name.
This is God’s Word. Hear it:
“There were some
present at that very time who told Him 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 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.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I was a seminary student and I was singing in the choir at Covenant Presbyterian
Church and serving as the youth director there, and having the privilege of
working with a very, very faithful and godly minister who was not only a good
preacher but an excellent evangelist and superb at administration — he was the
total package. His name was Rod
Stortz. His wife, Liz, sang in the
choir with me and it was a particularly powerful message he had preached one
Sunday morning. And after the
service, Liz turned to me as we were leaving the choir loft and she said, “Boy,
that was something.” And I
responded, “Yes it was. They really
needed to hear that message.” Now it
was one of those times where – have you ever had one of those moments? — the
words were coming out of my mouth and in one track of my mind I was going,
“NOOOOO! Pull it back!”
And Liz looked at me right in the eye and she said, “They
needed to hear that message?” And I
knew what she was going to say before she even formed the words on her lips.
I had already known I had blown it.
But you know, I was speaking from my heart.
I really was. I mean I knew
that message was for me, but my mind was on how
they needed to hear that message.
And so what came out of my mouth really was in my heart.
I spent most of my time during that message thinking about how
they needed to hear that message.
And you know sometimes it’s that way with all of us.
We think about the message that
they need to hear. I’ve often
looked back on that and thought that was the Lord’s punishment ahead of time to
me, as a minister. How often I’ve
preached a message and people have remarked about how
they needed to hear that message.
That’s how we think sometimes.
We hear a message and we think about
they needing to hear it, or something
happens in society or culture and we think about how
they needed to get a message.
Have you thought how often prominent television figures, religious figures I’m
speaking of, even Christian teachers will look at current events and they will
draw a line from what has happened in a current events to what their enemies
need to learn or to what people whose policies they oppose need to learn?
We’ve been thinking a lot haven’t we, in the last few weeks, about the
outrageous statements of Islamic clerics who have asserted that the United States’
government perpetrated the disasters that occurred on September 11, 2001.
But if you will recall in the days following those events, the focus was
on the interpretation of those events that certain prominent Christians had
made, including saying that 9-11 was God’s judgment on the
for particular things that our Congress had done or that our society had done at
large. And there was a firestorm
about those comments when they occurred.
Something not unlike that is happening here.
Jesus is in the midst of a multitude teaching.
He’s already said to them some very strong words about the fact that they
don’t seem to recognize the signs of the times.
And you almost get the idea that some people in the crowd decide to
explain to Jesus that they do understand the signs of the time and so they want
to give Him a couple of examples of how they in fact understand the signs of the
times. It’s almost their opportunity
to rebut what Jesus has just said.
He’s just said, “You people are really good at understanding the weather, but
you don’t understand the signs of your own times.”
And somebody’s hand goes up in the back and says, “Oh yes I do!”
And here’s what that person has to say.
You see it right here in verse 2 as Jesus repeats back what has
apparently been said to Him. “Do you
think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans?”
Now what’s just happened, you look back in verse 1 — “There were some
present at that very time who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate
had mingled with their sacrifices.”
This is the only account of this in the gospels.
This isn’t repeated anywhere else.
And we very frankly don’t know much about this event.
But it was something like this — some Jewish people from Galilee were apparently
in Jerusalem to offer
sacrifice. Pilate, as you remember,
had always been spooked by crowds.
Sacrifice time was a time when
was packed with crowds, and apparently some group of Galileans had been killed
by the occupying Roman forces in the very act of offering sacrifices at the
temple. And the people who were
present here with Jesus hearing Him teach, had said, “Oh yes we do understand
the signs of the times. For
instance, those Galileans whom Pilate killed when they were offering sacrifices,
this was clearly God’s judgment on them for being wicked.
They really got taught a lesson.
We see that sign of the times.
We get that message. God
punished their sin.” Do you see how
this would unfold? “We understand
the signs of the times. They were
sinners. God punished them.”
And apparently someone else in the crowd said, “Oh, I understand the signs of
the times too.” And the story is,
you remember that tower? Maybe it’s
one of the towers that Pilate himself built near the pool of Siloam.
He was really big into waterworks.
Pilate did a lot to improve the waterworks in the city of
Jerusalem, and presumably he’s built a tower in order to provide
waterworks to the city of Jerusalem near the pool of Siloam.
And apparently the tower, at some point, had fallen and it had killed
eighteen people. And somebody in
this crowd says, “Oh, I can read the signs of the times.
