Responding to calamity
Responding to calamity.
How many of you are Christchurch natives? Well, how many of you were here 7 years ago, when the earthquakes struck? Scary times! It was a significant event. And I think that we are far enough from it in time, to consider it with a bit of perspective. OK, things are still getting fixed and sorted; but we no longer are just reacting to a crisis situation; we can rationally evaluate its significance. Have you ever noticed that the insurance companies refer to events like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes as “acts of God” – if it’s a disaster, God did it! Yet, the sun rising each morning, they do not attribute to God. He is responsible for the bad stuff, not the good! But God is in control of all things, so, in a way, they are right to call an earthquake an “act of God”. If a calamity is an act of God, how then should we react to it? [P] If God did it, what is He saying through it? I want to talk tonight about responding to calamity. Recently it was the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster [P] – I am old enough to remember it: it was Easter time, we travelled up to a camp in Nelson. I remember coming out of class after school to have a mate tell me that his grandparents were on the ferry and it had sunk along with their caravan. 53 people died! 185 people died in the earthquake! Tragic loss of life! And it continues; recently people have been outraged by the chemical weapons attacks in Syria – innocent women and children killed! Do you know that there were no innocent victims? You may want to bail me up afterwards and argue the point; but I only know of one innocent victim, ever; and that was Jesus Christ. He was killed although He had not done a single thing wrong, ever! But what is the meaning of these people dying? Is it just meaningless chance? Is there any significance when calamity strikes? How are we to understand these tragedies? Let me say one thing: there have always been these tragedies that leave people wondering …. WHY?! It happened way back in Jesus’ time and some people came and asked Him about a recent such tragedy: [P] [Luke 13:1–9 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. (here was a terrible thing that happened. Some people were sacrificing in the temple, a pious, godly, religious thing. Yet they were slaughtered at the orders of the Roman governor. Their blood mingled with that of the very sacrifices they were offering. It was a horrific thing. People were outraged. It was an incident that was discussed. People tried to make sense of the tragedy. How could someone doing such a godly thing be killed? Was it just religious show – were they actually so evil that the sacrifice didn’t cover their sin and they were judged by God for their impiety? People wanted to make sense of what happened, so they asked Jesus) Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? (The implication is that sin brings judgement, death. Galileans had a reputation for being godless. Because this happened to them, people thought that they must be extra bad: “worse sinners”. Jesus knew that this what they were supposing and voices this idea. Were they worse sinners? Well the answer could be “yes” – that is why they were judged; or it could be “no” it was just something that happened, they were unlucky, they didn’t deserve to die. Jesus takes neither option!) I tell you, no! (no, they weren’t “worse sinners”. But not “no”, they weren’t sinners. They were sinners just like everyone else. Jesus said:) But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Jesus takes the attention away from those that died to make them look at themselves. His conclusion was not that they didn’t deserve to die; but rather that not only did they deserve to die but everyone else did too! We ask the wrong question! The question is not: “why did they die?” rather the question should be “Why am I left alive?!” Instead of God being mean, by letting them be killed; He is merciful in letting anyone stay alive! We only have breath in our bodies because of the mercy and extreme patience of God! We all deserve to die! This is no accidental remark on Jesus’ part; He reiterates, confirms and emphasizes it with another example of His own:) Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (another calamity, people killed in a disaster, the “innocent” (so called) perishing) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! (Jesus repeats the concept: not only did they deserve to die, but everyone else did too!) But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (instead of pointing the finger at them, we should be looking at ourselves! We are no less guilty, they are no more guilty than we. We are all guilty, we all deserve to die! Rather we should be thankful that we didn’t die too, look at our own guilt and make the most of the reprieve that we have received to stop the same thing happening to us.) Then he told this parable: (this parable is often taken in isolation, but it relates to what Jesus has just been talking about – He was illustrating the principle He had just stated.) “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. (It says in [Isaiah 5:7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.] – the fruit God looks for is righteousness) So, he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. (He had been patient, coming every year, but nothing. He grew the tree to produce fruit, righteousness; but only found evil, violence; therefore, judgement had to come.) Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ (why grow a tree if it doesn’t produce fruit? It is just a waste of space) “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”] The “man” pictures Jesus – it is a picture of grace. The tree should be uprooted, it was useless. But He appealed for a reprieve. Another year. Those Jews questioning Jesus were not killed by Pilate, they were not killed when the tower collapsed. They had a reprieve. They were still alive. We are still alive! We did not die in the earthquake. Are we any more worthy to be alive than the 185 who died? No! We have escaped! Sometimes people have a narrow brush with death, it often gives them a greater appreciation of the time they have and a determination to use it; they value it more because they have been spared. We should be the same! We have been spared – what then should be our response? Jesus said it twice: “Repent or you too will all likewise perish” Jesus message was: [P] REPENT OR PERISH! He repeated it to ensure we got the message. We all deserve to die. [Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.] We are all familiar with going to work and earning a wage – what we have earned is death! Because we have all sinned! [Romans 3:9–12 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”] It is everyone, without exception. Your life is a reprieve. We are ALL living on borrowed time. We have been spared from destruction even although we deserve it; therefore, we should take action in order to avoid what is coming to us. That tree was still going to be cut down if it didn’t bear fruit, it just had an extra year. The life you have is because of God’s patience – He is waiting [Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?] What is He waiting for? Looking for? The fruit He wants from the tree is REPENTANCE! [Matthew 3:8 “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance;] We may think that the earthquake was a disaster or that the Wahine sinking was a disaster; but the Bible tells us that there is a far greater destruction coming: [2 Peter 3:7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.] But people say, “well, where is it? That was written a long time ago, it never happens, we can get away with it.” But it goes on to say [2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish (judgement is coming, but God doesn’t want people to be destroyed that is why He has waited for so long, waited for:) but for all to come to repentance.] Repentance is what God is looking for. So, what is this “repentance” that God requires? In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament it was simply turning around: [P] a change of direction. You are going one way, you do a Uey, a 180, and go the opposite direction. [Isaiah 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;] Instead of going our own way, we turn around and go God’s way. The big lie we have all been sold and bought into is “it’s my life” – no, it’s not! God created you for Himself! For His purpose. Going your own way, living your own life, living for yourself and what you want is rebellion! Sin! God requires that we stop going our own way, turn around and go His. In the Greek language of the New Testament, “repentance” [P] means a change of mind, a change in your way of thinking, a different mindset. Instead of your thinking centering around yourself and what you want; your thinking centers around God, His will, what He wants. [Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, (a change in your thinking) so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.] We think that our will, what we want is best; but no, God’s will is the best: good, acceptable perfect. But our way of thinking has to be changed, transformed, in order to see that that is true. So, by repentance do we get to God? Do we clean up our own life by turning around, turning over a new leaf? No! We cannot get to God. We cannot change that sinful nature within us. That requires a miracle! A work of God! We need to trust in Jesus, [P] for Him to make us a new creature. Not only repent, but also believe. We need His life. We need to depend upon Him. We die with Christ, and Jesus lives in us. I cannot get to God! I need Him! But what God sees is that repentance, that turn around, that change in thinking; and He comes to the one who repents and believes in His Son Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf – and gives him the gift of eternal life. [Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.] Repentance is the way to God. It was the same back in the Old Testament days for Israel. The most evil king of Judah was a bloke called Manasseh; God punished his evil by having him taken captive by the Babylonians: [2 Chronicles 33:12–13 When he was in distress, he entreated יהוה his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that יהוה was God.] He repented and was spared; but he left a legacy of evil in the nation; the king who followed him was called Josiah. When Josiah read the Scriptures, he was convicted and he too repented and turned to God; this is what a prophet said to him: [2 Kings 22:19–20 because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before יהוה when you heard what I spoke against this place (he heard and heeded the warning) and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares יהוה. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.”] His repentance also brought a reprieve. Repentance moves יהוה’s heart! Jesus said: [Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”] He also said: [Revelation 3:19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.] What is the conclusion?: therefore repent: [Acts 3:19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;] This is the way of salvation: [Isaiah 30:15 For thus the Lord יהוה, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest (that is trust, faith, believing) you will be saved.”] You may have heard that if you pray a sinners’ prayer you will be saved, or if you come to the front, or raise your hand – none of that is ever mentioned in the Bible. What does the Bible say the way to be saved is?: Repent and believe.