1 There were present at that season some who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Last Sunday morning a deeply disturbed Islamic man attacked a gay and lesbian night club in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding 53 more. Many have wondered how to respond to this tragedy. Does this indicate that those who were slain were worse sinners than others?
Jesus answers this question in our text today in the negative. No – they were not worse sinners. Their sin deserved the wrath and judgment of God and our sin deserves the wrath and judgment of God. Tragic events of this sort are intended by God as a shot across our bow, a warning of the judgment to come on all who spurn His lawful authority and pretend as though there is no higher law over them. The warning from our Lord Jesus Christ is simple, “Repent or perish.”
The reason that these are the only two options is that God is just. He has faithfully revealed His moral law in the human conscience and in His Word. When we violate His law – in minor or major ways – He cannot just wink at our sin and pretend it’s no big deal. Sin is an attack on His honor and an attack on the very foundations of the world. The one who sins becomes objectively guilty in the sight of God. And we have all sinned – we are all guilty.
And because God is just, there are only two ways to deal with our guilt – repent or perish. The first way is to repent: turn from your sin, acknowledge your guilt, and seek the forgiveness of God through the shed blood of His Son Jesus. Jesus is the only fully righteous Man who has ever lived. And He lived and then died and rose again from the dead in order that He might bear the guilt of our sin, that He might take away our guilt. For those who repent and trust in Christ, God’s justice is satisfied, judgment has fallen on Christ, and we can rejoice even in death knowing that God is on our side. Repent.
The second way to deal with guilt is to perish. Stand in the presence of God day by day declaring that the sacrifice of His Son is unnecessary. Tell Him hour by hour that you don’t need the blood of Christ to cover Your guilt. Announce minute by minute that your hands are clean; wash them with water like Pilate and say, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood.” And day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute fill up the full measure of your sin knowing that God will judge you and you will perish. Repent or perish – those are your options.
Do you suppose that those men and women in Orlando were worse sinners than you? I tell you, no, but unless you repent you shall all likewise perish – without hope, without God, and without Christ.
And so reminded of Jesus’ call to repent, to turn from our sin and acknowledge our need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, let us confess our sin to the Lord and cry out for His mercy. And as we confess, let us kneel.
26 A wise king sifts out the wicked, And brings the threshing wheel over them.
Deuteronomy 19:11–13 (NKJV)
11 “But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies, and he flees to [a city of refuge], 12 then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there, and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. 13 Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you.
This past week national attention has been focused upon the tragic bombing in Boston during the marathon. Three killed and hundreds wounded. Two men sought in a city wide manhunt – one killed in a shoot out with the police and the other apprehended later. At such times it is fitting to consider what the Word of God has to say about justice and the punishment of crime.
Shortly after the second bomber was arrested the Boston police tweeted, “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.” This was indeed good news – and worthy of celebration. But the police department should have known better than to call their arrest the triumph of justice. For as we all are often reminded, the mere arrest of a suspect is far from the accomplishment of justice.
In ancient Israel accused criminals would flee to cities of refuge – the equivalent of our jails – in order to await a fair trial and avoid the blood lust common in such tense times. But confinement to the city of refuge was not justice. In order for justice to be served the individual must not only be arrested but tried swiftly and, if found guilty, punished in accordance with the severity of his crime. And it is this execution of justice that God declared would “put away the guilt of innocent blood in Israel that it may go well with you.” God’s blessing follows societies that practice justice.
But it is this that proves so difficult in our current legal system. As anyone who has found himself embroiled in our current legal system knows, justice is rarely served. Our legal system is in many respects broken and victims frequently suffer much while criminals escape justice. This is a blight on our national character and a sin for which the Lord on High will hold us accountable as a people.
It is the frustration of dealing with our defunct legal system that has led Senator Lindsey Graham to suggest that the Boston bomber be tried by a special court. Graham knows how frequently justice is foiled in our legal system and so has suggested some alternative. But is this not to confess that the whole system is broken and that we must, as a people, repent of the injustice of our legal system and begin to hold criminals accountable for their actions?
Solomon reminds us today, A wise king sifts out the wicked, And brings the threshing wheel over them. The reason that we are witnessing increasing crime in our streets is because of the failure of our legal system to administer justice. Justice administered quickly deters crime. But our judges have failed us – and, here’s the critical part, they have failed us because we ouselves have failed. We have sought to avoid justice; we have sought and are seeking to avoid accountability for our transgressions.
How often do we and our countrymen complain about God’s justice? We dispute the righteousness of His law; we grumble at his judgments; we take him to task for the judgment of hell; we demand why bad things happen to good people; we fancy ourselves upright and just and that God is the one who must answer for the problems in the world. In all these ways we adjudge ourselves unworthy to receive just decrees from our courts. We don’t want justice and so God has handed us over to unjust courts. And this reminds us that as a people we need to confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiveness in Christ petitioning him to restore justice to the land.