SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm 5
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:13
Much of what is proclaimed in today’s readings is clear and easy to understand. For instance, Ezekiel says, “When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them.” That’s pretty clear. We follow this teaching in simple ways in our daily lives.
- You don’t keep a broken TV because it used to work. You get rid of it!
- You don’t throw away clean clothes because last week they were dirty.
And so, when it comes to our lives, God does not judge us on the basis of what we once were and did, but on the basis of what we are and how we are living now. “I will judge each of you according to his ways,” God says. Faith in Christ and living out that faith now by following His commandments is what pleases God.
Today’s readings are also clear in pointing out that not doing so brings consequences. “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, referring to a sorry episode in Israel’s history when many of the people had participated in a public orgy. This angered God, and “twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” Gee, sexual immorality has consequences! We all know this.
- Schools wouldn’t encourage “safe sex” through condom use if sex was safe!
- Blood donors wouldn’t be subjected to numerous questions about their sexual history if sex had no effect on one’s health.
Live a sexually pure and decent life and avoid casual sex. You’ll be healthier and won’t suffer because of such sins. These things are clear. Two other deadly sins are named in 1 Corinthians that should also be avoided: putting Christ to the test and grumbling against God. Such things are deadly? Well, consider:
- When you were young did your mother like it when you grumbled about dinner?
- Were your parents ok with it when you tested them by staying out beyond your curfew? Of course not!
If our parents became angry and punished us for such things, then we should not be surprised to hear that God became angry and punished His people for grumbling about how He was taking care of them. Be happy with God’s gifts, especially His precious Word and Sacraments, and receive them with thanksgiving. Don’t become bored with them and so ignore them or grumble about them. It’s never good to have God mad at you!
Ok, so much for the clear and easy to understand teachings in today’s readings. In the Gospel Jesus is confronted with a much more difficult question: Why do bad things happen to people who don’t seem to have done anything wrong? It seems that some Jews from Galilee had gone to the temple in Jerusalem, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, had had them killed while they were worshiping. This was brought up to Jesus, and His response is startling:
“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.”
Wow. Jesus wasn’t interested in whether what happened to the men was deserved or not. What was certain was that they were sinners, and so what would happen to them after their deaths was what mattered most. the same was true for the questioners, so Jesus turned their question around and asked them: What about you?
God is asking each of us today: What about you? “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” He’s not saying simply that we’ll die. He’s saying that if we don’t repent we’ll go to hell!
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Wait a minute; who, me? What have I done?” Well, just a few minutes ago you said to God, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, have offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Did you mean this? Or were you just repeating words?
What you said was true, and life in this world confirms it. Bad things happen: buildings fall on people; sinkholes swallow them; sicknesses strike; injury and death come.
- You could end up with cancer if you smoke. Or, you could get it even if you never smoke.
Why? Because we’re sinners who live in a world that sin has corrupted. All people are sinners; and so, therefore, are you. You will die as a sinner. When you face your eternal Judge, the Holy One with whom “evil may not dwell” (Ps. 5:4) and who expects holy works from you, what then? This is what Jesus was, and is, asking.
How unexpected, and how harsh, this sounds. But, be thankful that Jesus asks this of us! He asks because God loves us and wants us to live with Him in heaven. God says in Ezekiel 33, “As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways!” God has turned toward us. He will forgive and save, no matter what the sin! He wants to do so. He has already done so. He sent us His Son to bear our sins, and on the cross Jesus endured the curse of hell for them. Believe that your sins are forgiven because Jesus endured their punishment! This is repentance. Be thankful, and strive to honor God with your life. This, too, is repentance.
Will such repentance make any difference in this life? Will it keep bad things from happening to you? Well, yes… and no. On the one hand, if you live contentedly, not yearning for things you don’t have and being sexually faithful, you will most likely be spared a lot of problems. But, that’s no guarantee.
- My father has lived a very contented and honorable life. He exercised his body and his mind; he went to church every Sunday and gratefully received God’s gifts of forgiveness; he read his Bible nearly every morning. And now, he is in a hospital, suffering the loss of himself to Alzheimer’s.
So, does being a Christian make any difference? Absolutely. My father, and every other believer in Jesus who lives in repentance, lives with this promise: “The Lord knows the way of the righteous.” (Ps. 1:6) God knows His people. He knows our needs; our sufferings; our griefs; and our joys. He knows every temptation we face in this life, and has provided the way of escape: Christ our Rock, giving us Himself and His strength in the spiritual food and drink of His Gospel and Sacraments. Our good Lord knows everything – except our sins! “None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him [who repents],” God promises in Ezekiel 33.
This is the difference for us Christians. We have God as our Father who knows us personally. He already sees us as His holy children. He gladly feeds us with the spiritual food and drink of Christ’s body and blood and joins us to Christ, our spiritual Rock. Held by Him, we are carried through every trial and sorrow in life; and then, when the worst this life can give comes and death takes us, He raises us with Him to eternal life and joy and holiness! The victory is ours, through Jesus Christ our Lord!