Those eighteen people, who died at the
tower of Siloam when it fell, clearly were being
judged by God for their wickedness.
I can read the signs of the times.
God punished their wickedness.” And
this whole passage is about Jesus’ response to that kind of reading of the signs
of the times. And I want you to see
two things that He says.
I. The lesson of tragedies.
First of all, He explains to us the lesson of tragedies.
And secondly, He points us to the necessity of repentance.
So these people, perhaps in Jesus’ assertion that they did not understand
the signs of the time, we prepared to explain to Jesus how well they were able
to read God’s providence. When God’s
providence had brought about judgment upon the Galileans who were at
to offer sacrifice when Pilate killed them, when God’s providence had brought
judgment upon those who had been killed at the tower of Siloam,
clearly, from providence, they had learned this — these people were wicked;
therefore they had been judged with death.
Is that what we’re supposed to learn from tragedies?
When tragedies strike, are we to learn that that clearly is God’s
providence of judgment against the wicked?
What are we supposed to learn from the tragedies that befall others?
Well, in this passage, whatever else we may say about reading God’s providence,
Jesus is concerned for us to understand that tragedies are clothing a message of
repentance to each and every one of us.
That is, that one of the things, maybe not everything, but one of the
things that we are to be struck by whenever we see tragedies befall others, is
the fact that we all deserve that judgment, not the message that they are
especially wicked and so they really got what was coming to them, but we are to
at least, as a part of our assessment of what happens when a tragedy befalls, we
are to say, “You know Lord, if I really got what I deserved, that’s what I would
have gotten.” Jesus is saying that
He’s not telling you everything; He’s not telling you everything about reading
The Bible is a book filled with instruction about how to read God’s providence
and how to respond to God’s providence.
And Puritan pastors wrote book after book after book to help people learn
how to read God’s providence and principles from Scripture.
He’s not telling you everything about reading God’s providence but He is
saying this — “Every time tragedy strikes, one of the things we ought to do is
to recognize that there is a message of repentance in that tragedy, not to them,
but to us.” And we ought to say,
“You know Lord, if I got what I deserved, that would have happened to me.”
You know when we, a couple of years ago, did that series on suffering, “Does
Grace Grow Best in Winter?” I suggested to you that when suffering hits your
life you need to learn to draw a line from suffering to sin, not the line that
says, “I am suffering now because of some sin that I have committed,” though
certainly sometimes sins that we commit come with consequences.
But we are especially to draw the line from our suffering to our sin in
this way — “Lord, help me to hate my sin like I hate this suffering.”
You know, when you’re in the midst of suffering, you don’t like it; it’s
hard. And if we could muster up the
hatred for sin that we hate our suffering and the circumstances that come with
it, we’d be a lot better Christians if we hated our sins that way.
And so I suggested to you that one thing that you need to learn in the
midst of suffering was the draw a line from suffering to sin and to pray, “Lord,
help me to hate my sin like I hate that suffering.”
Jesus is doing something like this in this passage but it’s a little bit broader
than that. He’s saying, “When you
look out there and you see God’s providence unfold in this way, draw a line from
suffering to sin, not from those people’s suffering to their sin.”
That’s kind of like Job’s friends, right?
Job’s friends looked at his suffering, at the tragedy that had befallen
him, and they said, “That’s happened to you because you’re a sinner, and it
wouldn’t have happened to you if you weren’t a sinner.
If you were a godly person that stuff wouldn’t have happened to you, and
therefore the message of God in His providence to you in your tragedy, Job, is
that you’re a sinner and you need to repent.”
You remember God Himself at the end of the book rebukes Job’s friends and
He says, “You’ve misinterpreted Job’s suffering.
That actually wasn’t the message that I was speaking to Job.”
Though Job did have repentance to do, and he does it publically at the
end of the book, the cause of his suffering was not his sin.
There was something bigger going on there.
So, whereas these people who were speaking to Jesus were drawing a line from the
Galileans’ sin to the judgment that befell them, and to the people who died at
Siloam when the tower fell to their own sin, and saying their sin caused this
judgment, God’s judgment on them, this providence of the tower falling or of
Pilate striking down Galileans offering sacrifice, is clearly a condemnation of
them because of their wickedness and sin.
Jesus instead turns to the crowd that’s around Him who’s made this deduction and
says, “No, no, no. Don’t draw a line
from that tragedy to their sin. Draw
a line from that tragedy to your sin, and say to yourself this, ‘Self, if I got
what I deserve for my sin, that’s what I would have gotten.’”
