“The Crucible of the Lord” Luke 13:1-9

“Why do bad things happen to good people? How could a good God allow that disaster to happen?” These are frequent questions that are raised in our society. These types of questions are commonly asked by those who object to Christianity. “If God is good, then why do bad things happen?” These questions are not new. There is nothing new under the sun, but they have become a lot more common since the Enlightenment. One of the champions of Enlightenment, French philosopher Voltaire, attacked Christianity and the benevolence of God in his popular satire, Candide. The book follows a journey of a young man named Candide as he encounters evil in the world. Voltaire consistently mocks God and the organized church throughout the book. Candide frequently repeats this phrase, “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” It is hard to miss the basic premise of the book: that the world is so full of evil, how can a good God be at the center of it?

Voltaire became one of the leaders in the Enlightenment and his most popular work, Candide, has radically influenced western society. Candide has been taught more than any other work of French Literature.
According to Martin Seymour Smith, Candide is listed as one of the most influential books ever written. It is hard to deny its impact. One of the reasons why the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is so pervasive is because of books like Candide and the enlightenment ideas that they teach. We have to understand the presuppositions that come with questions like these. Presuppositions are the background beliefs the people assume before they enter into a conversation or dialogue. Our culture has been heavily influenced by Enlightenment ideas without most of us even knowing it. The predominant worldview of western society is rooted in the Enlightenment, which replaced God at the center of the universe with man at the center. The predominant worldview is that reason and faith should be separated, and reason should be the ultimate judge of the universe (i.e. man’s reason should be the ultimate judge).

What is the presupposition that lies behind the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The presupposition that is behind the question is that there are actually good people. The predominant western worldview believes that every human being is inherently good. So the question is often asked with disdain for the world and for the God who created it. The question presupposes that there are good people and that God is wrong to allow bad things to happen to good people. People want this question answered, but the Bible does not give us an answer to this question. The Bible gives us an answer to a different question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” The worldview put forward in the sacred Scriptures is that man is not inherently good, but evil. This has been an historic Baptist belief. Prior to the Age of Enlightenment, the doctrine of original sin is explained this way in a document called the London Baptist Confession of 1689:

Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.
( Genesis 2:16, 17; Genesis 3:12,13; 2 Corinthians 11:3 )

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.
( Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12, etc; Titus 1:15; Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-19 )

They being the root, and by God's appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free.
( Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22, 45, 49; Psalms 51:5; Job 14:4; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 6:20 Romans 5:12; Hebrews 2:14, 15; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 )

From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
( Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21; James 1:14, 15; Matthew 15:19 )

The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
( Romans 7:18,23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8; Romans 7:23-25; Galatians 5:17 )

The church has long held the view that the Bible does not teach that man is inherently good, but evil. Baptists have always believed that, but the greatest challenge today is that the world doesn’t believe it. And sadly, many Baptists do not believe it. If people ask the wrong question, they will never get to the right answer. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is the wrong question, because it comes with the wrong presuppositions. We have to help people see their presuppositions and help them ask the right question.

Jesus addresses the same problem of faulty presuppositions in Luke 13:1-5. Jesus finished challenging the crowd to prepare for final judgment by settling their accounts with God. He then is interrupted and critiqued by his audience.

The Critique of the Lord

Verse 13:1-2,

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?

The crowd just heard that it was important for them to settle their accounts with God and they respond with a deflection. They attempted to change the subject. They brought up a historical event that happened under [2] The event made an impact on the people and they asked for Jesus’ opinion.
Pilate. This event only is mentioned in Luke, but violence was not uncommon in the region. Jewish Historian Josephus mentioned several major violent incidents that happened during the reign of Pilate.

We know that throughout the gospels it is mentioned that Jesus could perceive people’s thoughts. Jesus knowing their hearts responded to their telling of the event:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?

Those who shared the story thought that the Galileans were worse sinners than others (i.e. them). The prevailing thought of the day was that people suffered because they did more bad than others. This is why Jesus was asked in John 9:2 about the blind man, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” People just assumed or presupposed that this man was blind because of his sin or the sin of his parents. The same was assumed by Job by his friend:

Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. (Job 4:7-9)

The people thought that bad things happened to people always as a response to their sin.

The people that told of the event were trying to divert attention away from Jesus’ challenge to get ready for the Day of Judgment by settling their account with God. It was almost as if they were implying that they did not need to settle their accounts because they were not as bad as those Galileans who died by Pilate’s hands. They heard the message, but thought that the message was for someone else.

How many times have you been listening to a message and thought, “I really hope so-and-so heard that?” Instead of applying the Word to your own heart and listening so you could grow, you attempt to apply that message to the life of someone else. This is what is happening here. The people heard Jesus challenging them to get right with God and they applied the message to other people rather than to their own lives. Jesus makes the same statement about another event in verse 4,

Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?

Jesus is undercutting the dominant presupposition of the day that bad things happen to people in a fallen world not because they are worse sinners, but that they are sinners. Jesus does more than just attack presuppositions, but reinforces his original message.

The Charge of the Lord

Verses 2-5,

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 in 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” (emphasis added)

Jesus does not allow the crowd to avoid the real matter at hand. Are you right with God? Have you repented of your sins?

One of the main problems in American churches is that many people have never truly repented. They believe themselves to be Christians, they attend church semi-regularly, and they even may give a little money to the church, but have never truly repented of their sins. Pastors have preached a gospel without repentance for the last 20 years. During the church growth movement, pastors were trained to not talk about sin and repentance because that would make people uncomfortable and not want to come back. So preachers realized that people were more willing to hear a message of hope and faith than they were to hear and positively respond to a gospel of repentance. The problem is that without repentance, there is no true hope and no true faith. Saying the sinners’ prayer will not get you in to heaven. Saying a sinners’ prayer will not get you right with God. The Bible never speaks about a sinners’ prayer; it speaks about repentance. God does
not want you to merely repeat words, but He wants you to change your life. And to change your life, you have to change your mind about Jesus.

