A Question of Suffering

Buy One Get One Free. Why what did you think I meant? It's one of those offers you see in the supermarkets quite often. What about this one, here's another acronym I learnt of the other day which is used in the retail trade; can anyone tell me what it means? 'LTO'. Limited Time Offer. It's one of those offers which won't be around forever. It's only on offer for a limited period. Here's another question for you? Have you ever asked a question and got a completely different answer to what you were expecting? For example the lady in Iowa who went to the doctors with a genuine question asking to have her tummy pains investigated and wanting a genuine answer only to find that she was 6 months pregnant, with twins! Now there's an answer she wasn't expecting, (even when she was expecting but just didn't know it, if you know what I mean). She had a genuine question and she got a genuine answer; just not the one she was expecting. And that's what we begin with here: a genuine question and a genuine answer: just not one we were expecting.

What About Them?

So what is the question? Well it's about suffering; and some people come up to Jesus and it seems that their question is "What about them?" What about them? Their question is, "Are those people who suffer more suffering more because they are more guilty?" i.e. the more guilty you are then the more you suffer. Well its a good question; and we may ask the same question. And you may be glad to know that Jesus answers it. But we may also have a similar question which Jesus answers. You see how are we to view brutal murder at the hands of evil men and how are we to view natural disasters or accidents? How are we to view atrocious suffering caused by humans and how are we to view freak suffering caused by no one in particular? You see these are the two examples given here by those who question Jesus. And Jesus has an answer; just not the answer we'd expect.

So in v1-3 we have a brutal human-orchestrated massacre by the Roman Governor pilate. He was a nasty man. We don't know the event exactly but it may have been some Israelites from Galilee bringing their sacrifices to the Temple and Pilate ordered his soldiers to kill them and their blood is spilt with their own sacrifices which they had brought. A disgraceful oppression from the occupying forces if ever there was one. And in V4-5 we have the natural disaster. A tower falls killing 18 innocent people. We don't how it happened or what was the cause but we can be pretty sure it wasn't meant to happen. No human being made it happen on purpose. It was an accident. Both scenarios are about suffering. Both scenarios reflect questions we have today. But
both point the finger at God when we question the fate of other people. Both point the finger at God when we question the fate of other people. Perhaps you're thinking, "How can God be just and fair? Why does he allow suffering? Why does he let people get away with it and why does he allow natural disasters? What about them? What about those people?" And God has an answer; Jesus spells it out for us in today's passage. Jesus gives it to us. Jesus has the answer to the question of suffering. But it's not the answer we'd expect. Thats what we've got here; a genuine question and a genuine answer, just not one we were expecting. You see We're busy asking the question, "What about them?"

What About You?

And Jesus says, "What about You?" We're busy pointing the finger at God and accusing him OR we may simply be trying to comprehend how he deals with justice, but Jesus takes the opportunity to talk about something far more important; our own souls. That's how loving he is. That's how kind he is. It's like us being so preoccupied with trying to understand some words which have been painted on the road and God saying. "Look there's a bus coming; get out of the bus lane!" Its a bit like us being so concerned with how God treats others and then Jesus moving our gaze to see that he's saying actually you should be concerned with how God is going to treat you. What about you? He points the finger at you. He says in v.3

unless you repent, you too will all perish

and again in v.5

unless you repent, you too will all perish

Jesus doesn't dodge the question at all. You see, the suffering we see around us is meant to make us think about our own eternal suffering. It's a sign. Are we going to read the sign correctly? You see this world is in a mess because we have sinned. We have rebelled against God. Mankind is living life in the way we think is best not the way God thinks is best and we cause suffering of others, that's plain enough to see, but also the whole of creation has been made subject to suffering. The world is not wrapped up in cotton wool. God is showing that something is wrong. The world is falling apart and its a sign that we are going to perish.

Have we really understood the word Perish? It means to be destroyed, and these guys in the passage; they perished. They died. But when Jesus says, "you too will all perish." he means the final death; a second death. Not just a physical death but an eternal spiritual death; hell, punishment. Jesus is going to come back and judge us. Judgement day is a day; a real day. Just as real as today is. Just as real as the chair you're sitting on, and the day is getting closer. It's my youngest daughter's birthday soon, and you may have seen or remember the sentiment; nearly every breakfast she asks, "How many days till my birthday?" Some of us know exactly how many days it is till Christmas. It's getting closer every day and so is the day of judgment; the day when Jesus will judge us for the way that we haven't treated him as Lord. You see you can't have Jesus as your saviour but not your Lord. He's going to judge us. That day is coming and people will perish. How awful; people are going to perish! People are going to hell. Which people? What does Jesus say? "you too will all perish." - All people - so What about you? You and me. You too will perish unless you repent. 