Jesus doesn’t tell them to excuse everybody else for sin.
Jesus doesn’t tell them that God never ever punishes sin in the world.
But He did say this, “Instead of thinking about what they needed to
hear,” like I was thinking in that sermon that day, “think about what you need
to hear from God’s providence. Draw
a line from that tragedy to your sin.
Draw a line from the suffering other others to our sin.”
It’s Jesus’ way of saying, “Beware of
practicing a religion that talks about everybody else’s business but your own.
Beware of practicing a religion that’s ready to explain what God is doing
to a nation or what God is saying to another group of people, but that never
asks the question, ‘Lord, what are you saying to my heart?’”
Isn’t that our tendency sometimes, to
think about what other people need to hear, to think about what other people
need to do, to think about what other people ought to be doing, to think about
how other people ought to be responding to God’s Word, and not to think about
what we’re doing in response to God’s Word, how we’re responding to God’s Word?
And Jesus is saying this very clearly.
He says it twice — “No, I tell you,” is His answer to, “Do you think the
Galileans were worse than others?”
“No, I tell you.” What’s the
message? “Unless you repent, you
will all likewise perish.” Jesus is
saying that the message that is clothed by these tragedies is the message of
repentance. “Unless you repent, you
will likewise perish.” He says it
twice just in case you missed it.
What’s the message of the
tower of Siloam?
What’s the message of the Galileans who are slaughtered by Pilate?
The message is, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”
II. The necessity of repentance.
And that leads me to the second point.
And that is simply the necessity of repentance.
Jesus is saying, “Here’s what you need to learn.
Here’s what you need to learn from those tragedies.
Whatever else can be learned about God’s providence from those tragedies,
this message must not be missed.”
And the message is — repent or you will
all perish. It’s the message of
repentance. Jesus is speaking about
the necessity of repentance here.
Do we draw that message for ourselves?
When we hear God’s Word preached, is one of the first things on our
hearts and minds, “How do I need to repent because of what I’ve just heard?”?
And even when it’s good news that’s being preached, is our response,
“Lord, how do I need to repent in light of what I’ve just heard?”
I think repentance may be the great missing ingredient to the dominant
response that we have to the preaching of God’s Word in our generation.
I think we miss that. I think
we think about what others need to hear and I don’t think we think about our own
need for repentance.
And the Lord Jesus is saying very
directly to each and every one of us, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.”
And it’s my observation as well, my friends, that the areas that we are most
embarrassed about in our sin, the areas in which we are most ashamed, the areas
of our most serious sin, we are more likely to deal with by denial than
repentance. We try to pretend that
those things are not true of us because we’re so deeply ashamed of them.
We’re so deeply embarrassed by them that we just don’t want to think
about them. We don’t want to face up
to the reality of that particular sin.
But repentance begins with
knowing our own sin.
I speak from bitter experience from having to look that sin in the eye
and say, “That is my own sin. That
is not someone else’s sin. That is
Young people, I want to tell you, whether you’ve confessed faith in Christ or
not, your repentance now in your early years, preteen, teen years, your
repentance now is a gauge of the reality of your faith.
If you are not coming up against things about yourself that you see in
yourself that are not right and not right towards God, if you’re never reckoning
with those things you’re not opening your eyes to who you are.
Christians are repenting people.
I was reading a passage by a very, very good marriage commentator the other day
and he said this, “People don’t fall out of love.
They fall out of repentance.”
It was a very convicting thought.
His point was this — what happens to marriages is not that people stop loving
one another; they just stop repenting.
That’s what messes up marriages – people stop repenting.
The Christian life is a life of
We’re called to repent and if we’re not repenting, something is wrong.
If you’re not repenting today about something, if there’s not something
in your heart and life that you know needs to be repented of, then you’re just
not aware of your own heart.
Repentance means knowing our sin.
Repentance means grieving over our sin, not grieving over getting caught, not
grieving over getting embarrasses, not grieving over the consequences, but
grieving over our sin. And when
we’ve gotten to the point that it’s what we’ve done that bugs us, not what it
costs us, not how embarrassed we are about it, but what bothers us is what we’ve
done, we’re getting towards Gospel repentance.
And repentance involves confessing our
sin, certainly confessing our sin to the ones that we’ve sinned against, but
especially confessing that sin
painfully and specifically to God.
then repentance means turning from that
sin. Repentance isn’t a word
game, you understand. Even the word
that the Bible uses most commonly for the idea of repentance expresses this.