The word repentance comes from the Greek word “metanoia.” “Meta” means “new” and “noia” means “mind.” So to repent is to change your mind. It is to change your mind about Jesus and about sin. In order to truly repent, you have to change your mind about the person of Jesus Christ. He cannot merely be a good teacher, or merely be a prophet. You must view Him as the Lord and Savior of the world and live in light of that reality. One of the clearest signs of true repentance is that a person works to cast off the sin in their life. Proverbs 6:16-19:

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

To change your mind is to agree with God about what he says about sin. To true repentance is casting off arrogance towards others, lying against a brother and anything that sows discord among the brethren. We do not just agree with God against sin, but fight to kill that sin in our own lives. Repentance is not the absence of struggle, but a renouncement to disagree with Jesus. Pastor JD Greear writes,

Repentance is acknowledging that Jesus is Lord of everything as a matter of who He is. Whatever your disagreement with Jesus, He is right and you are wrong—be that your position on abortion, sex before marriage, homosexuality, generosity, or anything else. While you may not understand all of His ways yet, you recognize that He makes the rules. Period. It means you do the things He says. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)[3]

Jesus is Lord of all. And because Jesus is Lord of all, all must repent. The crowd wanted to divert attention from themselves to what others needed to do and how others were dealt with in their sins. Jesus says very clearly that every human in the history of the world is a sinner and will perish, unless they repent. Jesus is not referring only to a physical death, but an eternal death in a literal hell. Jesus does not want anyone to perish, but that all should reach repentance. Jesus is patient with people, but there will come a day when his patience will end.

The Crucible of the Lord

The great crucible or test of the Lord is the test of your repentance. Will you change your mind about Jesus and repent or not? We all have sinned and we all will face God’s judgment, but the question remains, will you repent? Verse 6-9,

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Jesus offers a final warning to the crowd through this parable. Every breath you have is an opportunity to repent, therefore every breath you have without repenting is a demonstration of the Lord’s patience. The picture is a fig tree that is bearing no fruit. The man tending the garden asks permission to cut down the tree because it is bearing not fruit and stealing the nutrients from the surrounding trees for he says, “Why should it use up the ground?”

First, notice how verse 8 shows the Lord’s patience towards the unrepentant. The man is told to leave it alone for another year so it can be uniquely cared for to help foster fruit by the Vinedresser. God is going to tend to this tree to loosen the rough soil of the heart and fertilize it with the word to allow for repentance. After a year, if there is fruit, then the tree will remain, but if there is no fruit, the tree will be cut down. We do not deserve this, but he gives opportunity after opportunity after opportunity for repentance. Divine judgment
can sound very harsh and cold, but divine judgment does not occur without a long period of divine patience. If you are not a follower of Jesus, God has shown you patience today so that you would repent of your sins. Do not spurn his warning, repent.

God offers true repentance through His Son, the only Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died for the sins of the world for all who would turn from their sins and trust in him. He died for you and God raised him from the dead. By turning from your sin and placing your faith in Christ, His death becomes your death and His resurrection becomes your resurrection. There is not a better offer in the entire world. Will you accept it?

As a church, how do we handle our members that bear no fruit? What do we do with the person who never comes to worship? What do we do with the person who never gives? Never serves? Never visibly loves the body?

We first must do all that we can to help them bear fruit. We encourage, we exhort, we love, we pray, we plead, we write notes, we call, we build relationships, we do all that we can. And after a time, we must, for the sake of their own souls, strongly warn them of the coming judgment. We may even have to remove them from the fellowship to model God’s final removal in judgment.

There were people in the crowd who did not want to deal with their own sins and their own repentance. They wanted to shift the conversation to the punishment of the sins of others, but Jesus looks at all of them and says, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” This is Jesus’ response to those who question God’s character in light of evil events. He doesn’t explain the evil events, but calls all people to repentance.

Tragedies happened in a fallen world. Whether it is a bridge collapse in Minneapolis, a tsunami in Japan, or mine collapse in Turkey, tragedies will happen. How will you respond? You could raise your first and judge God in the spirit of the Enlightenment, questioning His wisdom and sovereignty. (Remember God’s response to Job.) Or you could allow these events to serve as a reminder that unless you repent, you will likewise perish. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 1 Thessalonians 5:3:

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman and they will not escape.

Do not misinterpret tragedy. Tragedies serve as a very real reminder that unless we repent, we will all likewise perish.

Beloved, calling people to repentance is not hard or cold or mean, but full of grace. God sent His Son to make a way for you to get right with God. Jesus was crushed for our sins. For those who of us who have truly repented, we have One who has already died in our place. The One who demands and offers repentance is the same One who has already offered His own life for yours. Do not resist his calling. Do not stay in your sins. He is patient with you not wanting you to perish, but to come to Him in repentance. He stands offering forgiveness for your wicked and evil deeds. He stands to give you his perfect record, his perfect life, and his spotless righteousness. Change your mind about Jesus. Confess your sins, call on the Lord and live for His glory. Repent, before it is too late. Jesus is worth it. Do not die in your sins. Repent and come to Christ. Change your mind about Jesus; serve him as Lord and live forever.

[2] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Commentary on Luke 13:1
[3] Greear, JD. Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. B&H. Nasvhille 2013. p 64.