Secondly, what does 'repent' mean? Because repenting is what we have to do to avoid this disaster which is coming our way; to get out of the bus lane of judgment which is coming our way. It means to turn around, to have a complete change of mind, to realise you're going in the wrong direction and to turn and go in the right direction, to realise we've been rebelling against God, that we've been doing what we want instead of what he wants. And we need to turn from pleasing ourselves to pleasing him. And we need to turn from trusting in ourselves to completely 100% trusting in Jesus. The funny thing is - we can't repent. We are unable to. Repentance means putting to death your self sufficiency, your ability to save yourselves from the coming judgment and then flinging your self at the mercy of God, depending on his mercy. We all need to do that

So, is this passage only for non-Christians; for people who haven't repented yet? No. Repentance is constant. Or is it that you think you don't need to constantly repent? I daily sin and I daily need to repent. I continually go the wrong way (my own way) and I need to continually change my mind back to obeying God and going his way. Does that mean as a Christian I should be concerned that I might not be saved? No. Once saved always saved but if you don't want to repent it shows that you're not saved. Is repentance not a daily priority for you? Do you know your sin offends God? Are you bothered about the sin in your life? If not then I don't know if you're saved and Jesus says to you 'repent or perish'.

So what have we looked at so far? We, by nature, are often more concerned with trying to deflect judgment away from ourselves and ask "What about them?" and Jesus kindly warns us and brings us up sharp saying "What about you?" Let's have a look at the rest of the passage and we find that Jesus tells a story to help make his point (to help bring his warning home). 

What does the owner of the vineyard do? The owner of the vineyard comes looking for fruit. God comes looking for fruit in our lives. He expects fruit. There ought to be fruit in our lives There ought to be evidence of our repentance. John the Baptist in Luke 3.8 said

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

You and I have a duty to produce fruit. You see just sitting here listening to sermons is not enough. You have to produce fruit. You have to change. Are you a Sunday Christian? Because going to church isn't good enough. Are you repenting daily? Do you want God to say about you, "I've come to you for years looking for fruit but I find none" If he does you will be cut down.

We're often more caught up in thinking about other peoples sinfulness and their eternal destiny and busy pointing the finger at others, so this morning God is pointing the finger back at you, back at me, back at each of us. That is what the Lord Jesus has done in this passage and that is what he is good at and that is what he is allowed to do. You and me; we're very good at asking the question, "What about them" and God's answer isn't the one we expect nor want - God's answer is, "What about you?"

What About Now?

So there are two important words to understand in this passage 'repent' and 'perish' and we've looked at both of them. In fact there is a third word which is important to understand; 'or'. Repent or Perish. You have a choice (as God allows and enables) and he is giving you the chance. He's saying "What about now?" He's giving you the chance right now; a second chance if you like, while you're still alive. And he's giving your non-Christian loved ones and friends a chance, whilst they're still alive. He's giving them the chance right now.

You see the story Jesus tells doesn't end where we left it. There are two more verses V.8-9. Why does Jesus include the extra man in the story? Why does he include v.7 the "man who took care of the vineyard"? The story could have been told that owner just instructed the fig tree to be cut down. Why does he have this second part of the story with this second character? Well I think there are a couple of reasons.
Firstly so that he can have this extra year. I.e. so that it links to what he has just said above in v.5 - you have the chance to repent. He has given you this time, now! It's like a second chance. What about now? It's an LTO. It's a Limited Time Offer only. You have a limited time to repent and Jesus says "What about now?"
Secondly, the 'man who took care of the vineyard' intercedes for and he cares for and fertilises it.This is the man who asks for this second chance, who pleads on its behalf and offers to care for it and fertilises it, to give it this second chance. Who do you think that might be? Jesus! You have a mediator, a middle man, a go between; Jesus! He loves you and cares for you and pleads with God the Father on your behalf so that you can have this second chance to repent.
Remember - it's a Limited time offer. You have a limited time to repent. This life is the second chance. There are no third chances, and Jesus says, "What about now?"

If you don't repent (and remember God is telling you to) then you are refusing to repent. Think about that. God commands you to repent. Jesus; the Lord of all came to earth and told us to repent. Are you going to disobey him? If you do, you'll perish

We need to say sorry and turn away from sin and ask God to forgive us and change us because you can't do it on your own.

And even if we can't get our heads around God's role and our role in repentance (divine sovereignty and human responsibility; please do ask me about it afterwards) what does this passage say so clearly? It says, "You will perish if you don't repent, and you have the chance to now for a limited time only." It's an offer which wont be around forever.

By the way If you do repent, bad things will still happen to you, you'll still suffer. (For one thing we're all getting older and we're only going one way.) But you'll be able to go through it, with Jesus interceding for you and caring for you. The Jesus who gives us this second chance; this chance to repent and instead of eternal perishing he gives us eternal life.

So it's not about them, It's about you, and about now. Will you repent?

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