The word “conversion” is a word that is used for repentance.
And, of course, conversion carries with it the idea of a change of heart.
And repentance entails a change of heart towards our sin and a turning
from it to God. And so it involves a
life change. Repentance isn’t fundamentally just a word game.
It’s a heart change that flows in our lives.
Take your hymnals out and turn to the back where
The Shorter Catechism is found.
In the back of your hymnals, page 875, our
Catechism asks the question, “What is
repentance unto life?” and then it gives this summary of the Bible’s teaching on
what repentance is.
“Repentance unto life is a saving grace,
whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin” — there’s the what?
There’s the knowledge of the sin — “and an apprehension of the mercy of
God in Christ, does with grief and hatred of his sin” — there’s the grieving
over our sin — “turn from it unto God” — there’s the turning from the sin —
“with a full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience” — there’s the change
That’s a beautiful summarization of what the Bible teaches about repentance.
And Jesus is saying to the disciples, “When you see God’s judgment fall
in this world it ought to lead you right back to what your sin deserves.”
Now, let me say that sometimes when we come to see our own sin for the first
time, and when we come to think about what our sin deserves, what happens?
Well if you’re anything like me or if I’m anything like you, sometimes
that feeling is so overwhelming that I’m paralyzed.
I’m absolutely paralyzed.
When I see myself and what I’m really like and what I think about what I deserve
That’s why I love that phrase that the
Catechism put in so rightly.
What’s the phrase? “The apprehension
of God’s mercy.” Because when I
really see what I’m like, I think that I am the last candidate for mercy on the
planet. When I see what I’ve really
done, I think I am the last person eligible for grace on the planet.
And so the Catechism says what?
“The apprehension of God’s mercy.”
What does that mean?
It means that you don’t just see your sin and you don’t just see what your sin
deserves, you also see how ready your gracious God is to forgive you at your
absolute worst. And that’s a hard
thing to see and that’s a hard thing to believe.
It may be the hardest of all — you know it’s hard to see yourself.
It’s hard to accept that you’re as bad as you are.
And it’s hard to accept that you really deserve something as bad as God’s
judgment. But I think it’s even
harder to see that God is merciful.
Because when we see our sin and we see what our sin deserves it’s very, very
difficult to believe that God could show us mercy.
And that’s why Jesus is standing at this crowd and calling them to
repentance because God is so ready to forgive that He’s already sent His Son
into the world to preach, yes, to heal, yes, to live, yes, but especially to die
under the judgment of God so that we might not have to.
And so the very fact that it’s Jesus speaking these words, calling these people
to repentance, is in fact a picture of God’s mercy.
Before they ever even wanted God’s mercy, God has already sent His Son
into the world to preach to them repentance because He Himself is going to bear
the judgment, a much worse judgment, than the people who died by the falling of
that tower by the pool of Siloam, a much worse judgment that the people from
Galilee who were offering sacrifices who were slaughtered by Pilate – a much
worse judgment Jesus endures. And do
you know what that sign of Jesus on the cross is?
It’s a sign that God is more ready to forgive your sin than you are to
repent of it.
He’s more ready to forgive your
sin than you are to repent of it.
That’s what Jesus on the cross is saying to you — “I love you enough to do this
for you. I love you enough knowing
the worst thing about you, knowing those things about you that you would be
absolutely mortified if your friends in this congregation knew, and I came and I
died for you anyway.” My friends,
that is a message that we need to hear — the message to repent and believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
There has never been a human being in this world who repented of her or his sin
with a Gospel repentance that Jesus did not forgive.
Not one, not one. So you have
every reason to face the ugliest truth about yourself that there is and to
accept your full deserving of the entire extent of God’s judgment, and yet to
apprehend that if you will but repent and turn to Jesus, He will say, “Yes,
child, I forgive you. I’ve shed My
blood for you already. Yes, child, I
will forgive you.” And that, my
friends, is very good news.
Our Lord and our God, help us to
believe this good news and so to repent, in Jesus’ name.
Now we’re going to sing through this whole sequence.
If you take your hymnals and turn with me to number 495, Horatius Bonar’s
hymn, No, Not Despairingly Come I to Thee,
is a hymn all about repentance. And
it takes you all the way through to the restoration that comes.
And the final words are, “nothing between.”
Nothing between what? Nothing
between you and God. Let’s get there
by grace and let’s sing it together — 495.
Receive now this benediction from One who is more ready to bless you than you
are to accept it. Grace, mercy, and
peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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